Kolkata, India Report of what it's like to live there - 06/18/09

Personal Experiences from Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India 06/18/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

4th expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

living here now, for 8 months.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Most people are taking the Lufthansa flight direct from Frankfurt. If you have to do consultations in Delhi there are many more int'l options to there then domestic on to Kolkata. It takes a good 24hours. There are fewer and fewer direct options to Kolkata, BA has left, Lufthansa comes 3x/week, the rest stop somewhere in the middle east or Asia. There are no direct flights like other cities.

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

US Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

All apartments, no houses at all. Housing is a bone of contention here. With the growing number of people, there is about a 50/50 split in on and off compound housing. Unfortunately, sometime in the last 3 years management decided to cut three of the four on-compound apartments in half. So the 3 bedroom 3 baths, nice, spacious, light apartments became 2 bed 2 bath caves with little light and no storage. Housing is disproportionate as those off-compound generally have quite nice and spacious housing comparitively. The off-compound people right now are quite happy with their housing. Investigate your proposed housing before coming. If you are single entry-level you will likely be on-compound. The off-compound housing has no play areas for children or grass, or other amenities; unless they move people quite far out of town this will continue. Right now commute time in the morning for off-compound is 10-15 minutes in the morning and 10-60 minutes at night depending on what time you leave.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Things are relatively cheaper than the US. Foreign foods are not easy to find. In other large Indian cities this is not the case, but here the expat community is too small to support much in the way of foreign groceries. Some household things are curiously difficult to find and may not be up to your standards.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More dog food, mexican food supplies, but that's about it. I supplement with Netgrocer and Amazon, and occasionally from the Delhi commissary, but they don't pack things well and so you get breakage.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

This is India, so the indian food is awesome. KFC, McDonald's (no beef) and Pizza Hut as well as Dominos and Subway, if you really need it. The indian food is generally pretty cheap and reasonable; though if you eat at the hotels it's expensive. The fast food chains are very cheap.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes, which carry malaria and dengue and that chikungunia thing.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch. India post seems to be reliable for sending things to other countries. It is not too expensive either.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Lots of people available, though here in Kolkata English is not so great for some, and some don't read. Most people have found very good, reliable help, everyone has at least a housekeeper and a driver, while others have a nanny, cook, driver and housekeeper. Some cooks will not do housework, some housekeepers will not do toilets, or laundry. All can be had from $100/month on up.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, though expensive, at hotels and the private clubs.

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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?

People use ATMs frequently with little trouble. The hotels take credit cards as do some stores. Cash is still necessary.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, but I don't go. There are catholic and protestant for sure but I don't know what else.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, cheap. Satellite TV runs about 10/month for the most english channels and sports, about 20 total english channels.

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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?

None, but Hindi or Bengali would help as people at the low end of the economic scale have little to no english, AND the english spoken can be very heavily accented and not easy to understand.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Don't come.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Buses, no. Taxis are affordable but have no A/C.There is a new company that has A/C radio taxis, but you have to call pretty far in advance. Many people ride the trains, but there are many varied results.

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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?

There are a lot of restrictions on importing cars, so check with the post. I bought one locally - and that is what most people do. It's right-hand drive and most people have a driver because this is some crazy traffic.

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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 but not hi-speed. I pay 50/month for ADSL supposed broadband, but it's not US standard. It works for skype and other downloads, and is okay if you are not used to the US lightning speed.

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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?

They are cheap but not easy to get quickly. They have plans and pay-as-you-go.

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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 high quality, no kennels. I have found a vet that I trust but I also cross my fingers that the pets stay reasonably healthy.

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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'm not sure, depends on your specialty.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Generally business casual, the Indian bureaucrats do not wear suits or ties, it's just too hot.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy to very unhealthy. This city is huge, has tons of cars, and all the cars are old -- as are the busses and auto rickshaws. Kolkata is the last city to phase out the really polluting vehicles for CNG (natural gas) and can't enforce the laws, so we have all the old vehicles from the other cities.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Each year? Flu But everything else on the shot card is needed.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not really, it's overall pretty safe for day-to-day life, but you must be very careful walking the streets due to poor maintenance and poor driving of any and all types of vehicles. There is considerable political violence, incredible amounts -- especially around elections. Strikes and protests happen daily, though unless you are caught in it you may just read about it the next day. Domestic terrorism is also a problem, but it doesn't seem to affect people's-day-to day life in this city. Women who are alone can bring unwanted attention, as the men are very juvenile and will brush up against them.

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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?

You will get sick. Medical care here is sketchy, despite what people think about medical tourism. Hygene is a problem, so food poisoning, giardia, amoebas, etc. are common. Get used to it.

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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 wet and hot. This past winter during the day it rarely got colder than 75-80 degrees, though they say this was unusual. The monsoon is late this year and it's about 105 and 70% humidity. Welcome to global warming.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No children for me; rumor has it that the on-compound one-room school is adequate for the lower grades. The CIS is mostly wealthy indians with some expat and diplomatic kids. The Overseas school people do not consider it adequate.

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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?

Available and supposedly pretty good, several choices out there

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

I'm not sure about elsewhere, but not at the American School.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Surprisingly not big.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends, morale among the consulate folks is pretty good, depending on the day. Most people enjoy the adventure and also enjoy complaining about it.

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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?

Dining out seems to be our main social thing. Going shopping, trying to find things also takes up a saturday. Nothing is open except malls on Sunday. The Bengalis are very warm and there are many who invite the foreigners to their homes and into their lives. This can be a lot of fun, though you have to watch out for some as they can be after you for the visa or referral. However, there are plenty who just want to share and enjoy hosting us. I have found this one of the nicer things about Kolkata.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's good for pretty much anyone, though single women may have a harder time.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I don't think it's bad, but I wouldn't know for sure.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Of course, this is India. There's no need to go into details, just start reading news from here.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There is plenty to do, sometimes it takes planning, and can be overwhelming, but if you want, there is plenty of art galleries and art openings, music, and other cultural pursuits, all free or affordable. The colonial architecture, while crumbling, is amazing and interests many people. There are interesting walks to take among the various markets, river boat rides, etc. Getting out of town is a huge pain due to the poor roads and traffic, but can be very rewarding. Joining one of the many clubs in the city also provides access to outdoor sports and local people.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

While shopping in Kolkata pretty much sucks, you can still purchase incredible fabrics, textiles, shawls etc. And on trips to Delhi or Mumbai or other places you will find furniture and other interesting stuff. There is lots to buy, but not in Kolkata.

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9. Can you save money?

Only if you don't spend it traveling to other places for shopping and fun.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, it's interesting, it's fun, and it's India.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

idea that India Inc. means this is a developed country. And your winter clothes - unless you need them to travel.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of humor and sense of adventure, sun glasses, sunscreen, and tolerance for heat.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, others but I can't remember. There is a lot of Indian fiction and nonfiction out there. You can buy tons of books in India as well. There is a thriving book business and they are cheaper than in the US.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, others but I can't remember. There is a lot of Indian fiction and nonfiction out there. You can buy tons of books in India as well. There is a thriving book business and they are cheaper than in the US.

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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 a small post so be prepared for that. Otherwise most people find things to amuse themselves and plan outings to see the diversity of India. The people who like it here are the ones who embrace the craziness and the opportunities.

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