Hyderabad, India Report of what it's like to live there
Personal Experiences from Hyderabad, India
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I had previously lived abroad in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Those were both non-USG.
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?
We are from Seattle but since training before and after was in Washington, DC, our flights were from and to there. In both cases we flew through London. It was around eight hours across the Atlantic and a bit longer from London to Hyderabad. All told, plan on losing two or three days with the time zone differences, layovers, and jet-lag. If you are buying your own tickets there are lots of connections through cities around the Persian Gulf and SE Asia, plus Delhi and Mumbai.
3. What years did you live here?
We lived in Hyderabad from mid-2018 to mid-2019.
4. How long have you lived here?
We lived in Hyderabad for a year total.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic mission. My spouse was the direct hire, I was an EFM.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We had a beautiful apartment in Banjara Hills. My spouse commuted 30-45 minutes each way, depending on traffic and weather. The apartment felt huge and had a gorgeous view over the city. We had a great rooftop for flying kites. Fruit bats flew by each evening and a favorite activity was spotting them from our balcony. The floors in the apartment were all marble and our kids slipped and fell a few times resulting in injuries of various severity. If you end up in a similar place with kids, bring big carpets! We had termites twice. Once it was in consulate furniture and we were lodged at a hotel during treatment. The second time the termites were in items we owned and we had to resolve the issue on our own. Overall we were thrilled. The apartment was far more luxurious than anywhere we had ever lived stateside.
Other families were in similar apartments nearby or in townhouses farther out in the suburbs. We were very lucky in that our apartment had a view. Most others did not. The townhouses had more greenspace than we did and some were in neighborhoods where kids could actually play on the street or ride bikes. We definitely could not do those things. But their commute times were much longer. The consulate will be moving to a new location in the suburbs sometime in 2021 (maybe later with the pandemic?) and that will dramatically change commute times and likely the housing pool.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you are looking for Western goods at Walmart prices you will be very disappointed. It was a challenge to get things like flour suitable for bread, yeast, brown sugar, cold cuts, cheddar cheese, peanut butter, etc. When available they were pricey. We could order some things through the commissary in Delhi and others through pouch but delays were inevitable. That said, the local produce is diverse, interesting, and high-quality. Vegetables and fruits are seasonal; you get what is ripe, but there is always a wide range available. The seasonal mangoes were a major highlight. As were the ever-present mini-bananas. Once you learn what everything is and how to cook them it is actually a lot of fun. Additional, Hyderabadi food is possibly the best in India. If you can cope with high spice levels you will be in heaven. We ate local food at least 4-5 nights a week and absolutely loved it. We actually paid our nanny extra to cook for us because we loved the food so much. The food situation was much harder on our young kids. Basically we paid our nanny to cook for my spouse and me, and I cooked for our kids!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Flour and yeast were my biggest challenges. Indian flours (neither maida nor atta) will not work for baking most Western breads. The chakki grinding process destroys the gluten, I believe. So bring flour, and yeast (or sourdough starter). You could also try adding gluten to the flour but I did try that. Also, bring lots of shelf-stable snacks for kids if you plan on traveling.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
We rarely ate out but constantly ordered food on Zomato. We never had luck with Western food, nor the Thai or Chinese options. The Indian food (Bengali, Keralan, Hyderabadi, Moghul, etc.) was always exceptionally good. Burger King, McDonalds, Subway, and Dominos were all widely available. We got McDonalds Happy Meals for the kids on a regular basis and that was always a hit, as it is in the U.S.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We had termites twice. Once it was in consulate furniture and we were lodged at a hotel during treatment. The second time the termites were in items we owned and we had to resolve the issue on our own. We never had cockroaches nor mosquitoes.
Families in the suburbs had monkeys and snakes on occasion.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch through the consulate. There was no DPO when we were there. We had a FedEx package delivered once from the U.S. It took a bit longer than estimated but was otherwise fine.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Drivers, nannies, cleaners, cooks, and gardeners are all very available and affordable. We had a driver and a nanny/cook/cleaner. We were very happy with both relationships and we compensated well to avoid negotiations being a sore point. If you have kids and work you likely need both. Even without kids I would strongly recommend a driver. The local know-how they bring is indispensable. Also, traffic and parking in Hyderabad are heinous. Taking that stress away makes everything so much easier.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
We had a pool and exercise room at our apartment complex. The consulate also has an exercise room. We never used anything else.
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?
Credit cards are taken at hotels and at more upscale stores and restaurants. Generally we used cash whenever possible, both to make transactions easier and to avoid fraud. We primarily used the ATM at the consulate, and at a couple of upscale hotels.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Unsure. We did attend Urdu-language Muslim services and Telugu-language Hindu services while in town. Both were a lot of fun. There is also a huge and beautiful Anglican cathedral in Medak just outside of town.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is way more commonly spoken than we expected. Basically any interactions at restaurants, hotels, tourist sites, malls, or larger businesses (internet, cell phones, insurance) were fine in English. Local languages became necessary in taxis, markets, and on the street. We did the Urdu online courses through FSI and that helped, but ultimately I would not say local language is necessary IF you have a local driver. Without a local driver I would definitely want more Urdu or Telugu.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Sidewalks are virtually nonexistent. Entrances frequently feature stairs or other challenges. Traffic and crossing roads is very difficult.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The metro is awesome but was of very limited use to us other than as a way to see the city from above. We never road buses. Tuk-tuks/rickshaws are a blast but not encouraged by the consulate. We used Uber regularly and that was always fine.
