A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in India
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- Jonathan Brown
The great events organized by InterNations helped me get to know Delhi expats from all over the world.
Life in India
At a Glance:
- While life in one of India’s big cities can take some getting used to, on the whole, Indians are very welcoming and friendly.
- Choose between renting or buying property in India, though make sure to enlist the help of a well-recommended estate agent and an independent lawyer.
- More and more schools in India are privately funded and, as well as international schools, are a great option for expat kids.
Most expats living in India enjoy the colorful unconventionality that their new home has brought to their daily routines. Some defining aspects of Indian society are its cultural, religious, and linguistic pluralism and its traditional caste system. The latter is a strict system of social stratification which still occasionally imposes virtually impermeable hierarchies on the population.
People living in India’s rural areas make up around 67% of the populace. However, India has witnessed an increase in its urban population over recent years, as the proportion of Indians living in rural areas slowly, yet steadily, decreases. This trend goes hand in hand with the growing numbers of well-educated, middle-class residents in India’s metropolises and the large amount of young people moving to cities. India is a youthful country — over 65% of the population are under 35.
The rise in the number of skilled workers has contributed to the country’s position as an emerging force on the global market, which continues to attract foreign interest. Multinational companies interested in tapping the Indian market increasingly send their employees out on assignments, giving expat life in India a boost and diversifying the cities.
Making the Most of a New Culture
Starting a new life in India is immensely exciting, but it is certainly not without the inevitable pits and downfalls expats face in many countries across the world. To start with the positive aspects: India can be extremely rewarding for those who embrace its challenges.
If you are coming from a Western country, life in India is likely to be more chaotic and louder than what you’re used to. However, clinging to old habits from back home during your expat life will prove futile and only get in your way. It is best to accept some things as they are and learn to appreciate the different facets the country has to offer.
In general, most people are friendly and welcoming to strangers who are trying to adapt to the way of life in India. It is not unusual for foreigners and their families to be invited round their neighbors’ or colleagues’ houses for dinner.
Despite the growing number of foreigners visiting or living in India, Europeans and North Americans can attract a lot of attention in rural areas in particular. There, tourists and expats are often asked for permission to have their photographs taken by the local population, being made to feel like a tourist attraction themselves. India is a hugely unequal country and many Indians live in abject poverty: don’t be surprised if you are personally approached by beggars.
Expat Women in India: Guard Up, Head Down
There are some unpleasant peculiarities in Indian society, which especially expat women might come across during their time in India. A social phenomenon commonly referred to as “Eve teasing” in some Asian countries has taken on threatening forms and is a cause for great concern.
“Eve teasing” euphemistically describes a form of sexual bullying or public harassment which has increasingly begun to affect women living in India. It can comprise of relatively harmless incidents like rude staring and offensive comments, but it can go as far as indecent exposure, groping, slapping, and worse. The infamous 2012 case involving the gang rape and murder of a young New Delhi woman put the issue in the international spotlight. Since then many, equally horrifying cases have made headlines around the world.
Expats may find that having a non-Indian appearance can attract extra attention and should take care during evenings, night-time, and when using public transport. If possible, travel in twos or larger groups and try to find a local friend or guide who will accompany you on walks, sightseeing trips, or shopping. Taxis are the advisable mode of transport for women, unless you are completely sure of your route and will be traveling with other people.
Although sexual harassment, bullying, and sometimes assault of women is relatively common in India, it is by no means considered socially acceptable. If you feel threatened or uncomfortable, the government provides a toll-free women’s emergency helpline across the whole of India with the number 181 and encourages women to come forward. Alternatives include other women’s sexual violence helplines in New Delhi, 1092 and 1091, or the standard (all over India) police number: 100. The police forces in India are more determined than ever to crack down on sexual crimes against women.
Challenges for Urbanites
Another challenge to life in India will be the high levels of noise, air pollution, and overpopulation in India’s big cities. The high level of inequality and visible poverty of the population are not easy to come to terms with for many foreigners. Many expats report being uncomfortable at the number and persistency of beggars who approached them, particularly in Mumbai.
Getting around in India’s metropolises can be a challenge in itself. Mostly because buses, rickshaws, and taxis are everywhere, constant congestion and poor road conditions do their bit to make every journey last much longer than expected.
