According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, India has been assessed as Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate in Chennai does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens Services Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Chennai as being a Medium-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s India-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The greater Chennai metropolitan area contains over 12 million people, making it the fourth largest urban area in India. The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai also covers the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka, and the Union Territories of Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Chennai is the capital city of Tamil Nadu and is regarded as one of the safest cities in India. But, crimes do occur in Chennai. Violent crimes, especially ones directed against foreigners, have traditionally been uncommon. In south India, in 2016, there were 84 cases of crimes against foreigners reported, constituting 21.9% of total crime reports against foreigners in India.
Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, is common, particularly on trains or buses. Pickpockets can be very adept, and women have reported having their bags snatched, purse-straps cut, or the bottom of their purses slit without their knowledge. Pickpocketing routinely occurs on public transport systems.
While India is generally safe for foreign visitors, rape continues to be the fastest growing crime in India. Indian government studies in 2016 showed 39,068 rape cases, of which 3,688 (9.4%) were reported in the area covered by U.S. Consulate Chennai. Although reported rape cases are lower in south India, recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas underline that foreign women are also at risk and should exercise vigilance. U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India, and police officials recommend that foreign travelers register with the local police when traveling to their district. Observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding using public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions. Restrict evening entertainment to well-known venues and avoiding walking in isolated areas alone. Carry a mobile phone with pre-programmed emergency contact numbers, and respect local dress and custom, with an emphasis on dressing conservatively. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Female Personnel & Traveler Security in India.”
South India is a major hub of information technology (IT). The large presence of IT companies and IT skilled workforce can create an environment of increased cybersecurity risk. Cybercrimes, such as theft of financial information and identity theft, have become a significant concern in India. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”
Other Areas of Concern
The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has owned responsibility for a series of violent actions in Kerala. Increased Maoist presence has been witnessed in the “Tri-Junction” (Junction of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu states). Violent clashes with police and security forces are frequent. Although the U.S. government does not place this region off-limits, personnel are strongly discouraged from traveling to this area for non-essential purposes. All three states have dedicated anti-Maoist police forces who watch over Maoist activities.
Certain parts of India are designated as "restricted areas" by the Indian government and require special advance permission to visit. More information on travel to restricted/protected areas can be found at India’s Bureau of Immigration website. “Restricted Area Permits" are available outside India at Indian Embassies and Consulates abroad, or in India from the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) at Jaisalmer House, 26 Man Singh Road, New Delhi. The states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim maintain official guesthouses in New Delhi, which can also issue Restricted Area Permits for their respective states for certain travelers.
One should exercise caution while visiting Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) in Tamil Nadu as the Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Center, Kalpakkam, is located just south of the site and is not clearly marked as a restricted and dangerous area.
Tamil Nadu has a highly-developed, dense, and modern transportation infrastructure, encompassing both public and private transport. Chennai is well-connected by land, sea, and air and serves as a major hub for entry into South India. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Travelers’ Guide to Indian Transportation Security.” For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Travel by road in India is dangerous. India leads the world in traffic-related deaths, and a number of U.S. citizens have had fatal traffic accidents in recent years. In order to drive, you must have either a valid Indian driver’s license or a valid international driver’s permit with your valid state’s driver’s license. Because of difficult road and traffic conditions, travelers may consider hiring a local driver. Most cities lack basic infrastructure, such as pedestrian crossings, grade crossings, and pavement, on many roads. On certain roads it is difficult to cross because there are no traffic signals and motorists’ blatant disregard for traffic laws and signals.
Traffic travels on the left; therefore, it is important to exercise extreme caution when crossing streets and intersections, even in marked pedestrian areas. Tamil Nadu reported 3,507 pedestrians killed in road accidents in 2017. Helmets are required to be worn while riding on motorcycles and bicycles. If a driver hits a pedestrian or a cow, the vehicle and its occupants are at risk of being attacked by angry mobs. Such attacks pose significant risk of injury or death to the vehicle's occupants or at least impounding of the vehicle. It is unsafe to remain at the scene. If involved in such an accident, try to reach the nearest police station.
If a person is found driving under the influence of alcohol that exceeds 30 mg per 100ml of blood as detected by a breath analyzer, it is punishable under Indian law. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation is used extensively by Indians. Buses and Metro rail are the cheapest means of public transportation. When using public transportation, always exercise caution with your bags and refrain from announcing the details of your identity and travel plans.
