Help me move to India
August 13, 2006 3:05 AM   Subscribe

Thinking of moving to India for an extended period of time - has anyone here done this?

I've got a high pressure / high profile banking job, and on top of the work BS I've been taking an Executive MBA which I will finish (except for dissertation) in October of this year.

About six weeks ago I woke up in a hotel room in Warsaw and the first thought in my mind was very lucid and very clear and highly unusual for me : "I should quit my job, rent my flat and move to Bombay for a year." Even stranger, this thought didn't go away and if anything, seems to have strengthened itself in my mind since.

I spent about three weeks in India last year, two in Bombay and one in the jungles to the East. I've spent a lot of time in the developing world, and this was probably the best trip I've ever had bar none.

So here is the umbrella question followed by a lot of drilling down into the details. Has anyone spent a year or more living in India?

Visas: the Indian Embassy here in London will issue me a ten year visa, my last Indian visa was a six month, multiple entry, but I'm getting conflicting (and I fear second hand) information - did you have to leave the country every six months as I've read elsewhere? Is there any legal way to circumvent this requirement? Planning a foreign trip every six months isn't a show stopper for me in terms of budget, however as it does impact my desire for immersion somewhat I'd rather avoid if at all possible.

Health: I've had all the jabs necessary to spend lengthy periods of time in Africa. Off my Health Passport I've had: Yellow Fever (I'm good until 2013), Hep A/Hep A Booster (2014), Typhoid (2006), Polio (2013), Diptheria (2013), Tetanus (2013) - what different jabs, if any, did you get? Also, apparently there is a different form of malaria in India than Africa (where I took Malarone) and it requires a different prophylaxis. Did you take a prophylaxis, or just give in to the inevitable? If you did take a prophylaxis, what were the long term health implications (use of Malarone is not advised for periods of longer than three months), if any?

Eating; while in India I fed myself mostly from street stalls and had only one bad session with the toilet, so am I good to go in terms of intestinal flora?

Living: what did you do in terms of securing a local flat? What are the conventions in terms of deposits and rent? I know some countries (i.e., Japan) will require massive deposits up front - is this the case in India? And what about utilities? Would I be better off purchasing for the year? Do you know any foreigner that has actually purchased?

Insects: I've got arachnophobia, and while in India saw some really large cockroaches that would scare the crap out of a New York roach - but what about spiders? How big and more importantly, if they bite am I gonna die? Or just wish I was dead?

Money: what did you do to avoid money problems, especially fraud when living in India for an extended period? For brokerage / bank statements I'm planning to go "all electronic", but did you find it necessary to establish a local banking relationship before moving there? I'm with HSBC, if that matters. In terms of bringing money into India, what prohibitions did they put into place? Were you taxed? I plan to live off cash flow from US based investments, so I would expect to pay Indian taxes on that revenue stream - at least that's how it would work here in the UK - is this correct?

Timing: I'm tentatively planning this for sometime in Q2 2007, and will be spending another month or so in Bombay again this December. How long in advance did you start to get the ball rolling? I realise that Monsoon Season isn't the best time to arrive, however it works for me.

Staying permanently: When I moved from New York to London I thought I'd stay here permanently, looked into my options and started making plans so I'd be in control. If I really, really like India how does one transition off a long term visa to permanent residence status? I came to London on a work permit, and it was trivial to switch after four years. Have you done this or known anyone who has done this in India?

I'm most interested in hearing from folks that have actually lived in India for long periods, as opposed to people googling about for answers (which I've already done to some extent); not to disrespect anyone's efforts on my behalf, it's just that for this question I'm valuing first hand knowledge higher than stuff I may have already read on the web.

Thanks in advance for any help / tips / pointers you can give me!
posted by Mutant to Travel & Transportation around India (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Can't really add anything to your questions, but...

Wow am I jealous...(I suppose that's part of an answer in the if you can do it, DO IT vein)
posted by Jahaza at 6:18 AM on August 13, 2006

My friend has been living in India for four years. I don't think she has a home base, but travels all over the country and is currently in Nepal. Her blog is Feringhee: The Inda Diaries, and you can e-mail her directly (e-mail in her blogger profile). She has answered these types of questions before.
posted by kimdog at 7:46 AM on August 13, 2006

I spent 9 months in India writing a (terrible, unpublished) novel in the early 1990s. Don't know how much things have changed, but back then you could live for long periods on virtually no money in Western terms. I just rented rooms for long periods: 6 months in Goa, then 3 months in Manali, Himachal Pradesh.

Never saw any spiders worth noticing. Loads of cockroaches though, got bitten by some bedbugs on the road, and had a scary but harmless encounter with a snake in the open.

