Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/09
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?
No--I have lived in Western Europe many times.
2. How long have you lived here?
July 2006 - June 2008.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government work/Foreign Service.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes and the fun diseases they carry.
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?
Full time cook/maid/housekeeper - INR 5000/month = US$125/month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
Never had any problems.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little, but just knowing a few greetings, thank you, etc. goes a very long way in building rapport.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
High curbs, sidewalks that end suddenly, narrow streets with houses built right up to the pavement.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Highly variable by neighborhood and service provider. Difficulties getting Vonage to work.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. What immunizations are required each year?
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and sweaty.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. 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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
With some adjustments to expectations, Chennai can be a good place for gay or lesbian expatriates. South Indian culture has no place for non-married persons; marriage is a fact of life for 20somethings of any economic/social/caste class in Chennai. Approx. 90% of marriages are arranged. So, some label Chennai as "conservative". However, this is not a militant conservatism a la Saudi, so there is room in society for independent women-owned businesses, for example. Because of the focus on marriage, there are very few singles with a Western concept of dating in general. Specifically for gay men and lesbians, there is no public space or forum for sexual minority issues. Young men holding hands is non-sexual and is never considered so. Those Westerners with partners have few problems in this setting, and several Western diplomats have brought their partners with few issues. For singles, it's another matter.
Almost all gay/lesbian communities--sexual, political, social, or otherwise--are online. The best non-dating online group is Movenpick, dominated mostly by the college-age crowd, good for local information and occasional meet-ups: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/movenpick .There is also a fairly new community/information center with programs and film nights: www.shakticenter.org . There is nothing resembling the gay/lesbian communities/neighborhoods of major Western cities, but friends, dating, or finding small groups of gay/lesbians are available and growing.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, yes, yes. Any discomfort or frustration at the hot sticky weather or unfamiliar customs were far outweighed by the travel and shopping opportunities, freedom of movement, access to culture, history, local families & friends, and the open approachable nature of Tamils on the whole.