Kolkata, India Report of what it's like to live there - 12/08/10

Personal Experiences from Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India 12/08/10

Background:

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 Kuwait City, Tel Aviv, Kigali, Baghdad and Dakar.

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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 DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 1/2 years.

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

Diplomat posted to Kolkata.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Good rental units are very hard to find. Traffic can be very congested.

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

Basic necessities are available, but some Western items are very poor quality.

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

Flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, shampoo, conditioner, tomato paste.

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

There are very good restaurants here ranging from very low cost to very high end.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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

Lots of mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch.

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

Takes time to find someone good. Average monthly salary is $150-200/month.

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

Yes.

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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?

ATM machines are reliable and available.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes. Very inexpensive.

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

None.

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

Kolkata is not accessible for the disabled.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable, but very dirty. Fairly safe.

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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?

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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?

Yes. Moderately expensive. Takes a long time to connect a new 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?

It's hard to get a cell phone SIM card. This can be very time consuming.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

No.

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

Smart casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Maoists are active in several districts of West Bengal. International terrorism is common in India. The city has lower crime than other Indian cities and minimal "Eve teasing."

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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?

Kolkata is extremely unhealthy and medical care is below average. The air quality is very poor and public urination/defecation are common. Stomach and respiratory ailments are very common.

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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?

Very unhealthy.

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

Very hot and humid in the summers, nice weather from December to March.

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Schools & Children:

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

Calcutta International School is average. There is no American school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

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

Very small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Average.

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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?

Very social community, but it's tiring seeing the same people over and over.

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

It's very hard to date here as a single.

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

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

This is an easier city for women than many other Indian cities because there is less "Eve teasing." Women dress pretty conservatively and don't go to bars.

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

Photographing the people and cultural events. Visiting cultural sites and spending time in West Bengal's countryside. Visiting other states in India.

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

Photography, exploration, visiting cultural sites.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Local crafts. Shopping in Kolkata is not as interesting as other major cities in India.

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

It's very diverse and interesting. Its a great place to photograph.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

Short skirts.

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3. But don't forget your:

Ear plugs.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?


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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

,

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6. Do you have any other comments?

There is nowhere close to Kolkata to go for a break from the constant bombardment of noise, activity and smells. All vacations are more adventure vacations, but not relaxing. Bangkok is the closest place to go for a break. Kolkata (all of Eastern India) is very noisy. This is not a city for relaxing, but is a great place to explore and learn about India.

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