Kolkata, India Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India 09/19/15

Background:

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

Nope. I have lived in other parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia

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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 from the U.S. A trip home takes around 20 hours through connections in Germany, or the Middle East.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Posting with State Department

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Options are luxury apartments off-compound or consulate-owned apartments on the compound.

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

The largest grocery chain in India is headquartered in Kolkata. It has several hypermarkets in the city and most of our needs are met shopping there. A trip to the grocery store in Kolkata is a just a bit cheaper than a trip in the U.S. This has been one of the biggest surprises of living in the city.

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

Sunscreen and mosquito repellent.

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

Lots. Fast food: McDonald's, KFC, Chillis, Au Bon Pain, Baskin Robbins.

The opening of the luxury Quest Mall saw the opening of several luxury restaurants. The city has lots of famous local restaurants like Flury's, Peter Cat, etc. It also has the only Chinatown in India.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch

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

Widely available and quite affordable though the quality varies.

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

We have good gym and workout facilities on the consulate compound. If you want, you can join a private club which are expensive. In particular, the city has some of the oldest golf clubs in the world, joining them is expensive.

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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?

Credit cards are being used at more and more establishments in the city, some of them still only take local credit cards though. ATMs are widely available in the city; the consulate also has one on its grounds now.

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

Yes. Several churches that date to British colonial times.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can pass with just English though knowing either Hindi or Bengali will help with bargaining and finding your way around town.

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

Not sure but I really do not believe that Kolkata has adequate facilities for those with disabilities yet.

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Transportation:

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

Kolkata has the oldest subway in India. It is considered cheap, convenient, and clean.

The local yellow taxis are notorious for poor customer service though this has started to cahnge since Uber and its local competitor Ola arrived in Kolkata.

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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?

It is difficult to import a vehicle to India now. Obtain one locally and I recommend buying an elevated vehicle to deal with the monsoons.

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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. Costs around Rs. 1000 per month.

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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?

Obtain one locally they are cheaper here unless you want an iphone.

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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?

Not really.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of volunteer opportunities in the vibrant NGO community

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

Casual

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really.

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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?

Pollution in the winter has been a growing concern recently. The new indoor air filters have helped.

At least one person had a baby delivered at Post so medial facilities appear to be adequate.

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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?

Air quality was good when I arrived though it appears to be deteriorating. We just received indoor air filters last year which have been quite helpful to everyone.

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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?

The weather is hot most of the year with a long stretch of monsoon rain from June through August. We use the air conditioners most of the year.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are two international schools that American diplomats have used: South City International and Calcutta International. They are really international only in name. The curriculum, calendar, and most of the students are Indian. Calcutta International appears to have more international kids but its facilities are not as modern as South City's. Parents should decide where to send their children after seeing both schools. Be warned the level of academics in Kolkata is high even by Indian standards so kids from the U.S. may be behind when they arrive.

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2. 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 are a few preschool options. We sent our son to a Montessori school, which also serves as a teacher training academy, and were quite happy with it. It was relatively inexpensive.

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

Lots. Our child learns swimming, tennis, karate and soccer. Others learn rugby and cricket.

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Expat Life:

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

Small. Morale is generally good.

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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?

Meet at a restaurant, have a dinner party, go to the movies, see a cricket or soccer match, etc. Lots to do here.

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

The city is good for families with smaller kids and couples. Singles seem to have a tougher time but usually integrate themselves into the expat NGO scene or the music scene. Parents with kids in high school may need to put them in boarding school.

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

Probably. Locals in Bengal appear tolerant to LGBT lifestyles.

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

Not really in Kolkata. On the whole Bengalis are more liberal than the rest of India with regards to such issues.

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

Every year the city lights up in October/November for Durga Puja. The city is absolutely beautiful at this time. This is the chief Hindu festival in eastern India but all faiths take part. It is a wonder to see.

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

Take a walking tour of the city. See India's only Chinatown. See the beautiful Ramakrishna Mission on the banks of the Ganges. See colonial architecture of the former capital of British India.
But also shop at Quest Mall.

