Mumbai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 08/23/19
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?
This is our fourth overseas experience. We’ve also lived in South America, Asia, and Africa.
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. There is a direct flight from Newark, NJ to Mumbai, so it’s about 18 hours. You can also go through Paris or Amsterdam very easily, which splits the trip nicely into two parts.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Housing in Mumbai is very expensive and space is at a premium so everyone lives in apartments. Most expats live in Bandra, BKC or Powai. Commute times vary, especially depending on the time of day. Traffic gets bad, so it’s best to go for housing that is close to work.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Vegetables and meat are similar prices as in the US. Food items that aren’t typically eaten by Indians tend to be two to three times as expensive. Most everything can be found though.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Salsa and tortilla chips.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
EVERYTHING can be delivered here from prescriptions to take-out and groceries…you name it, someone will bring it to your house. It helps a lot to have a local credit card, as some services don’t take international cards, but cash always works too. It’s just that no one will ever have change. The go-to food apps are Swiggy, Zomato and Scootsy. Urbanclap is great for in-home pedicures, facials, massages and all sorts of other random things.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Very few bugs. Ants occasionally, if we leave food here. MOLD is really the thing to be worried about, especially in rainy season.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have a Diplomatic Mail system. I don’t know anything about local postal services.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most families employ at least one person, if not three or four. Common roles are housekeeper, cook, nanny, and driver. Employees work either five or six days a week (40-50 hours) and salaries are around US$300-400.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many apartment buildings have nice workout facilities in them. There are also lots of options like Gold’s Gym or privately-owned yoga studios. Not sure on the pricing for those. I've been disappointed a bit by the yoga. It's not like yoga in the US. It's very repetitive, not flow-like, and no music.
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 get all my cash through the Consulate’s bank, so I can’t comment on ATMs.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots of English language Catholic services available in Bandra. I’m guessing other denominations could readily find English services as well, I just haven’t looked for them.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The majority of the time I’m fine in Mumbai with only English. I can occasionally have problems with taxi or rickshaw drivers, but then I’ll just point to my destination on a map or use hand gestures. It’s always worked out fine. There are lots of local classes & tutors available. I think it’s about US$10/hr.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, the city is not handicap accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are not encouraged to take buses, but rickshaws, trains, taxis and Ubers are all very safe, common and affordable. You can easily get by without a car here. Fares are typically between 50 cents and US$3.00. I’d recommend waiting to get a car until you determine how much you’d actually use it. I’ve found Uber/taxis to be very safe; haven’t had a single issue in the 100 rides I’ve taken.
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?
IF you bring or buy a car, bring a right-hand drive car that is a Toyota or Honda. Those are the two brands most easily serviced here. SUVs and sedans are both common, but like I mentioned above, try getting around without one for a few weeks to see how much you'd really use it. We regret getting a car, as it just sits in our garage unused.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Connectivity is pretty good here and speeds are fast. There is a lot of concrete used in building though, so it can be hard for the signal to travel throughout the whole apartment. We got Google Wifi and that solved our issue. Would recommend shipping that to post (or hand-carry it) so it’s there upon arrival. It can typically be installed within a few days or the first week.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I would recommend using a local provider. Vodafone and Airtel both provide great connectivity and speed and it’s about US$5 a month for data and calling. Google Fi is becoming more popular but it's a lot more expensive than the local options.
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?
Many expat spouses aren’t able to work here. Consulate spouses are fortunate to have a bilateral work agreement in place with the government of India, so we can work either in the Consulate or on the local economy. A large number of spouses work at the Consulate. There are also some who telework or run their own businesses. Lots of different work options here!
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are a plethora of great volunteer opportunities here that are easily accessible and generally well-run. I’ve heard lots of positive stories. Many people associated with the Consulate help out at Sharanam, a home for girls in the Dharavi slum. My family has had fantastic volunteer experiences here thus far. I know it will be one of the things we remember most about this tour.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Mumbai is more progressive than the rest of India (where shoulders and knees must be covered at all times). My rule of thumb in Mumbai is to cover either my shoulders OR my knees. Most older Indian women will be in traditional Indian dress. Younger Indian women will either be in traditional dress or western wear. Work dress at the Consulate is business casual Monday – Thursday with casual Friday. Formal dress gets worn pretty frequently here. Definitely invest in some traditional Indian wear, you will get good use out of it. There are also several expat or consulate balls each year, so formal dresses are a must-have too.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Although Mumbai is the most progressive and modern city in India, sexual assault against women is very common. Assaults typically happen in crowded places like markets or festivals – someone will touch you inappropriately and then disappear into the crowd. More aggressive types of assault happen too. The police are very responsive though and will take action against the perpetrators (if they can be identified).
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 surprisingly common here. Many people take prophylaxis pills to combat it. Food-borne illness is also very common. You will puke your guts out for no seeming reason at one point or another. Can even happen from eating at high-end places. Probiotics can help. My view on healthcare is that the doctors are well-trained but the facilities and administrative procedures are poor so it doesn’t always end up being a good experience. It will be very cheap though!
