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Expat Exchange - 10 Tips for Living in India
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10 Tips for Living in India

By Betsy Burlingame


Summary: Expats in India advise finding an apartment building or home with a backup generator, hiring a driver and adapting to Indian food.

Life in India

"We do get stared at in the street and we are targets for beggars who pay us a little more attention than they do natives but Pune is a city of 5 million people and overall beggars haven't been any more problematic than they are in a similarly sized city in the US. My wife had her arm grabbed once by a beggar but turning and saying a stern NO did the trick. Plenty of poverty. The contrasts between the haves and have-nots is huge here. We just try to remember that our contributions to the local economy is doing something," described an expat in Pune.

"If you are the type of person who enjoys a challenge, likes meeting people and seeing different things, you will have the time of your life! India is wonderful, choatic, scary and fascinating all at once. You'll experience things you couldn't even imagine in the US, both good and bad. If you prefer a clean regulated environment with everything in it's place and running on time, if you prefer things to be predictable and orderly, sterile and 'nice' then you will probably feel uncomfrotable here," advised an expat living in Bangalore.

"There is a cheerful religious freedom that I have never seen anywhere else - Sikh gudwaras next to Muslim mosques, Buddhist temples, Christian churches, Hindu temples," explains an expat in Mussoorie. Another expat living in Hyderabad said, "The beauty of India, especially Hyderabad, is the tolerance of other religions and acceptance of their values, customs and participation.

Healthcare in India

Most people moving to India question the quality of healthcare in India. One expat talked about healthcare in India saying, "Quality of care varies a lot from one hospital to the other. Check out local hospitals where expats go. Most likely their care quality is good even though they may be a bit more expensive. Medicine costs are reasonable compared to US. Many pharmacies sell medications. May not get exact name brands as in USA but chemically equivalent medicines can be obtained. Most medications need Prescriptions. Many pharmacies do give out medicines if you tell them the local name."

In another discussion on our India Expat forum, one expat commented, "Medical facilities in India are at par with any other country of the world, especially in Metros it's of high standards. And Ahmedabad is no exception." Another expat added, "Driven by a surging economy, a surplus of well-trained healthcare practitioners, low infrastructure costs and a proven national penchant for international outsourcing of customer service, India is now the world's value leader for the international cost-conscious medical traveler. "

If you are an expat in India and are interested in expat health insurance, take a minute to get a quote from AXA's Global Healthcare team.

Women in India

An expat in Mussoorie explained, "The status of women - despite equality being spoken about, it's clearly not reached everywhere and every strata of the society. I've been harassed in Delhi and here in Mussoorie, and the fact that as a white woman I'm stereotyped, and thus don't feel safe walking alone, is awkward. Wearing local clothes and speaking some Hindi helps, but not always enough."

A women who worked in India offered advice about what to wear to work, "Your skirt suits will not be appropriate for business in India. In most business settings, women usually wear salwar kameez, sometimes western business casual slacks and tops. Offices are usually air-conditioned, so light jackets or sweater sets can work well (just remember to keep your shoulders covered). You should probably bring a couple of summer pantsuits for court dates – you will feel comfortable in them and your Indian colleagues will recognize that you are wearing business attire appropriate for western women. Once you arrive, ask a female colleague to take you shopping for some salwar kameez, appropriate for various settings where you will work - you may feel a bit awkward in them at first, but they are considered pants suits and are great for Indian weather. For shoes, I recommend that you bring a couple of pairs of your sturdier, comfortable pumps for your western wear, then buy some dressy, work-appropriate sandals, following your female colleagues’ example, to go with your salwar kameez."

Raising Kids in India

"One bit of warning to those with small blonde children--especially girls: you WILL have strangers trying to touch, take pictures and even kissing your kids. I wish I could say otherwise, but too many friends have caused near riots on the public areas (not in the expat areas) with their blonde kids. Stay where the expats are or put a hat on the kids so the locals can't see the hair color. The locals are so excited to see these unique children, but it can get aggressive with people trying to take pictures. It's incredible," warned an expat living in Mumbai. Another person who had lived in New Delhi said, "We lived in India with three kids who mostly wouldn't eat Indian food. I don't know the specific stores in New Delhi, but all large Indian cities have markets that sell international groceries, and the grocery sections in department stores now offer some western groceries and many Indian-produced products that are similar to western groceries. In New Delhi, you will also be able to find many restaurants that offer pizza, pasta, fast food, etc. They won't be exactly like what you're used to at home, but they will provide an alternative to spicy Indian food. You'll also find some common Indian foods that aren't too spicy that you and your kids may develop a taste for - rice & dal, breads, masala dosa, lassi, etc. We found we shifted our diet over to more fresh foods and less packaged foods. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful and inexpensive, especially compared to international groceries! We hired a cook/housekeeper who did most of our marketing and cooked Indian dishes with very mild seasonings and simple American food for our kids. She had worked for another expat family, and was quite creative about finding food that even our pickiest eater would enjoy, such as crepes and fruit milk shakes. We did find that we needed to bring a few items that we never found in India: a salad spinner, pie dish, muffin tins, American measuring spoons & cups (for American recipes), and a coffee-making system that didn't need electricity (e.g., french press or filter cone), for the many mornings when the power was out."

Expats in India Typically Have Drivers (and cooks and cleaners)

"Having to plan quite carefully for evenings and weekends. We (and most expats) have a driver and once he has gone home we are restricted to the local neighborhood. We are fortunate insofar as a lot of restaurants and shops are within walking distance but we have colleagues who are pretty isolated once their driver goes home. We miss being able to be spontaneous and just go for a drive later in the day, or just go to a restaurant the other side of town or have an evening drive to the hills to watch the sunset. We miss that quite a lot," advised an expat in Pune.

"Auto-rikshaws are cheap/fast and everywhere in Bandra for shorter journeys. Plus, you can get home delivery for EVERYTHING! I ordered 95% of my groceries over the phone which significantly cut down on that irritation time in traffic spent doing errands. Our vendors were amazing, knew very quickly what our usual items were, and let us know when they had specials. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in India," explained an expat living in Mumbai.

"I bought a new SUV. It was less than half the price of a similar vehicle in America. I sold it for very little under what I bought it for. Considering the cost of a rental car that came with a driver (about $400 a month) versus driving and buying my own car, I came out WAY ahead.... a driver is necessary though else you'll spend all your time trying to find a parking spot when you need to run errands... I drive myself for some stuff, and use a driver for others," said an expat living in Bangalore.

What to Bring

"I wished i had brought good mattress, good pillows. I should have not brought thick clothes and medicines," said an expat living in New Delhi. Another expat in Pune said, "[I wish I had brought] TV (Yeah, I know it's a different system (PAL not NTSC) but there are good converters and it wouldn't have mattered for our DVDs) and a good 40 inch TV is astonishingly expensive here. Photo Printing Paper - strangely hard to find here. Branston Pickle. [I wish I had not brought] our second computer, coats, Wii (Unlike our computer and Playstation, the Wii transformer only works on 110 volts and I managed to blow it up by assuming it would work with 220 volts." Others mentioned bringing boots, a better laptop, certain foods and everyone seemed to mention leaving behind coats, skirts and other clothing.

"Find your nearest little photo store and get a couple of dozen passport photos done as soon as you arrive. You'll need them as they are obligatory for even routine stuff like getting a contract to deliver propane (which your cooker works on), cellphone, aircard, lease registration and so many other things. Carry your passport. You'll need it for ID purposes a lot in the early days," recommended an expat in Pune

Bringing a Pet to India

"We got an Irish Setter while here, but we won't be bringing her back to the states with us - You can easily bring a pet from America to India, but going the other way, your dog has to be in quarantine for several months... we didn't want to put our dog through that, so when we go back, she'll be staying with friends in India.... Meanwhile, also, having a 'domesticated' dog is a lot of work... The street type dogs don't take kindly to a 'different' dog, and so you need to be a little careful while out walking the dog. Also, dog food is pretty expensive and only sold in one place that I know of, otherwise the local vets recommend cooking for the dog. We have a cook who does it for us, but its still a pain making sure there is enough ground beef in the fridge for the dog every day.... I lived in Richmond town right downtown in a flat and almost no place that I looked at had any rules about pets... its much easier to have a pet and try and rent a place in India than it is in America," explained an expat living in Bangalore

Finding a Home

An expat living in Pune advised, "Bear in mind that unfurnished here means not just no furniture but no air conditioners, appliances and so forth. Make sure you know exactly what is included. Don't be shy about asking for things such as new mattresses and also new furniture if it looks well used! Power blackouts are common. Make sure you have generator back-up or at least an inverter (battery back up) or you'll spend a lot of time in the dark. Don't expect an oven, very few places have them. We only saw one apartment with an oven (which we now live in, but that wasn't the deciding factor). Microwaves are smaller than in the US but you can get combination microwaves that also double as a convection oven. You won't be cooking big turkeys so a small oven shouldn't be too troublesome." Many expats mentioned the need for a backup generator. One explained, "The power goes off a lot, but most nicer apartment buildings have backup generators and your power goes uninterrupted."

