Before I came to India, I made sure to unlock my phone so I could use it abroad. I only upgraded to a smart phone a few years ago and now it is very essential to me as it makes life super easy-even more so in a foreign country. Thus, I wanted to make sure I was connected ASAP. The first thing I did after arriving-after taking a nap and shower of course-was research what I would need in order to obtain a phone plan.
Once I knew what I needed, I hurried about getting the documents. These included a few passport sized photos, proof of residence from my flat manager, a copy of my passport, a copy of my visa, a local reference, and proof of my workplace. I then went down to the local Airtel store and stood in line like a fool. I realized quickly everyone who came in after me marched right up to a customer service associate, interrupted whatever they were doing and whomever they were with, and got served! This is totally against all western norms but I interrupted someone the minute I sensed one of the sales people were wrapping up with a customer (just could not bear to blatantly jump in!).
I was given forms to fill-long painful ones-and then handed in all my documents. I was then told the next day someone would come to my office and make sure I worked there. Sure enough, someone arrived the next day. They wanted to see proof I was an employee so I provided a letter on the company’s letterhead. The person was not satisfied as there was no stamp (a very Indian thing that makes documents official) on said letter. I explained we do not use stamps in the west and the company is a western company. He seemed to accept that and took my photo and a copy of the letter and was off.
The next day nothing seemed to be happening so I went back to the store. They looked a bit horrified to see me which amused me. They gave me the sim cards and I had to pay a 250 rupee deposit for each one (I had to get one for work as well). The deposit will be refunded in the 4th month they explained. I asked when the sim cards would be active. They explained I was not approved due to the lack of stamp and once I provided it they could move forward. I said there was no way I could get a stamp as we did not have a company stamp. Everyone seemed baffled and a call was made to my admin assistant who confirmed my story. The manager, I think, appeared and listened as the employees were getting frustrated. She said she has a sister somewhere in Canada so knew I was telling the truth about the stamp not being a thing in North America.
She said she would override this issue and get my sim cards activated but someone had to come to my office once again-within 30 minutes-to do another verification. She said by the morning, all would be active and I just had to make my first call to the activation line and follow the instructions to get it started. I must have looked a bit doubtful so she gave me her personal phone number and told me to call her if they did not work in the morning.
I hurried back to the office and the Airtel rep was already there. He took a few photos of the office and letter again and was off. He said all should be in order now. So, late that night (after midnight as I am still on a wacky schedule), I loaded in the sim card and called the activation line.
A robo-voice instructed me to press 2 for English. I did. The voice said to enter the last 4 digits of the ID I provided (in my case the passport) and then to enter my year of birth. After that, the voice confirmed all was active. However, I then had to call another number to activate the data plan portion of the service. Same process. Once both of these were done, the phone seemed to work. I was over the moon with joy!
I tried to call home but a voice said I had to add on international calling ability. I did so easily enough once I called yet another activation number. I must say I dread figuring out how to pay the bill for the first time…but will not have to deal with that for at least a month!
A few days later I tried to activate my second work sim card-since the actual phone had not yet arrived so I was in no rush-but this time, despite following all the same steps, it just did not work. The automated system did not give me any options other than thanking me for calling. Sigh. It was just too much to expect smoothness once again! However, at least now I can just call the helpline and ask them what the problem is as I know the sim card activation has been approved-in theory. This, however, can wait another few days…until my work phone arrives.
There you have it…three day journey to finally get mobile! Totally worth it.