Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 07/09/12
Personal Experiences from Chennai, India
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I have lived in Tokyo, Japan and Heidelberg, Germany.
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?
My home is in the USA and the trip is LONG. You can connect through Europe or through the Middle East to get to America from Chennai. The Middle eastern Airlines are nicer.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of a foreign service officer.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is comfortable and most people in our community live very close to the US Consulate. The American School is a little further away, but still within a 30 min drive from most residences.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fruits and vegetables are the best that I have ever had and unbelievably cheap. We do wash everything in a dilute bleach solution before we eat it though. You can usually what you want in Chennai, but you may have to really look for it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
American white flour and brown sugar as well as good chocolate chips. All are available here, but the quality is not as good as in the US.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
South Indian restaurants are cheap and the food is generally good, though cleanliness is sometimes an issue. The big hotels in the city are more expensive, but have a variety of good restaurants.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The mosquitoes are numerous, so we sleep under mosquito nets. Both my spouse and I tested positive for dengue fever last winter. After the monsoons the mosquito population increases and mosquito-borne diseases are more prevalent.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is both available and inexpensive but don't expect the same type of service that you would get in the western world. That being said, we have really enjoyed having household help. Salaries are rising rapidly.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. There are gyms throughout the city and several good yoga studios.
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?
Places that cater to foreigners usually take credit cards, but don't expect that they will everywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are four daily English newspapers that I know about, and they cost only a few cents.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Knowing Tamil makes life easier, but English is very widely spoken.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, sidewalks are not common and not well kept where they exist. Walkways are not often smooth.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are trains and buses, but I have not taken either locally. They are both crowded and inexpensive (I don't know about safe). Auto-rickshaws are everywhere and will take you wherever you want to go after you negotiate a price.
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?
Buy a smaller, cheaper, car here. You have to see the driving style to believe it.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but ours kept going in and out so we purchased a second internet service in order to have a back-up.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Women should dress fairly modestly. Avoid shorts and short skirts if possible.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I feel very safe in Chennai.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We have had several stomach illness and dengue fever, so health has been our biggest issue here.
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?
The air quality is moderate. We are near the ocean, so the sea breezes clear out a lot of the pollution, but the traffic and industry is increasing in Chennai and the air quality is growing worse.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid, but you do get used to it. May is the hottest month and the weather is generally very pleasant Nov-Feb.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
My children were 1 and 3 when we arrived and are now 3 and 5. They have attended and been very happy at Alphabet Playschool in Alwarpet. We will miss the school very much when we leave. There are several other Playschools nearby that seem very good. There are also a few good Montessori options available.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
At the American International School there are many sports programs. We have had some trouble finding good programs for children under 5. We did find a yoga program and a karate program, but only after a lot of looking around.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Growing and friendly.
2. Morale among expats:
Generally very good, but it depends upon who you talk to.
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?
We entertain in our home and we go out to fancy restaurants in the big hotels. We've definitely had a good time here.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a good place for families as many Indian people love children and many of the Americans here have families with young children. There are not very many outdoor places to take young children during the day, but there are lots of children available for playdates.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The south Indian food, the preschool that my children attend and the laid back attitude of the South Indian people.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are often cultural exhibitions held at different halls and hotels in the city, and it is a lot of fun to shop for Indian fabrics and jewelry. It is also nice to go to the beach. You can go right in the city but if you want a clean, swimmable, beach then you have to travel about 1 hour south of the city.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Fabric, jewelry and furniture is beautiful and inexpensive.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Chennai is a relatively safe and friendly city with a laid back life-style.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Skimpy summer clothes.
3. But don't forget your: