What you can bring as a duty-free allowance in India depends on who you are, where you are coming from, how long you have stayed abroad, and what you have brought with you. Generally speaking, everyone landing in India, whether they are Indians or not, can bring the following items duty-free;
100 sticks of cigarettes
125 grams of tobacco
2 litres of alcohol
(You will pay duty on any excess that is over the limit of duty-free allowance).
Personal belongings such as clothes and electronic devices like your phone, laptop, and camera, etc. are also exempt from duty. Everything else that you can bring in with you may be subject to duty.
Your duty-free allowance in India when coming from abroad (But not from BHUTAN, MYANMAR (BURMA), OR NEPAL).
If you are coming to India from a country OTHER THAN BHUTAN, MYANMAR (BURMA) OR NEPAL, you will be allowed to bring with you items up to the value of ₹ 50,000 on which no duty will be payable. The duty-free amount of ₹ 50,000 is on top of what you can normally bring duty-free anyway such as your personal belongings and the permitted allowances of alcohol and tobacco products.
Also remember that this rule only applies to you if you are an Indian citizen, or if you are a foreign national but you reside in India, or if your nationality is of a foreign nation but your origin is deemed as Indian, for example, an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India). The rule also does not include anything that is restricted or prohibited. For example, you cannot claim your duty-free allowance if you are trying to import a gun, or an excessive amount of alcohol as duty will be payable over the amount of two litres.
If you are travelling to India as a foreign national then the total amount that you claim as duty-free will be capped at ₹15,000 in addition to personal belongings and the permitted duty-free items.
Your duty-free allowance in India when coming from Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma), and Nepal.
Mostly everyone, whether they are Indian citizens, foreigners who are resident in India, and tourists when landing in India from Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma), or Nepal, can claim a duty-free allowance of up to ₹15,000 on top of what is exempt from duty such as personal belongings and other items.
Your duty-free allowance in India for jewellery and gold.
Unless you have lived abroad for at least a year, you will not be exempt from paying duty on any amount of gold import whether it is in form of jewellery or otherwise. However, in practice, a reasonable amount of jewellery worn by a man or woman is hardly subjected to any checks. Given the popularity of gold ornaments worn by Indians, especially women, a reasonable amount of jewellery is hardly noticed.
If you are coming back to India after having resided in a foreign country for a year, the first 20 grams of jewellery with a value not exceeding ₹50,000 is exempt from duty for a male passenger. For a female passenger who has spent at least a year abroad, the limit is 40 grams of jewellery with a value not exceeding ₹100,000.
Gold that is not in the form of jewellery is not allowed duty-free and you will need to pay a duty on it. Similarly, gold in the form of bars and biscuits is not exempt from duty either regardless of its weight.
Further points to note: The above rules apply to an adult and not to a minor who is under the age of two. Any child who is under the age of two can only claim the duty-free allowance for his or her personal belongings.
Most of these allowances are only allowed if the passenger is coming by air. If you are crossing overland to India, then only personal belongings will be allowed.
Your duty-free allowance in India as an NRI.
An NRI who is returning to India after having spent a few months to a few years abroad is entitled to import his personal belongings and an additional amount of items and is waived off custom duty in the range of ₹ 100,000 to ₹ 500,000. Basically the more time you have spent abroad, the less you have to pay for importing your stuff into India.
Gold or silver bars or biscuits.
This information is correct of March 2016 and is based on the information as contained in the “Baggage Rules, 2016”.