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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Chennai

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Relocating to Chennai

A Visa for Every Expat Type

Before moving to Chennai, you will have to select the correct visa for your visit. All foreign nationals, except for citizens of Nepal and Bhutan, need a visa to legally enter the country. This includes the kids of expat couples as well.

There are many different visa options, but if you intend to work in Chennai, you will need either a business visa or an employment visa. Dependents (spouse and/or children) of foreign nationals working in India should apply for an entry visa instead. Other specialized visas include:

  • tourist visa
  • journalist visa
  • conference visa
  • research visa
  • student visa
  • project visa

For more detail on these visa types, please see our pages on relocating to India. All visas can be obtained via the nearest Indian Embassy or Consulate. Please note that many Indian missions abroad have outsourced the visa application process to a visa center. This is usually indicated on the respective mission’s website.

You should allow at least one full week for your visa to arrive. However, keep in mind that this timeframe is provided you have all necessary documents when applying and are not asked to provide additional paperwork. You should therefore apply well in advance of your planned moving date.

All visa applications require:

  • a passport that is valid for a minimum of 180 days
  • two passport-sized photographs that have been taken recently
  • payment of a non-refundable application fee
  • a completed application form, which can normally be downloaded from the Indian mission in question or its visa application center.

Depending on the kind of visa you need for moving to Chennai, you have to provide a variety of supporting documents. For example, if you are the spouse of an expat employed in Chennai, you have to attach a marriage certificate and a copy of your spouse’s passport and visa.

Business Visas

This visa is aimed at people who wish to explore business opportunities or conduct business in Chennai. To be eligible for this visa, you cannot be working for, or earning an income from, an organization within India, but rather working on behalf of a client or contracting body outside of India.

While a business visa allows for mulitiple entries and may be granted for up to five or even ten years depending on your business and nationality, it is only valid for a maximum of six months per stay. Therefore, moving to Chennai on a business visa will always only be temporary.

In addition to the above-mentioned visa requirements, you will also need a letter of invitation from a business associate in India, as well as a letter of recommendation from your company. Both should state the nature of your business and the duration of your stay. The areas and companies you intend to visit and the employer’s intention to meet your expenses should be included along with your full name and passport details (passport number, issue date, expiry date).

Employment Visas

Moving to Chennai with an employment visa is the most popular option for expat families. This visa is valid for expats who intend to take up employment in India and receive a salary from a company or organization registered there. The dependent family members of the visa holder can then apply for an entry visa tied to the initial employment visa.

The duration of an employment visa — i.e. for how long it is valid — is at the discretion of the Indian Embassy or Consulate. It is valid for an initial period of one year and can be extended for up to five years at the FRRO in Chennai.

To obtain an employment visa before moving to Chennai, you will also need

  • an application form for this visa type
  • a signed visa undertaking form your employer
  • a signed employment contract
  • a copy of your employer’s company registration papers
  • proof of academic and professional qualifications.

Depending on your field of work or occupation, you might have to enclose additional documents for a successful visa application (e.g. for expats working in the media or in the IT industry).

Residence Permits: Mastering the FRRO Maze

If you plan on moving to Chennai for a period exceeding 180 days, you will need to register with the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) within 14 days of your arrival in Chennai. If you register late, you will incur a fine.

Naturally there are exceptions to the parameters outlined above such as for Pakistani nationals who have to register within 24 hours of arrival, but they act as a good rule of thumb. Another deviation from this rule is if your visa is issued on the condition of “registration required”, which means you will have to register regardless of the duration of your stay.

The FRRO Chennai is located at Shastri Bhawan Annex, 26, Haddows Road. It should be one of your first stops after moving to Chennai. Check if you need to have your Indian tax ID number (PAN) in order to get registered. This is something your company can help you obtain and, if applicable, should be done before heading to the FRRO. For the FRRO you will need to make an appointment online first and then show up on the day in question between 09:30 and 13:00.

Fill out the form, upload a photo, and print out the online document with the date of your appointment, and show it to the person on duty. Without that printout, you may simply be sent home again. You also need to bring:

  • your original passport and visa
  • four passport-sized photographs
  • three copies of the passport pages showing your photograph, the validity of your passport, visa, and the entry stamp from the Indian immigration.
  • three copies of a proof of your residential address
  • three copies of a signed letter of undertaking (e.g. from your host or visa sponsor)
  • three copies of your employment contract (employment visa)
  • three copies of your PAN card application (i.e. for an Indian tax ID) (employment /business visa)
  • three copies of a signed letter from your Indian employer or business associate, with full name, title, position, and contact details (employment/business visa)
  • three copies of your admission document from an Indian school or university (student visa)

Queues can be long, so arriving early is a good idea. All foreign nationals above the age of twelve need to show up for registration in person. Please be aware that different regulations may apply for selected nationalities and, in particular, for foreign nationals who traded in their Indian nationality or who are officially considered People of Indian Origin.

