Kolkata, India Report of what it's like to live there - 12/20/20
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?
Other posts in South and East 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?
DC. One stop through the gulf, about 20 plus hours still.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing pool was revamped while we were here. We moved into a brand new large apt with an enormous living room and four bedrooms. There was another newer high rise and then on compound housing, all apts. I was a mere 10-12 mins drive to work. The building was new but the neighborhood not the most pleasant to walk around but doable, large market very close by.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local market for veggies and fruit pretty cheap. The grocery store in the mall has most of what you’d want but at higher prices. There was a small import store on other side of town if you needed a niche baking product or something.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We just Amazon anything we want that isn’t easily found or costs more local.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Very good restaurants all around. Delivery apps for almost every restaurant. Some good non Indian restaurants, sushi, Asian fusion, at reasonable prices.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are some seasonal little black bugs in the fall that would find there way in. We didn’t have any other issues. Mosquitoes outside though.
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?
Available and very affordable. 250-400 USD/month. Housekeeper, nanny, drivers, all available.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Our apt had some good equipment. Didn’t explore private gyms.
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?
Yes but food delivery no, they only took local cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Many denominations have services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Lots of English around and in almost everything you need to do. Bengali would be useful exploring the books and crannies of the city.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes! Horrible roads and sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. Uber readily available. The famous ambassador taxi fleet continues to age as they no longer make those cars. I took the subway often to get home from work, crowded but I only needed two stops, like 20 cents.
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?
The roads are bad but everything from a small economy car to a big SUV will get you around the city streets. I like being a bit higher up so like SUV. It’s right-hand drive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Pretty easy to set up and affordable. Are building had some service most didn’t but it worked fine.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I always use an unlocked phone with local SIM. Very cheap, like 13 USD for 10GB data plan
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?
Prob some vets but don’t have pets, others did though.
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?
Limited EFM jobs. Not aware of anyone else working remotely. Local salaries much lower than US.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many NGOs and charities one could volunteer at, including Mother Theresa's centers.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is typical business. Some events you can wear Indian party wear if you like, meaning local clothes that are a bit facile than daily wear.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Things like petty theft don’t tend to occur in India. Western women may get unnecessary extra looks and attention.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue was going around.
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?
It’s bad. The air is worse in winter but never good, usually in the top ten on the air visual app.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Unclean food. Kolkata is famous for street food but even if tasty usually made with unclean hands and food contact surfaces.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The bad air can get to you. There are not many good open air park-like opportunities.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, hot and wet, and then gets a little cool in evenings in winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No true international school. The two schools with international in the name are almost all local students. There have been very few mission students at the main intl school but some have done it.
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?
There are many small centers but they usually put like 10 kids in small rooms and no outdoor space to run around, maybe roof if a building. We just hired an extra nanny. Our apt had plenty of indoor space to run around.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are some. If you ask around with staff you can tap into various activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty small, there are other consulates in the city and they have monthly consular corps lunches. The same dip crowd and local movers and shakers crowd appear at all events. Small city in this regard.
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?
Going out to dinner or hosting at home. Local friends will invite you over too.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Prob not great for singles. Couples can find things to do. If you have young kids cheap household help but almost no outdoor green space activities.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Fairly easy to mix with locals in the social circles that dips move in.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There are LGBT groups but noting else to offer here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
India is going through a Hindu nationalist govt that is stoking Hindu Muslim sentiment.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There are many interesting things to see in India and domestic flights are cheap. If you need a break from India there are good flight connections to SE Asia. There are also flights down to Mauritius which many seem to overlook as an option.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Kolkata is a piece of living history. The center of the city has some many old historical buildings and daily life goes on much as it has for decades, the buildings just get a little bit more dilapidated. If you like exploring one could really enjoy getting lost in the alleys of Kolkata. There are rhinos in NE India and some refurbished old historical houses in the surrounding countryside if you want a break from the crush of the city.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of arts and crafts one could buy.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The cost of living is cheap. Between the delicious local food, and the handful of good non-Indian restaurants going out to eat is enjoyable. If you like history and old architecture you will like it here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I’m well versed in India so harder to answer this. Most either love or hate India. I love India but also the first to recognize it can be a difficult place to live.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I would. The lack of green space activities for kids the biggest drawback for me.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
White glove cleanly sensibilities. Your left-hand drive vehicle. Your want for peace and quiet, noise pollution from honking and the roads wafts even up to higher floors.
4. But don't forget your:
Taste buds, explore the food! Sense of adventure. Ability to just let things happen as they happen, in their own Kolkata way and time.