Mumbai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 11/04/20
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?
I have previously lived in Japan and China.
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?
I grew up in New York City and also spent some time in Washington, DC for graduate school. I flew from D.C to Mumbai, with a connection in Paris.
3. What years did you live here?
From May 2019 to now (November 2020). My posting ends in May 2021.
4. How long have you lived here?
I have lived in Mumbai for the last 1.5 years.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
State Department work. I am working for the US Consulate in Mumbai.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I live in Khar West, part of the Bandra neighborhood. This is a high-end neighborhood in Mumbai. It is mostly occupied by Bollywood actors, movie directors, business people. I live in a 3.5 bedroom apartment with 4.5 bathrooms, living room, kitchen, and storage room. The housing is very modern, with nice amenities. The location is around 8KM from the U.S. Consulate. I have my own scooter and it usually takes 20 minutes one way without traffic. Most of the staff from the Consulate live in this area, occupying various buildings.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Super low cost and convenient food stalls/vegetable stands around the neighborhood. The nearest one to my house is around a 1 minute walk. You won't find too many western grocery items, those have to be bought in upscale grocery stores like Foodhall.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Peanut butter and jelly, western cereal brands, pancake mix. Although you can find all of these items, but they are of inferior quality and price is much higher than in the US.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tons of restaurants around Bandra, it is actually known as the nightlife and restaurant area. We mainly use Zomato app for food delivery. Other people also use Swiggy.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I live on the second floor in my apartment building, and I occasionally get mosquitoes. Nothing too major like rats or bugs.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I don't get letters, mainly email. I receive my packages from the mail room at work. Never been inside a local postal facility.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I don't have household help, but heard it is fairly cheap, most of my colleagues pay around US$200-$300 a month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I don't use the public gym but I do have a gym in my building.
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?
Yes and no. Foreign credit cards are not always accepted. ATMs are fairly common and is the best way to withdraw money in Mumbai. Mumbai is pretty safe, I haven't experienced any negative safety issues.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You don't really need to learn Hindi or Marathi if you know how to point to things and pay money. It is pretty self-explanatory, most of the activities you engage in are transactional. If you are trying to have an actual conversation with someone, then obviously you need to speak a bit more of the local language. Around Bandra, it isn't necessary. My work offers me free language classes, but I have been too lazy to take them.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, get ready to dodge a car or scooter at any moment. Mumbai traffic is notorious and someone with physical disabilities will have a hard time surviving here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local taxis are safe and cheap. Local trains are VERY cheap but can be super crowded and might not be comfortable for women, although there are separate women only carriages. Buses should be avoided, they are crowded and it is hard for expats to figure out where they go.
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?
I don't have a car and I am perfectly fine without it. If you had to bring a car, I would recommend something with high ground clearance. However, I did purchase a Honda Activa 5G scooter/moped. I highly recommend the scooter option because it enables free movement, and I spend less time in traffic than do cars. However, you have to be agile and have a brave heart.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I don't have internet at home.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most people have Vodaphone, it is cheap, just get it. You don't even need to install Wifi at home cause your phone's hotspot can serve as Wifi. India has the cheapest data plan in the world.
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 spouses work in the Consulate or at the American School. I haven't heard of anyone working on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I am sure there are a lot, but I haven't explored much.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
I work in the Consular section and the dress code is very lax. I usually wear sneaks, dress pants, and collared shirt. Formal dress is almost never required except for representational events. But folks in the POL/ECON sections do wear suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
For men, almost none. For women, be ready for locals to ask you for photos.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality is bad, if you have asthma or lung problems, don't come here. Availability of medical care is generally good, but if you are going to have a major surgery, you will probably be MEDEVACed to Singapore. I even got LASIK surgery done in Mumbai. No regrets.
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?
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Just be careful with what you order in restaurants.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
There is no winter, only dry season and wet season. Weather is warm all year around.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
All year around is hot, June to September is rainy everyday.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, Mumbai has a large expat community. I met some just walking through the neighborhood. Overall morale is fine.
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?
Before COVID, dance clubs are quite popular to meet people. Raasta in Bandra is exceptionally popular among the Consulate community.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for single and families.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Not too easy to make friends with locals. There is a language barrier with many locals. People also tend to exchange contact with me and never follow up with hanging out.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't experienced any racism, but there is definitely sexism towards women in my opinion.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting out of Mumbai and traveling the country. Best trips include Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh and Gangtok region in Sikkim.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Baganga in Malarbar Hill is a nice, interesting spot. It looks completely different from the rest of Mumbai and offers something very cultural.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, tons of opportunities to do shopping for handicraft and artwork. People also buy furniture here. I bought a lot of hiking gears from Decathalon, which is a cheap version of REI.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
25% equity, warm weather, cheap living.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The hiking spots are all outside of Mumbai. The ocean is extremely dirty. And people will stare at you if you jog shirtless.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. India has been a good overall experience. Although I don't love Mumbai, I did get the chance to travel through India, which is an amazingly diverse country, geographically and ethnically. Mumbai is also conveniently located on the East side of the Arabian sea, so travel to the Gulf countries is quite cheap and quick.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, boots, sense of calm, and western credit cards.
4. But don't forget your:
GoPro, sunglasses, rain gear, and rabies vaccines.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Books: Shantaram, India in the 21st Century, Maximum City,
Movies: Gully Boy, Slumdog Millionaire.
6. Do you have any other comments?
To really experience Mumbai, and India at large, you really need to let go of your western values and embrace the chaos of the city. Sometimes things just don't make sense, and you will identify a better way to do things, but the inefficiency and chaos is part of the Mumbai culture. If you struggle against it, you will get frustrated all the time. To have an easier time living in Mumbai, you need to embrace "going with the flow" to the fullest.