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

Arts and crafts.

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

Kolkata considers itself the cultural capital of India. On any given night, expats have the option of attending music, movie, or art events. It is the jumping off point for travel to India's northeast which most Indians have not seen though it is the most scenic part of India. Kolkata can also be used as a base to see the SE Asia. It is easy to save money here because things are quite cheap.

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10. Can you save money?

Easily.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

It is a very interesting city to explore.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

In a heartbeat. This may be one of our favorite postings so far.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter coats

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

See the BBC special "The Story of India" which features Kolkata prominently

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

Jeffery Morehouse's book about the city

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Kolkata, India 12/08/10

Background:

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

No. I've lived in Kuwait City, Tel Aviv, Kigali, Baghdad and Dakar.

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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.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 1/2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomat posted to Kolkata.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Good rental units are very hard to find. Traffic can be very congested.

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

Basic necessities are available, but some Western items are very poor quality.

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

Flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, shampoo, conditioner, tomato paste.

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

There are very good restaurants here ranging from very low cost to very high end.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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

Lots of mosquitoes.

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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.

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

Takes time to find someone good. Average monthly salary is $150-200/month.

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

Yes.

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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?

ATM machines are reliable and available.

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

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

Yes. Very 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?

None.

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

Kolkata is not accessible for the disabled.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable, but very dirty. Fairly safe.

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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?

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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. Moderately expensive. Takes a long time to connect a new service.

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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?

It's hard to get a cell phone SIM card. This can be very time consuming.

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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?

No.

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

Smart casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Maoists are active in several districts of West Bengal. International terrorism is common in India. The city has lower crime than other Indian cities and minimal "Eve teasing."

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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?

Kolkata is extremely unhealthy and medical care is below average. The air quality is very poor and public urination/defecation are common. Stomach and respiratory ailments are very common.

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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?

Very unhealthy.

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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?

Very hot and humid in the summers, nice weather from December to March.

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Schools & Children:

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

Calcutta International School is average. There is no American school.

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Very small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Average.

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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?

Very social community, but it's tiring seeing the same people over and over.

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

It's very hard to date here as a single.

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

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

This is an easier city for women than many other Indian cities because there is less "Eve teasing." Women dress pretty conservatively and don't go to bars.

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

Photographing the people and cultural events. Visiting cultural sites and spending time in West Bengal's countryside. Visiting other states in India.

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

Photography, exploration, visiting cultural sites.

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

Local crafts. Shopping in Kolkata is not as interesting as other major cities in India.

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

It's very diverse and interesting. Its a great place to photograph.

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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:

Short skirts.

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3. But don't forget your:

Ear plugs.

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


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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

,

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6. Do you have any other comments?

There is nowhere close to Kolkata to go for a break from the constant bombardment of noise, activity and smells. All vacations are more adventure vacations, but not relaxing. Bangkok is the closest place to go for a break. Kolkata (all of Eastern India) is very noisy. This is not a city for relaxing, but is a great place to explore and learn about India.

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Kolkata, India 06/18/09

Background:

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

4th expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

living here now, for 8 months.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Most people are taking the Lufthansa flight direct from Frankfurt. If you have to do consultations in Delhi there are many more int'l options to there then domestic on to Kolkata. It takes a good 24hours. There are fewer and fewer direct options to Kolkata, BA has left, Lufthansa comes 3x/week, the rest stop somewhere in the middle east or Asia. There are no direct flights like other cities.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All apartments, no houses at all. Housing is a bone of contention here. With the growing number of people, there is about a 50/50 split in on and off compound housing. Unfortunately, sometime in the last 3 years management decided to cut three of the four on-compound apartments in half. So the 3 bedroom 3 baths, nice, spacious, light apartments became 2 bed 2 bath caves with little light and no storage. Housing is disproportionate as those off-compound generally have quite nice and spacious housing comparitively. The off-compound people right now are quite happy with their housing. Investigate your proposed housing before coming. If you are single entry-level you will likely be on-compound. The off-compound housing has no play areas for children or grass, or other amenities; unless they move people quite far out of town this will continue. Right now commute time in the morning for off-compound is 10-15 minutes in the morning and 10-60 minutes at night depending on what time you leave.

