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Expert Life in India

General Overview :

India is a huge country with many religions and ethnic groups. Living in India can offer expats a taste of life in an exotic and diverse place. It is a bright and vibrant country with an eclectic mix of different cultures and people. Still, there are some basic rules that all expats should and have to follow if they are planning to live and work in India for an indefinite period of time.

Most expats living in India enjoy the colorful unconventionality that their new home has brought to their daily routines. Some defining aspects of Indian society are its cultural, religious, and linguistic pluralism and its traditional caste system. The latter is a strict system of social stratification which may still impose virtually impermeable hierarchies on the population.

People living in India’s rural areas make up around 70% of the populace. However, India has witnessed a steady increase in its urban population over recent years. This trend goes hand in hand with the growing numbers of well-educated, middle class residents in India’s metropolises.

The rise in the numbers of skilled workers has contributed to making the country an emerging force on the global market, which continues to attract foreign interest. Multinational companies interested in tapping the Indian market increasingly send their employees out on assignments, thus giving expat life in India a boost.

Climate :

India is a vast country with diverse weather patterns. There are generally two seasons in India; a rainy season and dry season. From October to March, the weather is, on the whole, drier and mild. Monsoons and flooding are common during the rainy season.

    India has four different climatic regions :

  • Alpine Zone : High altitudes of Himalayas. Different types of climate are experienced in these zones as a result of deviations in the altitude. The weather generally consists of high temperatures and low rainfall.
  • Sub Tropical : Northern India. Hot wet summers and cold, dry winters.
  • Tropical : Southern India. Very hot and humid.
  • Arid : Western India. High temperatures and low rainfall.

Cost of living in India :

The majority of cities in India offer expatriate a very good standard of living for a relatively low cost and the majority of expats live quite affluent lifestyles. The cost of most things, including entertainment, education, housing and food is lower than that in western countries, even within the developed cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi. According to the Mercer cost of living survey in 2012, New Delhi (113) and Mumbai (114) dropped considerably in the list of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live – by 28 and 19 places respectively.

Benefits :

Starting a new life in India is immensely exciting, but it is certainly not without the inevitable pits and downfalls expats face in many countries across the world. To start with the positive aspects: India can be extremely rewarding for those who embrace its challenges.

If you come from a Western country, life in India is likely to be more chaotic and louder than anything you have experienced before. However, clinging to your habits from back home during your expat life will probably prove futile and only get in your way. Most expats who have come to enjoy their new life in India started by accepting what they cannot change, thus learning to appreciate the different qualities that the country has to offer.

In general, most people are friendly and welcoming to strangers who are trying to adapt to the way of life in India. It is not unusual for foreigners and their families to be invited round their neighbours or colleagues’ houses for dinner.

Despite the growing numbers of foreigners visiting or living in India, Europeans and North Americans may sometimes attract a lot of attention in rural areas. Tourists and expats living in India are often asked for permission to have their photographs taken by the local population, thus being made to feel like a tourist attraction themselves. However, this curiosity should not be mistaken for importunity.

Challenges for Urbanites :

Another challenge will be the high levels of noise, pollution and overpopulation in India’s big cities. The often harsh inequalities and visible poverty of the population are not easy to accept for many foreigners.

Getting around in India’s metropolises can be a challenge in itself. Although (or because) buses, rickshaws and taxis are everywhere, constant congestion and poor road conditions do their bit to make every journey last much longer than expected.

Tips for settling in India :

Register at the FRRO. Within the first 14 days of your arrival you need to register at the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office (FRRO). Usually, your employer helps you with that. If not, try to find a reliable Indian person, who can help you out with the language spoken in the area you live in, as nobody in the FRRO will speak enough English to understand you. Do not forget to fill the simple form with your address and other details. And take passport pictures. In India passport pictures are needed for everything, so make it a habit to carry at least 5 with you at all times.

Get a residency permit. Once the FRRO has worked on your registration, you (or somebody in the company you work for) will be asked to pick up your 'residency permit' (stamped form). This paper is very important. Do not lose it and carry it with you when you are travelling, as it is proof that you are an Indian Resident and will give you discounts at many tourist sites like Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, Qutab Minar in Delhi, Amber Fort in Jaipur and many more. It also proofs that you are in India legally. The process for your permit to be approved can take anything between 5 days and 2 months.

