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Moving to India: What You Should Know Before Going

Gretlin Aumre

Marketing Activation Lead

With its fast-growing economy and low cost of living, it’s no surprise that India houses one of the largest expatriate populations in the world. But what’s it really like to be living and working in India? Is moving to India straightforward? And are expats welcome in the local communities? We explore all of this and more.

 

Living in India: what to expect

You may already have an expectation of what moving to India will be like, whether it’s from Bollywood movies or having visited in the past. Living there, however, can be a totally different ball game.

Most expats – on arrival to India – report the experience as a feast for the senses. The sheer volume of people, colours, smells, and flavours can be overwhelming and enticing all at once.

Once you get used to the hustle and bustle though and focus on day-to-day life in India, there are many other facets to consider.

What are the pros of moving to India?

  • The cost of living can be very reasonable. Housing remains one of the biggest expenses for expats, but even in bigger cities, there are cheap options available if you know where to look (or are willing to compromise a little on the standards of accommodation you may be used to). Food is very inexpensive and many expats can comfortably enjoy help around the home (e.g. a nanny, gardener or cleaner).
  • There is a huge array of cultures and lots of diversity in India. You certainly won’t feel out of place as an Expat – as locals are renowned for being welcoming.
  • It’s also one of the oldest civilisations, dating back to 5000 BC. In 1947 the country gained independence from the British and it’s continued to thrive ever since.
  • Telecommunications are great! You can expect excellent internet and TV service in most areas.
  • Services in India are inexpensive. If you need to get your computer, car, or appliances repaired for any reason it’s very reasonable.

What are the cons of moving to India?

  • The weather can be stifling. India is a huge country and temperatures vary from one region to another but it’s also the wettest country in the world so be sure to pack a brolly!
  • Whilst the majority of India is relatively safe, crime is persistent. Women travelling alone can be targets for assault and some public places, especially those that are popular with tourists, are targets for terrorists.
  • Driving in India is a whole new ball game! See the transport section for more on this.
  • Pollution and general cleanliness can be an issue in heavily populated areas
  • Longer working hours. Expats work on average over 4 hours more in a workweek than other areas of the world.
William Russell blog - moving to india - train at sunrise
Train at sunrise in India / GETTY IMAGES

 

Transport if you are living in India

Getting around in a foreign country can be confusing. If you’re going to be working right away then you’ll likely want to make sure you’re even more prepared as tardiness isn’t well received in India.

Driving: Re-think everything you know

You’ll likely already have heard about what it’s like to drive in India. The first thing you’ll notice (in the larger cities at least) is the sheer volume of traffic. Whilst the road conditions in most cities and large towns are reasonable, you’re often unlikely to see much of the road, because other vehicles (or animals) have been known to turn two lanes into 4!

Some of the most common observations from expats are:

  • It’s not commonplace to follow lane discipline,
  • sounding your horn is not frowned upon like in western countries,
  • and it’s more or less a free-for-all!

Because of the chaos (and sheer population of road users) India now accounts for 6% of the world’s traffic accidents (correct as of 2018). It’s now commonplace for a simple bump on the road to turn into a court case with expensive fees involved.

With all this in mind, most expats (and even many locals) are more comfortable avoiding the hassle of driving by either using a taxi/cab or other means of public transport instead.

Public transport

You won’t find a shortage of transport means in India, there are plenty of taxis, buses, and rickshaws in major towns and cities. But be warned that prices vary a lot, particularly if you’re not using large companies like Uber or Ola. Even metered cab drivers often choose not to use the meter prices so you may want to negotiate your fare upfront. And don’t forget to carry smaller bills/cash with you for payment.

If you’re planning to travel longer distances, you may want to consider train travel. You might be used to seeing the media portraying trains as overcrowded, unhygienic, and unsafe, however long-distance services are anything but that. You can often find long-distance lines offering safe, comfortable, and spacious seats for relatively inexpensive costs.

William Russell blog - guide to moving abroad in 2021 - couple looking out of new balcony
Couple moving to India from the UK / GETTY IMAGES

 

Finding Accommodation if you are living in India

If like many expats living in India you’re being relocated with an existing employer, you may not have much choice on the region you live in. However, several remote workers and digital nomads are now moving to India too. And with so many different cultures and dialects in each region, it can be hard to know where to live.

Unfortunately, there’s no short answer as everyone’s reasons for coming to India are very different, but we’ve compiled a helpful list of things to consider as well as some of the most popular destinations to move to.

