Kolkata, India Report of what it's like to live there - 03/18/09

Personal Experiences from Kolkata, India

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

U.S. Consulate.

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4. 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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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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