Get a telephone : Every Indian owns a mobile phone. Getting one takes some patience, but is quite easy. Identify the most reliable mobile provider in your region. Common ones are: Airtel, Hutch (now Vodafone), Idea. Usually you need your residency permit and passport as well as 1-2 passport pictures. You can use your European telephone or a U.S. one (although India providers are mostly using the GSM network -- same as AT&T and T-Mobile in USA). But simple mobile phones can be bought starting from 30 USD.

Get a PAN card : Your employer will pay taxes for you or you will pay your own taxes. In any case you will receive a PAN card that shows that you are 1. an Indian Resident and 2. paying your taxes in India. This card you can carry with you instead of the residency permit, as it serves the same purpose and is accepted by most people and institutions as a means of identification.

Obtain health insurance : either you have taken up a private health insurance in your home country or your employer offers you a certain health insurance package with your contract. Bigger cities in India have good private hospitals and doctors at prices that are affordable.

    Learn about transport : If you are not lucky enough to live in one of the cities that has a metro, you will have to rely on the following methods of transport:

  • Bike Rikshaw : slow, unreliable and usually the drivers do not know their way around. Not advisable after dark for single women. Price: bargain, bargain, bargain! It is cheaper than you think and foreign people pay a higher price than Indians in any case.
  • Auto Rikshaw : They do have meters, but those never work. If they do, in many cities the drivers have lists that show the rates you have to pay according to the meter. If the meter does not work: bargain, bargain, bargain!
  • Taxis : same as for auto rikshaws. There are also taxis that have fixed prices which can be booked for a certain number of hours and kilometres with the driver. Ask your Indian colleagues for the local prices for these (and everything else).

Obtain health insurance : either you have taken up a private health insurance in your home country or your employer offers you a certain health insurance package with your contract. Bigger cities in India have good private hospitals and doctors at prices that are affordable.

Experiment with eating out : Restaurants are quite cheap and usually the food is fine. Indian food is very spicy and contains a lot of beans. In most of the bigger cities, there is a good variety of Western food available (at higher cost though). Hygiene is a very sensitive topic. Mostly the plates and cutlery are clean. It is only a myth that the food is not cooked in hygienic conditions. Today maximum Indian restaurants observe the hygiene standards laid down by the central board. Indian chefs work very hard to give you the right quality food. If your concern about hygiene is genuine we suggest you eat at a good restaurant and not at road side. Nobody can assure healthy food at road side whether in India or in New York.

Power Backup : When living in India you will experience very irregular voltages and frequent power cuts. You need to buy voltage stabilizers for electronic appliances and UPS for your computer.

Adjust to the manners : In some parts of India snorting is ok, spitting is ok, shouting is ok. The manners of many Indians take time to get used to.

Most of the people you deal with in everyday life (vendors, waiters, cleaning people, cab drivers etc.) will not speak English, so learn your share of Hindi or whichever language/dialect is spoken where you live. Most important words: namaste = hello, seedha = straight (for the cab drivers, they do know left and right), ye bas = stop here, achhha = good, nahi = no, han or hanji = yes, nahi = no, nahi chahiye = no, I don't want and the numbers, so that you can negotiate for prices ; Kya hua= What happen? ; Seb = Apple. Dukaan= shop; Chai= Tea; Bhai= Brother; Kal= Tomorrow. Chutti= holiday;

You will be stared at! Find your own way to deal with it.

Bargain, bargain, bargain! Foreigners in India are generally being treated as walking ATM-machines. Everybody will just want your money. No matter if that person is poor or fairly rich. They all think foreigners can just pull a 1000 Dollar note out of their pocket. Once you are familiar with the prices in your area, do not let them convince you the prices have increased. Foreigners are foreigners and you will be surprised how much less Indians around you pay for the same thing.

Tourist vs. Indian price : Your PAN-card and residency permit allows you to enter important sights at the price of an Indian. This does not work everywhere (e.g. Taj Mahal) and sometimes needs some convincing. But do not forget: you pay Indian taxes, so you should be treated as an Indian.