Mumbai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 05/31/23
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?
No, this was my sixth expatriate experience. I lived in various cities in Russia, Jerusalem, Ciudad Juarez, Kyiv, Abuja, and now Mumbai.
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 am originally from Bismarck, ND, USA. It is quite a long trip back to the U.S., generally around 30 hours travel time with multiple layovers, depending on where you are transiting. The benefit is that there are multiple potential routes back, many direct flights in and out of Mumbai to various overseas and domestic Indian locations. This makes travel relatively easy, though you should avoid certain airlines (for example GoFirst, never travel with GoFirst!). Immigration at the airport can take several hours for non-diplomatic passport holders, but even 30 minutes for diplomatic passport holders when no one else is in line. This seems to be due to new immigration officials.
3. How long have you lived here?
Over two years.
4. What years did you live here?
5. 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 varies significantly by company. Many expats live in Powai, especially those working in oil/gas and other international companies. Others may live in Bandra , BKC, or Worli/Lower Parel. Apartments in Bandra West will typically be small, while larger apartments are available in the others range from medium to large. Commute times will depend on where you work compared to where you live. I can walk to work, while others may commute up to an hour in the morning with it potentially taking longer in the afternoon/evening.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local groceries are inexpensive and readily available. Most items can be delivered to your home. Beef is available locally only in the form of water buffalo. All turkey is imported and extremely expensive, but other meats are readily available and affordable. Alternative flours and milks are also readily available, which means those with food sensitivities and/or dietary restrictions can easily find substitutes.
Amazon India has fresh produce that can be delivered, and some residences have nearby fruit/veggie stands either every day or on a regular schedule. I rarely go to the grocery store or to get household supplies, as I can have them delivered right to my door for a very small delivery fee. Cheese can be expensive, but there are lots of varieties available locally.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, though some people bring bacon, cheese, beef hotdogs, and/or deli meats with them in their suitcases.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
So many good restaurants, it is hard to give a list without focusing on a specific area of this city. Near the US Consulate, Origami, Cin Cin, Nara Thai, Nho Saigon, O'Pedro's, and restaurants in the two main hotels (Trident and Sofitel) are frequented by expats. Lots of good restaurants in South Mumbai and Bandra West. If you're willing to brave the traffic, there are also lots of good options in other parts of the city. Zomato and Swiggy are the two most common food delivery apps.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes, there are lots of pest issues. Mosquitoes during the dry season/winter, ants, cockroaches, termites, and mice/rats are all possible issues. However, most of these can be mitigated. I just had mosquito nets hung for the first time in our two years here, and I'll occasionally see a cockroach. They say the cockroaches come up the pipes. There are local exterminators who can come and help with an infestation, though US diplomats should go through the Consulate to facilitate that and ensure safe chemicals/no chemicals are used.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The US Consulate receives diplomatic pouch letters and packages. It is expensive and challenging to ship anything more than a letter out. Local postal facilities are interesting, but I wouldn't trust them to get mail to a destination outside of India. FedEx and DHL have offices here.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of household help available. Most have housekeepers and/or cooks, those who have cars usually hire a driver, and some have nannies (live-in is possible, but will cost more). Cost is on the rise, so best to check with other expats after arrival. I think the normal range for expats right now is INR 25,000-35,000 for full-time (not more than 50 hours per week) per month. Most household help will regularly ask for raises or want additional types of benefits (like tea with milk/sugar, transportation costs, etc). Make sure you talk about all of that before hiring someone.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many residences have gyms/pools in the buildings. Pools are less common in Bandra West. There are some outside gyms available, but I do not know how much they cost.
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?
