This is India! 126

Welcome back to This is India! I always have funny/weird stories about India to share with friends or family when I talk to them. This is just meant to be an honest portrayal about my life in India through short anecdotes. I also share here what I’ve been up to online outside Werkenntwen.

What I was up to other than here:

  • I’ve been pretending the world isn’t going crazy! No but really, I am so shocked Trump is President Elect and cried watching the news. I’ll say what I said to Ben though, all I can do now is hope that he succeeds and does well because after all, he’s running my home country.
  • I’ve been beachin’ it up this week. Ben’s at work in Maharashtra so I’m taking over finishing up the kitchen re-do. By next week it’ll all be done and my friend Ann will be here visiting!

Now your story,

On voting day, I was out to dinner with friends and one friend told me that they were taking the 500 and 1000 notes of the market in India immediately. He said all the money would be worthless.

I didn’t believe him. I thought it must have been fake news. It wasn’t on BBC, Reuters, and any big non-Indian websites.

From what I’d read, they were taking off the 500’s (basically a $10 bill) and 1000’s (think of it like a $20 bill) overnight. The banks were going to be closed for two days. ATM’s: closed. Once they opened, they would have the new money. People could bring their old money to the bank and exchange it up until Dec. 30th.

The point?

Because in India the black money is a massive problem. They reckon that half the bills which circulate are fake in India.

Gangsters with a million in cash hidden away? Worthless. Why? Because if they took it to the bank to exchange it, the bank would document than and the Indian version of the IRS would know they didn’t pay tax on it.

Shady businessmen? Screwed.

An hour later, it was on Reuters. I shared it on Facebook still not totally sure if it was real. I wanted to know what people though. It wasn’t until the next day I saw it on .

I don’t think it’s a coincidence this was done when the world wasn’t looking (everyone is talking about the US election).

Things haven’t gone totally smoothly. You can read about . Tourists showed up at the Taj Mahal only to be told their money was worthless. There was no ATM’s and no way to exchange as banks were closed.

FedEx brought me a package with 6,000 Rs. duties fees. I said can I give you the “black money” as it’s now called, and he said hmm I don’t know no one has told us at FedEx how to handle this.

Ben and I used our money at the Petrol pump and train station as they were accepting old notes.

It’s pretty wild that for two days in India . Literally. People were messaging me for advice as they were turned away from banks only doing exchanges for Indian people. Foreigners were . Apparently in remote places.

I think what they did was fantastic and I’m happy to go without money and make due a couple days but I feel for those tourists who must have been very confused. One woman couldn’t pay for her hotel as they wouldn’t accept the old bills and her credit card was blocked and the man aggressively attacked her. She sent me the video. That begs the question… if the hotel was paying taxes why would they care if it was old cash? Indians have until the 30th Dec to change over their old cash and deposit it in bank accounts.

Today the ATM’s were meant to open with a limit of 2,000 Rs withdraw (that’s only $35) and a weekly maximum as well. I planned to go as soon as I wake up as I was sure they’ll run out of cash quickly. They run out even on holidays.

I got there there at 10 AM and they were closed. The lines at the banks in town were hours long.

Apparently foreigners are going to be allowed to change money at banks. I’m hearing mixed reports from people who have tried. I don’t have old money to change. I actually just got groceries at a store that takes card and used my last $4 on a can of spray paint… I am officially broke and it seems it could be some time before the ATM’s have cash.

I think even tomorrow there won’t be a chance of getting money. For tourists who needed to check out of hotels and pay cash, they will be out of luck!

It was definitely an interesting time here as I suddenly couldn’t get money for two days (should keep some spare small cash at home I’ve realized) and Trump is going to be my president.

The market was “crashing” the TV kept saying and Facebook groups were all saying that Americans abroad should withdraw a couple hundred from ATM’s before the USD went down in value. I couldn’t. Because India turned them all off. Ironic!

So, there is a downside to this black money problem being fixed, although this is my OPINION.

The sort of gangsters probably got hit the hardest. They aren’t big time enough to have blocks of gold or offshore accounts, so still have the cash hidden (based on many criminal movies I’ve watched lol). They are probably going to force their housekeepers and staff to go change the money for them in small chunks.

The big time guys might have lost some but probably have a lot of hidden money outside India or in gold and real estate.

The farmers, housekeepers, and people working in rural areas usually use a totally cash based system. In rural India many people don’t even have access to banks within a 1-2 hour drive. They operate solely on cash. Most don’t have proper Government documents (think PAN card, birth certificate…) let alone pay taxes (most don’t make enough money to have to pay) and I wonder how they will change their money or if in VERY rural areas they will continue to use the black money.

I’m curious to see how it all plays out. I’m sure there’s a way to cash in, as there always is in a crisis or big change. If only I knew some head honcho Scarface dude that needed me to exchange his money for him and give me 30% on the transaction. I can dream.

This is India!


About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Tempesst November 11, 2016 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Such crazy times right? I landed in Mumbai (without any other currency to exchange) the day the whole 500 and 1000 note thing happened and then the next morning learned that Trump was elected and spent the whole morning crying in my hostel bed. It still makes me sad but I’m trying to be present and remember that I am freaking finally in INDIA which has been a dream trip of mine since finding your blog a few years ago :)

    • Rachel Jones November 12, 2016 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      OMG! I forgot you were coming now! Yes I feel for you. I have been without money but since I have a house here and groceries so can get by but man I have been wondering how it’s affecting tourists, the ATMS here are still shut to day except a few and the lines are SO long! Have you gotten some money out?

