Hyderabad, India Report of what it's like to live there - 01/01/23
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’ve lived in Europe for over a decade.
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?
There are no direct connections to the U.S., but that may change. Most connections run via New Delhi, the Gulf and Mumbai. Immigration and emigration often takes a considerable amount of time for residents and guests.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Consulate General.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We lived in an older low-rise residential complex or “society” about 20 minutes drive in good traffic from the Paigah Palace, where the “old” US Consulate was located. The housing was nice, but the property is being taken out of the consulate pool. Most housing is either in high-rise residential towers or villas near the site of the new consulate (very short commute) in the Gachibowli neighborhood to the west. Residences are very large and need constant maintenance. Unfortunately, it seems that landlords do not hold to their contracts in this regard as repair people sent by them often do not fix problems despite hours of work and multiple visits. I once watched dumbfounded as two gentlemen sent to fix a cabinet oiled the drawer track using my own olive oil. Patience is advised, but make concerns known. Keep telling facilities and GSO what’s happening until either the issue is fixed or the consulate sends someone. Issues range from electrical issues to A/Cs breaking to drawers sticking.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There’s quite a lot available, but the product may be different than what’s available in the US. Cheese is very expensive and even more so if you want cheese that isn’t cheddar. Beef you can forget about, pork is similarly difficult. It’s shippable at great expense from the commissary in New Delhi and you may see it on trips to places like Goa or Kerala.
Flour is also very different: for cakes and cookies, you might not notice a difference, but for bread and things where protein and gluten are important, you will see much less rise. Indian tomatoes are bred for acidity, not sweetness, so that’s another thing to notice. Any time you order a lemon, you will get a lime. The Indians do not seem to recognize a difference. We did find real lemons, but they were pricey and not readily available.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
-Maple syrup (super expensive)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Indians love to eat (who doesn’t?), but as with anywhere, non-local cuisine adapts to local tastes, which in Hyderabad means more spice and more oil. Pro tip: curd/raita/yoghurt will put out the fire. Keep some handy and either use as needed or mix with rice.
-Indian anything (northern, southern, biryani, dosas, samosas etc.) – as expected, but there’s a lot of nuance to explore
-Indian Chinese – really its own thing
-There’s a good tex-mex chain, unexpectedly
-“Pan-Asian” spots, which can be very nice
-Major hotels often have very good restaurants in them
-Whatever’s new, since many new restaurants suffer a drop in quality after about six months
-Eating at the restaurant is usually better than delivery, but the apps are great (Swiggy/Zomato – get an Amex card!)
-Any established restaurant that’s crowded is probably doing something right: Hyderabadis of all backgrounds have opinions about food
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There’s a dengue season and it’s real. We got lucky as the mosquitos didn’t seem to live in our part of town, but a number of people got very sick. Bug juice, mosquito nets and keeping your A/Cs on high. The high rise buildings didn’t have many issues either.
A few isolated reports of rats and the odd cockroach, but nothing terrible.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch takes two to four weeks, sometimes longer. Outbound is about two weeks, but it depends when the shipment is going out.
The Indian postal service is efficient and inexpensive for sending things. It’s a little complex, so it may be best to send someone to post your letters, but it does work. I had a postcard arrive in Europe a week later, but YMMV. Receiving packages can be more complex. Often they will attempt to collect customs charges or request you come to the post office to collect a package. For the first, it can be tough to dispute this since the tariffs are levied by another organization. If they won’t deliver, it may be worth simply insisting, but remain polite.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is abundant. Household help that speaks good English is a little harder to find and you will pay a premium, but keep in mind that anyone you hire will also serve as a cultural interpreter for you, which can really be worth it. Traditional Indian households often employ many servants: one to cook, one to clean the kitchen, one for sweeping the house, another to clean the bathrooms, a driver, but expatriates seem to concentrate on housekeepers who do all household chores including cooking, drivers, and nannies. It is important to be very clear about what is expected and double check that you’re on the same page as the person you are hiring. Although it might seem like contracts aren’t so common, having one with work hours, vacation times and other expectations and benefits clearly laid out will at least give you an outline of the considerations you should have. We found our staff to be honest and pleasant, and they saved our bacon a number of times. You may face vacation requests or requests for advances with very short notice. Full time drivers between 20,000 and 30,000 INR, housekeepers typically less. Part-time help also possible.