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

Things are relatively cheaper than the US. Foreign foods are not easy to find. In other large Indian cities this is not the case, but here the expat community is too small to support much in the way of foreign groceries. Some household things are curiously difficult to find and may not be up to your standards.

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

More dog food, mexican food supplies, but that's about it. I supplement with Netgrocer and Amazon, and occasionally from the Delhi commissary, but they don't pack things well and so you get breakage.

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

This is India, so the indian food is awesome. KFC, McDonald's (no beef) and Pizza Hut as well as Dominos and Subway, if you really need it. The indian food is generally pretty cheap and reasonable; though if you eat at the hotels it's expensive. The fast food chains are very cheap.

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

Mosquitoes, which carry malaria and dengue and that chikungunia thing.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch. India post seems to be reliable for sending things to other countries. It is not too expensive either.

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

Lots of people available, though here in Kolkata English is not so great for some, and some don't read. Most people have found very good, reliable help, everyone has at least a housekeeper and a driver, while others have a nanny, cook, driver and housekeeper. Some cooks will not do housework, some housekeepers will not do toilets, or laundry. All can be had from $100/month on up.

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

Yes, though expensive, at hotels and the private clubs.

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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?

People use ATMs frequently with little trouble. The hotels take credit cards as do some stores. Cash is still necessary.

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

Yes, but I don't go. There are catholic and protestant for sure but I don't know what else.

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

Yes, cheap. Satellite TV runs about 10/month for the most english channels and sports, about 20 total english channels.

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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?

None, but Hindi or Bengali would help as people at the low end of the economic scale have little to no english, AND the english spoken can be very heavily accented and not easy to understand.

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

Don't come.

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Transportation:

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

Buses, no. Taxis are affordable but have no A/C.There is a new company that has A/C radio taxis, but you have to call pretty far in advance. Many people ride the trains, but there are many varied results.

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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?

There are a lot of restrictions on importing cars, so check with the post. I bought one locally - and that is what most people do. It's right-hand drive and most people have a driver because this is some crazy traffic.

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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 but not hi-speed. I pay 50/month for ADSL supposed broadband, but it's not US standard. It works for skype and other downloads, and is okay if you are not used to the US lightning speed.

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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?

They are cheap but not easy to get quickly. They have plans and pay-as-you-go.

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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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Not high quality, no kennels. I have found a vet that I trust but I also cross my fingers that the pets stay reasonably healthy.

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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?

I'm not sure, depends on your specialty.

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

Generally business casual, the Indian bureaucrats do not wear suits or ties, it's just too hot.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy to very unhealthy. This city is huge, has tons of cars, and all the cars are old -- as are the busses and auto rickshaws. Kolkata is the last city to phase out the really polluting vehicles for CNG (natural gas) and can't enforce the laws, so we have all the old vehicles from the other cities.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Each year? Flu But everything else on the shot card is needed.

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

Not really, it's overall pretty safe for day-to-day life, but you must be very careful walking the streets due to poor maintenance and poor driving of any and all types of vehicles. There is considerable political violence, incredible amounts -- especially around elections. Strikes and protests happen daily, though unless you are caught in it you may just read about it the next day. Domestic terrorism is also a problem, but it doesn't seem to affect people's-day-to day life in this city. Women who are alone can bring unwanted attention, as the men are very juvenile and will brush up against them.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

You will get sick. Medical care here is sketchy, despite what people think about medical tourism. Hygene is a problem, so food poisoning, giardia, amoebas, etc. are common. Get used to it.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, hotter and wet and hot. This past winter during the day it rarely got colder than 75-80 degrees, though they say this was unusual. The monsoon is late this year and it's about 105 and 70% humidity. Welcome to global warming.

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Schools & Children:

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

No children for me; rumor has it that the on-compound one-room school is adequate for the lower grades. The CIS is mostly wealthy indians with some expat and diplomatic kids. The Overseas school people do not consider it adequate.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

None.