Not sure why you want to spend so long in Bombay though, unless you're planning to get a job there. Even back then it was a relatively modern, but stressful and intense experience: things are a lot more chilled out and relaxed in the countryside or small towns. Or, you could easily travel for a year through India, seeing some of the country at leisure. India is pretty much as big and as diverse in culture and language as the whole of Europe. Plus the climate means I don't know of any place where it's actually pleasant to spend a whole year: better to spend the summer in the mountains where it's cooler.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:55 PM on August 13, 2006

Firstly stop calling the city Bombay! It's Mumbai! :p

From what my Indian friends and co-workers say, Mumbai/Bombay & Delhi (& some other cities) have gotten very expensive in Indian terms. It may be cheaper to think about going to a smaller less expensive city?

The Expat guide to India may help some of your decisions:
posted by zaphod at 3:29 PM on August 13, 2006

Pretty much everyone in Bombay I know calls it Bombay.

I lived in the Himalayas for a year and half and loved it. Secured a room through the Tibetan government so my situation is not really relevant to yours, but I rented for a months at a time. It's quite affordable in the cities. I agree with the other commentors so far, I'd find a year in Bombay or any other big Indian city really, really stressful - I'd set up a home base and circle 'round, or if you're a big city addict, hit some mid-level cities, like Bangalore or Madras - personally I think Calcutta's a hidden gem. And the south in the hot season is really quite hot.

I would say you got lucky with regard to street food - most Indians I know shun it on a regular basis, for the same reasons most Westerns I know wouldn't make a steady diet of it - cheap food is cheap food, and the maker cuts corners, no matter how delicious it is. Either set up a little kitchen in your digs or hire a cook/cleaner (can be tricky); they're usually reliable and healthy, and may introduce you to another side of life there. Hiring people to do things is often to politically correct thing to do, btw, akin to baksheesh.

Regardless of whether you end up in Bombay or elsewhere, learns some Hindi. It's not a universal ticket to instant communicaiton, but most everyone knows a little bit of kitchen Hindi, and even English speakers will appreciate your efforts and be charmed by your lack of ethnocentricisms - so few Westerners take the trouble to try, and it's actually pretty easy (and defintely fun) to learn. Figure it out phonetically and learn to read and write it - it will really improve your spoken and heard Hindi. An hour a day and you'll be cruisin' by Diwali. Plus it will give you something to do (and you will need something - it becomes really depressing to watch Indian people work so hard while you don't have to) and you could "hire" a Hindi teacher, who will likely befriend you and introduce you to a non-touristy side of life there.

It's quite difficult to buy there; the Indian gov't requires 51% Indian ownership in property, so unless you have a trustworthy partner, and even if you do, it will hardly be worth the trouble. Maximum City (required reading about Bombay) has an excellent run-down of the fierceness of the real estate market in that town.

Yes, you should probably come up with a coping strategy for your spiderphobia. I once killed a scorpion with a pot of hot tea, a broomstick and a boot, but I wouldn't recommend it - would've been easier just to ignore the sucker and let him crawl out.

If you are a female, stay inside at Holi.

Re: monsoons - they vary in flavor and intensity depending on where you are. I prefer to go to the desert areas in the monsoon.

Re: cash. While I was there I made trips to Delhi every 3 months to use the only cash machine at the time (citibank). I got enough to live for 3 months at a stretch.

Re: visas. If you are on a tourist visa you will have to leave the country every six months to get a renewal... head to Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. Make a holiday of it.

I gave up malaria prophalaxis because of the nightmares it gave me and was fine.

Also, I brought a very good Katadyn water filter, and also used a good local model whose trade name I forget. It will help.

Most importantly, I'd find a reason to be there; either volunteering, yoga, learning gourmet Jain cooking, a crazy little job, something. After a while, if yo're not contributing and interacting with local people on some meaningful level, you'll make yourself a little crazy with the alientation and the guilt.
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:22 PM on August 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wanted to second DenOfSizer's comments, especially about finding a reason to there. That will give you not only something to do, but also give you a circle of friends/acquaintances that will be very useful, nay essential in a foreign land. That would also help determine your base"city.

IANAL, but the visa is only good for 6 months at a time, after which you will need to leave and re-enter the country. You can extend for an additional 6 months with valid and verifiable reasons, but that may be good for a one time use only, and best saved for emergencies.

BTW, I am curious. What draws you to India? The culture? Music? (I can highly recommend Hindustani Classical Music.) Food? Religion? Ayurveda? Off-shoring business :)?

Good luck and let us know how it works out.
posted by rasputin98 at 6:47 PM on August 13, 2006

First-hand experience from seven months in India - will try to stick to my own experience only, FWIW.

Visas: My six month visa was extendable, with a few days' worth of bureaucratic run-around. I only needed an extra month, so that was all I asked for.

Health: Ask a doctor, would certainly do well to get Hep B done. Measles, mumps & rubella (MMR) also a good idea - I actually picked up measles in India. Meningitis & encephalitis a risk, from memory, but the immunisation can be as bad as the illness. Took Lariam for a while for malaria. You can look up all the Lariam stories easily enough. Not recommended for an extended period. Doxycycline, chloroquin & maloprim cocktail worked OK on that and other trips, in that I haven't caught M yet.

Eating; you will *never* have the flora of an Indian. Expect to get sick. But yeh, street food, dhabas etc are not as bad as claimed, in my experience. Sick once in 7 months, if that counts.

Living: no knowledge of flat renting / buying.

Insects: Can't remember seeing a single spider. Then again, they don't worry me.

Money: Only comment: last time I was there (98), banking was still very very very primitive. Think: passbooks that you have to take to your local branch style primitive. I think Delhi had also just had its first ATM / cashpoint installed. Probably only for customers of that particular branch, and only if they had filled in an ATM Usage Request Form in triplicate three weeks in advance. Things may have changed, but this could cause you a major fucker of a headache. Something tells me that things probably haven't changed enough for banking to be in any way simple or convenient.

Timing: sounds like you arrive for mango season!

Staying permanently: No idea. No comment.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:06 PM on August 13, 2006

You are surrounded by "Asians" in London. Befriend them and use them as a resource. They will have answers for all your questions and a million more. More importantly, they will have a family member whom you can turn to for help in times of trouble. And trouble will find you, whether little trouble or big trouble.

As for your questions:

Health - rabies is prevalent in certain parts of India, so get jabbed for that. And pretty much everyone who goes to India for more than a week eventually stops taking malaria pill as a prophylactic. Just get treated ASAP if you do contract malaria.

Eating - you will get sick eventually, no way around it. Cipro is available at every drugstore in
India without prescription - that will clear up your runs immediately.

Insects - immediately clean up any food crumbs and spills in your home, and that will eliminate 99% of your insect troubles. Use a mosquito net to avoid being bitten while you sleep. Scorpion stings are rarely fatal for adults.

Money - Indian banks are quite modern, but most transactions in shops and restaurants are based on cash. Best if you withdraw large chunks and just live off cash, so long as you take precautions to avoid being robbed.

In terms of preparing for your trip, I would suggest you prioritize the following:

- saving up enough money (you can live like a king on US$1000 per month, and get by on much less)
- establishing a handful of reliable contacts who can help you
- getting immunized for infectious disease
- learning key phrases in Hindi
- polishing your everyday people skills

Don't worry to much about being totally prepared, having a plan, taking the right gear with you, etc. You will figure that all out when you get there, and buy anything that you didn't bring. India will be a wonderful but overwhelmingly different culture that you just have to adapt to over time. Things will go wrong and you'll come through it all stronger, more resilient and more flexible.

And let me emphasize again -- arrive in India with the names, addresses and phone numbers of people you can trust your life with. That, more than anything, can make the difference between a great time or a shitty time.
posted by randomstriker at 2:06 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Many thanks for the useful tips; I'd already seen the two URLs posted, that's why I was asking more interested in first hand information.

In terms of "why?" - that's something Maw is asking me as well. It comes down to how I was treated when I was there last year, and yet how different the culture is. The people were wonderful, I've been all over Africa and Indians were some of the most polite, respectful and tolerant folks I've ever met, many Western nations included. One of my tags is "MidLifeCrisis", and I'm looking for a place where I can reflect on what I've done & achieved for the first 50 years. I think Bombay is that place.

Finishing an MBA then taking a break will give me a compelling story to tell the next employer, should I decided to rejoin the workforce. So no, I won't be going there to look for work but rather as a "gap year" of sorts, if that's the appropriate phrase for a middle aged American to use. India, as most commented and I observed while there last year, is dirt cheap; even Bombay (btw, while in India many people corrected me when I called it "Mumbai", so I have no idea what's up with that name) is incredibly inexpensive by London standards.

In terms of spending a year in Bombay - I know the city is totally crazy but I loved it while there! Two solid weeks, and I remain convinced that I'd just scratched the surface. And I'm planning to use it as a base for exploration. I just want a place to come back to, even if head north or east for a month or two. And the anonymity of large cities appeals to me.

Thanks to all that replied and a special thanks to DenOfSizer for the observation about having something to do; blindingly obvious in retrospect, but it's something that is far more easily addressed before I arrive.
posted by Mutant at 10:36 AM on August 14, 2006

Namaskaram: Yes, I have been living (as Kim said) in the neighborhood for four years, and am proud to announce that I do now have a home base - Kathmandu, Nepal. Personally I find Nepal more liveable than India. Okay, end of blatant self-promotion....
posted by Sirensongs at 8:04 AM on October 12, 2006

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