International credit cards are hit or miss. I've had most luck with my CapitalOne Visa card, but others have had similar luck with AmEx. A local bank account, if you're able to get one, is the easiest back-up after cash. ATMs are common, but may charge high conversion/usage fees. They are safe to use in the bank branches and airport, where other security is present. I have not seen ATMs otherwise, but do not search for them.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think there are lots of options available, especially Christian services. Non-Christian services are likely not in English, but I do not know for sure.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Local language is useful for cab/Uber/Ola drivers, delivery people, etc. However, in most restaurants, English is common and not an issue. There are tutors available, but I do not know the cost.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, rough roads, lots of crowds and traffic, most buildings were not built with accessibility in mind.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Uber and Ola (another ride app) are safe and affordable, though service is hit or miss. Rickshaws can be caught on the street, though it may be a struggle to get them to use the meter. Often they try to charge 2-4 times the actual fare for foreigners. Uber can be used to call a rickshaw, which alleviates some of that issue, and also eliminates the need to be able to direct them to your destination. Other taxis are available. The women driven taxis at the airport are great and highly affordable without having to wait. Other taxi options at the airport are also available and all should be prepaid.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
Only right-hand drive vehicles are allowed. Most expats purchase vehicles here, as importation is time consuming and expensive. Any car will work.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it can take several weeks to install.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have GoogleFi, which usually works great. Local phones are also readily available, though network connectivity and customer service can be challenging.
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?
Good veterinarians are available. Only cats and dogs are recognized as pets. All other animals would be exotic, even a rabbit (which is available locally). Exotic pet veterinarians are harder to find.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Sharanam Girls is a local charity that is very common for expats to volunteer with. It can be challenging for US Consulate officers and family members to volunteer at charities as it requires additional approval.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
No typical dress code. Locals mostly wear sarees and kurtas. Expats may also wear kurtas, but it is also possible to find a fushion of western and Indian clothing. Mumbai is quite safe and women can wear shorts, tank tops, sun dresses, etc. without issue. Women will get more attention in western wear that shows more skin, but as saree blouses can be quite revealing, this seems to be more due to the fact that the western clothing draws more attention.
You can find ample opportunity to wear formal dress. The Marine Security Guard Detachment at the US Consulate holds an annual Marine Corp Ball, the American School of Bombay has several annual functions for parents that are semi-formal to formal, depending on the occasion, and if you happen to get invited to Bollywood events, you will want something formal.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is India. Although for the most part, women can go anywhere at any time of night, this tends to just be the rule for the wealthier parts of the city. It is also important to be aware of the direction a taxi/Uber is taking. I have had an Uber drive keep making wrong turns (getting farther and farther from my destination) at night until I asked, "Where are you going?" Then all of a sudden he knew how to follow the directions on the app.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care in Mumbai is excellent. The only medical evacuations I’ve known of have been for cancer, and one major surgery. Others have received medical attention here, including outpatient surgery, with great experiences.
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 has been getting progressively worse pos- COVID. Predictions abound that in several years Mumbai’s air quality will be worse than New Delhi. This can be hard on people with asthma, but others may get sick or suffer allergies the more time spent outdoors on those bad air quality days. Air quality is good during monsoon season.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
You can find a lot of alternative foods here, from alternate milks to every type of flour imaginable. I do not know if there are issues with food contamination during packaging, but they seem to follow the standard practice of listing potential food contaminants. Environmental allergies may be ok as there isn’t a lot of green space.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None that I am aware of.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It can be extremely hot. If you are not careful about getting enough water and replenishing electrolytes, you could suffer from heat exhaustion just from being outside for 20 minutes. Mumbai also has a monsoon season that generally lasts from June through the beginning of October. The temperature is generally milder during monsoon.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American School of Bombay (ASB) is one of the best international schools in the world. There are also several other reputable international schools including DSB (German) and LFIM (French). The Ambani International School is right next door to the middle/high school campus of ASB, but I do not know of any expat kids attending that school.
We have loved our time with ASB, despite the first year being fully virtual for my daughter. The teachers have been great, and my daughter has really thrived, especially once they returned to in-person instruction. Although virtual school wasn’t great, it was the best virtual program I saw or heard about during COVID. They have more than made up for that lost year, however, and my daughter is now performing at or above grade in all subjects. She loves her school so much that she wants to return to ASB for high school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don’t know about this. Some special-needs kids have not been accepted into ASB.
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?