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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?

Available and supposedly pretty good, several choices out there

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

I'm not sure about elsewhere, but not at the American School.

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Expat Life:

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

Surprisingly not big.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends, morale among the consulate folks is pretty good, depending on the day. Most people enjoy the adventure and also enjoy complaining about it.

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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?

Dining out seems to be our main social thing. Going shopping, trying to find things also takes up a saturday. Nothing is open except malls on Sunday. The Bengalis are very warm and there are many who invite the foreigners to their homes and into their lives. This can be a lot of fun, though you have to watch out for some as they can be after you for the visa or referral. However, there are plenty who just want to share and enjoy hosting us. I have found this one of the nicer things about Kolkata.

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

It's good for pretty much anyone, though single women may have a harder time.

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

I don't think it's bad, but I wouldn't know for sure.

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

Of course, this is India. There's no need to go into details, just start reading news from here.

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

There is plenty to do, sometimes it takes planning, and can be overwhelming, but if you want, there is plenty of art galleries and art openings, music, and other cultural pursuits, all free or affordable. The colonial architecture, while crumbling, is amazing and interests many people. There are interesting walks to take among the various markets, river boat rides, etc. Getting out of town is a huge pain due to the poor roads and traffic, but can be very rewarding. Joining one of the many clubs in the city also provides access to outdoor sports and local people.

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

While shopping in Kolkata pretty much sucks, you can still purchase incredible fabrics, textiles, shawls etc. And on trips to Delhi or Mumbai or other places you will find furniture and other interesting stuff. There is lots to buy, but not in Kolkata.

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9. Can you save money?

Only if you don't spend it traveling to other places for shopping and fun.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, it's interesting, it's fun, and it's India.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

idea that India Inc. means this is a developed country. And your winter clothes - unless you need them to travel.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of humor and sense of adventure, sun glasses, sunscreen, and tolerance for heat.

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

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, others but I can't remember. There is a lot of Indian fiction and nonfiction out there. You can buy tons of books in India as well. There is a thriving book business and they are cheaper than in the US.

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

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, others but I can't remember. There is a lot of Indian fiction and nonfiction out there. You can buy tons of books in India as well. There is a thriving book business and they are cheaper than in the US.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Kolkata is a small post so be prepared for that. Otherwise most people find things to amuse themselves and plan outings to see the diversity of India. The people who like it here are the ones who embrace the craziness and the opportunities.

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Kolkata, India 03/18/09

Background:

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

5th expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Arrived 6 months ago.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

A long, long time. About 24 hours or so. Flights from Europe have dwindled, so the best, most direct route is Lufthansa from Frankfurt direct. If you bring pets, you can come direct; others are usually required to stop in Delhi for consultations on the way. There are many airlines serving Delhi.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Consulate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

A sore point here. Since the growth of the Consulate, there are about half off-compound and half on-compound housing. The off-compound is overall bigger and nicer. However, it is all apartment living, and off-compound absolutely no green areas, no park for the kids, no pool, etc. I feel sorry for my neighbors kids who play in the parking lot, dodging cars. Commute from off-compound is not bad, about 15 minutes in the morning, nights can be from 15-45 depending on the traffic.

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

I find groceries to be affordable, fresh produce and fruit are pretty cheap and plentful. Meat is another story, but I have not had problems. Kolkata is an anomoly as far as beef is concerned, as it is readily available due to a concession made to the Muslim population which allows them to slaughter beef. Other supplies like cleaning goods and personal goods are available.

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

You can get what you need here, but of varying quality. I would ship U.S. paper products and cleaning supplies, mostly because I hate the Indian ones.

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

McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, KFC, at reasonable prices. Of course amazing Indian food choices, and a few other ethnic restaurants.

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

Mosquitos, lots of them. Dengue fever and malaria are here.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch and India Post.

