Mumbai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 06/17/17
Personal Experiences from Mumbai, India
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Other than studying abroad, yes - it was my first experience working overseas.
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. It's about a 16-hour direct flight from NYC or 8 hours to Europe then another 8 to Mumbai.
3. How long have you lived here?
I just finished spending two years there.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Four bedroom apartment, but don't let that fool you - the actual living space is small. Indians are used to packing three generations into a single residence, so 75% of the apartment is devoted to bedrooms.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Vegetables are very cheap, meat is relatively cheap, and imported goods are very expensive. Day-to-day household goods are cheaper than in the U.S.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pizza and Asian. Gotta be careful, though - some restaurants have serious sanitation problems.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Bugs get into your sugar, flour, and other open food. Keep it in your freezer.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use diplomatic pouch. From what I understand the Indian postal service is very unreliable, and addresses don't seem to be standardized.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very cheap. I paid my housekeeper above market rate, and she earned $160/month for four hours a day, five days a week..
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I used the work gym, but from what I understand there are adequate local facilities. Running outside is nearly impossible due to traffic and pollution.
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 accepted at upscale establishments, but obviously not at roadside vendors.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Educated Indians and high-end service industry workers speak English, but locals (fruit stands, taxis etc.) don't speak English. It's good to know how to say 'left, right, straight' in Hindi or Marathi.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There seems to be very little, if any, accommodation for disabled people.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I used my driver six days a week but taxis are affordable, although there is often haggling since they try to rip off foreigners. I almost exclusively used Uber, but they're almost as unreliable since they turn on the app then sleep in their car.
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?
Bring something with high clearance that you don't mind getting dinged up. You will get into regular fender benders.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Theoretically. It was so sporadic that I stopped even trying to use it. It had random outages, and was nearly useless. From what I understand there is a very expensive option that provides reliable service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I used a pre-paid provider that was very cheap, about $20/mo for all the data I used (and I use a lot). Just bring an unlocked phone.
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?
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'm single so not sure. But local salaries are very, very low compared to expat salaries.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
After-school tutoring, sports programs.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Suit and tie at the consulate, but local dress ('kurta') is sometimes acceptable and very comfortable.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Mumbai is generally very safe, and petty crime seems to be very low as long as you use basic precautions. I felt safer than I did in Washington, DC.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria, dengue, a bunch of tropical diseases, and regular stomach bugs. But expat medical care is high quality and very cheap. I went to the ER for a serious dog bite and the bill was $18 including stitches and medication.
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. Just bad. In the winter people burn garbage to stay warm. Combined with car exhaust and the pervasive landfill fire, there was a stinky cloud enveloping the city. There are good days and bad days, but the bad outnumber the good.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Indians don't seem to be too accustomed to allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Stress and tension due to the constant stimulation. Between the noise, filth, poverty, and cultural differences, I realized that it is necessary to leave the country every couple months, even if just to hop over to Bangkok or Dubai.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very hot in the summer (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and the 70's in the winter. The coldest it ever got was the 60's at nighttime in January.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
I saw the same few hundred people. Morale was decent, but the constant complaint was the filth and chaos.
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?
Cigar Club meets once a month at an expat bar. They have cigars, but it's more of a happy hour/party to meet other foreigners. There are other expat-oriented bars that cater to foreigners.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is very bad for singles, especially gays. Indians get married early and stay married, so they don't usually get out of their bubble. The dating scene is nearly nonexistent, and whatever exists is pretty incestuous. As a gay late 20-something, dating was virtually nonexistent.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Indians are still conservative, and the only non-gender conforming behavior accepted is the hijras,transgender women who beg on street corners. Gay Indians sometimes feel cornered so they move into that lifestyle, often engaging in the sex trade.
While Mumbai has a small gay community, most Indians are either closeted or have been rejected by their families. There isn't a single gay bar in the entire city, just a once-a-month party that changes venues each month. In short, don't expect a dating scene here, just a few other expats.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The women I know were constantly groped and harassed by locals. I personally saw incessant, first-hand incidents of harassment, rape, and attempted rape of women, including by police. If you're a woman, avoid Indian men if you are alone. Remember: India is one of the last countries where it is legal to rape your wife.
There is prejudice against people with dark skin. I often had shopkeepers insist on serving me first because I'm white. It is blatant.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Rajasthan, Jaipur, and Pondicherry, a French colonial city about an hour south of Chennai. Also be sure to go to Sri Lanka. It was a very pleasant surprise, and a nice break from the craziness that is India.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
For some quiet go to Lonavala, a mountain region a couple hours outside the city.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. There are great crafts, furniture, and antiques. If you can't find what you want, you can find someone who will make it for you for cheap.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Help is very cheap and day-to-day expenses are cheap for expats. You're living in the 1%.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
You need to leave every couple months to stay sane.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. It was fine for two years, but I will not move back.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Running shoes, cold weather clothes.
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?
Slumdog Millionaire (it is based on truth, regardless of what anyone tells you).
6. Do you have any other comments?
If you're single, find a circle of other single friends ASAP. Brunches with them were my therapy. The family community is tight knit since the American School is so popular, so there isn't much overlap between families and singles.
While it is an eye opening post, between the filth, poverty, classism, and chaos, I probably won't enter India again.