India – World’s largest democracy
India is the world's largest democracy and the second most populous country. One in every six human beings live in India. India is known to have had the oldest continuous civilization and is considered a cultural superpower. India has eighteen national languages and more than a 1000 dialects, but because English is spoken and understood widely, it is hence the language of business, and as a result India is a preferred destination for business and investments for global corporations. India boasts of one of the world's largest information technology and software industries as well as the largest film industry. India is a huge market for consumer goods because of a burgeoning urban middle class. Indian culture has preserved its traditions but at the same time has allowed modernity to become a part of the Indian ways of doing things.
Our city/region guides are shown below:
India a cultural overview
Religion is central to the Indian culture and its practice can be seen in virtually every aspect of life. The dominant and oldest religion is Hinduism, which is practiced by over 80 per cent of the population. India’s second largest religion is Islam, making India home to one of the largest Muslim populations outside the Middle East. India is also home to two other ancient religions, Buddhism and Jainism (originally stemming from Hinduism), which together with Hinduism have moulded Indian thinking and philosophy. India’s official language is Hindi, which is the primary tongue of 30 per cent of the population. Hindi, with at least 13 different dialects, was chosen as the official language because of its connection with India's history before independence, rather than because it was the most commonly spoken language. It is one of 18 official Indian languages recognised by the Indian Constitution. In addition, a multitude of other languages and dialects are spoken. English is the second or associate language, and as such, it is the most important language for national, political and commercial communication. It is, however, spoken fluently by less than 5 per cent of the population only. Expatriates find it convenient to live in India as language barriers are considerably reduced due to the wide use of English. Similarly Indians relocating overseas assimilate very quickly into alien cultures due to their command over the English language.
India's extraordinary history is intimately tied to its geography and the Indian culture today is defined by what has happened in it’s past. A rich meeting ground between the East and the West, it has been an attractive destination for business or plunder for foreigners and invaders since many centuries, while at the same time its natural isolation and diverse cultures have allowed it to adapt to, and absorb, many who penetrated its mountain passes. India's history began more than 4,500 years ago with the first civilization in the Indus Valley in the north, dating to 2500 - 1700 BC. The early Expatriates who have had a strong presence in India during the course of its history include the Greeks under Alexander the Great, the Kushanas from Central Asia, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, Muslim traders and invaders from the Middle East and the Mughals from Central Asia, and finally the British and other European nations.
In 1858, India came under direct rule of the British crown. During the time of the Raj, the British developed an infrastructure, established a centralised administration and structure of governance. By refusing to allow the Indian population power, they created a situation that eventually led to the demise of the Raj. Opposition to British rule became a mass movement with the arrival of Mohandas Karamch and Gandhi who devised a unique strategy for India's freedom struggle, based on non-violence and civil disobedience. Gandhi conceived and led the non-cooperation movement in 1922, the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and the Quit India Movement in 1942, urging the British to withdraw from India or face nationwide civil disobedience. Once the crown took over the administration of India, the first formal inflow of expats was witnessed and senior officers of the Raj were posted to India on long term assignments, relocating themselves along with their entire families sometimes staying back and settling down in India itself and then mingling and becoming a part of the local culture.
Just after World War II, in the midst of civil unrest, Britain ended its rule of India, and in early 1947 announced its intention to transfer its power and hence India gained independence on August 15, 1947. The British families moved back to their home country while India decided to become a closed economy. Jawarhalal Nehru, became India's first Prime Minister. Nehru was a successful leader, steering the young nation until his death in 1964. During his tenure, India saw widespread reforms such as increasing the legal rights of women and deterring caste discrimination, he also promoted education as a way to the future and many schools Economic liberalisation came as late as 1993 when Rajeev Gandhi, the then Indian prime minister lifted the government's restrictions on foreign currency, travel, foreign investment and imports. He also strove to improve relations with the USA, thus increasing scientific cooperation, which led to major growth of the telecommunications industry, the space program and created an environment where the software industry and information technology sectors could flourish. In 2007, India recorded its strongest economic growth in 20 years, despite a prevailing global financial crisis.
Relocating to India
Health and medical care
The private healthcare sector is responsible for the majority of healthcare in India. Most healthcare expenses are paid out of pocket by patients and their families, rather than through insurance. In fact, recent world health statistics have indicated that India has the highest out of pocket private healthcare costs for families, among many other comparable developing nations. Penetration of health insurance in India is low by international standards. Private health insurance schemes, which constitute the bulk of insurance schemes, availed by the population, do not cover costs of consultation or medication. Only hospitalisation and associated expenses are covered. Public healthcare is free for those below the poverty line.
