Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 08/20/08
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; Guangzhou, China.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Assigned to the U.S. Consulate.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
There are no direct flights from the U.S. Travel time is around 16 hours from the East Coast. Most people do a stop-overs in Frankfurt or elsewhere in Europe.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For consulate families, people without children are assigned to spacious apartments normally and those with children usually get houses. Other expats usually have very nice houses.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Vegetables are cheap and abundant when in season. Most things can be found at a price. I have become vegetarian since moving since there is no place that I trust to buy meat. It is not killed, cleaned, or distributed in a sanitary manner.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Olive oil and any specialty items.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food includes a new McDonald's, KFC, and many Pizza Hut and Subway. None are especially convienent. There are several good restaurants that are generaly cheaper than you'd find in the States.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DHL or Indian Post. DHL is quite expensive but reliable. Indian post is the opposite.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most expats hire a gardener (US$50-$90 depending on the size of the yard), a driver (US$120-$200), and a maid/housekeeper (US$100-$150).
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?
The bigger stores will take them. I've not heard of any credit card thefts or scams.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, Catholics attend services at the Tomb of St. Thomas-one of only three church built over an apostle of Christ. Protestant churches are also numerous. There is also a Mormon church.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Many newspapers available for pennies.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can use English to speak to almost anyone. This is true of much of India but especially Chennai where people learn English not Hindi as a second language.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are no sidewalks but you would have a driver to drive you wherever you needed.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Left side-English style.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains are fine. Buses have people literally hanging off the side of them, so no expat I know has ventured onto one. Taxis are almost exclusively tuk-tuks or auto rickshaws. They use no meters. You can go anywhere in the city for under $5 but the pollution is quite bad in these things.
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?
I would suggest something small for parking but with clearance. The local government erects huge speed bumps to control motorists speed. I frequently scrape bottom in my car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, the quality varies greatly depending on where you are. The 3 companies are Airtel, BSNL, and Tata. I would check with neighbors to find the best one. They will likely have switched at least once (like me) and found the best one. Cost is around US$40/month for decent broadband.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Quite cheap. Normal usage is around US$5-$15. I'd bring an unlocked one (they can do it here, too) rather than buy one.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Skype, home phone, or cell phone. All are cheap. I recently made an hour long call to the U.S. on my cell phone for US$10.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Top-notch vet here. Dr. Priya.
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?
Several family members have taken jobs at huge paycuts which means earning 20-25% of what you would make in the U.S. for the same work. It is rather easy, though, to find a job here.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Very casual. Most don't wear ties.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
If pollution means air quality, I'd say moderate to unhealthy. If pollution means trash strewn about the streets or gentlemen urinating on the sidewalks, It would have to be very unhealthy. A recent study came out that found the river water was more polluted that sewage.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is the safest city I have every lived in. If you follow the barest of security precautions then, you'll be fine.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
People usually develop some brand of stomach ailment frequently. India is a medical tourism destination which does work well if you know exactly what is wrong with you. Indian doctors, like Indian mechanics, who don't know what's wrong tend to tinker around until they find out whats wrong.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It hovers around 95F for most of the year until December and January when it plunges into the lower 80'sF. The hot season of May/June sees temperatures of 110F regularly.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The AISC is a wonderful school. They have numerous (usually free) after school activities. The athletics is great with swim, track, basketball, and tennis teams. The school is growing but the headmaster seems up to the task of making sure the growing pains are not bad. The school recently acquired more land.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Counting non-resident Indians, the expat community is huge-into the thousands. For people not native to Indian, the community is probably 200-300.
2. Morale among expats:
Depends. If you are a person who has always been enamored with India, you will love it. It seems rather low amongst those who were not always.
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?
You can go to a 5-star hotel and pay US$7 for a beer. Entertaining other in your home is another option.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good post for kids with small children who do not find the need to go out much. Couples find it generally stifling as there is not much to do. You can't get a beer unless it's in a hotel. Bars are supposed to close by 11 PM. Singles would find it hard here. Arranged marriages are the norm. It is changing and I have heard that some male officers have been able to date local people. This is one post where women seem to do better than men in dating.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
If you bring a partner, I do not forsee any problems. Finding a partner would be a chore indeed.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are no problems in Chennai with race or religion. Most of the rest of India experiences strong Hindu/Muslim rivalries, but it is much mellower here in Chennai. There are strong gender and caste prejudices. The caste mindset will not affect most expats. The gender prejudice does. People always defer to the man.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are 2 theaters which are the best I've ever been in. There are local temples and shopping to do. The best thing, though, is to leave. Pondicherry is around 4 hours away. There are 5 star resorts on the beach around 1-2 hours away that are not covered in human feces.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carvings, cloth, tailor-made clothes are cheap and good.
9. Can you save money?
In theory, you should be able to save money. However, paying servants' salaries and plenty of trips out of the city seems to sap the savings.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
If you doubled my salary and told me I would not have to deal with visas, maybe.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen and plenty of bug spray.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Watch some Tamil movies to see a glimpse of the culture and the actors they revere.