How to decide where to live in India

  1. Take your time!
    It might not be a luxury everyone has, but if you can, the best way to explore an area is to simply visit! There are plenty of platforms (like Rentmystay, Sublet, and Airbnb) where you can find short-term properties. Getting a place of your own for a month or two gives you a chance to get a feel for the community and amenities before jumping into a long-term let or buying a property. 
  2. Write down what you’re looking for and what you’re not
    Once you’ve been in a few locations (or even beforehand) you should be able to compile a list of what you do and don’t want from your destination. This might be things like ensuring you’re close to an excellent school, or perhaps you love the buzz of living in the heart of a city center.
  3. Speak to the locals when visiting
    Whilst India has a vast array of different languages and dialects, it’s also one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world. So you’ll usually find it very easy to converse with locals. Get involved in some community events or get chatting to your neighbors to get a feel for what the place is like before you commit.
  4. Do you have any colleagues or ties to a region?
    Of course, if you have friends or colleagues in India, one of the best ways to get an idea of the pros and cons is to speak to them about their experiences. Or you could try reaching out to an expat group to arrange a meet-up.
  5. Be clear with your agents if using one
    Whilst it’s not unheard of for estate agents in India to charge for viewings, this isn’t a legal requirement. You also often need to be clear and firm about your budget and expectation on standards.

Best places to live in India for expats

Mumbai's beautiful skyline at night / GETTY IMAGES

1/ Mumbai

The financial capital of India is a hotspot for so many because of the great work opportunities, but it also houses some of the best schools in the country which is why it attracts so many expat families too. Education is important if you are living in India with your kids.

However, Mumbai remains one of the most expensive places to live in India. This is largely because expats in Mumbai represent some of the best paid in the world, with an average income of over USD $200,000. Many of whom enjoy relocation packages of 1-1.2 million rupees ($15,500-$18,500) per month for housing alone!

2/ New Delhi

As the capital of India has a huge amount to offer any expat living in India. It’s a relatively safe city and already houses a large expat community so it won’t take long to settle in. There are of course plenty of career opportunities and there’s a great infrastructure in place. Which makes it all the easier to enjoy the social and cultural delights Delhi has to offer. Childcare is also very inexpensive if you have a younger family to cater for. The main drawback is that – as with any bustling city – pollution levels are high.

3/ Chennai

Chennai is well known as a strong IT hub in India – so often attracts expats. But it also made our list because it is one of the safest places in India (especially for women), and was branded the 9th best cosmopolitan city in the world by Lonely Planet in 2015. It again boasts beautiful temples and is rich in culture and nightlife, but you’ll find it is less hectic in comparison to some of India’s other major cities. It also boasts excellent schools and the estimated cost of living for a family of 4 is around $1,232 USD a month.

William Russell - Moving to India as an expat blog - businessmen on laptop working in India

 

Visas, Jobs and Working in India as an Expat

Whether you start looking for work before moving to India, or after, will often largely depend on the sorts of skills and qualifications you hold. For example, India is a well-known exporter of IT services, so if you’re in that sector, you may find it easier to apply and get a job remotely.

Employment Visas: How can Foreigners Work in India?

First and foremost, in order to work in India you must obtain an employment visa and a work permit. You will usually be able to apply for these yourself as a qualified professional – but often, your new or future employer will apply for these on your behalf.

Did you know?
Your visa will run from it's issue date rather than when you enter India

If you do make the application, it can usually be done online. But it’s worth noting you will need to take any printed copies of your application and supporting documents to your nearest embassy too. The typical Employment Visa (or E-Visa) is issued for 1 year or however long your assignment is for (up to 5 years at a time). To obtain an E-Visa through your employer, you must be earning at least US$25,000 a year – with their business being registered in India.

Unfortunately, this does mean that it often rules out workers looking for jobs in secretarial/clerical positions which can be filled by Indian nationals.

To apply for an E-Visa you’ll need:

  • Valid travel documents (e.g. your passport)
  • Proof of employment with the company/organisation
  • Your qualifications/professional certification
Read our new guide:
How to find remote work

How can I find expat jobs in India?

IT services remain one of the largest exports of India but there are several other industries contributing to their continued economic growth. Here are some of the industries that you can likely find work in as an Expat:

  • IT
  • Banking or Financial services
  • Engineering
  • Tourism
  • Sales/Marketing
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Automotive
  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Petroleum

Some of the biggest employers of international workers in India are:

William Russell - Moving to India - Business lunch with colleagues
Business lunch in India / GETTY IMAGES

What’s it like working in India as an expat?