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?
The streets do flood in the monsoon season so if you can buy something with higher clearance that is advisable. Otherwise road conditions are fine. Your vehicle will be dinged multiple times by motorcyclists or other cars. Just expect and be at peace with that.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. We had excellent and very affordable internet within a week or two of arriving. We paid in six month chunks.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We had local plans. They were affordable and the connection was great everywhere in the city. We had them set up shortly after arrival. We used AT&T roaming to fill the week or two before we had local plans.
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?
I telecommuted to a company in the U.S. with clients in Europe and elsewhere in Asia. I had to get COM approval (first Hyderabad and then Delhi) but once granted it was all easy. I do not work with Indian clients or companies at all. If I had it would have made things way more complicated.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
On the streets both men and women wore a mix a Western and Indian clothes. At the consulate most men wore Western clothes but women wore a mix of Indian and Western. In most areas of town I would avoid wearing shorts, tank-tops, and short skirts. You would likely be fine in most anything in the malls and upscale hotels, but those environments are heavily air-conditioned and outside you are more likely to win friends by erring on the side of dressing conservatively.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We never had any issues. Be smart about what is in pockets when strolling through crowded places. Keep close tabs on your cards when being charged for things. Dress appropriately. Hire a local driver. That covers most things.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We never had any issues beyond a few common colds. No gastrointestinal issues despite extensively partaking in local fare. Maybe Tajikistan fortified our guts? Maybe we were lucky? Unlike us adults our kids rarely ate locally and we packed them food for most trips. Dengue is a big issue in Hyderabad but we never had mosquitoes at home and we made a point of not being outdoors in the evenings when the mosquitoes were out.
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 decent, especially compared to Delhi. The air felt great in the monsoon season. If you expect blue skies you will be disappointed. You can counter that disappointment on most days by looking at AQIs in other Indian cities and feeling grateful that you are where you are...
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I imagine some allergies could be tough to manage.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None that I am aware of.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is hot and dry from September to February, fiercely hot from March to May, and warm and rainy from June to August.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We used New York Academy for pre-K and had a great experience. It is located in Jubilee Hills, close to where we lived. The main international school is in the suburbs, closer to where the new consulate will be.
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?
As mentioned above, we had one child attend New York Academy for pre-K and we had a great experience. Our child loved it. Costs and quality or instruction were good. A nanny took care of our younger child during the day and that was also a good arrangement.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Our child in pre-K did soccer. Swimming lessons were also available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The consulate community is fairly small. Morale seemed high for most. Those that liked Indian food and local travel fared better than others.
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?
The consulate had lots of great holiday parties for U.S. and Indian holidays. The Holi party was particularly fun.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
We had a blast as a family. Swimming in our pool, walks at KBR Park and Lotus Pond, and especially local travel made this a hugely rewarding tour for us.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
My spouse made real friends at the consulate. Working remotely I did not make friends, but I always found locals to be incredibly warm and friendly, especially when I had the kids in tow (for example walking in a park). I never felt that I was lacking interaction with locals and I found it easy to attend local events (religious celebrations, weddings, etc.).
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. There is definitely tension between the Muslim and Hindu communities, caste issues, and major gender equality issues. We found it easy enough to navigate these problems though and the impact on us personally was not significant. That is NOT to say that the issues are not significant, just that impact on us personally as expatriates was minimal.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Watching fruit bats and thunderstorms from our balcony;
Hyderabadi biryani and most other local food;
Spotting peacocks and chameleons in KBR Park;
Hearing Hindu temple bells and drums, and the Muslim azaan, daily;
Kerala's beaches and backwaters;
Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu;
Meghalaya and the living root bridges there;
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lotus Pond for birds and a lake that doesn't smell terrible;
KBR Park for morning walks and spotting peacocks and other birds;
The Medak Cathedral and Medak Fort;
Edupayala Vana Durga Bhavani Temple outside of Medak;
The Paigah Tombs, Qutb Shahi Tombs, and Moula Ali Hill/Rock are all amazing sights in Hyderabad;
Dance and music performances (and handicrafts) at Shilparamam;
For kids the play center at New York Academy;
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are tons of handicrafts. Much comes from outside of Hyderabad. Look for bidri metalware. Also check out the handicraft stalls at Shilparamam.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Hyderabad feels more relaxed than much of the rest of India. The air is a bit better. The food is excellent. And you are close to the main beaches and tourist sights in the south of India.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The local flour cannot be used to bake Western breads. Having a driver is hugely beneficial in many ways. Greenspace outside of KBR Park and Lotus Pond is limited and often of very low quality.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, absolutely, and I would return in a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes. Expectations of personal space. Expectations of quiet.
4. But don't forget your:
Wet wipes. And sense of adventure. There is a lot to explore and love.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
White Mughals by William Dalrymple.