Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 03/23/15

Personal Experiences from Chennai, India

Chennai, India 03/23/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, we lived in Sao Paulo, Dubai, and Dhaka.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

We flew from DC to Chennai through Frankfurt-about 20 hours total.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years (July 2012- July 2014).

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Consulate owned houses are split into 2 units. Apartments are rented. Commute is usually 15-20 minutes to the Consulate, 30 minutes to AISC.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Western cereals, peanut butter, chips are much more expensive. Fruits and vegetables were very cheap and need to be cleaned very well before eating. Cleaning products are locally available and inexpensive. Toilet paper was not good quality so we ordered it through amazon.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

All the liquid stuff.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

KFC, Papa Johns, Domino's, McDonald's, California Pizza Kitchen, Hard Rock Cafe, Pinkberry...

Leela place hotel has good brunch, lunch and dinner. Their dimsum lunch on weekend was pretty good even though it was pricey. And Leela place also has Thanksgiving and Christmas special lunch.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes. Be aware of dengue, malaria and chikungunya. We always used non-DEET mosquito repellent, and during November-Jan used DEET repellent (because of the dry/lower temperature there are more mosquitoes).

And we also used mosquito bed net while sleeping. When we arrived in Chennai, we hired someone to make a customized bed net to fit our king-sized bed because the bed net from local store was too narrow and short.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch-takes about 3 weeks.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We paid US$200/month each for a full-time nanny and driver. It is not easy to hire a honest worker though.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Consulate has a gym. And local gyms are also available. Lots of people from the Consulate go to yoga places-low cost.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Big stores take credit cards, and we only used the ATM machine at the Consulate and cashed checks at the Consulate cashier. We have heard some Consulate people had their credit card information was stolen, so we tried not to use credit card.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

No need.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, there are no sidewalks and many uneven surfaces.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

We used auto Rickshaw when we arrived or our driver called in sick. Rental cars are pretty expensive. Uber is popular and cheap.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You cannot import cars so people buy a new car (which can take a few months) or buy one from someone leaving post.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Available but the connection is very poor.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Just bring an unlocked phone; the Consulate will help you to get a SIM, and it is inexpensive for unlimited 3G/4G service.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

There are, but the salary is pretty low and the paper work takes time.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual for work. For women, if you cover your shoulders and knees you'll get less staring look from local people, and it's also good for not getting mosquito bites.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

We felt extremely safe here.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Singapore is the medvac place for serious issues. Basic care was ok.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Chennai's air quality was not bad comparing to other cities in India. We traveled to New Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, and we appreciated Chennai's air.

During Diwali the air quality was horrible where we lived since all the local people burn firecrackers for days (day and night).

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Some people suffered from mold allergy. It is very humid in Chennai, so the entire city is filled with mold.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

May/June are the hottest months, July-October is hot, and November-January is not hot, but there are more mosquitoes than other months. And heat comes in February.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There is the American International School of Chennai, the German school, and a few other local international schools.

I have no experience with those schools.

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2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

When we arrived in Chennai, our oldest daughter was 3.5 years old, and younger one was 1.5 years old.

The older one went to local preschool called Alphabets. There was another preschool called Sprouts, and this school did not have A/C, only a fan in the classrooms. We were happier with Alphabets' facility, so decided to send the kids to Alphabets, and we were happy with the teachers.

Alphabets school has an annual recital in early December. Once the new semester starts in September, all the students are expected to participate/memorize the dances. Older students will have more than 1 song/dance (average 2 songs), and kids spend pretty long time to practice during the school hours.

And all kids are required to pay $$ for the costume (even if you don't want your kids to participate ), and buy the specific accessories (shoes, stockings, boots etc).

They will record the show and take pics and sell it for $$ (you are not allow to use camera or phone during the recital).

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, there was a private place (can't recall the name) offering all kinds of sports for kids..we heard about this place when we were about to leave. We usually took the kids to swim and used the playground at CGR.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Eating out, movies, going to a bar at a hotel.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Since childcare is inexpensive, it is a good family post... Not many places for nightlife....

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4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Travels within India and internationally (Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia).

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5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Mylapore temple, Saint Thomas Church, Story trails tour, Cooking class by local celebrity chef, Sari shopping (fabric shopping), and going to the beach (one hour away from Chennai city).

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6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Furniture, fabrics, local arts.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Traveling throughout India and region, rich culture, friendly people and good Indian food.

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8. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, it was a good family post-safe, kind people, good Indian food, lots of traveling opportunities and low cost of living.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes and spices.

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3. But don't forget your:

Mosquito repellent, sunglasses and sunscreen.

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