Hyderabad, India Report of what it's like to live there - 07/08/20

Personal Experiences from Hyderabad, India

Hyderabad, India 07/08/20


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This is my first overseas posting, though I am well traveled otherwise.

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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. metro area. Pre-COVID it is a 20-something hour journey - DC to London with a 3-4 hour layover, then London-Hyderabad.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have lived here for nearly two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is generally very large, well above the space requirements dictated by the Department of State. Construction is generally middling with odd features (e.g. in my apartment it's common for the light switches to be located well inside the room at around shin height).

Housing is generally located in two locations, large apartments in Banjara Hills and single family homes in Gachibowli. As it currently stands, the Banjara Hills locations are much closer to the Consulate (about a 20-40 minute drive depending on traffic) than the Gachibowli homes (30-70 minutes depending on traffic). Within those two respective locations, housing is generally spread out - it's common to have only one or no neighbors from the mission.

There is an effort underway to consolidate housing in the Gachibowli area, which will be where the new consulate is. Newer apartments have been located to move folks into, but new doesn't necessarily mean quality construction.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

General groceries (rice, general produce) are available at local supermarkets like Ratnadeep or Star Market. For access to any higher quality items or Western imports, there is essentially only the QMart located in Gachibowli. Western imports (specialty cereals, pasta, cheese, etc.) are expensive, even by DC standards.

For non-grocery items, it will be important to have a housekeeper or driver (or to leverage a colleague's local help) to locate particular items. There are no large hardware stores for example, so to procure a certain lightbulb, it will take a local's knowledge to know where to go and find it.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Paper goods here are terrible for some reason. Most of them seem to be made mostly of plastic. I'd have brought plenty of American paper towels and toilet paper. Anything that is a liquid (hot sauce, salsa, etc.) that you'll think you want through your tour - this is a pouch-only post so you can't ship liquids from the U.S.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are several food-delivery services here (Swiggy, Zomato) that are analogous to UberEats. They are hit and miss as far as their effectiveness. It's very to have the delivery guy call you in the local language, have no idea where he is going, and refuse to turn on his GPS to find you.

The actual quality of prepared food here is almost universally very low. There are one or two exceptions at the two Western-brand luxury hotels, but expect lots of very basic local cuisine and poor attempts at others. There is one location in the city that could count as fine dining (the Taj Falaknuma), but even there the food is just about up to par with a "good not great" restaurant in a major Western city.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Hyderabad is home to all three varieties of Dengue Fever (plus Chikungunya, Japanese Encephalitis, and many others), so it's important to be aware of mosquitoes - bring plenty of bug spray and keep your window screens tight. Dengue is common among both the local staff and officers. It's a bad time.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

This post is pouch-only. No DPO and no local international mail service. I would avoid using local domestic mail service.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Most expats have some form of household help, either part time or full time. Personally, I employed a housekeeper part time to clean and cook three days a week. Many employ drivers, but I found it unnecessary. If you employ somebody full time, you'll need to write up and sign a contract with them providing a certain number of holidays - if you're at the Consulate, the Management Section can help you with that.

Generally, household help is affordable. I paid my housekeeper 250 INR/hour, which came out to about $200/month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a small gym at the Consulate that is sufficient (several cardio machines, squat rack, bench press, some dumbells). There is a Gold's Gym in Banjara Hills that some have used in the past, but honestly it's not much better than the Consulate's gym.

Most apartment complexes have a small, neglected room somewhere on their campus with a treadmill or two that they count as a gym.

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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?

Not really. You should be able to use your U.S. credit card at Amazon.in. It seems that among local business there's a 50/50 chance your credit card will be acceptable. Some don't accept Amex and some only accept Amex. On online platforms like Swiggy and Zomato, some officers are able to use their U.S. credit cards and others have gotten banned from the platform for trying. It's incredibly inconsistent and frustrating.

You should only use ATMs that are in the Consulate or in the lobby of a luxury hotel or other trustworthy location. There is a bank teller inside the Consulate who will cash checks, and this is where the majority of the diplomatic community gets their cash.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is allegedly spoken here, however I've found that only the elite have any real grasp of the language. Worse, frequently when attempting to communicate you will not have any indication whether somebody has understood you or not.

Overall, you'll probably get around ok with just English, but it will be an exercise in frustration.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. There are no accommodations made for those with physical difficulties in the city.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Local buses are likely very cheap, but horrifically crowded and dangerously driven. There is one metro line in the city that has a stop near the Consulate but doesn't go near any of our housing so I haven't ridden it.

