Want to live 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.
Accommodation in India
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. 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.
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. Both furnished and unfurnished rentals are available in India. Furnished accommodation is more expensive, and you may have to buy appliances.
Those looking to buy property should note that India’s housing market is fraught with pitfalls, vague legalities and complicated bureaucracy. You’ll need a bank account, various permission letters and valid work and residence permits. Use an English-speaking property lawyer if you can.
Local culture in India
With its sheer mass of people, noise, beggars, litter and visible poverty, India is a shock for most Westerners when they first arrive. But, despite the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells, the chaos eventually becomes enthralling.
Hinduism is practised by around 80% of the Indian population. One of the country’s merits is its obvious religious tolerance – you’ll see Hindu and Buddhist temples cheek by jowl with Muslim mosques and Christian churches everywhere you go. Rooted in Hinduism, the caste system’s hierarchical division used to be prevalent in India and, although discrimination is now against the law, you’ll still find traces of it, especially in rural areas.
Women are advised to dress conservatively to avoid harassment or unwanted attention, especially in crowded public places and small towns.
Education in India
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Keeping in touch in India
There are around a billion mobile subscribers in India. Providers such as Vodafone and Airtel have network agreements that give you country-wide coverage, but rates and plans can be confusing as they’re ever changing. Both prepaid and contract options are available. The country has a number of landline providers too, including the state-run BSNL and MTNL. To sign up, you’ll need identification and proof of residence.
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 fibre connectivity is available in bigger cities. Internet cafés are everywhere and WiFi coverage is improving.
India has over 1,500 satellite TV channels and you can tune into many English programmes and news services. You can also 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 in India
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.
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. However, there’s no shortage of high-quality private hospitals in India, especially in the cities and larger towns, which is why 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.
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.
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.
Lastly, 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 in India
The difficulty in India isn’t finding a way to travel but deciding which mode of transport to take. 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.
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. One of the quickest ways to get around town, though, 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.
By far the cheapest means of 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. In the major cities, you can make use of modern and efficient metros 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.
If you have the time and the inclination, exploring India by train is a great way to engage with its people. Prices are reasonable, even for air-conditioned sleepers and express trains, but you have to book well in advance.
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.
Cost of living in India
Although India is generally recognised as having a low cost of living, you may be surprised by how expensive its cities can be. Expats in India are paid well, and you should be able to afford luxuries such as a housekeeper and a chauffeur.
The biggest expenses for an expat family are housing and education, so it’s worth trying to get these included in your benefits package, along with medical insurance.
When it comes to leisure activities, fine dining is exceptionally cheap. Trips to the cinema are also inexpensive, and street markets are a great place to buy cheap fruit, vegetables and spices.
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Top tips for India
See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in India.
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.
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 September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.
This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.
Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.
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