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 is good during rainy season (June – August), moderate from Sept – Nov, Bad from Dec – Feb and Moderate again from March to May. Many expats wear masks during the bad periods. If you have asthma, allergies or other lung-related issues, think twice before coming here, as it can aggravate those conditions immensely. The effects I feel when the AQI is bad are: more sluggishness, nausea at times and headaches. The good news is that the Consulate has been very aggressive in taking measures to combat it. Apartments have an average of five to six air purifiers and apartments are tested annually to make sure the air quality inside is at a healthy range. The Consulate buildings also are purified. The American School of Bombay is also acting very aggressively. The school buildings are already all purified. There are current projects underway to enclose the playgrounds, swimming pools and sport fields. The sad part in all this is that you don’t get to spend much time outside. Having come from a post where I had a big yard with lots of nature, I find this to be one of the hardest adjustments.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
My family’s allergies haven’t been bad here, I think because there isn’t much growing.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
India is very polarizing because of how intense and overwhelming the daily living experience is. People either love it or they hate it. For those who hate it, I hope they are getting counseling services.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is hot and muggy, year-round. The coolest it will get is mid-70s during the winter season. Unfortunately then people burn trash to stay warm so the AQI gets horrible. I’ll say this, you do not need warm coat, unless you’re planning to travel to the mountains. Some people get rainboots and raincoats for rainy season but I don’t think you really need them. Just a good umbrella should suffice.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Expats living in Bandra and BKC tend to send their kids to the American School of Bombay. It is an IB school with about 800 kids in Pre-K through 12th grade. It’s well run and most people seem happy with it overall. In fact, many will extend their stays because they like the school so much.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are SOME accommodations for special needs at ASB. Definitely communicate directly with the school on that prior to coming to make sure they could support your special-needs child.
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?
Lots of preschool options that vary in price and quality. Haven’t heard too many complaints. Most families have a nanny that take care of kids after school. I don’t think daycare exists here.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The American School of Bombay offers sports and activities through its after-school activities program. Elementary School Kids will stay after for an extra hour 2 or 3 days per week to try an activity of their choosing that they’ve enrolled in for that semester. This includes everything from Coding and Mathgames to Gardening and Soccer. As kids get closer to middle school, the time extends to 90 minutes and increases in frequency. Middle school and high school have a good variety of options (although likely far less than in the US). Swimming and soccer are the most popular.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
No idea how big the expat community is. That’s a hard number to define because many Indians have been long-time expats themselves in the States or other countries. It’s a very global place, that’s for sure! Morale is good among the people I hang out with. There are plenty of options to keep you busy. The key is to find little hideaways where you can escape the people and noise for a bit. That helps with maintaining your sanity.
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?
Common social activities are brunches at hotels, attending festivals, going out to dinner, playdates, and school functions. You will run into people you know all the time. That part is fun. Some expat-focused groups that are great for making instant friends are: ACIW, Mumbai Connections and Hopping Bunnies. The school is also a natural place to make friends. They have all sorts of parent clubs you can get involved with.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all. Maybe least so for families, as there isn’t much green space for kids to run around and the pollution can be harder on their lungs.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Incredibly easy to make friends with locals. They will bend over backwards to provide hospitality to you or include you in a special celebration. It’s one of my favorite things about India.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Attitudes toward women are still evolving but better here than anywhere else in the country. Caste prejudices will also show up once in awhile.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I have had more cultural experiences in my first year here then in entire other tours. Indians love including you in their festivals and traditions so if you have an open mind, you’ll get to experience some incredible things. Attending a traditional Indian wedding was mind-blowingly cool and will be a highlight not only of India but of my entire time overseas. We’ve also had very rich volunteer experiences that I know I’ll cherish for a long time.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Mumbai itself isn’t much of a tourist city. We like going to the mall and the movies a lot. Very high-end but relatively inexpensive. Eating out is also fun, as there are loads of great, affordable restaurants. Kidzania is fun for kids.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Absolutely. AMAZING textiles and home goods especially. And lots and lots of jewelry.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The rich culture, the restaurant scene, low cost of household help, the shopping, inexpensive flights to all over the region, English-speaking locals, great school, and an abundance of in-country travel opportunities.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I would have been better informed about how to keep myself safe as a women. This is a very real threat for women. I was assaulted within the first few months of arrival and feel it could have been prevented had I been better informed. Talking to local Indian women about their safety practices is a great way to educate oneself. How we interact with a male in the US is not the same as in India. Showing small kindnesses like saying hello and smiling can cause unwanted attention. Light skin is seen as exotic and will attract attention, as well as having blonde and red hair.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but only for a few years. The intensity of it is exhausting but the cultural experiences have been so rich.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter coat, bikes.
4. But don't forget your:
Swimsuit, suitcase, walking shoes & camera.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
There are loads out there. None in particular I’d recommend, but it’s worth reading up on the culture a bit before coming.
6. Do you have any other comments?
India is unlike anywhere I’ve ever lived. It’s a full-on assault on your senses the minute you step out the door. It can take a long time to get used to the chaos – it exhausted me at first and it’s hard to find quiet places to take a break from it. That being said, there is always something fascinating to look at (or be a part of even) and so, so many interesting things to learn. It’s a place full of contrasts – but that’s exactly what makes it so fascinating.