Avoid using private unmarked buses/taxis, as many who have have fallen victim to crime. The safest form of travel is ridesharing applications, such as Uber or Ola, or auto rickshaw (tuk tuk), which are widely available. Inter-state trains are safer than buses, but train accidents still occur more frequently than in other countries.
Tamil Nadu has a major international airport, Chennai International Airport (MMA), which is the fourth busiest airport by passenger traffic and the third largest cargo hub in India.
Other Travel Conditions
Protesters often use road blocks to publicize their grievances. Visitors should monitor local news for reports of road disturbances.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Chennai as being a High-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
India continues to experience terrorist and insurgent activities that can affect U.S. citizens directly or indirectly. Terror attacks have targeted public places (hotels, trains, train stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, restaurants in large urban areas) including some frequented by foreigners.
According to the Global Terrorism Index 2017, India has a number of terrorist groups operating in the country. Many seek political recognition, so their attacks are not aimed at killing people, resulting in most terrorist attacks in India having low casualties. Maoists (“Naxalites”) are the most active insurgent group in India. The Naxalites typically attack government officials/buildings, and destroy public institutions (derailing rail lines). While they are responsible for more terrorist attacks in India than any other organization, they have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens or foreigners, but there is a risk that visitors could become unintended victims of indiscriminate targeting.
Anti-Western terrorist groups, some on the U.S. government's list of foreign terrorist organizations, are active in India, including Islamist extremist groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami, Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Indian Mujahideen (IM), Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LeT).
Bursts of violence targeting U.S. facilities have occurred, and U.S. citizens should maintain respect and sensitivity to others political and religious views. In times of instability, seek guidance from the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate for appropriate action. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates continuously monitor information received concerning terrorist threats to determine credibility and will advise U.S. citizens accordingly.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Chennai as being a Medium-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Political violence is possible in any major city in India. Beyond the threat from terrorism and insurgencies, demonstrations and general strikes or “bandh,” often cause inconvenience. Chennai has a history of large demonstrations. The police professionally handle these when they have advance notice and can adequately plan. The city also experiences spontaneous demonstrations and incidents of violence that can disrupt traffic flow and cause damage to property before the police are able to respond. These protests usually occur with little/no warning, and the police are quick to intervene to contain them. This intervention has, on occasion, resulted in violent clashes between police and protestors. Be mindful of curfews and travel restrictions and avoid demonstrations and rallies, as they can be potentially violent.
Large religious gatherings that attract hundreds of thousands of people can result in dangerous and even life-threatening stampedes. In response, Indian authorities occasionally impose curfews and/or restrict travel.
Religious violence occasionally occurs, especially when tensions between religious communities are purposefully aggravated by political/non-political groups.
Foreigners accused of proselytizing Hindus have been attacked and killed in conservative, rural areas. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications.”
Natural disasters, many of them related to climate, cause massive loss of life and property. Droughts, flash floods, cyclones, avalanches, and landslides brought on by torrential rains and snowstorms pose the greatest threats.
Tamil Nadu lies in the southern part of the Indian peninsula with a 1,076 km long coastline vulnerable to cyclones and floods. The 2015 south Indian floods resulted from heavy rainfall during the annual northeast monsoon, which caused a water release from local reservoirs that threatened to overflow. This water release affected the Coromandel Coast region of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Tamil Nadu and Chennai were particularly hard-hit, with more than 400 people killed. Chennai was declared a disaster area on December 2, 2015. The Southern Railways cancelled most train services, and the Chennai International Airport was closed until December 6, 2015.
Air pollution is a critical concern due to the burning of wood and other biomass, fuel adulteration, vehicle emissions, and traffic congestion. In the autumn and winter, large-scale crop burning in agricultural fields is a major source of smoke, smog, and particulate pollution.
There are long-standing points of contention concerning India’s record on the protection of intellectual property rights. Police generally view these crimes as a low priority; therefore, software and music piracy abound.
On November 8, 2016, the Indian government announced an immediate ban on the 500 INR and 1000 INR notes. All remaining 500 INR and 1,000 INR were required to be deposited in bank accounts before December 30, 2016. In 2017, the old 500 INR and 1000 INR notes became worthless. Travelers must be careful when receiving cash to make sure they do not receive any of the old notes. In this largely cash economy, shortages of cash, especially in the countryside, have been reported. Withdrawal limits at banks and ATMs are determined by the Indian government and are subject to change.
