-Where were you born?
Little Rock, Arkansas, but have spent most of my adult life in New England and San Francisco, CA, USA.
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my husband, 6-year old son and 2-year old daughter (and third baby on the way in August)
-How long have you been living in India?
About 12 months
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in India?
My in-laws have been ex-pats for nearly 30 years, in Europe and Asia, and my husband and I have always talked about doing a stint abroad someday. When the opportunity presented itself, we felt like it was time to put our money where our mouth was. We’d originally hoped to move to Beijing, which is where my in-laws are located, but when that didn’t work out, we felt committed to going somewhere. Bangalore was an alternative option, so we visited without the kids (I’d never been to India before), had a great time a decided to take the plunge. My husband had been to India multiple times on family vacations.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Not really; my husband’s company hired a relocation consultant who took care of all of that for us. Americans usually have no trouble getting an Indian visa in the first place--I wasn’t aware until I moved here that this is not also the case for people from many other countries. The relocation company also helped us on this end with getting our residence permit (a separate step in the process).
India is VERY bureaucratic, and I’m sure that navigating the labyrinth without assistance would be very confusing, complicated and frustrating. With assistance it’s only a minor inconvenience.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
My husband’s US-based company has an international medical plan for its international employees, so we were covered before we got here (Aetna Global). We have yet to file a claim because medical care is very inexpensive here--a few dollars for an office visit, a few more dollars for a prescription. It hasn’t seemed worth my time to file for a reimbursement yet.
-How do you make your living in India? Do you have any type of income generated?
My husband is an executive for an American internet company; he worked there for about 4 years before there was an opportunity to move abroad with them---they have international offices in several countries in Europe and Asia.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
We do not speak the local language(s)--the main one is Kannada, though Tamil, Telagu and Hindi are also spoken. English is actually something of a local language here--even between Indians, it can sometimes be their only shared language. Most shop-keepers and vendors will also speak some English. English is really everywhere in Bangalore.
As far as local customs go, it really depends on where you are and who you are with. The main change that I have made is in the way I dress--I am not comfortable walking around many areas with either my shoulders or legs exposed. It’s not necessary to dress like a local, though some expats do, but one never sees shorts or short skirts here, even in the hot season--long pants or skirts below the knee and t-shirts. Short sleeves are fine, I’m just not comfortable with sleeveless tops. In certain places--fancy hotels, expensive restaurants and bars frequented by expats and returned NRIs (non-resident Indians, i.e. Indians who have lived abroad)--I would consider wearing a short skirt or skimpy top when going out to dinner.
Another local custom that I observe is to never touch food or hand anyone something with my left hand. The left hand is considered unclean (it is traditionally used to clean oneself after using the toilet). Even among educated Indians who use Western style toilets and surely wash their hands thoroughly after using one, I have observed that no one eats with their left hand. It takes a little getting used to, but it is now second-nature.
Foreigners get stared at some, but Bangalore is fairly cosmopolitan for India, and most people are familiar with foreigners. Bangalore also has a sizable population of educated elites (many of whom speak English practically as a first language) and returned NRIs. I get the sense that the increasing prevalence of Western brands (still fairly unpredictable) is probably more to cater to NRIs than to expats, many of whom want the same consumer products they got used to in the West.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
We miss home and family quite a bit--living in India has certainly highlighted the positive aspects of where we used to live (the SF Bay Area)--clean water and air, a huge variety of locally-grown, organic produce, negligible traffic). Yet, we have found it is quite easy to meet people in India. Locals tend to be very friendly and welcoming, regardless of their religious background. The ex-pat community tends to be fairly cohesive--especially families with children. The vast majority or expats send their kids to the Canadian International School, and join the OWC (Overseas Wives Club), which are two great ways to meet people.
Bangalore is still enough of an expat frontier outpost, with a small enough ex-pat community, that it’s completely kosher to walk up to any foreigner you see out and about and introduce yourself. Sunday brunch at one of the big hotels or expensive Western restaurants tends to be wall-to-wall expats--sometimes we joke that we actually live in a village of about 500 people that exists within a city of 7 million.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We rent a very-high end apartment in a small apt. building in a mixed Muslim and Hindu neighborhood which is fairly centrally located. There are a number of gated communities on the outskirts of town where many ex-pats live, and some neighborhoods are particularly popular with ex-pats, but there are ex-pats in almost every neighborhood in Bangalore.
A luxury apt. or house, with modern Western bathrooms and kitchen, marble floors and 3 or 4 bedrooms will probably run between US$2,000-5,000 a month. It’s possible to pay much, much less, depending on how important new, clean or modern is to you. You could get a basic, clean, modern, non-luxurious apt. for US$1,000-2,000.
