Mumbai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 08/13/08

Personal Experiences from Mumbai, India

Mumbai, India 08/13/08

Background:

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

No. I have also lived in Moscow.

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2. How long have you lived here?

10 months.

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

15 hour non-stop flight from New York. Other flights through London, Paris, Frankfurt.

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

Associated with the U.S. Consulate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments vary from pretty good to really poor. The apartments that are not serviced by consulate staff have frequent problems with a/c units and other utilities, and getting service from the landlords is difficult. Consulate does not provide nearly enough support. Some of the apartments are downright terrible, with awful bathrooms that were put in as an afterthought. Think showers that drain directly onto the floor, or a toilet inside the shower area. Really inexcusable, brought on by the high price of rentals in Mumbai.

The consulate will move (current plan: late 2009, but it has been delayed many times). New arrivals are being put closer to the new site, 1+ hour commute from the current consulate, in one of the most congested cities in the world. The new housing plans are also unclear: instead of co-locating housing with the new consulate, there is talk of a lease-to-own building much farther north. Permanent commutes could be 45+ minutes at best. Really bad situation.

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

Groceries are hard to find, and overpriced at decent stores. For political reasons, they have not allowed investment in the supermarket sector. Even the

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

Toiletries. Knee-high rubber boots for monsoon.

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

Lots of good food. But far, far too often, it will make you sick. Better restaurants are safer, but not totally safe.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch. DHL for super-urgent mail, gets to US in about 5 days.

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

Easily available, cheap, but employers are often dissatisfied with the reliability, skill level, work ethic, and cleanliness of staff.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Both are widespread and safe to use.

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

Some Catholic churches with English services.

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

Readily available.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Very little if any. But it helps sometimes.

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

Impossible to live here. No facilities at all. I have never seen a city so violently hostile to pedestrians of any kind, let alone those who are disabled.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Left (as in UK).

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

Very affordable. Safety varies. Regular cabs are cheap, extremely uncomfortable, and often driven maniacally. They're also usually too short for a 6 foot tall man. Good for short trips only. A/c taxis can be ordered by phone, but are unreliable in terms of actually coming. Buses are awful. City trains are so crowded that they're only usable on Sunday and very off hours (10 people a day die on the city trains during rush hour because of insane overcrowding). Longer distance trains can be okay, if you go first class.

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3. 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?

Small sedan is best - Honda Civic or the like. Larger sedan is more comfortable and safer, but harder to maneuver. Some prefer a small SUV, but they seem far too large to navigate the clogged streets easily. During monsoon flooding, even SUV not adequate.

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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, I have quite fast DSL for about US$35/month. Takes a long time to get it installed.

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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?

Local service is fine. Buy a phone here.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Don't know. Stray dogs run wild, may be a danger to pets.

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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?

A few, pay is low.

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

Casual, no ties at work for most.

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Health & Safety:

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

Unhealthy.

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

Minimal for crime. Large for traffic accidents and general health.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Many. Food and water safety is very low. Food poisoning is depressingly common. Other illneses abound. There are 15 million people here (at least), and 50% don't have a toilet. You do the math. Decent health care available.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

June-Sept monsoon is humid and very wet. Oct is very hot. Nov-March are relatively cool and not so humid. April and May are very hot again.

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Schools & Children:

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

American School, with grades through high school. Supposed to be good quality.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Don't know. Private help available at low cost, but sometimes quality of help is not great.

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Expat Life:

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

Moderate. Consulate has almost 50. Other Europeans are here. But fewer than one might expect for the commerical and artistic heart of India.

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2. Morale among expats:

From low (the majority) to moderate. Many people really, really dislike it here for many reasons: constant food poisoning and other sickness, total traffic gridlock, long commutes because of the consulate move, incredibly non-pedestrian friendly nature of the city (lack of passable sidewalks, cars constantly honking right in your face as you're forced to walk in the street, incredibly rude driving habits, no safe street crossings) and hence enforced sedentary lifestyle, lack of green space. A few seem to like the nightlife, but those with a focus on health or an active lifestyle can't stand it here. Many have left early.

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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?

Some okay restaurants and clubs. People do a lot of entertaining at home.

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

Okay for families or couples, if you don't mind the total lack of green space and penned in feeling from the constant, abysmal traffic. Quite bad for singles. Supposed to be the cosmopolitan heart of India. But there is not a lot of social interaction with Indians. And there is absolutely zero dating for men or women, except for some Indian-American officers. Ex-pat community is fairly small. If you are single (of either gender) and looking for a mate, or even decent dating opportunities, you will be miserable here.

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

Okay, and better than other Indian cities, but all the negatives for singles apply here as well.

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

There are religious tensions between local groups. No overt prejudice against foreigners that I've seen.

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

Some good restaurants and country-club type places. A few good dance and music clubs. But expect zero interaction with locals there. Also, Mumbai functions on an extremelly late-night schedule (dinner at 9 or 10, out late, in to work no earlier than 10 AM). Your Western work schedule will not be in sync. Even weeknight events start at 10:30.

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

Lots of wooden crafts to buy, if that's your thing. Beautiful sarees for women.

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9. Can you save money?

Some, but many people frequently travel to have a break from the oppressive city. This eats up funds.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely not. Think long and hard before spending two years here. It's so much worse on a daily basis even than other developing countries. For example, people with experience in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma have all commented on how much harder and more unpleasant it is here. I strongly recommend looking elsewhere.

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

Warm weather clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Knee-high rubber rain boots.

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

Midnights Children (Rushdie); A Fine Balance (Mistry); Shantaram.

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

Midnights Children (Rushdie); A Fine Balance (Mistry); Shantaram.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Traffic Signal (the best Hindi movie about the city, in a more realistic style).

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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