Living in India

Although far from being trouble free politically speaking, India is still one of the world’s fastest growing economies, offering expats an affluent lifestyle in a land of great contrasts and rich culture.

Your main difficulties will be finding decent housing and adequate insurance for private healthcare. Getting around India's crowded cities can also be daunting. One big advantage is the colonial connection with Britain, which means English is widely spoken.

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Accommodation

With a high demand for rental property, finding accommodation in India isn’t easy, especially in its big cities. The term ‘apartment’ can mean anything from a single, dirty room to a luxury living space – so get your employer and a reputable property agent to help you find a home.

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Finding accommodation

Research the market and try to find an agent recommended by other expats. You may be asked to pay to view properties, but this isn’t a legal requirement. Always be clear about your budget, and be prepared to lower your standards.

Renting property

When you’ve found a property, you’ll have to put down a deposit – this can vary from two months’ to a year’s rent. Insist on receipts and a tenancy agreement, because these aren’t always forthcoming. You may also need proof of residency and single women are often asked for a character reference.

Furnished/unfurnished

Both furnished and unfurnished rentals are available in India. Furnished accommodation is more expensive, and you may have to buy appliances.

Buying property

The housing market in India is fraught with pitfalls, vague legalities and complicated bureaucracy. If you want to buy a property, you’ll need a bank account, various permission letters and valid work and residence permits. Use an English-speaking property lawyer if you can.

Culture changes

With its sheer mass of people, noise, beggars, litter and visible poverty, India is a shock for most Westerners when they first arrive. Despite the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells, the chaos eventually becomes enthralling.

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Religion

Hinduism is practised by around 80% of the Indian population. One of the country’s merits is its very obvious religious tolerance – you’ll see Hindu and Buddhist temples cheek by jowl with Muslim mosques and Christian churches everywhere you go.

Caste system

Rooted in Hinduism, the caste system’s hierarchical division used to be prevalent in India. Although discrimination is now against the law, you’ll still find traces of it, especially in rural areas.

Women

Women are advised to dress conservatively to avoid harassment or unwanted attention, especially in crowded public places and small towns.

Education

Choosing a school in India can be difficult. Standards in both state-run and private schools vary greatly. There’s also a wide choice of curricula and philosophies. And admissions policies are competitive and sometimes corrupt. School terms generally start in June and end in March, with holidays in between.

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Public schools

Public schools in India are free for children aged between 6 and 14. They tend to be underfunded and often lack facilities. Only some teach in English, and classes can be massive.

Private schools

There are many private schools across India. Most teach in English, but they vary greatly in cost, standard and curriculum. Demand for places is high and there are often long waiting lists.

International schools

Most expats send their children to an international school that follows their home country’s curriculum, with expat teachers and good facilities. Although there are many international schools in India, particularly British and American schools, fees are high, and places are snapped up quickly.

Homeschooling

Homeschooling is legal in India, but your children will have to pass certain exams if you want to move them to a mainstream school. You can find support groups through Swashikshan, the Indian Association of Homeschoolers.

Make friends in your local neighbourhood and don't be shy to ask them for help and advice with practicalities. Word of mouth is the only way to find out how to get things done in India

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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Keeping in touch

Landlines

India has a number of landline providers, including the state-run BSNL and MTNL. To sign up, you’ll need identification and proof of residence.

Mobiles

The number of mobile subscribers in India is about a billion. Providers such as Vodafone and Airtel have network agreements that give you country-wide coverage, but rates and plans can be confusing because they’re ever-changing. Both prepaid and contract options are available.

Internet

It may come as a surprise that India lags behind on internet connectivity, particularly when it comes to speed. Broadband is becoming more popular, and even fibre connectivity is available in bigger cities. Internet cafés are everywhere and WiFi coverage is improving.

Social media

Indians have been quick to adopt social media and most people access it on a smart phone. Facebook is the most popular site, with over 200 million users.

Television

India has over 1,500 satellite TV channels and you can tune into many English programmes and news services.

Newspapers

You can buy English-language newspapers and magazines throughout India. Most of the main cities have an English national daily, such as The Times of India in Delhi and Mid-Day in Mumbai.

Healthcare

The divide between the poor and the well-off in India is very evident when it comes to medical care, which ranges from ill-equipped government hospitals to excellent private facilities. Indian medical staff are usually well-qualified and speak English.

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Public healthcare

Lacking in equipment and technology, state-funded hospitals provide very basic medical services. They’re understaffed and crowded, and family members are expected to look after patients while they’re in hospital.

Private healthcare

There’s no shortage of high-quality private hospitals in India, especially in the cities and larger towns. The standard of care is equivalent to facilities in North America and Europe.

Medical insurance

It’s important to have comprehensive medical insurance while you’re living in India. Check the small print carefully because some policies have exclusions or limit you to a particular provider.

Emergency services

Most private hospitals in India have their own ambulance service, but this may not be the quickest way to get to hospital – sometimes it’s better to catch a taxi.

Pharmacies

You’ll find pharmacies in all of India’s cities. They usually display a red or green cross – and some are open 24/7. All types of prescription medicines are available at low prices.

Health hazards

Make sure you’re up to date with inoculations against tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A and B, and take precautions to avoid catching malaria or dengue fever. Most expats only drink bottled or filtered water and avoid undercooked food and unpasteurised milk.

Getting around

The difficulty in India isn’t finding a way to travel, but deciding which mode of transport to take. For commuting, you can choose a rickshaw, bus, metro or taxi. For longer journeys there are trains, buses and planes.

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Driving

Only the most intrepid expats drive in India where the road accident rate is among the highest in the world. Many expats hire a car and a driver to take them around.

Taxis

In busy areas, taxis are often shared by people travelling in the same direction. You can hail a cab at a taxi stand – check that the meter is working before you set off. Ride-hailing services are also available in parts of India.

Rickshaws

One of the quickest ways to get around town is to jump into a three-wheeled motorised rickshaw, also known as an auto. Drivers are adept at nipping through the traffic. Agree on a price before you start your journey, because even if there’s a meter, it probably won’t be working.

Buses

In India, the cheapest way to travel is by bus. Run by state and private operators, buses are a good option for commuting, but they can be overcrowded and uncomfortable on long journeys.

Metro

Most of India’s major cities have modern and efficient metro systems that are being extended as the economy grows. Expansion work is underway in Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mumbai, Gurgaon and Jaipur. And there are plans to do the same in Chennai.

Trains

If you have the time and the inclination, exploring India by train is a great way to engage with its people. Prices are very reasonable, even for air-conditioned sleepers and express trains, but you have to book well in advance.

Air travel

If you want to travel between India’s cities or its outlying islands, it’s best to fly with one of the country’s many low-cost domestic airlines, such as Air India, GoAir, IndiGo or Jet Airways. High demand means you need to book as far in advance as possible. And leave yourself plenty of time to check in and board as this can be a long, slow process.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

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