Our opinion: a driver and a housekeeper were essential to our time here. Our driver handled small errands, knew where to find handy-workers and most importantly, got us through the ridiculous Indian traffic. We shared our driver with a colleague in the same housing complex, which generally worked well, but obviously added to the daily coordination. Self-driving is possible, but if you get in any kind of small accident (entirely likely), remember you’ll have to negotiate on your own with the other party plus the small army of bystanders.
Housekeeper was great since the large apartment was hard to keep clean. India is dusty, vegetables all need washing, delivery and repair people need managing and many other tasks.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms around, but we bought some equipment as it was the middle of the pandemic. There are also pools at hotels that charge membership fees.
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 safe to use, same seems to go for ATMs. However, online purchases with Visa cards may not work at all. Having an Amex is ESSENTIAL, doesn’t matter which one. ATMs are often out of money and have per transaction limits. Patience and persistence. If you get a local bank account, fight through the bureaucracy so you can use “UPI” the local payment system. This can help when the credit card machine is suddenly broken and you haven’t got enough cash to pay your two night hotel bill for three people (this happened).
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There seem to be Christian services available for different denominations. There are many Hindu temples and mosques, but I don’t know about the languages. There’s also a Sikh and even a Parsi community. I was not aware of a synagogue.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English will work, but it may require patience (try different words for things, for instance, no one ever has a question, they “have a doubt”). A little bit of Hindi/Urdu will be helpful, but not essential. Usually, an English speaker is around or can be located. As India has so many different language groups, people are used to dealing with communication challenges.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. At the high end, there are elevators and some ramps for access, but sidewalks don’t exist, roads are in poor condition, railings are often missing from stairs and other locations. That said, at least for older people with movement restrictions, assistance was often offered up to and including lifting wheelchairs upstairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local buses: affordable yes, but I did not take one
Trains: also affordable, but booking can be a pain. Cool way to travel if you can plan it!
Taxis / Tuktuks (“autos”): very affordable, but unreliable. Uber drivers very often take the ride, don’t show and refuse to cancel. Seatbelts typically missing (one person can usually sit in the front). If you flag a taxi or “auto”, negotiate in advance (don’t be afraid to ask for an absolute fraction of the offer or start walking away). Autos are super unsafe (open, no seatbelt), but man, they’re fun and usually the fastest way around. Indian driving and traffic are the subject of a lot of commentary: you’ll be joining this conversation.
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?
Don’t import a car. India is right-hand drive (thanks, England) and has prohibitive tariffs and rules about foreign cars. If you’re a diplomat, try and get a car from an outgoing colleague. If you buy locally, be prepared for a lot of hassle. Cars special-ordered get sold out from under the purchasers. People fiddle with odometers, don’t report issues. You’ll get a car eventually and probably be able to keep it running as this is definitely a country that values repair work.
Maybe don’t get the latest thing with super complicated computer systems: you will want it repaired by a mechanic without access to diagnostic software. If you have a driver, make this their job. If you have a choice, I’d advise a smaller vehicle with ground clearance for rough roads/monsoon season. Don’t spend heavily on the insurance as an accident will usually be an on-the-spot negotiation for damages directly out of pocket. We bought an older CRV from a departing colleague and that worked very well.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Is available, set up is a little finicky (many people involved), but doable. Best internet connection I ever had. Barely cost anything. Broke a few times, but was usually fixed within 48 hours. 10/10.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get a local phone as soon as you can. It’s fast but bureaucratic. Post can help if you’re a diplomat. Very cheap and ESSENTIAL. So many basic services insist on a local phone number and set OTPs (one time passwords) to verify. We kept our home country plan (Google Fi), but used dual SIM phones.
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?
Didn’t have a pet, but vets are available. Walking dogs is possible in parks, but sidewalks aren’t a thing, so it seems tough. It’s a hot and dusty country. Many (adorable) street dogs everywhere.
