Kolkata, India Report of what it's like to live there - 09/19/15
Personal Experiences from Kolkata, India
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
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.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Posting with State Department
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.
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.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
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.
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?
Widely available and quite affordable though the quality varies.
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.
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.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. Several churches that date to British colonial times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of volunteer opportunities in the vibrant NGO community
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small. Morale is generally good.
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.
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.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably. Locals in Bengal appear tolerant to LGBT lifestyles.
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.
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.
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.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Arts and crafts.
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.
10. Can you save money?
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.
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.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
See the BBC special "The Story of India" which features Kolkata prominently
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