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Moving to India – Day to day living guide for expats

Updated on November 19, 2011
A typical cup of tea (chai) that will be served to you from a roadside tea stall (chai larri) in India - You will soon find yourself frequenting these chai larris just like you did at Starbucks back home
A typical cup of tea (chai) that will be served to you from a roadside tea stall (chai larri) in India - You will soon find yourself frequenting these chai larris just like you did at Starbucks back home | Source

If you plan on moving to India or are already an expat living in India, here is a very real and practical guide for you, from a fellow expat. Moving overseas to a foreign country is by no means, a simple task and moving to India, is no different. You will face a country, work culture, tradition and environment like no other. Read on for a no-nonsense day to day living guide and some of the things to remember for expats living in India.

1) Develop a local contact – Your fix-it guy

One of the best ways to get things done whether it is administrative paperwork, bureaucratic issues and everything else is to be in touch with a local contact. This local contact in India is your guy who can get anything done for you, even if it is at a price. This person may also charge a nominal fee for his/her services, but that is far better than spending hours in the sun at local offices and shops. Once you get the hang of it, you will be amazed at how efficiently and effectively you can get things done in India without moving a finger!

2) Indian banking

Most of the big banks in India have branches in foreign countries. Chances are, that your country may have one too. They offer many services to expats like you who moving to India. Get in touch with them before you land on Indian shores. ICICI, HDFC, Citibank and Standard Chartered are some of the good private banks in India.

3) Accept the weather

Do you think that you are going to beat the Indian weather, especially the sun, by travelling in a/c cars and living in a/c rooms? Although these solutions may be temporary fixes, they will only make matters worse when the need arises for you to step out without your man made comforts. Living in India is all about sunny days and bright weather which you will probably miss at home. For those of you who are still wondering, it gets extremely hot in summer. Temperatures soar to more than 40 degree Celsius, or 104 degree Fahrenheit in summer! But don't sweat. All you need to do is spend a few months and your body will get accustomed to the heat. Summer is the only harsh season which lasts from roughly April-May to June-July.

4) Learn to bargain

If you are planning to be, or already are an expat living in India, you need to know that bargaining is the way of life and is the way locals do business. Unless you are shopping for groceries or things of daily consumption, you will be amazed at how much benefit bargaining can bring to you. Don't be afraid of saying no to the sales person and walking out of a shop. Chances are, that you will be called back in, and the shop owners will be glad to do business with you.

5) Don't expect great customer service

Are you used to being greeted by friendly customer service staff at local government, retail or corporate offices? Are you used to a beaming smile and a "How are you today?" by a friendly face the very minute you walk into a shop or a store? Well, you will need to stop expecting this if you are moving to India. By no means does this imply that the locals are rude. In fact, Indians are some of the most socially active population in the world and you will be amazed at how polite they are in real life. However the concept of greeting a customer with a wide smile is just not there at all places.

6) Forget early morning starts

In many western countries, shops, offices and business in general are up and about by usually 8 am. Don't expect this to happen in India. Most banks and other multi nationals generally open their doors by 9am. Some business owners even come in by 10 am. So don't be surprised if you walk in to a local shop at half past 9 and ask to speak to the owner, only to be told "Sir has not come in yet"

7) Being nice? Forget it

Foreigners and tourists generally try to be nice all the time. If you look like one, and behave like one, chances are that you may be taken for a ride. No, this is not trying to imply that the people of India are not nice. In fact, being nice and showing courtesy is a part of Indian tradition. But when you're out on the roads, don't try to be too nice. If you are, like any other country in the world, there will be people who may try to take advantage of your niceness.

You must learn to say no to people who try to offer you things like a cheap auto-rickshaw ride, cheap hotel accommodation and a cheap taxi fare. If you've been deliberately approached on the road, chances are that it is anything but cheap.

8) Mineral water

Expats living in India, foreigners and a certain section of the high society have a habit of ordering for a bottle of mineral water in India restaurants. This is basically done to put worries of contaminated water aside. Locals in India often refer to this habit as snobby so it is best avoided. Waiters in Indian restaurants will generally ask you "Would you like plain water or mineral water?" Plain water is what the locals prefer and drink, and you should too. Plain water generally refers to water from an installed cooler in the restaurant and will be served to you in a jug. You should stop thinking that you will get a serious infection by drinking plain water in Indian restaurants and cafes. If you think you will, you will.

9) Road side food stalls

Not eating at road side food stalls in India is as good as missing out on the very charm of exotic India. It is okay if you feel that these road side food stalls, or larris as they call it in local language, are not up to your own hygienic standards. But then again, you will need to tweak the definition of 'hygienic standards' before moving to India. These larris will offer some of the most exotic food items which the locals often rave about. Best of all, eating at larris in India will be extremely affordable and you will get to sample the real taste of India.

10) Spicy food

Yes, it is cheesy to mention the fact that Indian food is spicy, in a guide about expats living in India. But you will only understand the gravity and the shock factor of this element once you land in India. Unless you are planning to hire a personal chef and eat at the most expensive restaurants, be prepared to feast on extremely spicy and hot food. Even if you say "I want it less spicy" to the waiter taking your order at a restaurant, it is likely that the food will burn your tongue. Because even 'less spicy' by Indian standards is probably fire-blowing hot by yours.

Going to take a crap the morning after your first few spicy meals will probably be the worst times you've ever spent in the toilet. It will burn, and how! But it is only a matter of time before your system gets used to the spicy Indian food and the trauma turns to pleasure.

11) Visit a temple

As we all know, religion and India go hand in hand. No, this is not about asking you to be religious. But to experience the charm and the real people of India, you must visit a temple, even if it is just the one time. Spend some time there and experience for yourself what it takes to make a country of more than 1.2 billion people tick.

Be prepared to lose your shoes though. Didn't get it? Don't worry, I didn't get it either until I went there myself.

12) Buy a motorcycle in India

Motorcycles in India are a great and cheap way to travel. If you are an expat living in India and want a long term affordable solution for your local transportation needs, consider buying a motorcycle if you are not afraid to drive in the traffic yourself. Yes you can drive a car but where is the fun in that?

13) Travel tips in India

Surely travelling in India is amongst the top of the list of things that you would like to do in India, isn't it? If there would be only one single travelling tip for expats living in India, it would be, "Travel like the locals do" Don't stay in those 7 and 5 star hotels because all you will see is a fake representation of what India is from the balcony of your air-conditioned room. Tourists prefer to do this, but you are no longer a tourist, are you? Take the train, take the bus, take the rickshaw, and stay in a 3 or 4 star hotel to maximize your Indian experience. The whole idea is to spend less, and travel more. Like the sound of it, don't you?

14) Embassy contact numbers

This advice applies not only to expats living in India, but to expats in general. Before you move to India, make sure that you have numbers of your country's embassy office in India. Visit their website and make sure you know all there is to know. If in doubt, call them and clarify all queries that you may have.

15) India is not what you saw on TV

If you have seen India, Indian cities and Indian culture on the TV or in movies, chances are that you really don't know what real India is all about. Don't go to India expecting to find quaint villages, small towns and exotic traditions going on all around you. The big cities and metros in India are like any other in western countries with tall buildings, long train rides, larger than life traffic and a night life like no other. Sounds unreal? Find out yourself!

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