How to avoid getting sick in India

When travelling, the first thing you should consider is that you are getting away from your comfort zone in many ways, eating habits and hygiene style included.

As these are some of the most common and sensitive topics when visiting the Sub-Continent, we came up with a list of useful tips on how to avoid getting sick in India, including how to minimize the risks of eating street food in Indian cities and some of the things to avoid in India.

How to avoid getting sick in India: what to consider

I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from going to India. It’s a beautiful country with a rich culture and getting sick will stop you from fully enjoying it.

And that’s a pity. Trust me, you don’t want to miss the buzzing Indian markets, the stunning temples, the royal palaces and the natural landscapes. Here are some things to consider to stay healthy in India and have an incredible trip.

My best tips on how to not get sick in India

how to avoid getting sick in india
Palak Paneer northern Indian dish

On my first trip, I was very well instructed to avoid street food in India due to the poor hygienic standards and the high level of pollution and dust. So I stuck to reputable restaurants. Despite all my safety zeal, on the second day, I got sick like never before in my life.

I literally puked my guts all night, starting at midnight through the morning, when I finally fainted. The day after I didn’t touch a bit of food until late evening when a little spoon of boiled rice kicked my dodgy stomach again and I vomited for one last time. Green, probably the poison. After that last time, I started feeling better. I’m not sure what provoked such sickness, maybe a mushroom soup I had at the restaurant that contained milk.

Top safety measures on how to avoid food poisoning in India and have a wonderful trip

Many people, especially from Western countries, before travelling wonder, ‘will I get sick in India?’ No need to panic or be paranoid about it, but it’s important to consider different countries, different rules, different geography, different ingredients and different immune systems!

I don’t wish anyone to spend hours shaking from food poisoning, and with this post, I’m hoping to prevent other travellers from going through it by giving tips on how to avoid getting sick from Indian food.

Water problems in India and how to solve it

Last August I spent the whole month in Delhi, and while it was my fourth time in India, I had another incident which led to a whole night of vomiting. While the heaviest outburst was only one night, also the following days (and weeks!) I wasn’t feeling great. I started eliminating different ingredients at every meal to try to spot the culprit. Sometimes I would feel less sick but still not at my best.

Finally, researching, reading and exchanging information with other travellers, I reached the conclusion that what was making me feel always nausea was the tap water. Obviously, I knew I couldn’t drink tap water in India, but I was still using it to brush my teeth three times a day!

Plus, since we rented a flat and did much of grocery shopping for meals at home, I used tap water also to wash fruits and veggies: another big mistake.

Pretty irresponsible of me, but I didn’t think such a small amount would have affected me so much. This is why, if you ask me how to avoid getting sick in India, my first thought goes straight to the water, and here are some tips I learned to my cost.

⇒ READ MORE: For a complete list of what to pack for India and when is the best time to go, read our post.

1. Is it safe to drink tap water in India? The answer is NO as the water is not treated, hence contaminated. Locals drink it but for Westerners, this can cause troubles.

2. In the long-term, it can be a pain, but among the tips on how to avoid getting sick in India, I suggest you brush your teeth with bottled water.

3. If you are cooking, you can use tap water to boil, but to wash fruits and veggies, I suggest you wash off the first dirt with tap water and baking soda and then rinse it off with mineral water.

4. Is it safe to wash with tap water? Obviously, you can’t take the full shower or bath with bottled water, but I would suggest for intimate washing you use mineral water to avoid infections.

5. Is it safe to drink boiled tap water in India? If you have no other option, then it’s your best bet, otherwise, go for the sealed mineral water, one of our best tips on how to avoid getting sick in India.

Now, I know you are thinking it can be costly, especially if you are traveling on a shoestring, but alongside being worth it for your own well-being, you can remarkably cut the costs by buying one of the 20-liter water sealed containers that are sold in most shops (at least in Delhi but I’m sure also in other cities) for very affordable prices.

This is easier if you are renting a flat rather than staying at a hotel. Usually, it’s around 1 USD as long as you pay 5 USD deposit for the container itself that you will give back every time you finish it and they give you a new one for another dollar. At the end of your stay, you take it back and you will get the refund of your deposit.

To wrap this up, my first recommendation on how not to get sick in India is that you use the water of the big container to wash, cook, even boil it to make tea, but for drinking. I also recommend big brands of bottled water such as Bisleri and Kinley available pretty much everywhere in India.

Items and strategies that will help you stay healthy in India

Use a SteriPEN. A major help is to carry a water purifier with you, such as SteriPEN Ultra USB Rechargeable Portable, Handheld UV Water Purifier. This is a small device that uses UV light to make viruses harmless and clean the water in as little as 48 seconds. It would also save you from carrying many bottles if you go hiking in the wild.