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

Cheap and fairly plentiful, but English is sometimes poor. I pay US$110/month for a housekeeper who does laundry, cooks simple dishes and cleans like a fiend. I also pay US$100/month for my driver who walks the dog and runs errands, takes the housekeeper shopping, etc.

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

Gyms are not cheap and there are not too many. However, a few of the 5 star hotels allow membership, and the various clubs in town also have gyms. The Consulate has a small but little-used gym. There is a new small gym just opened near the consulate as well.

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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?

You can use ATMs, credit cards more are more.

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

Yes.

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

Yes, cheap.

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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 if any, but Hindi or Bengali would help, as English is pretty poor in Kolkata.

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

You name it, don't come ... and don't expect accomodation.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are relatively safe and cheap, but have no A/C and are old. Buses are not advisable. People do take train trips but trains are often late.

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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?

It is difficult to bring U.S. cars into India unless they are quite new. Many people buy used cars here. The process is a pain. Buying a new car and getting the tax off is about a 6 month process, or more. Then, you can only sell it to another diplomat or the buyer has to pay the tax. Sedans are fine for the most part but a small SUV is nice for clearance and the monsoon. Everyone hires a driver, which is pretty much a necessity. The driving is incredibly stressful, no rules AND the streets in the downtown change directions every 8 hours for traffic flow.

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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, about US$50/month for ADSL.

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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?

Everyone has them, the Consulate will help spouses set up a pay as you go phone. It is otherwise difficult to buy sim cards.

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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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Not good, but vets are available. No kennels I know of. The only pet food is Pedigree for dogs and Whiskas for cats, poor quality.

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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?

I don't think so if they don't bring you in from overseas.

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

Business casual at work, the Indians are not formal in the government offices. Shorts and sleeveless shirts on women are uncommon, but if you don't look indian it's not dangerous. However, Indians love to stare and they will stare more the more you reveal.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very, very, very unhealthy.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Only the flu vaccine is annual. You need everything else here.

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

Not much for the city, it's pretty safe. However, India is a pandora's box for terrorism, insurgencies and political violence.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Yes. Lots of stomach/intestinal distress, medical care is iffy in Kolkata, medevac in Singapore. You can get decent basic care, pediatricians, etc. If you have something serious get out because the standard of care is not high.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, hotter and humid and really really hot, humid and rainy. This year the daytime temps did not get much below 80F. Night time a few times was in the 60s. In March it is already in the 90s and is going up daily. By the monsoon in July it will be in the 100s with 98% humidity.

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Schools & Children:

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

I have no kids. However, the schools are considered pitiful. The Delhi American school has a small satellite school started to get bidders here. It is one room, and can accomodate only about 8 kids. However I am told that the quality of teaching is high, but the rest is lacking, as in a playground, extra-cirricular activities, etc. There are a couple of other schools that expats use, the Heritage School and CIS but both are considered well below US standards. I'm not sure I would bring school aged kids here.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

None.

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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?

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

Not that I am aware of.

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Expat Life:

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

Not large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good considering this is considered one of the harder cities to live in India. However it really depends on each individual. The crush of humanity in India can be very draining.

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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?

Home entertaining and going out to dinner, invitations to clubs, if you want to be busy, it's out there for you.

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

Depends on how outgoing you are, as most places. I would say it's hardest on single women, as it is not easy to do anything on your own here. However, the local Indians I have met through work are great and the hotel people cultivate relationships which have opened up avenues to socialize beyond our small community and meet very cool people. Invitiations to various events abound.

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

Not sure, but I would say it's not prohibitive. We had one gay couple here who seemed to do quite well with no issues.

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

Yes.

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

Lots of cultural opportnities, travel in and around India, Bangkok just a few hours away. Kolkata's historical sites, walking tours, and colonial heritage are will also keep you busy if you are interested.

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

In Kolkata, not much, but if you travel, plenty! Rugs, jewelry, furniture, textiles, you name it, it's in India.

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9. 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:

Winter clothes unless you go to the hills.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sandals.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Kolkata is not for the faint of heart, to coin a phrase, but if you are in for adventure Kolkata is the place. From driving to shopping you have to be more agressive, open-minded and willing to make do, but it is not without its rewards.

