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Working in India

Your guide to expat life in India

Want to work in India?

India’s fast-growing economy means there’s a high demand for skilled expats in its cities. There are particularly good opportunities if you have experience in areas such as IT, financial services, pharmaceutical research, manufacturing, aviation and telecommunications.

Many multinationals flock to India in search of growth in its burgeoning market. As with any emerging market, doing business here comes with its share of risks and challenges. Government bureaucracy and poor infrastructure are major obstacles, along with enforcing contracts and paying taxes. While economic expansion has slowed over the past few years, the future remains bright, and businesses continue to invest in the country.

Business in India

Industries that are flourishing include outsourcing, telecommunications, construction, education and retail. While women in senior positions are respected and treated as equals, they remain under-represented in the workplace. Indian businesspeople are tolerant of expats, and you’ll gain favour if you make an effort to understand their business culture.

Indians appreciate a hard-working attitude. Business dealings and decisions are based on trust, so building good personal relationships with business partners is important. You can be relaxed with your peers, but you should behave more formally around senior managers. Most Indian organisations are run from the top down and stick to a rigid hierarchy. A legacy of the caste system, status is highly valued, so be deferential and courteous to your boss and don’t expect them to engage in small talk.

In India, objectives are achieved by adapting and improvising rather than by implementing carefully constructed plans. While you may prefer to factor in known variables and have contingencies for every scenario, Indians place greater emphasis on flexibility.

Although many meetings start late, punctuality is still important. Exchange business cards at the start and greet your colleagues with a handshake, beginning with the most senior person.

Practical details

The language of business in India is English. Business hours are usually between 09:00 and 19:00, Monday to Saturday, although most Indians don’t leave before their supervisor. A five-day working week is becoming more common, and hours are often adjusted to suit international business partners.

Suits are the norm for male executives, while smart casual is fine for mid-managers. Junior workers can be more casual. Men should avoid wearing short-sleeved shirts to work. Women usually choose trouser suits or knee-length skirts.

You can greet business associates by shaking hands, but only use your right hand because the left hand is considered unclean. This also applies to exchanging money and gifts. Men must wait for women to initiate a greeting – give a slight nod of the head if you’re unsure. Gifts shouldn’t be expensive. Accept them with both hands and wait to open them in private.

Expat salaries in India

India is home to the second largest percentage of high-earning expats in the world. In general, salaries go further, and expats enjoy a higher standard of living than they did back home.

Top tips for working in India

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in India.

The hardest part is getting things set up in India. Always solicit recommendations from expats, but realize that what works for someone else may not work for you.

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

All other content is provided by, 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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