Mumbai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 03/27/14
Personal Experiences from Mumbai, India
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I have lived in some European countries.
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?
New York -- 16 hour flight direct on United. I highly recommend Economy Plus and hardcore meds.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. 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?
You only have a house here if you are a billionaire. Everyone has apartments. Commutes depend on your location. Most people try to keep them under an hour but it is common here to have a 1.5-2 hour commute home.
You can get a crappy old building with nice space inside in a place like Bandra that is somewhat walkable (though you still fight the traffic and get brushed off the road). Or you can go for a high-rise with all the amenities in a different area that is less walkable but most people even in Bandra aren't walking that much. Everyone gets in their cars (with drivers) to go places or takes taxis.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Super cheap. You might not get every specialty brand you want but you can find a cheap substitute. Groceries are very cheap unless you buy fancy imported stuff. Household supplies are also cheap unless imported. Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson are here making a lot of the products you know and selling them cheap -- for the Indian consumer to be able to afford.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More wine. Wine is very expensive here and you can never have enough over the course of a few years. Might as well pack a few big bottles of pepto too. You will need it. Really.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food: McDonald's, KFC, Baskin Robbins, Sbarro, Taco Bell, Dunkin Doughnuts, TGI Fridays, and many, many more. If it's your thing, you can order all of these to your door. Do I just want some McDonald's fries tonight? I can order just fries to my door in 15 minutes for a dollar.
Decent restaurants are all over the place and they are good. Food is the best part of living here and you can find just about anything you want. The quality of "western" food is usually not top notch but it is all around and easy to find.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
You'll find every insect imaginable here outside. Hopefully you can keep them out. Malaria and dengue are serious problems though no one here seems to mind.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Email or nothing. Shops usually can send stuff to the USA via their own courier connections, which are not that expensive. FedEx is here but is pricey.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available and cheap. Prices range from US$150 to $300 a month for full time (10 hours/day, 6 days/week), depending on experience, language, etc.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The high-rise apartments have gyms and pools. If you need a gym, there are plenty. They are pretty expensive, more or less with U.S. prices. So they are the places you see the richest people and the Bollywood stars working out.
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 very commonly accepted, which I was surprised by when I arrived. There are ATMs but they aren't all over the place. Still, you can find big international branches like HSBC that will certainly take your bank's card.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. It would help to know a little Hindi but you can get by very easily without any.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. I would never suggest this city to anyone with physical disabilities. Even people who have no disability have a hard time getting around (no sidewalks, fighting cars, cows, goats, bicycles, rickshaws, and more).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe, yes. Affordable, definitely. The train at rush hour is just insane though. And there are lots of taxis in the market -- normal taxis, taxis with AC, then private taxi services have entered the market so those are a bit more but generally nicer and you can pre-book them. Even Uber just opened in Mumbai so that is a sign that the market is hot.
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?
Good luck, India doesn't allow you to import one so hopefully you know someone in Customs. No car jackings here. But you want to buy a used car (it will get banged up fast) and a common one that you see on the road so spare parts are easy to find and cheap. Honda, Toyota, Suzuki are all common. You will find everything else here but the spare parts can be a challenge.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, lots of competition here but it is generally unreliable. When it works, it works well, but you can tell India has a serious bandwidth problem. Anywhere from US$20-60 a month depending on how fast you want and how much you download.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It takes 2-3 days to get a local SIM so make that your first move when you arrive. Cell phones are cheap here because they are made for the local consumer market. No need to bring one unless you want an iPhone. Bring that. Samsung is king here and the latest models are not too badly priced ($400 unlocked Samsung Galaxy s4).
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?
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?
TONS. So many people here need so much help and there are 60,000 NGOs to choose from.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work and anything goes in public but if you are a woman it's easier to walk around not showing a lot of skin. The staring quickly becomes ogling, then leering, if you show too much cleavage or shoulder on the street. In restaurants, bars, and clubs, you'll see it all.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Every now and again Mumbai has terrorist attacks but generally on a day-to-day basis everyone feels safe and secure. Petty crime is REALLY low compared to any big city in the world. Crimes against women still happen but most women feel pretty safe in Mumbai because there are always so many people around.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
It is very difficult to stay healthy here. Medical care is okay. You can find state of the art technology in the private clinics and hospitals but the doctors are really hit or miss. Dental care is cheap and this seems like a great place to do major work or braces.
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?
Moderate to bad. This isn't Delhi or Beijing but it is not good for you to exercise outside and if you have any bit of allergies or asthma, you will really feel it here.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot year-round with a little bit of "winter" November to March when it feels like you're in Miami. It rains for four months June to October. And I mean RAINS. Monsoon is no joke.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No experience but there are very good ones here.
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
At first it seems big but it really is small. I'd say morale is medium to low. Most people don't last longer than a year. People try to enjoy it though. After a few parties you know everyone, which is too bad.
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?
Expensive boozy brunches, ridiculously dirty dive bars, lots of restaurants to explore, rooftop bars... there are a few art galleries that are getting better. Planning trips out.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I have to say that I thought it would be good for singles but it is NOT AT ALL. You won't be bored here (lots of bars and restaurants) but it is a complete desert for dating. Just think about it for a few minutes: India is the home of the arranged marriage. Couples and families do just fine. Couples probably have it best because it is easy to mingle with people and they are all always married.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is a gay scene but this is not Chelsea. It's very closeted but it does exist. India still does not seem very open to gay people but I don't think they really get it yet either so there isn't hardcore homophobia in Mumbai.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
India is tough for women. Men still rule here and that has a way of popping up a lot. Mumbai has all religions you can imagine so in that sense it is quite nice.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Eating the food is #1. The food is incredible and I am sure I will miss it when I leave.
Staying at a nice hotel on the lake in Udaipur, seeing the tea plantations of Munnar, Kerala, and meeting a lot of really nice people who are very happy even though they are living in crap with a government that fails to provide basic necessities.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The "hill stations" are nice. Just a few hours outside the city you can get up a bit at elevation and have cooler temperatures and little places to stay to be out of the madness for the weekend.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Semi-precious stones/jewelry, leather goods, custom furniture.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Everything except alcohol is cheap. Having a driver, a cook, a nanny, someone to give you a foot massage, a manicure, all of that is so cheap and can be done at your apartment. Medicine is very cheap. Internal flights are very reasonable. It is always warm. The internal tourism is very interesting and vast -- mountains, lakes, beaches, sea, rivers, all climates, etc. If you like history, this is a great place.
Essentially if you like living like a king, this is a good place to be. As a king would do, you must ignore the poverty around you (which of course is sad and difficult for most people to do).
10. Can you save money?
Yes, quite easily if you want to. Alcohol out in bars is the most expensive thing. Otherwise everything is cheap.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I knew it was so bad for singles. I would not have ended up here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Not a chance in hell.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Nice shoes, winter coat.
4. But don't forget your:
Pepto, ear plugs, noise canceling headphones, patience, patience, patience.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
- MUST watch
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
7. Do you have any other comments?
Mumbai is a fascinating place with nice people and amazing food. But it also has to be one of the most trying, difficult places to live if you are not from here. The traffic and honking horns alone can drive you mad and just when you become crazy, hundreds of other things will test you even more. Staying healthy is incredibly difficult. The lovely thing is that once you live here, ANY city in the world seems quiet and organized. And you'll never appreciate as much being able to open your mouth in the shower.