Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 08/30/21
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?
I have worked in several overseas posts in SCA, AF and NEA. Chennai is by far the most difficult post I've worked in.
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?
Two-day travel that gets progressively worse, especially once you finally land in India. Previous travel transited through Frankfurt, on PCS I had to transit through New Delhi.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Two-year posting; many extend to three or four years, but I can't imagine having to live here longer than two years. Families will do it because the school has a better infrastructure than the city itself. In my opinion, it is still not worth it.
5. 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?
Housing was awful, in my opinion. Families will tend to live in spacious homes in "well to do" neighborhoods. Anyone else is likely to be placed in a mismanaged apartment building.
Those living closer to the Consulate have greater access to better supermarkets, shopping, etc. Drive times will be anywhere from 5-30 mins depending on where you live. In my opinion, streets are disgusting and the lack of infrastructure in this old, decaying city makes this the most difficult post in India.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You learn to make do with what's available, spend a bit more at the grocery stores that cater to westerners/wealthy Indians, or have your household help do everything for you. There's literally no in-between.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
In my opinion, they all seem interesting until you actually eat there and experience the service.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of bugs and insects, geckos... stock up on Raid or be flexible with your surroundings.
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?
Over-inflated; in my opinion, household help is overpaid and work is often subpar in my opinion. I had a housekeeper for several months before letting her go. The quality of her work declined and she expected us to take care of her and her family. That seems to be pretty much the MO of the employable-helper pool.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Find housing with a gym, otherwise hotel memberships are expensive. Other gyms exist but you must feel comfortable with the clientele - make sure you have a good sense of who else is using the gym. Especially during COVID.
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?
Recommended to open a local bank account and use a local debit card. International debit cards usually don't work and if you credit card charges fees for overseas use it's better to have something local.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
For interacting with local help and service workers, English is not useful. If you tend to engage in social circles with higher education, less likely to need to know local language.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Ubers safe and affordable for the most part, many of them don't have seat belts in the backseat.
If you have the money buy a car. It's not necessary to hire a driver.
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?
Small sedans/coupes/hatchbacks, mini SUVs. Low risk of burglary and carjacking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Another high point -- super cheap and relatively problem-free. You will need the assistance of the local staff to get things connected…
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Great vets are available, good kennels are not. Your dog's environment depends on where you live, and it can vary. If your dog is used to clean, green spaces it will have a hard time adjusting.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Can range from formal, casual, to dressing up in local garb..
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None except beggars in the streets.
2. 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?
Polluted and stinky.
3. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Carry all the digestive aids you need.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Many people find it quite depressing to live in this part of India.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, very hot, super hot.
1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
2. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Caste-based discrimination is all around you. You don't have to look hard and, if you do, you're basically privileged.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Flying out of South India.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You will quickly tire of the local goods here... after a while it all looks the same no matter where you go.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There are none.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Living in Chennai is NOT the same as living in New Delhi or Mumbai. The 25% differential is not enough for what you have to deal with.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. Do you have any other comments?
This post is hard-to-fill, and therefore, sections can be staffed (and often led) by newer officers who don’t have a lot of background experience in terms of expectations and performance. It seems local staff can get by on doing less, and only a few seem to know their jobs well. It's exhausting to live and work here.