First, it’s worth mentioning that India has a reputation for long working hours. If you’re moving to India from the UK or USA, you may find it a bit of a shock to the system. Full-time expats work an average of 47.7 hours per week, compared to the global average of 43.9 hours.

Next, whilst women have held parliamentary positions in India for some time now, they remain underrepresented in the workplace. So if you’re a woman living in India and planning to work there, you may find you’re somewhat outnumbered! That being said international businesswomen do tend to be treated as equals.

There is a great deal of importance placed on building relationships in business and negotiations. It’s well worth taking the time to make small talk. Also, you may need to be prepared for questions that might have felt intimate in other work cultures (questions about your family and home life in general). This is perfectly normal here and it’s well worth reciprocating (i.e. make sure you remembering the other parties’ pet/children’s names!).

Top tips on Business & Meeting Etiquette in India

India is steeped in tradition and there’s a lot of respect given to elders and hierarchy in general. This is also true in a business context where titles and certain formalities are still expected

  1. Greeting people still usually involves a handshake in India. However, some prefer namaste instead. This is when you hold your palms together (fingers pointing up) and bow slightly.
  2. When attending a meeting, you should address those of the highest seniority first
  3. Using Sir or Madam in a work environment in normal or using formalities like Mr or Mrs.
  4. Dress codes in the workplace are usually comfortable business attire and suits (albeit it’s not always necessary to wear ties). Women more commonly wear trouser suits as opposed to skirts.
  5. Punctuality is important in India (as with most places) so leave plenty of time for getting to/from meetings.
  6. English is the ‘business language’ of India

 

Banking in India

If you’re planning on living and working in India, you’ll need to set up a bank account. One of the main benefits of using an international bank account is that you can easily convert currency between that of your home country and India Rupees at a good exchange rate.

We’ve compiled some of your most common questions around banking in India below:

Yes, absolutely. There are different account types available for foreigners in India including:

  • Non-Resident Ordinary accounts – These are current accounts designed for short-term stays (up to 6 months). They typically require you to pay in at least US$500 per month.
  • Non-Resident External –  These accounts are great if you don’t want to make monthly deposits. But they do usually require a large bulk sum on opening the account. They typically take the form of savings or current accounts.
  • Permanent current accounts – These have less restrictions on withdrawals but offer little to no interest on deposits.
  • Savings accounts – conversely these offer higher rates of interest but permit a limited number of withdrawals each month (or can be fixed for longer periods for better rates).

You will almost always need to sort out your accommodation before being able to apply for or open a bank account in India. Whilst ID requirements vary between banks, as a general rule of thumb, the minimum you must provide is:

  • Proof of identity – This can be your travel document (e.g. your Passport)
  • Proof of address – Such as a tenancy agreement
  • Proof of your right to be there – Usually your visa and residence permit

In general, yes they are – however it would be worth choosing a bank that’s identified and monitored by the Reserve bank of India.

There are now plenty of international banks established in India including:

  • HSBC
  • Barclays
  • Deustche Bank
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Citibank


William Russell blog - Moving to india - traffic and driving on india's roads
Traffic on the roads in India / GETTY IMAGES

 

Top tips: what to know before moving to India

1/ Learn the language (at least some of it!)

Contrary to popular belief Hindi isn’t actually the most popular language in India. In fact, India has the world’s second-highest number of languages (780 in total). So, be sure to check in advance what the native language is in the region you’ll be living and working.

Whilst India does have one of the largest English-speaking populations in the world if you’re planning to move somewhere more rural, you should at least learn some of the most common phrases before you go.

Travelling with a spouse of family?
Don't forget to apply for separate Visas for them too.

2/ Brave yourself for the roads

As mentioned earlier in this article, if you’re planning on driving in India, you should brace yourself. Leave especially early when attending meetings or in rush hour and be patient!

3/ Open your mind

India is full of cultural delights and has so much to offer. If you go, be sure to try some new dishes, meet some locals, attend cultural events and historic sites. It’s an incredible opportunity to grow and broaden your horizons.

4/ Learn to say ‘no’ when you need to

There’s definitely a perception that foreigners (both residents or tourists) spend more money! If you want to avoid being ripped off you’ll need to learn to be fair – and get ready to negotiate hard if you are looking to purchase something.

5/ Pack for every season

As highlighted, India can endure some extremely hot weather, but it is also the wettest country on the planet. So be prepared to swap sandals for wellies and an umbrella. Of course, each region is different though, so if you have a set destination in India, be sure to research the weather there before setting off.

6/ Don’t forget about Health Insurance!

