Mumbai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 02/01/13

Personal Experiences from Mumbai, India

Mumbai, India 02/01/13

Background:

1. Your reason for living this city (e.g. corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.):

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

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3. 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?

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4. How long have you lived here?

(The contributor is affiliated with th U.S. Consulate and has been living in Mumbai for 2½ years, a ninth expat experience).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

High-rise apartments. For ConGen USA personnel, these are concentrated in Bandra, Khar and Santa Cruz. Commute times are about 15-20 minutes in the morning and 45-60 minutes in the evening.

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

Widely available and less expensive than in Washington DC.

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

Olive oil (though it doesn't keep that long anyway), maple syrup, natural peanut and almond butter, hemp milk, more electronics.

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

There are endless options. Both Indian and Western fast food joints are all over and are cheap. Some of the best restaurants may cost $60 to $80 per meal.

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

Mosquitoes (including those carrying malaria and dengue). Ant invasions of homes are common.

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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 -- a drag because it is extremely slow and has severe limitations on content (such as no liquids, no electronics with lithium batteries) and on size (outgoing packages cannot be bigger than a VHS cassette).

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

Good-quality nannies and drivers cost about $200 - 220 per month.

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

The U.S. Consulate has a small gym. Some apartment buildings have good gyms. Commercial gyms (such as Gold's) have branches around the city.

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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?

I prefer to use cash to avoid foreign transaction fees, but credit cards are accepted in the formal economy and there are many ATMs around the city.

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

Yes. Most of the churches are Catholic, but there do seem to be other denominations (e.g., Anglican). There are a couple synagogues, but I don't know what language their services are in.

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

Yes and 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?

Not much. English is widely spoken and understood in Mumbai.

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

The U.S. Consulate is the only building I have seen here that can accommodate the disabled. Many streets don't even have sidewalks. It would be difficult for the vision-impaired or anyone with mobility issues (such as a wheelchair).

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Transportation:

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

I have not ridden in local trains or buses -- they are not safe. A few people die each day on the trains (falling off, for example), and women and men must travel in separate cars because women are subject to harassment, groping, or rape. Buses have no closing doors, and almost always have people hanging out the entrance and the windows. The newer taxis are pretty safe, but the vast majority have no seatbelts, a/c, etc.

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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?

Indian government restrictions basically mean you cannot bring a car -- you must buy one here. For city driving, any vehicle you don't mind seeing get scratched or dinged will do. If you want to get out of the city, an SUV would be recommended (there are a lot of unpaved side roads and roads in terrible condition).

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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, although it's not that reliable -- there are frequent outages. Cost is less than in the U.S.

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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?

Service is cheap but not always reliable. Vodaphone is supposed to be the best, but since when does the USG contract with the best?

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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?

Yes.

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

Work: Business attire, though many interlocutors don't use ties or use kurtas and don't care if you have a tie or not.

Public:Casual. Shorts are not a problem for men or women in Mumbai, but in other parts of India they may be frowned upon. If visiting temples/mosques, conservative clothing is required.

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Health & Safety:

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

No.

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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?

Malaria and dengue are still problems here. Other concerns include rabies (get your vaccines, there are thousands of street dogs), respiratory conditions as a result of the pollution, and dysentery. Quality of medical care is generally low (though there are some good dentists and ophthalmologists and people here have had a lot of work done).

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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?

Unhealthy, particularly in winter. Most pollution is the result of heavy use of diesel fuel, coal-burning power plants, and bonfires. The city is often under a haze. In addition, the air smells bad most of the time.

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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?

From December until around the beginning of March, temperatures are very pleasant and humidity is not bad. From March through the end of May, it is hot and humid. From June to the end of September, the monsoon season brings lower temperatures, but rain and high humidity almost every day. October and November are hot and humid.

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Schools & Children:

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

American School of Bombay (ASB), German School (Deutsche Schule Bombay), French School, Ascend International School, and others. My child attends ASB's elementary school. Quality of instruction is high, though feedback on students' progress is not very forthcoming. Unfortunately, the elementary school moved in 2012 to a new campus in Kohinoor that has some of Mumbai's worst traffic. Visiting the school can be quite the journey! Some ConGen parents have preferred the German school for a more disciplined, results-oriented approach to education.

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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?

It's hard to find a decent preschool that is more than just supervised play. Most "preschools" are actually daycare centers that offer little or any instruction. I highly recommend Harmony Montessori, but demand has far outstripped availability of slots there.

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

The American School has lots of extra-curricular sports, with swimming being the most popular. But due to lack of green space, you can forget competitive sports like baseball, cricket, soccer, track, etc.

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Expat Life:

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

Enormous. Many Americans, British, Germans, Australians and French; some East Asian and other Europeans.

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2. Morale among expats:

Fairly good.

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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?

As much or as little as you want. You could easily spend every night attending social events if you wanted.

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

For families it is good in that you can hire a good nanny relatively inexpensively, and there are very good international schools. However, the lack of green space (parks, playgrounds) is a big problem. Singles and childless couples have plenty of nightlife activities to choose from (clubs, restaurants, bars, etc).

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

I haven't heard any LGBT expats complain. Indians, on the other hand, may face discrimination. (Ironically, many Indians believe it is good luck to give money to begging transvestites and transsexuals, yet many Indian gays still feel the need to hide their orientation.)

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

Generally not for expats (unless you look South Asian). Within Indian society, there are deep divides and prejudices between different religious, ethnic, and caste communities. These occasionally surface as incidents of communal violence.

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

Traveling around India has been a fantastic experience.

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

Visit Buddhist cave-temples at Sanjay Gandhi National Park; visit Mumbai's two decent museums; visit the (so-so) planetarium; eat at any of a wide selection of excellent restaurants; go to a bazaar or street market; Elephanta Island; tour Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums; visit a hill station; drive a couple hours east to go hiking; take yoga classes; learn to play the tabla; travel around India.

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

Any number of handicrafts, knick-knacks and carpets.

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

Mumbai is well-connected to both domestic and international transportation, so it's a great jumping-off point for travel in India and Asia. It's the most cosmopolitan city in India. There is a wide variety of good restaurants. Domestic help is good and inexpensive.

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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:

bicycle (too dangerous and chaotic to bike here) and winter clothes (it never gets cold).

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3. But don't forget your:

olive oil; wine; organic foods; galoshes and umbrella (for the monsoon); electronics (expensive here and can't be shipped through the diplomatic pouch); your laptop/tablet/portable DVD player for the countless hours you will be stuck in traffic.

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

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
by Suketu Mehta (but wait until you've been in Mumbai a while before reading).The Elephant, The Tiger, And the Cell Phone: Reflections on India - the Emerging 21st-Century Power
by Shashi Tharoor.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The BBC series Beginnings
is a great introduction to this country. Slumdog Millionaire,
of course -- it is more realistic than you think (and than Indians will admit).Richard Attenborough's Slumdog Millionaire
.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

There are many nice things about Mumbai -- friendly people, good food, good schools, inexpensive household help and a great new facility for the U.S. Consulate. But there are plenty of hardships: some of the world's worst traffic (both in terms of density and chaos -- you will spend countless hours in traffic), pollution, horrible smells, and in-your-face poverty and human suffering. Be prepared - some people (especially those who have never been to a less-developed country) can't handle it.

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