Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 05/02/23
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've lived abroad before in other countries. Second time to India.
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?
United States. It's a long trip to get home via New Delhi, Doha, Dubai, or Europe. In my opinion, airports in India are really bureaucratic and slow and dirty, so you just what to knock yourself out so you can wake up in a more civilized airport stopover after a few hours en route to the US.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
first diplomatic assignment
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is terribly difficult to get used to because it's always dirty, something is always falling apart, crumbling and things just stink. Commute from anywhere in the center is not too bad. People should not expect high standards for housing and maintenance.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It's rather inexpensive to get veg and fruits. There's always something to discover here in the small groceries. In my opinion, it makes no sense why India cannot have a proper grocery store, but has these hole in the wall closets stuffed full of products and people. No butchers anymore either so buying fresh meat from a real butcher is challenging and you end up buying bagged meat or frozen meat.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More bleach and cleaning supplies, alcohol, beer, wine, air fresheners, meat, cheese, and sausages.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything was widely available except good live music and outdoor restaurants with a vibe. You'll tire of Indian food and there was plenty to make up for that.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes but not super unusual for a humid place like Chennai. Bugs are everywhere and rodents of all types and sizes in the streets, restaurants. Ants in your food products. Mosquitos in your beds.
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap but not worth the work they do and the stress they caused. In my experience, the housekeepers consulate staff employed were not hard workers, had juvenile cleaning sense, and came up with bad excuses all the time for why something was not done or why they could not work but wanted to get paid. People got screwed because they trusted household staff too much and were shocked when suddenly they had to fire someone for cause. It seemed that housekeepers mostly gossiped behind everyones' backs and tried to get jobs for their relatives by getting someone else fired.
2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Several time fraud on my credit cards. Hard to use cards here.
3. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. English is fine.
4. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, absolutely impossible to navigate this city.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
No formal dress as this place is very casual. Men do not wear suits and women wear saris or traditional clothes. Not a great style conscious place by any means. If you like getting fancy, not your place.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Yes. Everything is dirty and unsanitary so you pick up germs everywhere. Firs time in my life I can remember getting two completely different sicknesses in a week and it happened several times. Hospitals and clinics are bureaucratic and crowded and unsanitary.
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?
Just dusty and bad air quality, not like Delhi but enough to bug you and make things filthy.
3. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Yes, people get depressed here as the city is depressing and ugly and watching people suffer is really hard on the soul every day.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Extremely hot, humid, and oppressive most of the year. A few weeks of rain contribute to Chennai being known for terrible floods.
1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's so lonely for singles. Indians don't understand because they marry young and their questions about family are just annoying. You may have a few friends at work, but mostly you are lonely and need to be creative with how you spend your time. People date, but not people they'd probably normally date if not stuck here.
2. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Indians are not very understanding of LGBT issues no matter how open some try to pretend they are. Even at work staff were still childish and judgmental about LGBT.
3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
No. It's very conservative.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Of course. It's terrible and all of the above existed socially and at work. No one addressed it so it was just sad to see religious minorities being treated so poorly in India and Americans did not do anything about it at work. It's hard to witness so much religious hypocrisy in India, especially in the workplace by our own leadership.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Definitely leaving and realizing that I was done with the work and would never have to work in those conditions again.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not really. I would not want to give the impression there were hidden gems. Definitely leave to visit some real hidden gems.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not so much. I heard people used to buy things here, but maybe they picked them up in their travels around the country, but not south India.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It never gets cold and you have a big giant beach that you can run on sometimes, if you're a runner.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
People who said they liked it probably lied. It's not really a great post and it was not really a great place to work. The work and heat were oppressive and the bad work environment made me want to quit. People understand that it's bad.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
sense of humor.
5. Do you have any other comments?
This place, both India and work, in my opinion, ran on weaponized incompetence. Staff attempted to avoid doing unpleasant tasks by pretending not to be able to do them, doing them poorly, or just being incompetent. You always felt like you had to do it by yourself and pick up the slack. Over time, this created a lot of additional mental baggage and workload, which caused relationship tension, friction, and stress.