      • Tempesst November 14, 2016 at 1:03 pm - Reply

        No, I haven’t been able to get any money out yet :( I was third in line at the udaipur train station ATM and it ran out of cash. Today all ATMs are closed in udaipur because it’s supposedly a holiday. I guess I’ll try again tomorrow. It’s all been VERY frustrating!

        • Rachel Jones November 14, 2016 at 7:16 pm - Reply

          Ugh so annoying. This must be SO hard for travelers like you. I can’t imagine!! When are you in Goa!? We have to meet :) I’m also money-less. Can’t even find an open ATM to wait at.

          • Tempesst November 17, 2016 at 8:33 am

            I was able to get cash out before I left Udaipur! They had a 2500 rs withdrawal limit but it’s better than nothing. I’ll be in Goa December 12-16! I’ll email you as the time gets closer so we can meet up :)

          • Rachel Jones November 17, 2016 at 10:09 am

            Oh good!! :) See you soon

  2. veena November 12, 2016 at 5:29 am - Reply

    I am also curious to hear about how this change effects those in rural areas who live an entirely cash-based existence. I do think this is something that has needed to happen for a long time, and I hope that my initial hesitation can be overcome. I had a friend who was in Calcutta when all of it happened, and he said his hotel was also refusing to give him change, which I thought was so weird, but I also think that’s because there just wasn’t enough information initially and everyone freaked.

    On the US side, things here are still on edge. Personally, I am sad about the results, but I am also worried. Emotions are running high, and it’s really shown how divisive this election was. I hope we can pull through it, and I am trying my best to remain cautiously optimistic :)

    Keep us posted on how things play out over there!
    PS — What are the initial reactions in India to our election results?

    • Rachel Jones November 12, 2016 at 7:03 pm - Reply

      The not giving change part is what is SO annoying. No one wants to part with 100 Rs notes so it’s 500 or 1000 for anything. I needed petrol and just gave all 1000 I had as they wouldn’t give me even 100 in change. Boooo I still haven’t gotten any money but some shops who know me let me get things on credit to pay later

      Literally no one in India is talking about Trump on FB or in the press much. They are so stressed about the money thing and the news is all about people actually dying in line waiting or rural farmers killing themselves. In general though it’s mixed here. One guy did say to Ben “oh trump won, he’s great very rich man!!” and was pleased. My friends here think it’s crazy he won.

  3. Hannah November 12, 2016 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    A lot of banks are only exchanging money if you are a customer of theirs! I had trouble exchanging 2000 rupees of 500’s literally had tears in the middle of an overcrowded bank. The lady felt sorry for me so changed it. It’s certainly very tough on foreigners! And Indians alike! But having no cash in India makes it super tricky to enjoy and makes you feel very trapped! A huge adjustment period for everyone! And trump! How on earth did that happen?!

    • Rachel Jones November 12, 2016 at 10:09 pm - Reply

      Aw I’m sorry you had to go through that! I don’t even want to go wait in line at the one ATM I saw was open. It looked like maybe 1.5 to 2 hours wait. Ugh! I’m glad you got some money changed. GOOD LUCK!!

  4. venus john November 12, 2016 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    wonderful topical was good to know what foreigners think of demonetization going on india right now..

  5. Carissa November 15, 2016 at 6:23 am - Reply

    I too was in disbelief when my partner showed a WhatsAp update. Only when I saw Modi addressing did it sink in this was really happening. I have mixed feelings about what this means – particularly the challenges for so many already marginalized who are not fully in the banked sector. Let’s see how it all pans out. In the meantime, am out of India for a bit enjoying a little bit more sanity in Jakarta where the banks and ATMs work! :-)

    • Rachel Jones November 15, 2016 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Hey Carissa,
      Yeah today I waited at ATM for an hour for my 2.5k rupees which doesn’t last long.. but it’s difficult for people who can’t even access ATM’s as there just isn’t change going around. I hope it gets sorted!

  6. rebecca November 15, 2016 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    This is nuts! surely there’s a better way to do this. There should have been some forewarning or an exception of some sort for tourist who didn’t know. I feel for the tourist this effected without warning

    • Rachel Jones November 16, 2016 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      I know! Poor tourists are freaking out. I was in town yesterday and they are wandering around asking “dollar, dollar?” some don’t speak english (russians mostly) and I feel for them.

  7. Houston November 16, 2016 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel, do many shops/restaurants accept Canadian or American money? Credit cards??

    We are flying into Delhi on the 18th and then Goa a few days after that. Hoping we can get some cash from the airport so we don’t have to spend hours in bank lines… Is there any sign of improvement?

    • Rachel Jones November 16, 2016 at 12:40 pm - Reply

      some are accepted USD and GBP but they don’t have change so it’s not a good plan. Yesterday I got my 2.5k rs (something like 40 bucks) after waiting about an hour. I think it’ll only get better from here, but bank of india and HDFC seem to be the only ones in goa with atms working. I would try to exchange money at the airport and try to get 100’s.

  8. Tim UrbanDuniya November 20, 2016 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    I know this isn’t really a necessary opinion, because I don’t live in India any more, but from what I can gather the majority of corrupt money isn’t sitting in INR 500 or INR 1000 notes in India, it’s sitting in shady bank accounts in Dubai, Zurich or Panama City. To me, this sounds much more like a publicity stunt, rather than an actual attempt to do anything about corruption or “black money”.

    • Rachel Jones November 21, 2016 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Yep – I think he’s getting those middle class dudes that have a few grand hidden at home… and all at the expense of the rural and uneducated people who are being crushed with this change.

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