There are obvious destinations for expats considering an international relocation, such as New Zealand, which ranks second in HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey. However, there are also less obvious destinations which may still present a rewarding opportunity for expats. One such country is India.
As recently as 2015, India was one of the lowest ranked expat destinations in the InterNations survey, (55th out of 64), but since then the country has seen a rapid improvement that looks set to continue.
It is swiftly rising in the working abroad index and improved 17 places for work-life balance. For personal finance and cost of living, it is now either in or around the top ten and has become a promising location for expats looking to find work and build a career.
Expats wanting to work in India will need an employment visa which is granted for an initial one-year period. Proof of employment and qualifications will be required when applying. A long-term stay for business purposes requires a residence visa, the application for which should be started by the expat’s employer at least three months in advance of their arrival.
Social (culture and language)
There is certainly a significant risk of culture shock when moving to India. Life may feel chaotic compared to cities in the US or other Western countries, but expats are likely to enjoy a high standard of living in India due to low costs. Even in major cities, the cost of housing and food is much lower than Western cities. While food and entertainment are inexpensive, imports are high, making it financially prudent to jump straight in and embrace the local way of life.
Bangalore and Madras are both growing rapidly in terms of population and economy as they become increasingly important hubs of the IT industry in India. Bangalore now produces 35% of India’s IT exports and is known as the Silicon Valley of India.
Another aspect that could help English-speaking expats settle in quickly is language. English is one of India’s two official national-level languages, the other being Hindi. While Hindi is common in northern India, English is more prevalent in the south of the country and is no longer considered a foreign language because of how widely it is spoken.
There are another 22 official state-level languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali and Kashmiri, but given how widely spoken English is, it wouldn’t be essential for an expat to speak these unless it was a business requirement. However, learning the local language may help expats immerse and integrate themselves more deeply and quickly, leading to a more enriching experience.
Haggling is part of the culture in India and should be conducted with good humor. It is important to remember that this is regarded as a good-natured process to find a fair price, so while this is an excellent way of getting a bargain, expats may be able to avoid causing offence by not pushing the price down too aggressively.
There is no shortage of sightseeing opportunities in India either, with incredible temples across the country, each reflecting the history and culture of their region. While many visitors to these sites are likely to be international tourists, due to the sheer scale of India, many Indians choose to take domestic holidays and explore diverse areas of their country. These include Agra in Uttar Pradesh, a very popular region for tourists as it is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Taj Mahal.
Lifestyle and Entertainment
While most major cities have a diverse nightlife, there are many curfews in place meaning that even in cities, many establishments may close at midnight. The age limit for consuming alcohol is generally 21, but varies depending on the region. In Delhi, for example, it is 25, while Goa it is 18, something to consider for expats with teenagers that enjoy nightlife.
India is notorious for congested roads and while public transport is available in the form of buses and rickshaws, journeys might take longer than expected, so allow extra time when travelling. The best mode of public transport for expats in major cities is a taxi. Fares are haggled rather than being charged on a meter, so it is important to estimate the cost before travelling, but might result in cheaper fares.
Sport is extremely popular in India. While hockey is deemed to be the national sport, cricket is probably more popular. The increasing high profile of the Indian Premier League has seen world class cricketers from all over the world. Patiala is home to the Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, the largest sports institute in Asia. With this variety, expats are unlikely to struggle to discover a new sport to take part in or a team to follow.
Climate, geography, and nature
India’s climate can vary greatly, which some expats may find more appealing than a more constant environment. For example, southern India is hot and tropical – especially in summer months – while the north tends to be cooler. Both regions have monsoons (bringing strong winds and or heavy rain), typically starting in May or June and running through to September or October. They are a spectacular force of nature and transform large parts of India from semi-desert to rich grasslands, something Western expats may never have experienced before.
As the seventh largest country in the world and with a total area of 3.29 million square kilometers, India has a wide variety of terrain to explore and enjoy. In the north, for example, the Himalayas offer a stunning location for walks, climbs and winter sports. In contrast, southern India offers coastal towns, fishing villages, beaches, and tropical jungle trails to explore.
Similarly, expats may no doubt find the wide range of exotic animals to be found in India an attractive feature of the country. Monkeys, of which there are 50 million, can be found anywhere and everywhere, especially in major cities like New Delhi. These cheeky primates can get up close and personal, which was made evident in David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2.
Wild tigers are more common to see in northern India, but many can be found in the selection of national parks in southern India. For instance, Periyar National Park offers the chance to see endangered species in their natural habitat, including large populations of tigers, elephants, leopards and bison; animals which expats may not have experienced at home except perhaps in zoos.
Health and wellbeing (diet and medical emergencies)
Despite improvements and the development of a draft National Health Policy in 2015, which intended to make healthcare available for all residents, the standard of public health services in India remains lower than expats might be used to at home.
For medical emergencies, the number for an ambulance is 112, however ambulances are sometimes under-staffed. As such, expats may choose to have global health insurance in place, to ensure the right access to the appropriate healthcare.
Pharmacies are available in all major cities, but products are stocked under medical names rather than brand names. There are fewer pharmacies in rural areas so expats living in these areas should ensure they have their required medication before moving.
The final choice
From the rise of the IT industry in Bangalore to the combination of historical and natural sights, India – which was once considered to be a poorer choice for expats – has made significant improvements. As such, it is now becoming a much more attractive destination for expats, especially those looking for a much more diverse and enriching experience.