Although the Indian economy is the fifth-largest in the world, only 1.28% of GDP is spent on healthcare. India’s central and local governments provide schemes to subsidise the cost of care there. However with 0.55 beds per 1,000 people and years of underfunding you may not receive the care you’d expect.

Only a third of the population have any sort of health insurance cover- of those a further third have a private health insurance policy (around 160M people).

In order to receive the best care possible and to ensure you don’t face extortionate fees, it’s best to take out an international health insurance policy. This ensures you’ll be seen in a timely manner and with a William Russell policy you’ll have the option to use the best doctors and medical treatments available.

Looking for an international health plan for your move to India?

Get a Quick Quote Online

 

Your handy “moving to India” checklist


We’ve provided a handy checklist for your move – use this link if you want a print-out you can add to.

  • ☐ Do you have an offer of employment?
  • ☐ Have you found a place to live?
  • ☐ If your property is unfurnished, have you found a company that can supply your home with essential furniture ahead of your arrival?
  • ☐ Have you prepaid your property deposit and any other bills?
  • ☐ Have you received your tenancy agreement as proof of address? (You will need this to do many other things like set up a bank account.)
  • ☐ Have you asked your landlord or property manager to set up your home Wi-Fi ahead of your arrival?
  • ☐ Have you calculated a budget that takes into account expenses such as rent, taxes and other bills/fees?
  • ☐ If you are migrating with children, have you arranged a place for them at a local school?
  • ☐ Have you chosen a bank for your account and prepared the necessary paperwork?
  • ☐ Do you have all the necessary payment cards to go with your account?
  • ☐ Have you arranged to get a mobile phone with a local SIM card?
  • ☐ Have you taken out international health insurance to cover you and your family?
  • ☐ Have you checked the COVID-19 situation and made preparations to undergo regular testing?
  • ☐ If you have already been vaccinated for COVID-19, if so, do you have evidence of your vaccine such as the batch number and manufacturer?
  • ☐ If you have not been vaccinated, have you made arrangements to get a vaccine once you arrive in India or looked at the quarantine implications?
  • ☐ Have you applied for a visa at least 2 weeks before beginning your preparations?
  • ☐ Have you also applied for a visa for your spouse and/or family?
  • ☐ Have you checked to see if you can bring your pets (both with your landlord as well as the transport implications)?
  • ☐ Have you learned some basic Hindi phrases (or relevant local dialect to the area of India you’re staying in) to help you get by in day-to-day life?

 

Moving from the UK & USA: what you should know

Whilst moving to India can be a culture shock for most expats, those moving from the UK or USA may find these tips useful.

Moving to India from the UK

Well over 30,000 Britons have made the leap to live in India. Whilst some expats take each month as it comes, if you’re still keeping the UK close to your heart you may want to consider taking some of the following steps:

  • Register as an overseas voter if you want to continue to vote
  • Keep your existing bank account open. You may want to discuss account options with your bank/branch to ensure you don’t overpay but it can be very handy to retain a long-standing account for your UK credit score.

We’ve also compiled some frequently asked questions from UK citizens moving to India below:

Yes, you can get citizenship in India but would need to meet at least one of these criteria:

  • Through naturalisation if you’re willing to give up your British citizenship
  • If you’re married to an India citizen
  • Or if you’re of Indian ancestry

 

If you want citizenship by naturalisation – it’s not easy! You must have already lived in India for 11 of the last 14 years prior to application and lived continuously in India for a period of 12 months immediately prior to the date of application.

Yes! Although you’ll need an international driving permit to accompany your license. Rules on how long this is valid for will vary from one state to another so be sure to check the legalities of where you decide to live.

Many British expats with families are concerned about the transition for their children. Luckily since India houses such a huge expat population – you’ll have a wealth of international schools to pick from.

If you don’t want to go down the route of a fee-paying school, it’s good to know that India is the second largest English speaking country in the world. English is widely taught in Indian schools and in fact some states such as Jammu and Kashmi teach in English.

You’ll get very different responses to this depending on who you ask. Unfortunately, most expats find the work-life balance can be poor even though the cost of living is low and pay can be very high. Pollution and safety also concern many expats in India.

However, for many of those expats who do make it work for them, it’s cited as a very welcoming experience. And they will likely tell you that your own experience will vary wildly depending on where you choose to live (see more about that above).

Finally…

Be prepared!
Living in India and beyond is an exciting and rewarding prospect. There’s so much culture to be discovered – and plenty of money to be made, too. To truly make the most of it, make sure you do as much preparation as possible.

We hope this article plus our handy checklist gives you all the information and resources you need for your move.