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Kolkata, India 05/06/08

Background:

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

No...I've lived extensively in Euruope, Asia and Latin America.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

9 hours to Frankfurt, then 9 hours to Calcutta.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I work for the U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Almost all housing is in apartments, some of which might have a shared yard. Newer compounds have gated communities, shared yards and pools, but are often located far outside the city. Housing is the among the top morale issues in Calcutta and should be thoroughly investigated when planning to move here.

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

Groceries are very cheap -- the produce and fish are excellent. You can find beef here, though the quality varies. Outbreaks of bird flu occasionally have people skittish about chicken and eggs (depending on the status of the latest outbreaks). You can buy cheese and cold cuts at the Oberoi Hotel (at a price). The commissary can send items (for consulate staff), but the hefty air shipment prices really adds to the cost. I'd recommend making full use of your consumable shipments (note: you can only import $500/worth of consumables per quarter, so you have to make repeat shipments) and buy things on Amazon.com and Netgrocer.com to supplement the few things you can buy locally.

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

Toilet paper (the local brand is very stiff), mosquito repellent, sunscreen, and more comfort food.

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

Fast food: Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut and Dominos. A new restaurant opened in 2007, Blue Potato, which dramatically changed the lives of expats who long for non-Indian/Chinese food. The same owner will soon open a Tapas bar as well. There's an excellent Italian/pizzeria place and several outstanding restaurants in the hotels (La Cuccina in the Hyatt, Pan Asia and West View in the ITC Sonar Bangla, among others). There are wonderful Indian and Chinese restaurants as well, but since Indian and Chinese food are generally served at every event and function, most foreigners typically seek other options when dining out.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

FedEx, DHL and trips back home.

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

VERY cheap and plentiful. A maid/cook costs about US$110 a month, as does a babysitter, while a driver will ask for anything between US$130-$170. Having a driver is very necessary in Calcutta with chaotic traffic patterns and horrific traffic.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

You can generally only use credit cards in hotels, the most upscale restaurants and some stores. It's still a cash economy.

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

Calcutta has a large Christian population so there are Catholic and Church of England masses/services. An Armenian Church and a still-occasionally-functioning synagogue also have members.

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

Lots of English newspapers, very cheap, but the quality is at the level of tablois. SKY cable is available -- it costs US$100 to install and the monthly fees are about US$10.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Having Bengali and/or Hindi is helpful (especially when communicating with household staff), but not needed.

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

It would be nearly impossible to explore the city on your own.

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Transportation:

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

Busses are not safe -- drivers try to race each other and generally ignore traffic rules (to the extent that any driver in Calcutta adheres to them).

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2. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Left.

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3. 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?

The roads here are really rough. Monsoon season also means waterlogged days when only the high clearance vehicles can dare to attempt driving. We bought a (low clearance) car locally and have generally been pleased. India drives on the left side and spare parts of U.S./European-made cars won't be readily available here. We even have had difficulty locating spare parts for our locally made Ford!

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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, broadband is available and costs about US$50/month. The service is spotty and the service often goes down on weekends (when we're most apt to use the internet).

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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?

Everyone here communicates via cell phone. People you meet once will ask for your cell number upon meeting you.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Those who have pets like their veterinarians.

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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?

There are some jobs available, but networking is key. The local chambers are very responsive to foreigners and generally help them to meet other companies and contacts in order to network.

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

The dress code at work is business, though during the summer months you can get by with business casual. In public, people are very casual though no one wears shorts, even in the summer heat. Calcuttans aren't pretentious and you often see industrialists in short-sleeved shirts. It's definitely a place where you can define your own dress code and people will generally accept you. A lot of foreign women occasionally adopt Indian dress.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy -- Calcutta has the worst pollution index of all the major cities in India.

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

No, it's a very safe city.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The pollution is atrocious and many foreigners have an intermittent cough/breathing problems. You have to be careful with the food and produce, but experienced household staff will take care of that for you. The medical care here is generally sub-par. I've found the doctors to be excellent, but the nurses seem to be only trained to take blood pressure and your temperature. So you're 100% reliant on your doctor.