Uber is widely used, but incredibly frustrating. Most of the time, once you've submitted your ride request and been matched with a driver, the driver will call you to figure out where you are going and whether it will be profitable to him. If he judges it's not worth his time, he'll cancel your ride or try to cajole or threaten you into cancelling. I have colleagues I have personally watched go through 5 or 6 drivers before one accepts the ride and shows up. There are not seatbelts in Ubers, most drivers seem to cut them out of their cars. The cars are small and generally rotated between several drivers as they take shifts, so the driver in the ride you've accepted is probably not the driver who will take you to your destination.

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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?

It is extremely difficult to import a car. I know of one officer who successfully imported a right hand drive car from the UK. Your best bet will be to purchase a car from an outgoing officer. Reach out to the Community Liaison Office (CLO) for classifieds.

I drive a small SUV with good ground clearance that I think is perfect - it's small enough to navigate the sometimes claustrophobic roads but big enough that you can see and react to traffic around you.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Home internet access is available - generally there will only be one provider to your area. GSO will help arrange installation. It's more or less reliable but not always particularly fast. It is extremely cheap - I think I paid around $300 for a year of service.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Most people here get a local SIM card through Airtel. Data is dirt cheap. If you ask the Management section, they'll be able to help you get it arranged.

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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?

I know one or two people here who have pets. I hear veterinary care is mediocre but available. I'm not clear on quarantine requirements, etc.

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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?

The only options for EFMs will be in the Consulate. There are certainly jobs open in the Consulate, but mostly administrative or very dull work.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I'm not sure, I believe there are organizations but don't have much experience.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Most officers at the Consulate dress in business-casual. When meeting with a contact a suit and tie is expected.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There is crime in the city, it is generally a good idea to not go out alone at night, though there's really nowhere to go. Women especially have reported being stared at, followed, or made to feel uncomfortable when alone, even during the day.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

We are currently mid-COVID, but aside from that medical care here is middling. Generally you can get dental care or a visit to a GP as needed, under COVID healthcare providers are overwhelmed and who knows when or if things will return to normal.

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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?

Bad. It's not Beijing or even Delhi, but the air is noticeably worse than most major cities here. During the "winter", folks usually keep warm by burning trash, which doesn't help.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

It will be extraordinarily difficult to find accommodation for food allergies at local restaurants.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

This post is extremely isolating. Many of the ELOs here currently are struggling with little support from leadership.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hyderabad has several seasons: Monsoon (Jul-Sep/Oct) with constant rain, Winter (Oct-Feb) with highs in the 70s F and horrific air pollution, and Hot (Mar-Jul) with highs in the 110s F.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There is one international school that most seem content with.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expat community is tiny. The Consulate has 15-20 officers and then there's a very small community of expats here with Deloitte, Amazon, or Facebook (though they generally do quick TDYs and rotate back to the U.S.). There is very little in the way of community here.

Morale is low. This is a hard post that does not come with the associated perks. A 25% hardship differential is nice, however when you compare Hyderabad to Mumbai or Delhi (also at 25%) it's ridiculous. Many of my colleagues from elsewhere in Mission India leave Hyderabad after short TDYs saying that being here makes them appreciate their home posts more. I have colleagues who have said that they preferred their tours in remote, extremely hard posts by a significant margin.

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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?

There is very little here. Housing is spread out and traffic is so difficult and time consuming that it's unusual to plan or attend events at each other's house. There is almost no expat community so there are no clubs or groups geared towards that. Hyderabad is very conservative, so there is extraordinarily little nightlife, let alone dating.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a terrible post for singles - you will not find love (or even fun) in Hyderabad. Young couples seem to have a similarly hard time as there are not exactly many opportunities to socialize with others. Families with children seem to do best here, as I understand the school is not bad and there are gated neighborhoods where kids can play in Gachibowli.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

From my conversations with colleagues, not really. While it is one of the only countries that will confer diplomatic accreditation to same-sex spouses, society here does not accept LGBT+ people.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Language will be a real issue here. Locals are generally friendly, but there are not many social options.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Women generally have a harder time than men here, as far as I'm aware.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The only silver lining to this post (in non-COVID times) is travel opportunities. You will want to leave the city as much as possible, and there are connections all over SE Asia.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

You will go through the tourist items in Hyderabad in about a weekend. Other than that, travel out of the city for fun.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

As answered above, in non-COVID times this is a decent travel hub to SE Asia.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

This is hard post. Be prepared for your experience to be worse than the 25% differential indicates.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?


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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Paper goods and bug spray.

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