Meeting People in India

An exat in Hyderabad suggested that expats meet others by, "Learning the traditional handicrafts and culinary classes, the expats club, the local city clubs for networking, joining Red Cross and other NGOs who have volunteers from school and colleges, working for the masses and improving the quality of life."

"[Join] USAI & USFI (United States of America Institute); YMCA; Rajneesh Asram. There is one colony in Pune called Rajneesh's Ashram which is really diverse and consists of people from all over the globe. The locals are friendly -- sometimes too friendly, which makes one feel suspicious...but they're a friendly lot and mean no harm." suggested an expat living in Pune. You will find a list of expat clubs in India on Expat Exchange.

Another expat advised, "Get to know your neighbors, especially the locals as we have found them to be unfailingly friendly and helpful - our immediate neighbor arranged a dinner party to welcome us and introduce us to some other neighbors within a week of arrival. The little tips they can help you with can make life much easier - such as one of the local grocery type stores delivers and so our neighbor took our list and called them and we had all the cleaning stuff we needed, you know mops, brooms, trashcans, and so on within an hour of moving in without the hassle of having to shop for them and far cheaper than had we bought them at one of the supermarkets that expats tend to gravitate towards, at least in their early days in country."

Indian Food

An expat in Mussoorie said, "The variety of food, particularly vegetable-based, is great: even if you're not vegetarian, it's worth trying and usually tastes better than the meat dishes!"

"Western food is available, but you should be prepared to change your diet somewhat. South Indian food is flavourful, but not hot, but will def be more spicy than you'd get at home (think tex-mex if you're not experienced Indian)," suggested an expat in Bangalore.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.




Sep 17, 2012 20:40

India must find the ideal of ancient India, daamrhre2jya, country where reign the principles of right and of justice.For it, it is necessary to establish a true social justice, so that the farmers and all small jobs are just remunerated and so that these people aren't any more encouraged to the suicide by despair not to can any more feed their family.A nation can be compared with a building: if the base (the small jobs) isn't solid, it is all building which will collapse.A social justice will bring a stability and an internal peace in the country, depriving terrorist movements and religious invaders of their best arguments.Richard. (belgium)

Jul 22, 2013 14:19

Hello to all of you with comments about India. I would like to ask a very personal question that would be beneficial to me. I am a Professional Nurse Educator and planning a trip to India. I am an African American...one of those who is considered a world traveler. I will be volunteering to guest lecture some nursing students at a very large and well to do medical school in southern India. Do any of you have any idea as how I may be seen in the eyes of the Indians. I have worked with many Indian nurses, but they were probably born in USA and not there...so their values and views may be quite different. If you have some comments please share...I am obviously not a person who looks at color when I travel or otherwise. In this profession as a nurse...I have not had a choice as to who I take care of and only my race. thanks for any feedback

Jul 7, 2016 22:42

Vacation in India for a few months before living in India. I have many expat friends who either liked living in India or found out that it was a nightmare. Some of them were NRI's who moved back to India after many decades due to nostalgia and found out that reality trumps fantasy. Good about India - People are friendly, inquisitive and mostly simple. Cost of living is cheaper in outskirts of Cities. If you are young & a travel buff, than living in India is a great adventure. Major cities are westernized & English is the language of choice. Bad - Basic necessities like electricity & water are unreliable. Hygiene and poverty are on full display. Expect corruption when dealing with the law & administrative services. Lately, India has become dangerous for single women. Purchasing property can be risky, especially if it is not properly zoned even though the paperwork shows no irregularities.

Oct 8, 2017 17:00

I brought my cat back to the US with no problems at all. Going there was a lot of paperwork which was NEVER CHECKED when I got there. Welcome to Indian bureaucracy at its finest. :)

Mar 6, 2018 08:15

A really good article, I must say. Coming to the point of finding home, I think if you really look at the right places, I mean good websites there are less chances of being surprised then. Especially in big cities it is good to use some trusted website which has good number of ads for home. There you can see if the house is full furnished or not. There are many home search website including https://homes.askalo.in/ On this website you can find home for rent or sale. I hope you have a good time in India :)

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