Parents may only act as stand-ins for younger kids. There is a lot of contradictory information as far as the registration of minors under 16 years of age is concerned. Official websites refer to a law that explicitly exempts foreign minors from FRRO registration as long as they have a visa. However, local FRRO staff members at various offices have still been known to insist on it. If you want to err on the side of caution, either call ahead, ask other expats with children, or bring along your older kids to the registration office upon moving to Chennai.

Once you have been registered, you should obtain your residence permit, and you will have successfully completed your move to Chennai.

Public Transport in Chennai

India is notorious for its traffic and Chennai is no different from any other city in the country. It is known as the “Gateway to the South” and therefore ferries a lot of domestic and international traffic. Getting around within the city, though, is much harder than making use of Chennai’s international connections.

Chennai: Where Even a Bus Ride Is Quite an Experience

Buses are the main form of public transportation in the city. They transport about five and a half million passengers on a daily basis, on the hundreds of routes around Chennai. This is how most locals get around. The Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) is located on the inner ring road in the Koyambedu area and is one of the largest bus stations in all of Asia.

Buses are extremely cheap – usually fares start at four INR per trip. Air-conditioned buses or deluxe express buses are more expensive, though, but the tickets are still cheap as compared to prices in Europe or the US, for example. However, a bus ride can be a bit of a chaotic experience, with men hanging off the sides, and people entering and exiting the vehicle before it comes anywhere close to stopping. If you are brave enough to try a bus, make use of the Raft or Ridlr smartphone applications — these will make planning your journey a lot easier.

Expats might make use of a different type of bus: many companies will send shuttle buses to pick up their employees and transport them to work on time in the morning. This is especially true for many companies based in the Tidel Park.

Taxis, Auto-Rickshaws, and Price Bartering  

When foreigners think of India, they often picture the auto-rickshaws, or tuk-tuks, which congest the country’s streets. These three-wheeled vehicles can be extremely fun to travel in, but are hardly practical for everyday use in Chennai.

Some drivers will try to charge overly high prices, especially to foreigners who might not realize they are being fleeced. If you would like to use a tuk-tuk, make sure you agree on a price at the start of your trip. Ten to fifteen INR per kilometer is the usual rate. Do not let the driver negotiate this value, no matter what he might say!

The same problem can be encountered with taxis. Make sure you distinguish between on call taxis and tourist cabs. This list of taxi numbers in Chennai will get you a better deal than with the tourist cabs, but you should still insist firmly on setting the price of your journey before entering the taxi. An air-conditioned pre-arranged cab will cost around 150 INR as the basic fare (circa five kilometers) and up to around 15 INR for every additional kilometer. Make sure that the taxi meter is running, so that you can get a good idea of the appropriate price for your trip.

Trains and Planes In and Out of Chennai

As the headquarters of the Southern Railway, the city has two main rail terminals. The largest is Chennai Central Station. This has links to national hubs across India, as well as to smaller towns in the south of the country. The second main station, Chennai Egmore, serves Tamil Nadu, and has few inter-state links.

Chennai has a suburban rail system with four major routes (run by Southern Railway), which is the closest thing to a metro network in the city. However, this is one of the oldest in the country, and is not too popular among tourists as it is clearly a commuter network. Although not a comfy tourist experience, it is very cheap. Expats should easily be able to afford a first-class ticket for less crowded coaches. The first-class prices start at around 42 INR, but, like many other fares in public transportation in Chennai, has been increasing over the years.

There is construction currently underway for a metro rail system in Chennai, so public transportation is improving! The first phase of the Metro Rail Project is expected to finish by the end of 2016.

Chennai International Airport has both an international and a domestic terminal. It is the fourth busiest airport in India and allows easy international travel to dozens of destinations, e.g. to Bahrain, Bangladesh, Germany, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the UAE, and the UK.

The city is also served by Chennai Port. This is the largest in the Bay of Bengal, and the second largest port in India. While some cruise ships depart from the port in high season, it mainly functions as an important center of commerce for the city, rather than as a travel option. Chennai’s other port, Egmore, is for cargo vessels only.

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  • Marc De Smet

    I like all the possibilities this network offers to me: From finding information over my new dentist to meeting other expats in my free time.

  • Anja Tarasov

    Chennai is an amazing, dynamic and bustling city, but I felt so lonely not having any friends here. Now I know many other expatriates.

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