Hand sanitizers. This can be wet wipes as well as the bottled gel sanitizers. They will help you keep your hands clean when toilets are not available.

Always drink bottled water. I know I’m repeating myself, but I just can’t stress enough the importance of this.

Stay hydrated. With the right water, that is. Getting sick will cause you dehydration, which won’t help make you feel better. Make sure you drink enough water for a speedy recovery.

Avoid ice. This is directly linked to the point above. You don’t know what water they used to make the ice, so better to avoid it. Besides, drinking too cold and causing too much temperature contrast is not a good thing for your intestine.

Wisely choose your food. If you are not used to very spicy food, ask for mild dishes. Or mild versions of them. You can always increase the spice intake as you get more used to it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask what are the ingredients that make a dish. In some soups they use milk, and while the paneer cheese never gave me problems, their milk did. Big time.

Prefer packaged food. I know street food sounds cool and exotic. And I know Indian street food looks delicious. But if you are not sure, try to avoid it and prefer packaged food.

Fast. If you are starting feeling sick, don’t be afraid to fast. Even for a whole day. You won’t starve. This, actually, will allow your digestive system to take a break and focus on the healing instead. But don’t forget to drink to stay hydrated.

Prefer cooked foods. As a big fan of raw food, this is pretty hard for me. But in India, especially if you got sick already, you should prefer cooked food. Avoid raw fruits from outside as they are washed with tap water.

Whether you have a sensitive stomach or not, if you are travelling to India, make sure you have travel insurance that covers also medical expenses and a return flight in case you get sick and prefer to get home. World Nomads has great coverage that you can buy, extend and claim when you are at home or if you have already left and are travelling.
Click here for more details and the current prices.

What to do if you get sick in India? The remedies I use

Whether you have a sensitive stomach or not, chances are you will get sick in India. I always do and I’m hardly the only one. So when my stomach and intestine react, I have my natural remedies ready. What do I carry with me in India?

1. Probiotics. Friends of the intestine, if you are lactose-intolerant like me, you will prefer the lactose-free ones like this one. You can even start taking it before travelling and feeling sick, it will just make your guts stronger.

2. Zeolite. Its nickname is “intestine sweeper” because it absorbs the toxins. You can find this in powder or tablets, I took the powder and mixed less than half teaspoon half an hour before lunch in a glass of water. You just follow the instructions for the product of your choice, probably travelling the tablets are better. Either way, make sure you drink a lot of water (clean water!). Click here for more details and the price.

3. Grapefruit Seed Extract. It helps fight inflammation and infections of fungus and parasites in the intestine and stomach. If needed, it’s also astringent. I take one capsule after lunch and one after dinner also after I healed. You can find them in drops and tablets. Drops are super bitter so I prefer tablets like this one.

4. Vaccinium Vitis Idaea – Gemmo Therapy. It helps restore the good bacteria of your intestine and fight inflammation when your colon is irritated. I use it in drops like this one.

If you would rather go with the traditional medicine, make sure you visit your doctor before embarking on your trip to India.

To stay healthy in India you can make your own smoothies with the fresh fruits and veggies you find at the local market and one of the best mini travel blenders we recommend. Don’t forget to wash the fruits and veggies with mineral water!

How to avoid getting sick in India
Street food in Delhi

How to avoid getting sick in India eating street food

Street food in India is always tempting, so it’s totally understandable that travellers can hardly resist. However, if I’m giving tips on how to avoid food poisoning in India, I can’t possibly neglect the delicacies you find along the local streets.

For as captivating as samosa, pakora, puri or boiled corns are, think twice before jumping on all the food stalls indiscriminately. There are indeed different types of foods to avoid in India, or better types of places and cooking ways.

So, what to eat in India to avoid getting sick? Or better, what not to eat in India? As I mentioned, prefer cooked food to raw one, as this is the best way to get rid of microbes. However, even for the fried bites, do consider where they are. If too exposed to the city’s pollution, avoid. And especially try to understand how long they have been sitting there. Usually, busy stalls are more likely to have fresher products.

When it comes to fresh fruits, juices or even roasted and boiled corns, you need to pay extra attention to the water they use to wash it or to make the juices. Just a piece of advice for some of the fruits you will find in the streets and what is safe to eat in India.

1. Pineapple. They are cheap and delicious but you need to be cautious because the knives used for cutting them might be dirty, so if you can just ask them to rinse them with mineral water.