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 employed family members had consulate jobs. Some teleworked or spent longer periods of time away. The time difference for the US is prohibitive.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There do appear to be some, but it can be difficult.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress shirt and slacks with sandals/dress shoes for men. Local dress also ok, depending on your comfort level. Women typically wore longer, looser clothes, no shoulders, not form fitting. The sari paradoxically can show a lot of midriff, but this doesn’t appear to be an issue. Having a shawl or dupatta to drape over head/shoulders was often useful for my wife. Formal dress usually not required and not hard to figure out when. For festive occasions like weddings, even non-Indians often put on Indian dress (often to the apparent delight of the Indian hosts). Weddings are colorful and a Western suit can look oddly somber. But do what you’re comfortable with.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Women on their own may be hassled. There are reports of horrendous crimes, but this doesn’t typically affect expatriate Westerners. Caucasian people and their children will likely be stared at and asked for selfies. Up to you, but once you say yes, a line may form. Indians seem to have fewer boundaries around personal space and touch.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health concerns: dengue is a real possibility. Delhi belly is probably going to happen to you: if you can’t keep fluids down, get to a hospital, but everyone is understanding. If you have to stay a few extra nights at a hotel or cancel a trip before it starts, that’s frustrating, but it’s more affordable than elsewhere.
The doctors are A1, world class. Get Lasik. Get dental work done. The facilities might look a little run down and the nursing care can be a little weird, but the medical professionals are excellent.
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?
Hyderabad’s AQI is much better than other large Indian cities (Delhi in particular), but you will notice the air often smells smoky, sulfurous, chemical or otherwise and AQI monitors will show you it’s not wonderful. Worst in winter. Still, not so atrocious and the filters in your apartment work well.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
AQI obviously a big concern for asthma sufferers.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Dengue is seasonal.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
India. It’s warm to hot all year. Monsoon is less extreme in Hyderabad, but some flooding is normal. Most likely, monsoon will affect your travel plans in country.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Yes, international schools are around, but we didn’t have kids.
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?
Preschools available, child-care also affordable. Again, did not have children.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are activities, but a lot of them are supplemental academics: Indian children really concentrate on their studies.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is small. A lot of it is people of Indian origin who have come to India for family or other reasons, so that can make it harder to get into. There are facebook and WhatsApp groups, but there’s usually a certain amount of drama. There are regular meet ups at popular brew pubs, but the crowd skews you. Covid really killed the vibe, so it may rebuild itself. No diplomatic community as the US, and the Iranians are the only sizable missions.
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 are several brew pubs which are popular and live music is returning after the pandemic, but we didn’t get much of a chance to explore it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles may have trouble if they don’t have some connection to India already. You’ll have to be proactive to meet people, that’s for certain. We were very much in a pandemic bubble for most of our time, but we still enjoyed our social life.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, you can make local friends, but it will mean an effort. The pandemic definitely made this harder.
Regrettably, there is heavy anti-black racism (colleagues were refused entry or told “there’s no room” or asked to use the service entrance to restaurants or treated badly), women are ignored (if you get a local bank account, it may be hard for a woman to have equal permissions on the account). There’s casual anti-semitism around, too. The Hindu-Muslim tensions are also very alarming to see, particularly in Hyderabad, traditionally a place of co-existence.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I know that there are LGBT expats and people around, but I couldn’t speak to the social scene.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
See above, but yes, this is an issue.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Kerala. Kerala. Kerala. Mostly for “relax and enjoy” type vacations. The caves at Aurangabad are another huge highlight. India has so much stuff. Sit down and plan your trips. We made 14 trips in two years with the pandemic, but it took sitting down, mapping it out, and then actually booking things.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Paigah Tombs are worth it. Many cool walking tours of historic and cultural sites
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
It’s India. Buy fabric, buy handicrafts, go nuts. Really great stuff all over. Get furniture, buy tailored clothing. It’s all much less expensive. Don’t forget to haggle.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Good air quality for India. Great biryani. Definitely a different vibe than other parts of India.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Don’t accept the first offer if you don’t like it. This goes for prices in most places, but also for travel. If your hotel room is a little weird, ask. If you want the guide to change the tour, ask. A local friend told us “the first thing I do when I go on vacation is ask ‘how can you make me more comfortable?’” It might feel absurd, but overcommunicating your expectations helps avoid misunderstandings and lead to great experiences.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It might still not be my first choice, worldwide, but we had a good two years here.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes (only needed if visiting Himalayas).
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?
A Burning, God of Small Things, Shantaram, White Tiger, Death of Vishnu, Midnight’s Children. The Lunchbox, RRR, Monsoon Wedding, Salaam Bombay. India has an enormous literature and cinema that caters to basically all tastes.
6. Do you have any other comments?
The country is overwhelming. Culture shock was real and you’ll probably go through phases of “please no more,” but travel helps a lot. It really is a “sub-continent” and not a country. Embrace it, but hold on tight.