Housing, Education and Leisure in India
Finding Your New Home in India
Most expats in India live in big cities, such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, or New Delhi. Due to growing demand, there are now special housing complexes aimed at expats in many places. It’s important to specify exactly what facilities you would like in your house, as the quality and furnishing of accommodation across India varies dramatically. Also, make sure to always visit the property before agreeing to rent.
Expat complexes are usually gated communities consisting of modern, luxurious buildings with their own gardens and playgrounds for children. They are often serviced by a plethora of domestic staff and provide a safe and convenient environment for expats. On the downside, interaction with Indian society remains very limited, and it may feel like hotel accommodation rather than a real “home”, although expats will make friends with each other in no time.
Quite a few expat families thus opt for individual accommodation in high-class urban neighborhoods. While this might prove more time consuming and nerve racking at first, the rewards in terms of value for money and contact with local residents often more than make up for the initial concerns. Individual family houses in India vary in style and quality. You will find bungalow-style one-story buildings as well as more luxurious villas.
To Rent or Buy?
There is, of course, the question of whether to buy or rent property. There are some restrictions regarding foreigners purchasing and owning property in India. Expats must meet the residency requirement of 183 days per financial year in order to legally buy property. You cannot buy property on a tourist visa, either, as your visa type must stipulate that you intend to stay in India for an indefinite period of time. Apart from that, however, the process is rather straightforward.
It is nevertheless strongly recommended to enlist the services of an independent local legal advisor, not a lawyer recommended by the seller of the property. Properties for rent or for sale can be found by contacting local estate agents, checking the classified sections in local and regional newspapers, or in online directories such as 99acres, India Property, or PropertyWala.
A Struggling State School System
In 2009, the Indian Government published The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. As the name suggests, the law stipulates that all children from the age of 6 to 14 have a right to free schooling. However, despite recent improvements, the education system is still struggling to meet the needs of a big and diverse nation.
The government launched several attempts at making elementary education more accessible for formerly disadvantaged groups, e.g. women, the rural population, or members of certain castes. However, infrastructure and funding problems still prevail in the state school sector, and many schools are lacking teachers and essential facilities.
Private and International Schools
The private school sector is becoming increasingly popular, now comprising 22% of the K-12 (core educational years) schools in India. Many expat families with young children opt for small Indian private schools or nurseries within easy reach rather than sending their children to one of the big international schools.
For older children, international schools offering the International Baccalaureate or other internationally recognized qualifications might be the better option, especially if they are English speaking or only temporarily living in India. When it comes to secondary and higher secondary schools, public coverage significantly drops — 56% of the schools in India are privately run. International schools also provide children a greater chance to meet other expat families as well as Indian children, who are increasingly being sent to international schools due to the problems in state schools.
Most international schools in India can be found on the internet, for example, via the International Baccalaureate Organization, which boasts 138 member schools all over India. Study Guide India is a great resource for expats looking to send their kids to school in India, providing comprehensive lists of different types of schools and at each age level.
Bear in mind that private and international schooling is the costly option. According to the InterNations Expat Insider 2017 survey, 54% of expat parents in India thought education was not affordable, though 61% rated the quality favorably.
India: Fun for the Whole Family
Family life occupies an important place in Indian society. Although migration and urbanization have contributed to dispersing the traditional extended family, expats in India will find that social activities including the whole family are more common than in many Western countries.
Thus, while taking your children with you to India might seem like a daunting prospect, it could turn out to be less of a challenge than expected. In fact, your children are likely to play an essential part in establishing relations with other families.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
There are plenty of activities to engage in, with or without your children. A visit to one of the many famous temples is always educational; particularly around religiously significant holidays, such as Diwali, they will be bursting with people and color.
Many English-language bookshops in big towns offer reading groups and other activities for kids, while their parents can enjoy a cup of tea in the reading corner. If you’re looking for things to do on a relaxed weekend with your new expat friends, India’s ever-growing big cities New Delhi and Mumbai have lots of trendy bars and cafes. In Mumbai, the baristas have even mastered the art of glittery diamond coffee.
And what better time is there to take up yoga or Bollywood dancing than during your stay in India! There are plenty of courses on offer both for adults and children. Last but not least, joining a local expat club or network is the best way to establish first contacts, make new friends, and exchange advice on expat living in India.
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- Jonathan Brown
The great events organized by InterNations helped me get to know Delhi expats from all over the world.
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