2. Corn on the cob. Boiled corns are boiled in tap water, so it’s up to you if you think you can risk it or not. When it comes to roasted corn, on the other hand, they usually rub lemon and salt on top. While it’s delicious, you still need to be careful how it’s done. What I suggest is to buy a lemon and rub it yourself on your corn, it will be delicious and will avoid dodgy stomach.

3. Coconut water. I love it. Among the best things you could possibly have in India, to hydrate and also soothe a dodgy stomach, is coconut water. Thankfully, you will find coconut stalls around every corner. You can drink the water inside and, when you are done, get it open so you can eat the delicious (and very healthy) coconut meat. The knife they use to cut it, though, can be dirty, so what you can do is once they removed the top, you can take the coconut home and make the hole for the straw with your own knife. Or just ask the vendor to clean it with mineral water.

4. Fruit juices. In this case, too, I would recommend you choose proper shops instead of street stalls, but also here, if you want to make sure you know how to avoid getting sick in India, you really need to be careful about the cleanness of the place and the water they use.

⇒ READ MORE: For a list of good restaurants and places to visit in Delhi, read our detailed article

The weather in India and the dengue fever: what to do

Often people ask: why do tourists get sick in India?

India is very humid and especially during the raining season (last August we got caught up in the middle of pretty heavy rain storms more than once), there is the risk of dengue fever, a debilitating disease transmitted by a mosquito. Here follow your common sense such as avoiding puddles where mosquitoes thrive, use mosquito repellent when you go out and also some for the house.

Tourism in India keeps thriving so they are well equipped to treat this type of disease or to provide proper medicine for food poisoning, but keeping in mind some of the precautions, from eating safely in India to the things to avoid in India, will help you better enjoy your trip.

The best way to avoid dengue fever is to chase the mosquito away:

Always apply an insect repellent, be it spray or cream, be especially careful if it’s raining season.

If it’s not already on the bed of your hotel, set wherever you can a mosquito net, especially if you booked a cheap hotel in India.

Travelling to India? Subscribe to our newsletter and download your free 48-hour guide to Delhi!

[grwebform url=”https://app.getresponse.com/view_webform_v2.js?u=SGyov&webforms_id=7514605″ css=”on” center=”off” center_margin=”200″/]

21 Comments
  1. I’m afraid I followed most of these tips and still ended up getting sick in India (I got campylobacter and was ill off and on for nearly two months!). Overall, I think it’s also the luck of the draw. I consistently washed my hands and made sure only to eat meals that were piping hot, but I suppose you can really get these germs anywhere…. although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take any precautions. ;)

    • I’m sorry to hear that Danny, but I totally agree. When I stopped using tap water everywhere, I started feeling better, but still not at my best. I try to take any precaution I can, even if sometimes it’s not easy!

  2. Hahahah :) too good. Another side peoples tell & share the stories about what to eat in India/best food in India but this side. I see “How to avoid getting sick in India” this is too good post & a different story to share with viewers. Peoples should also well know how to avoid getting sick in India.

    Really appreciate this post… Thanks for sharing this post !!!

    • We know there are many things that can get you sick (not just in India but everywhere else as well) although when in India something that tourists should be very much careful about, are the Water and street foods.
      You are welcome Sonali

  3. Oh god i have to go to India to .im so scared now reading all this comments about food and water. Oh my god i dunno what to do. I hate getting sick.

    • Danny, I hope you make it in and out of India without getting sick (vomiting and diarrhea). LOL I’m sure you will enjoy the Indian food cuisine if you are into spicy food. You can as well subscribe to our newsletter and receive our Delhi guide.

  4. I have to agree with Angela’s article. I am from the USA and this is my 9th trip to India. I have been “in country” for over 30 weeks. The couple of times that I have gotten ill are after eating uncooked food. I avoid getting sick by generally following Angela’s advice. I drink only bottled water or other sealed drinks. Tap water touches my lips only if I am certain that there is a local purification system (like high-end hotel). I try to eat only cooked food and from locations that appear to have good hygiene.

    • Hi India Traveler, thanks for your comment. I didn’t know high-end hotels had their own water purification system, very interesting. Water and hygiene are really big issues in India.

      • Yes, since the public water system is not safe, luxury hotels, large companies, etc. will have there own water treatment system. Since the public electrical grid is not super reliable, they will also have a back-up power generation system.

        The typical water purification system at these facilities is complex, but often relies on reverse osmosis (RO) as one of the primary steps in purifying the water.

  5. i wonder why indians wont get sick in any other countries , which is more terrible than india , is indians having better immune system or westerners lacking

  6. I would never travel to such a filthy country where everything you touch and eat can make you horribly sick – where even tap water cannot be you to wash intimate areas. I get sick only thinking about it. Going to India? – Not for a million bucks.
    I don´t even go to Indian restaurants in my own country since I know how dirty Indians are. I love Indian food but I rather cook it at home.

    • I agree with mala. Dirty and dangerous, AND you need to be so careful that you stop being carefree. Aren’t holidays about being carefree? Not careful. Also by visiting such countries, you support them with your money and we all know how brutal dangerous and horrible the customs/ traditions are over there.
      I would never consider going there but read this article to warn my friends who are not ever aware of half of the issues mentioned in your article.

      • Mala- Your comments are very harsh. Indians are not dirty people. Poverty and lack of fresh water is the problem. I am sure they would love to have richer, cleaner streets but that is the fault of the government and not the population. To insult a race and call them filthy shows your complete non understanding of the world. I bet you have never left your country and probably think fine dining is eating KFC.Racist ???

    • Hi Mala, I understand your concern, but India is really an interesting country to explore, you just need to be careful, very careful :)

  7. Reply
    Tires of being sick May 6, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    This is my second time to India and I’ve been very ill both times. I have to be here several months for work, it’s been 2 weeks and I’ve taken ill twice already. I am staying in a nice hotel, a Taj hotel, and following all advice as in the post. While India may be an interesting place culturally, there is a complete lack of hygiene. I’ve seen ppl deficating and urinating at will wherever is convenient, even saw the chef at the hotel lick his hand, I’m talking full on deepthroat, just to taste whatever he was cooking, and ive seen where they do the dishes at mass in unhygienic conditions with unclean water. And I’m staying at a “5 star” hotel, Taj is supposed to be the best.

    Its disgusting that anyone is ok their country lives daily in such norms. To all you ppl from India getting defensive that will tell me I’m wrong, I’ve seen it and lived it with my own eyes, and ive traveled to other places like Vietnam, Thailand, Kosovo, Albania and it’s not even close to this bad. Maybe you should petition your government to find solutions rather than live in denial. One would think with tourism so important you would want visitors or potential visitors to feel safe. But I doubt those on here posting as such care much about how the vast majority of their country live, when they probably enjoy a privileged way of life where they don’t have to worry about such matters. That seems to be the way of thinking here. I’m quite tired of getting ill, hope I will survive the next couple months, and hope never have to return. To all those contemplating travel here, I hope you like peeing out your butt and taking home some resident bacteria with you. Enjoy!

    • Wow, I’m very sorry to hear that. I’ve been there, I know what you mean. India really is a challenge to everyone’s immune system, Indians’ included as I’ve seen many myself getting sick in the streets. Do take care of your immune system with some probiotics, probably better in tablets if you don’t trust the dairy-based.

  8. Kas: Not everywhere in India is “dirty and dangerous”. Yes, one does need to take precautions in India and use common sense, and there are certainly areas and situation to avoid, because the potential for danger is present. But don’t the same rules apply to many other countries that are also popular with tourists? Also, your notion that “holidays are about being carefree, not careful” is abit naïve. I have traveled all over the world, and I can tell you, anywhere in the world you go, you should use some caution common sense. By your logic, I guess no one should visit America, because you never know if you will be the next victim of a mass shooting, considering the frequency those occur in the US.

  9. I agree with most of the article, however, the part about having to wash certain areas of your body with mineral water is borderline paranoia. I have travelled twice to India and I take full showers using the regular water in the hotels and I have never experienced any problems. And I was born/raised and live in Canada, a country that has the cleanest water in the world, so its not like my immune system is strong or anything lol. You should definitely not drink/ingest tap water in India, however, I have never heard of anyone having issues after washing/showering. Just my opinion.

    • If you think this is borderline paranoia, you are fully in denial. First of all, I wasn’t generalising but referring to my specific case, and since this happened to me, I suggest what I deem necessary to other people if they find themselves in the same situation. If other travellers don’t face the same issues, I’m pretty sure they are able to decide whether or not to follow these tips. As you can see from my destinations list, I have visited many places, also in Asia, even Sri Lanka, that is close to India and has much in common, and yet, I’ve never got sick. I’ve been to India three times and every single time faced the same issues that I never face anywhere else.

  10. My husband was born and raised in America, we’ve been to India twice in a year and he did not get sick. Of course, you can’t really drink tap water from anywhere but there are residences and some places that get drinking water in their taps. My daughter was less than 2 years when we went the first time and almost about 2 the second and she did not get sick at all. She definitely got sick after coming back from Portugal after her 2nd birthday. I’ve also heard and seen in news that chefs and servers in America literally urinate in food before serving behind the counters. You can never say who has done what to your food no matter what country you are in.

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.