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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?

The monsoon generally lasts from June/July through September/October, which breaks the monstrous heat, which stretches from March through June. November-February are generally very pleasant months and you occasionally might need a sweater or a light jacket.

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Schools & Children:

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

The American School opened in August 2007 with 5 kids, K-4. The Calcutta International School has K-12, but focuses on an Indian curriculum and has a predominantly Indian student body.

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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?

Plentiful domestic help is available, but there are preschools available, including Montessori and other options. Each neighborhood has several preschools, so it's best to find the most suitable option for you and your family.

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Expat Life:

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

Very small, though it is growing.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale varies widely -- there are those who hate Calcutta and others who are quite taken by the city. I fall in-between. It can be a difficult city for expats, with the lack of amenities and foreign foods. However, if you look beyond shopping and food, it can be a charming place. Calcuttans are extremely warm, gracious, hospitable, humble and non-materialistic. It is very easy to befriend people here.

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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?

Calcuttans are compulsive socializers and love to party every night.

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

This post would be extremely difficult for singles. Calcuttans are extremely friendly, but also very curious by nature, and it would be impossible to try to date here without a peanut gallery of observers hovering over you. The expat population is very small, so that's another factor. Calcutta can be a good post for families, as nannies are very affordable. It would be a better place for younger kids than older kids - older kids would be bored here.

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

If you're in a relationship, it could be ok. Many people here seem relatively tolerant. However, if you're looking to date, I would recommend Mumbai or Delhi (for some of the reasons mentioned above).

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

Working women can find it extremely tough here. In some ways Calcutta is very conservative. People are generally very curious here and often ask very un-PC questions (such as asking an African-American visitor where his family was from in Africa -- they don't have the same historical context as Americans and Europeans might have). That said, Calcutta, as other places in India, occasionally has flare-ups between the Muslim and Hindu populations (though it is a very peaceful city, given its very diverse population). Those of Indian/Pakistani descent might find it difficult.

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

Explore the city (Calcutta is India's most historical, interesting and charming city with amazing architecture), visit art galleries, attend book readings and lectures/speeches by visiting dignitaries (Calcutta does attract high caliber people/celebrities). The museums are very disappointing. There is a water park, a renewable energy theme park and several boating areas for kids. Calcutta has several holiday seasons, especially in the fall, when the entire city comes alive and celebrates like a carnival. Travel within India is expensive and there aren't many daytrips or weekend trips from Calcutta. It's often cheaper to go to Thailand or Singapore than other Indian destinations. From Calcutta, one should visit Darjeeling (tea plantations), Assam (Kaziranga National Forest) and Puri (beach and Konark Sun Temple).

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

There are a lot of local handicrafts and artwork, but the quality really varies.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, but only if you don't travel too much or indulge in too much sympathy shopping.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, but it's been a very difficult post in many ways. The secret to enjoying life in Calcutta is managing expectations. Then again, someone told me when I arrived that foreigners cry twice when coming here: once as they arrive, then again when they leave. Already I can relate to that. Calcutta is a very special place, even if (or because) it's enmeshed in a time warp.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Books -- there are lots of bookstores here (but with a heavy Indian selection and not much avant-garde material). You can buy very nice cotton shirts/pants for the brutal summer months and nice leather items.

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3. But don't forget your:

Except for the items mentioned above, bring everything else with you!

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

Glass Palace (Amitav Ghosh), Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri), Chowringee (Sankar), Weekenders: Essays on Calcutta (anthology) and anything by Tagore/

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

Glass Palace (Amitav Ghosh), Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri), Chowringee (Sankar), Weekenders: Essays on Calcutta (anthology) and anything by Tagore/

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Namesake, anything by Satayjit Ray.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Calcutta, like many other places, is what you make of it. It can be difficult to carve a life for yourself and find your niche, since opportunities aren't readily available as they are in other places. But seek out what you enjoy doing and you'll find like-minded people to join you.

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