There is at least one Montessori school that is used by expat families. ASB also has a preschool, but that is very expensive. I do not know the price of Montessori. No before or after care that I am aware of.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, though these are just starting to come back. Most kids either participate through school, or parents pay for private lessons. I know kids take dance and martial arts.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are a lot of expats in Mumbai, both among the various diplomatic missions and many international companies. Morale seems high, and most people seem to love it here. There is a lot to do, and a great community once you get connected in.
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?
Mumbai Connections is a group that seems to do a lot. There is also an American International Women’s Club (ACIW) that people connect with. If you are a parent, you can get linked into multiple school-related groups where you can connect with other parents. There are ample ways to socialize, though you may need to make substantial effort to meet people when you first arrive, especially for those with smaller communities at their workplace.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, for all of the above. There is so much to do. No matter your interests, your style of living, or what, it can be accommodated here. You can go out and meet people, go clubbing or to bars, live music/concerts, shopping, restaurants, etc. For kids, there are indoor arcades, movie theaters, trampoline parks, Chucky Cheese, Kidzania, etc.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It can be hard to make friends with locals, especially the locals who have never lived outside of India. Indian Americans (or other expats of Indian descent, whether or not they have lived in India previously) may face more prejudices, especially by local security guards or others.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
For the most part, yes. Although there are not a lot of locals who are out and LGBT, expats do not seem to have issues, despite being a conservative country. There are many organizations working on LGBT rights, and there is even a film festival dedicated to these issues (Kashish Film Festival). I’m sure that things happen that I am not aware of, as a non-LGBT person.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are lots of challenges in terms of gender equality. As a woman, be prepared for the male shopkeeper to tell you what you want and be dumbfounded when you tell him, "That is not what I want." Local women are expected to take care of the home, cook, and clean, even when they are the sole earner in the family. Violence against women is common, though not accepted out in the open. However, you hear horrific stories of women and even young girls being raped in their homes, or while walking at night.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The Indian festivals are so fun and lively. The music and dance really made both my daughter and I fall in love with Mumbai. We went to Jaipur for Holi, spent Navratri in Udaipur, saw the Taj Mahal, and just overall loved being apart of this diverse and amazing nation.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Explore the food options. There are so many great restaurants. You can also buy a lot of great things. If you want to design your own clothing, go to Mangaldas Market (a fabric market in Crawford Market area). You can get amazing fabric for a very good price and have anything made.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. There is so much to buy: jewelry (both real and costume), furniture and fabric/clothing are the most common purchases. You can also get some traditional artwork.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
So much will depend on where you live. I live within walking distance of my work, which is amazing (and will be hard to lose!). Some other parts of the city have more nightlife and shopping. As the traffic has been getting really bad, you will have to decide, but I would prioritize proximity to work and school to avoid sudden traffic jams.
Also, you can get anything and everything delivered direct to your apartment. I am not looking forward to having to go to the grocery store every time I need eggs.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
As amazing as Mumbai is, I wish I had known how dysfunctional seemingly professional companies can be. I think this is often due to the ability to hire cheap labor, which means they don’t put much effort into retaining good employees. The experience in shop may be amazing one time, but the next time have such terrible service that you will never want to go back.
Vendors/companies also like to promise more than they are able to deliver. It can be several weeks or months before they finally make good on a contract, or finally say they can’t do it. For example, a friend purchased a balloon bouquet for my birthday. Due to monsoon season (supposedly), the initial delivery was delayed. My friend had to keep calling to ask when it would be delivered. I wish I was exaggerating when I say that it took eight months for my birthday bouquet to be delivered.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, definitely. Although I do wonder if I would make the same decision if the air quality significantly gets worse.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
entire wardrobe (buy new clothes here!) and car.
4. But don't forget your:
electronics (they are expensive here).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Just start watching Bollywood movies. There are some great ones out there! I read the Palace of Illusion as part of a book club, which was really interesting to be able to learn a little more of the stories of the Mahabharata. I also read The God of Small Things. There are lots of books out there, so just start googling to find what you are interested in.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Mumbai is an amazing city and is the first place I could see myself living in forever (if it weren’t so expensive!). But your time here will be what you make it. Try to come with an open mind and an open heart and I am sure you will fall in love with it, just like I did.