Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 01/05/24
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?
Lived in the South Pacific and Australia previously.
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?
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, military, 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 ok. We lived on the second floor of a large home that was converted into two units. Very spacious. The other houses in our community were also nice/large. Commute times were very good, only about 10-15 minutes to the Consulate, and that was for just about everyone.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries were fine, but nothing special. Any US products were located at two or three markets, and the premium was substantial. We had a cook who did the grocery shopping, so didn't do much ourselves. Cost of local groceries is cheap (seafood, meat, veggies, rice, etc).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Oils, maple syrup, pasta sauces. Basically any fluids that can't go through pouch.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants in Chennai are not the best, but not awful either. Can find pretty much everything. Pizza and sushi wasn't the best, but other Asian fusion was decent. Don't expect good burgers of course. Swiggy is the primary delivery service, and was excellent. Cheap, fast, and eventually began taking US credit cards which was useful.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Bugs were pretty bad. Mosquitos were frequent, and had to be careful with dengue. Many slept under nets, which we gave up after a few months due to annoyance. Also had frequent ant problems, and towards the end of our tour some random fruit fly-style infestations despite not having any fresh food out. Typical of the climate/region, more of a bother than anything truly concerning.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch. No experience with anything else.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Pretty good and cheap. Most have housekeepers, nannies, cooks, drivers. We had a 3 person house staff. 300-400 a month, 40-50 hours for each. Most were fine with the help, though it's mostly the same people just rotating between families, leading to quickly escalating prices.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Small gym at Consulate, which is enough for the basics. Reasonably priced gyms and personal training sessions ($20/hour for trainer) at local facilities, which my spouse used and was happy with.
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?
One of the best parts about India is their digital payment system. Most places accepted my US credit cards. If not, GPay in India is simple and easy to use. Never carried cash, was never needed. Didn't use an ATM once, but others did and seemed to have no issue.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Tamil was not necessary. Post had some classes for anyone interested, but not sure how many took them. Almost everyone in India that a foreigner would communicate with on a daily basis speaks pretty good English.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Sidewalks are almost nonexistent, as are ramps/elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No experience, but heard good things about the metro (and pictures look nice as well). Uber and Ola (Indian-style Uber) apps are easy and cheap. Most have cars/drivers, so use of other services are infrequent.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
Right hand drive, so didn't hear of anyone bringing a vehicle.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Was installed upon arrival, paid about $30 USD for 500 mb/s. Speeds and uptime were generally excellent. Maybe two issues of over-24 hour outage in two years.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
Had our dog from US, and vet care was easily accessible and cheap. Not sure how great the care was, however, as we had some frequent skin conditions that were generally never addressed correctly. But mostly not a real concern.
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?
Most don't work, but there are plentiful jobs at the Consulate for EFMs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Pretty casual due to the extreme heat. Some wore polo shirts, some wore full on three-piece suits. General dress was somewhere in between.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. In my two years I didn't hear of any security incidents. Indians treat foreigners with great respect, except for the constant staring/gawking. Our children received quite a bit of interest, which could potentially bother more helicopter-ish parents.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Standard health concerns living in a developing country. Facilities for medical care were average or below, but the physicians are all good (education system in India is excellent, and many were also educated abroad). A few cases of dengue in the community, but nothing with my family. The worst was just a pretty typical sore throat, headache, standard cold that we somehow had every few weeks. Nothing debilitating, but frustrating.
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?
Air quality was always decent, certainly much better than other Indian cities. That said, it's worse than the US, and I think probably was the culprit of the general malaise we dealt with throughout our time in India mentioned in the previous question.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Just beware of air quality.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Nothing me or my family dealt with.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot generally at all times. Humid as well. Even in the evening going outside is a struggle.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
People seemed to be very happy with the international school there, but no experience from my end.
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?
Most with toddlers/babies had nannies, as did my family. Some sent kids to daycare, and seemed happy with the quality.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Mostly just Americans from the Consulate. A few Australians, a few Europeans. Morale at post varied considerably. Some were legitimately depressed and couldn't wait to leave, others enjoyed the time, some extended. My family was pretty positive about our time in India.
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?
Mostly with other members of the Consulate community. There were a few people who surfed, sailed, biked, but I think that was mostly with other Americans.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Probably not for singles, as Tamil Nadu is a very conservative state and dating is likely very difficult. Seems most singles just made it work dating within the community. Couples and families it is good. Cheap and accessible household help, good school, cheap local travel.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Not easy to make friends with locals, as south India is a pretty segmented place. The caste system is prevalent still, but doesn't affect foreigners.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not, but unsure.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Caste system. South India is very conservative. Traveling to other cities/regions in India that are more cosmopolitan made this very noticeable.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
With young children, traveling was limited, especially in India. Being close to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Southeast Asia was fun. Chennai has a pretty decent air network, so travel opportunities are endless.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Really is not much to do in the immediate area. A long weekend to Pudicherry is relatively fun (better food, alcohol available), also weekends down to Mahabilipuram is ok, and closer. Anything other than that is 6+ hours away (hill stations, flights, drive to Bengaluru).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some decent shopping. Antiques, South Indian art, some decent furniture. Most at this post seem to buy a few Indian/regional carpets, which seem nice and good quality.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
A pretty easy 25% post. Good money, can save money, have all the house help you need. Good regional travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Despite having an enormous population, Chennai feels like more of a small town. No skyscrapers, no high end restaurants. Customer service is pretty bad in general. Nothing really to do in Chennai as far as tourism.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. Not the best place, not the worst.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter clothes, expectations of high end/cosmopolitan restaurants/tourist areas.
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
There are difficulties, and some people really had a rough time of it. But just having an open mind and being positive makes this a pretty easy spot. As my first post, I'm not sure if it's typical for there to be such a diversity of opinion/levels of happiness, but one needs to understand whether they are of a personality type that can excel in a poor/developing country.