Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 05/25/16
Personal Experiences from Chennai, India
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not my first, but my first in Asia. I've lived in Europe before.
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?
Washington, D.C. I've traveled back and forth via London on British Airways. It's about 23 hours each way.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
A mix of housing types. Typical commutes from ten minutes and up.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very cheap and you can find what you need. You may have to hunt a bit, but you can find it. Lots of people shop at Amma Naana. I used Big Basket a lot.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything liquid. Oils are available, but low quality and expensive. Vinegar is the same and can be hard to find. Believe it or not, I found myself wishing I had more hot sauce.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes. They carry malaria and dengue fever.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available and cheap. They will come to you and ask to be hired.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, and they are cheap, but I don't recall the exact price.
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?
I didn't do it often, but had no issues.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most people speak English, but everyone is impressed by you being able to speak Tamil. The ability to speak English is seen as a sign of class, so often if you great someone in Tamil, they will respond in English and not appreciate the Tamil greeting. I learned to greet people in English, talk to them in English, and then say farewell in Tamil.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
If those issues affected mobility, it could be difficult. Sidewalks are uneven and in poor repair. I have impaired arms and had no issues.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We weren't supposed to use the buses. Trains and taxis were safe. They are cheap, but they also try to overcharge you. Negotiate a price before getting in.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available. Fiber Internet was good quality and highly reliable for me. I heard complaints from others. Costs were around $30 per month, but the download limits were not generous.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Wearing Indian attire will be appreciated by locals, especially if you are a woman. Wearing Indian attire also causes rickshaw and sale prices of goods to fall.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Chennai seems very safe to me.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical quality is poor. We were medically evacuated for anything substantial.
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?
If you focus only on fine particulate matter, the air is better than most places in India. But if you are looking a bit more broadly, then by some measures the air is worse the New Delhi. I had respiratory issues. Friends were hospitalized with air quality related problems.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The local populace is not aware of food allergies.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Three seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. Monsoon tends to hit from October to December. It's wet then. Otherwise mostly dry.
1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I'm single and was very happy. Most singles complained about finding little to do. But see above comment about how getting to know locals can help avoid boredom.
2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The people. There are amazing Hindu temples. There is really good food. Marina Beach is a hoppin' place to go at night. But at the end of the day, it's really about the people. Get to know local people and Chennai will not be boring at all.
3. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Depends on how adventurous you are. Ash Vita was my favorite restaurant. For the adventurous, there's a little restaurant on the side of a rice paddy with a pond where you catch your own fish and they cook it for you. They also make a great BBQ chicken. But don't expect them to cater to western tastes. They don't. It's great. Street food abounds, but don't eat it unless it is steaming hot. I drank coconut milk out of the shell almost whenever I went out.
4. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
5. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Some of the most amazing people I've met anywhere. They truly take you into their hearts immediately.
6. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How safe it really was.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your: