I’m sitting at my rented home in South India and the power is out, again. I’ve been working more than full-time in a laidback town in India and I really love it. But friends and other travelers often as me how difficult it is to live here…
Is living in India hard? It’s hard to deal with things like power outages, the heat, constantly negotiating, crowded public spaces, the traffic, and finding places because Google Maps isn’t always available. But it’s also easy because the cost of living is 68.3% less than the USA. Plus, the people are welcoming and the food is delicious.
Many friends that I’ve spoken with picture India as this crowded, dirty, smelly place, where you will get scammed. OR they think it’s this exotic peaceful spiritual place where you will reach enlightenment in a few weeks.
In reality, it’s a bit of both and it’s neither. 😎
I’ve been living in India for 7 months now and working online for a US company, and in many ways, it’s been an easy period of my life. It’s also been very difficult at times.
But let’s take a look at both perspectives to see if this incredible country is right for you…
What’s Difficult About Living in India for a Foreigner?
Let’s take a look at the common things people think about when they think about the challenges of living and traveling in India. Then let’s see if that’s something you might experience:
I’ve paid more than a local for taxis and tuk-tuks. I’ve paid a “service charge” to my internet repairman when I’m sure he didn’t do anything but wait until the internet naturally came back on. I paid more to have a bed delivered than I could have. Overall though, we’re talking about losing a few dollars.
Many local people are often very nice and willing to go out of their way to help though as well. The first Uber driver I got from the Chennai airport at 4 am, didn’t know where my hotel was, and Google Maps wasn’t leading us to the right location. So he drove me around for 30 minutes as he asked rickshaw drivers until we could found it and he made sure I got there safely.
This has been hard for me. I rent a scooter and love driving it. But to drive 10 minutes downtown is an adventure every time and I only make the trek unless I really need something. If I die it is going to be from getting hit by one of the buses that speed through town blaring their horn. Or some high school kid who’s cruising on his motorcycle with friends on the back.
In the big cities like Chennai, it’s common to hit traffic and it can be frustrating to get to most places in a big city.
I grew up in a forest in Michigan with very few neighbors, so this is hard. Now that it’s summer the tourists are gone, so it is less crowded. I also rent a house just outside of town, so I can hear the crickets at night instead of the people. I can only take so much of the crowds. My Indian friend said it right, “It’s a rat race here.”
The first thing in the morning I hear the local ashram broadcasting spiritual chanting. It starts at like 5 am. For a couple of weeks of my time here, the neighborhood farmer would be driving his oxen at his rice paddy and shouting, “Hey!” over and over.
My other neighbor had 13 dogs who would sometimes bark and sing the doggy blues late into the night. This kind of stuff bothered the guy who shared my house with me. But I can barely hear anything in my bedroom and don’t really mind.
I’m lucky to live near a forest, so at night I can hear the crickets out my window. In the morning, some exotic birds sing at sunset. The first time I came to India I stayed in the town and I remember getting annoyed by the constant horn beeping. Everyone beeps their horn as they drive and even going back to live downtown in a big city in Texas, it was like going to a serene forest compared to India.
I’ve never had to bribe anyone. I hear in places like Goa it’s more common since there are more tourists.
ATMs don’t always have money
Most places take cash here and sometimes the ATM runs out of cash. I’ve never been stuck because I keep 10000 INR as a backup, but it could happen. I like that it helps me spend less money!
This is annoying. Some times weeks go by without a power cut, and sometimes the power goes out every day. My friend says it’s because it is summer so most people are running their A/C units. Every time there’s a storm the power goes out. Once a month the power goes out for about 8 hours.
Eventually, I’ll buy an inverter and a battery, so I can still have WiFi and a fan going during the cuts, but for now, I just deal with it and use my mobile hotspot for internet. There’s also a local restaurant that usually has power during a power cut too.
I wrote a post about how good the internet is in India and overall it’s pretty good. I work full-time at an online company. I mostly use Google Docs. I do also a number of weekly Skype calls, and I’ve been able to get speeds ~70 Mbps. The only problem I have is watching Vimeo videos. Youtube is fine though.
I walk around with a DSL camera and have never felt unsafe. I have heard about travelers in my town being mugged and women being groped. A female friend of mine was grabbed in broad daylight on a country road. This is a genuine real concern, especially for women. For myself, though nothing bad has happened or seemed like it would. I do try to avoid going out at night, mostly because I like to sleep though, haha 😴
When I stepped off the airport, there is a distinct smell like a warm basement where you’ve been cooking pepper. There are beautiful smells of incense and delicious food too. There are disgusting smells of cow poop or urine.
My bathroom sometimes smells like chemicals as if it’s coming from the pipes. I can smell like fires from people burning their trash. The bad smells are a small percentage of the mostly normal smells though.
It is hot. May is the hottest month and it was over 105 F every single day. I usually don’t go out during the day much and will have my meals delivered. Sometimes I go out for chai or to get groceries but it’s always to head out and come back in 15 to 20 minutes.
The worst is if there is a power cut that lasts for 8 hours. It has only happened one time but it felt suffocating in my house without A/C. It’s June here now so it’s was 98 F today and it’s 98 or 99 F most of the week. Feels like winter time 🙂
But I live in South India and I know many foreigners head north during the summer. I like that there are less people so don’t mind the heat!
When I go out in the street, people come up to me and ask for money. In the town, I live it is the same people and you get to know them after a while. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t. It can be annoying sometimes because some are pushy and persistent.
But most if you say No will go away. I do this shake my hand in a gesture of no and that seems to work well. But sometimes I will get paid and I’ll give someone a 100 INR or so.
Don’t drink the tap water. When you go to a locals house, they will offer you water, so I just pretend to drink it. I felt bad one time when I said I could NOT drink it because they don’t speak English fluently and they didn’t really understand and were hurt.
I do NOT use tap water to brush my teeth. I do have a water purifier at home though so it’s not so bad and I have water saved up if it ever goes out.
Not every hotel will have a shower, and is it common to take bucket showers. I have a shower head that usually works, haha.
There is a small water heater that I heat up 10 minutes before I shower. It works pretty well and I’m happy, but this is not a significant issue for me.
I have a Western-style toilet and I’ve only used Western toilets. I have seen squat toilets in some rest areas along the road and some temples though. Does NOT seem like a big deal to use one.
People Pooping and Peeing in Public
I saw a woman and a man doing that near my home today actually. It happens often.
I’ve never puked but I have gotten Delhi Belly a few times. A friend visited for a week and she did puke when we had some pizza one night. I take charcoal and grapefruit seed extract if I ever feel sick.
Eating Street Food
I eat Buffalo cauliflower from one place and it is spicy but I never get sick. That’s the only street food I have. I eat at a more local place though where breakfast is $1 and dinner is $2 and I’ve never gotten sick.
It does look delicious and is tempting. If you want to risk it you may be fine. Or you may get sick or the worst thing would be to get a parasite that hangs around. I prefer to be on the safe side since I’m here for a long time, but maybe I’ll get adventurous in the future.
There is some spicy food but most of the food is NOT too bad. I think it could be worse if you are invited into someone’s home that isn’t used to cooking for Westerners.
There is a lot of trash and cow poop in many places. I noticed it when I went to Sri Lanka and saw how clean the streets were. I usually don’t notice it much.
No Rules in Lines
You can just go to the front of the line and some people do, so you have to stand your ground. One time I was at a restaurant I go to all the time and I was standing to the side while another woman was right at the counter. But the waitress turned to me even though I had just arrived and the other woman was next. They do that a bit, it’s less formal when it comes, I think she just recognized me so served me first.
Other times someone will just walk in front of me and give their money to the clerk and I’m out of luck.
What’s Easy About Living In India for a Foreigner?
I live in the nicest house I’ve ever rented in. I have a 2-bedroom flat on the second floor overlooking a majestic hill. I have a big office with two large windows overlooking the local majestic mountain and in the other direction there’s a forest. I have a roof I could do yoga on if that was my thing.
I pay $175 USD or 10% less than when I lived in a garden shed in Austin, Texas.
I rent a scooter for $45 a month. If I need a taxi to the airport that is 4 hours away, I would pay $45. If I want to go to a beach town that is 3 hours away, it costs $35.
One time I needed to take my MacBook to the repair shop, and I paid my landlord $35 to drive to the shop 3 hours away.
Uber was reasonable in Chennai and I once paid an Uber $75 to drive me 4 hours out of town, even though that’s not technically what they do.
I used to have a maid. I paid her and her husband $7 to clean my house for 2 hours once a week. They were very nice and it seemed like they were very happy with the pay.
Most People Speak Enough English
So Many Photography Subjects
Most Fridays I drive 10 minutes downtown and spend a few hours taking street photographs. There is so much to see and photograph.
Friendly Welcoming People
Many people will go out of their way to help you if you ask them. Or they will be curious about you and where you’re from. What brings you to India? What do you like about it?
There’s a real warm almost child-like wonder about many people that is very refreshing.
How to live in India Permanently?
You can become a citizen by living in India for 11 of the last 14 years before you apply. You must have lived in India for a period of 12 months immediately before you apply.
There are two types of permanent residency:
- OCI: Overseas Citizen of India Card – You have most rights of Indian citizens but it does not allow you to become a citizen. It is a lifelong multiple entry visa.
- PIO: Persons of Indian Origin – For those of Indian origin, with a passport of another country. You can also enter India without a visa for work or school. You must have family who were Indians.
If you’re not India or have any ties to the country, then you can become a citizen by renewing your visa for 12 years or so. Or by making investments in the country.