Personal Identity Concerns
The LGBT community still faces discrimination and violence in many sectors of society, particularly in rural regions. Tamil Nadu, while more progressive (as the first state with a transgender welfare board), is still a deeply conservative state, and crimes against the LGBT community are frequent.
There are numerous reported incidents from foreign women of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. Southern India is known for being conservative and traditional. Women traveling in southern India are advised to understand local dress/customs and to dress modestly. Even wearing short pants in some areas can be viewed as provocative.
There has been an increase in the amount of illegal drugs transiting India. Most of the drugs that are illegal in the U.S. are also illegal in India. Some drug laws are stricter than those in the U.S. Officials conduct major anti-drug operations especially at transportation hubs. Plain-clothed narcotics officers’ frequent clubs and hotels in attempts to apprehend drug users and dealers.
Tamil Nadu has both air and sea ports in close proximity to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. As a consequence, Tamil Nadu serves as a transit point for narcotics smugglers moving their merchandise.
Kidnapping of foreigners is rare, but travelers should remain vigilant and maintain situational awareness. Kidnappings of children and women in the local community occur with some frequency. These types of crimes are likely unreported. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”
The ratio of police officers to citizens is approximately 1:609. While the numbers of reported incidents increase every year, many more incidents go unreported. There is a common perception among Indians that the police are corrupt and cannot be trusted. In some cases, police officers have been involved in crimes, while at other times police have been bribed to turn a blind eye. Many victims do not go to the police for fear of persecution and harassment. Even those who are witnesses to crimes, often avoid coming forward to get involved in a judicial process that is painfully slow, inconvenient, and ineffective. These practices have eroded public confidence, as there is no certainty of punishment for criminals.
Police stations are located throughout Tamil Nadu and surrounding cities in India. They are staffed by one or more police officers and are open 24/7. However, generally speaking, the majority of police officers are often ill-equipped and lack training.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If involved with local law enforcement for any reason, you should comply with their requests but also contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate and ask to speak to a representative from American Citizens Services (ACS), at:
U.S. Consulate General Chennai, 220 Anna Salai, Chennai- 600-006
Tel. No.: 91-44-2857-4000
Crime Victim Assistance
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate.
If you are a U.S. citizen with a serious emergency, call the U.S. Consulate General Chennai at 044-2857-4000 (011-91-44-2857-4000 from the United States). After normal business hours (08:30 - 17:00 Monday through Friday), you will be directed to an Officer on Duty. U.S. Visa inquiries should be directed to 91-120-484-4644 or 91-40-4625-8222.
The emergency number for ambulance service for Apollo Hospitals in Chennai is 1066. If you purchase a cell phone number in one city and intend to use it in another city, you will have to prefix the city code before 1066 to call an ambulance. An English speaking dispatcher may not be available at all locations.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates maintain lists of local doctors and hospitals, all of which are published on their respective websites under "U.S. Citizen Services."
Available Air Ambulance Services
International SOS Singapore
331, North Bridge Road, # 17-00 Odeon Towers, Singapore- 188720, Singapore
Communication and coordination can be done either directly through the regional hub in Singapore, or via the SOS Headquarters in Pennsylvania.
International SOS Headquarters USA
3600 Horizon Blvd., Suite 300, Trevose, PA 19053
POC: Ryan Clark, Tel: 267-716-2411
Asia Air Ambulance
599/59 Ratchadaphisek Road Jatujak, Bangkok 10900 Thailand
American citizens should have medevac insurance. International SOS, AMEX, and Global are options. Most care is available locally, although more comfortable care is available in Bangkok and Singapore.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for India.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Chennai and the Bangalore Country Councils are active, meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions.
U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600-006
0800-1700; Mon-Fri, except U.S. and local holidays
Consulate Contact Numbers
Karnataka, Kerala, Puducherry, Lakshadweep, Tamil Nadu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Embassy New Delhi: https://in.usembassy.gov/
Consulate Hyderabad: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/hyderabad/
Consulate Kolkata: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/kolkata/
Consulate Mumbai: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/mumbai/
Virtual Presence Post Bangalore: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/bengaluru/
The American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai can assist when a U.S. citizen in India is arrested, missing, is a victim of violent crime, becomes ill or dies, or when there is otherwise a need for immediate help. ACS can assist with information on local resources and by keeping family members in the United States apprised of the circumstances, so that they can make necessary decisions and provide financial and logistical support.
Travelers should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
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India Country Information Sheet