I think it’s important to have a home that really feels like a refuge in Bangalore. The city is so noisy, chaotic and dirty that it’s important to have a place where you feel like you can escape India for a few hours when you start to feel overwhelmed.
-What is the cost of living in India?
Apart from real estate, which can be as expensive as anywhere (we are essentially paying what we would in San Francisco for a similar apt.) the cost of living is very cheap--cheaper than Singapore or Bangkok. Food is cheap, even eating out--we can get a huge feast from our local South Indian place on the corner for less than US$7. Even the fancy restaurants are cheap compared to SF, NY or London. Dinner for two at one of the most expensive restaurants in town, with wine, will probably run about $100 with tax and tip--nothing compared to a fancy restaurant in many other places.
Fruit, vegetables, meat, bread and staples are all quite cheap. If you have a cook who makes Indian food all the time, you could probably spend virtually nothing on food. Most ex-pats splurge a bit on imported grocery products from home--peanut butter, breakfast cereal, UHT milk, crackers. There are a couple places where it is possible to get imported cheese and deli meat. Though one pays double for it, after about 3 months of paneer, most ex-pats are willing to pay almost anything to get a bite of real cheddar or gruyere. Even with those splurges, we still spend on groceries a fraction of what we spent in the US.
Clothes are also very cheap--even tailored things. My husband has had some nice shirts made for about half what it would cost in Beijing.
For transportation, we lease a brand-new Toyota minivan for about US$1000 a month; our driver earns about $250 a month, including overtime and tips. There are taxi services, which we use when our driver has a day off--it’s usually between $25-50 for a half-day. There are also auto-rickshaws, which we think are too dangerous for the children, but I’ve taken them on occasion--you will be ripped off by the auto-rickshaw driver: foreigners will always have to pay more than locals. It would be difficult to live here without a car and driver.
It’s between $75-150 a month for a full-time maid, cook or nanny. Some people have one person who cooks and someone else who cleans, some people have one person who does both. You can usually find someone with at least basic English. Expats usually pay quite a bit more than locals for household help--there are really two separate labor markets, and working for an expat is a plum job for one of these girls.
-What do you think about the Indian people?
The locals are warm, friendly and welcoming. I have yet to have a negative encounter with a local Indian.
Most people are very curious about foreigners and are usually delighted when you tell them that you live in India. They will usually immediately ask you how long you have been here and how you like it. Even when I’m having a bad day, I make sure to praise the country and the culture, and people respond very happily. Many Indians have family or know of someone who is living in the West, and are thrilled to meet someone from that country. My husband was the first and only foreigner in his office when we first arrived, and he was inundated with friendliness, offers of help in settling in, lists of good restaurants for us to try, etc.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in India?
Positives of Bangalore:
Excellent climate--it’s only really hot for about 2-3 months out of the year; the rest of the time it is in the 70s and 80s and really very pleasant. It’s only humid during the monsoons--the rest of the time it’s quite dry. There are mosquitoes, but malaria isn’t really endemic to the area, so you don’t have to decide whether or not to take long-term anti-malarials. The air quality is quite good for a city of its size--unlike Delhi or Beijing, we never seem to have that hanging smog that makes your eyes burn. The food is excellent, both Indian and other cuisines--and there are lots of different kinds of restaurants. Bangalore has reasonably good air connections to Indian and other Asian destinations, so you can travel the region pretty easily. Everything is so cheap!
Negatives of Bangalore:
The city is absolutely filthy--piles of trash are everywhere, and locals don’t really seem to notice. The stray animals are also very off-putting--mangy dogs and cows grazing in the trash piles. The traffic is horrible--I’ve never lived anywhere with traffic this bad, and the driving is crazy: I’ve been unable to really discern any rules for it at all. The infrastructure is crumbling--sidewalks and roads are in terrible condition, many buildings seem to be falling apart. The combination of the terrible roads and the chaotic driving is bad enough in the city, but out of the open road it’s terrifying and no doubt incredibly dangerous. We try to drive on the highway only when absolutely necessary. There is not enough electricity in India to meet demand, so the power goes off unpredictably from time to time, which means it’s very important to live somewhere with a good back-up generator. Bangalore really is the third-world, in a way that Singapore, Bangkok and Beijing simply are not.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in India?
My husband and I have both found that it’s something of a mood roller coaster ride living here--India is just so colorful, noisy, chaotic and frequently overwhelming. The highs are high, and the lows are low indeed. You rarely forget where you are--even when you’d really like a break! We’ve found that we have to really step back when we’re having a tough time and try to re-conceptualize the whole things as an adventure. We’ve met ex-pats here who have lived all over Asia, and all over the world, and we’ve heard more than once that if you can do the ex-pat life in India, you can probably do it anywhere.