Medical tourism is also a growing sector in India. India has 28 JCI accredited hospitals. The primary reason that attracts medical value travel to India is cost-effectiveness, and treatment from accredited facilities at par with developed countries at much lower cost. The Medical Tourism Market Report: 2015 found that India was "one of the lowest cost and highest quality of all medical tourism destinations, it offers wide variety of procedures at about one-tenth the cost of similar procedures in the United States.
Expatriates working in India usually are supported by medical and travel insurance by their employers, though the much greater threat to them and their families are vector-borne diseases such as Malaria, Encephalitis, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya (another tropical fever), as well as gastrointestinal diseases caused by lack of proper hygiene. In India, pharmacies and drug stores are found in every nook and corner, so OTC drugs like aspirin or paracetamol can be found easily. There are several basic medicines which are sold over the counter and no prescription is usually required. Expatriate families are required to take certain additional precautions which they would otherwise not take in their home countries as their immunity levels are considerably lower. They must make certain preventive provisions in their homes as well so as to keep inspects and mosquitoes carrying diseases and hence the Settling in process must be taken very seriously.
Housing in India varies from palaces of erstwhile maharajas to modern apartment buildings in big cities to tiny huts in far-flung villages. There has been a tremendous growth in India's housing sector as incomes have risen. India has primarily been a landlord’s market. As India does not have a rent controlled market, each Landlord is the final decision maker on how much to lease the property out for. He may often quote prices which are way over the market standard for that particular community. There is no Government regulated rental pricing index and every owner/ landlord/ realtor quotes based on generic market rental and demand.
Expatriates relocating to India, and looking for accommodation for their families are highly recommended to work closely with their appointed relocation coordinators as otherwise stepping out of the program is risky due to the above factors. Similarly families new to India can easily be sweet talked into accepting lease terms which may not be suitable and coerced into a property with inherent flaws or be saddled with difficult and non-cooperative landlords, neighbours or neighbourhoods.
Major destinations in India for housing needs are usually the main cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Pune, Bangalore (Bengaluru), Chennai and Hyderabad. Due to the growth in housing recorded in most major cities and spiralling costs of real estate, housing has gone vertical and offered through high rise condominium living, complete with a club house and amenities making them self-sufficient in their own rights.
As per Global Property Guide survey, Mumbai, India's financial capital is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy an apartment.
Expatriate accommodation is limited as western style modern homes and toilets is a relatively new concept. Hence Indian cities offer limited areas suitable for high end expatriate housing and a detailed orientation for the family prior to an actual home search tour is always a recommended way forward. Distances are misleading as the measure is usually time due to the huge traffic congestion being experienced in all major cities across India.
Expatriate preferred areas being limited can be counted on finger tips. For instance just in the city of New Delhi, expatriate friendly areas are Chankya Puri, Jor Bagh, Golf Links and Sunder Nagar, Vasant Vihar, Westend and Shanti Niketan
These locations still maintain their historic charm, but unfortunately do not have many new and modern housing options available. These residential locations are very close to the Embassy Area and the International Schools like the American Embassy School.
Furniture – Buying vs Rental
Most Indian cities have many well organized and properly laid out appliance and furniture stores with sales representatives who can communicate in English. Expatriate families shipping their personal effects to India usually do not face challenges during their International move as they bring along all they need. However if the company does not allow shipping, then the family does face this additional challenge in their new destination.
Some employers follow the policy of allotting a relocation allowance allowing the family to purchase the necessary furniture and goods of their choice and costs while some other policies restrict the family to rent furniture. It then becomes important for the expatriate family to work closely with their relocation coordinators to make the correct calls and choices. As with housing, it’s the same with furniture as it also has a flip side. Locally assembled furniture can come in a variety of quality and not discernible from a surface view. A reliable source duly recommended must be explored for sourcing of furniture in India.
Furniture and Appliance Rentals are available in select cities in India and have very limited number of options. Most of them may limit to furniture/ appliance rentals for long term only.
Modern day education in India is provided by the public sector as well as the private sector, often criticised for being based on rote learning rather than problem solving, with control and funding coming from three levels: central, state and local. The ratio of public schools to private schools in India is 7:5. As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC) listed India as having 410 international schools. Typically, Expats prefer the International Schools.
Indian private schools consistently rank among the best in the world, offering both excellent academic guidance as well as a wide range of extra-curricular activities for all round development. The best curriculums are represented as CBSE, ICSE, ISC, PUC, IGCSE and IB.
Expatriate children prefer to study in International schools of repute. Though these are more expensive than the local India schools, they provide international education of great quality. For a better understanding of International schools, they may be classified into:
- International Schools: These are International School that follow one or more International Syllabus and do not have any Indian Syllabus like The American Embassy School, British School, German School and French School.
- Indian International Schools – These are schools that follow International Syllabus besides the Indian Syllabus or one may have the option to choose between the International and Indian Syllabus. Also, some of these schools may follow Indian Syllabus; and have adopted some methodologies for teaching and assessment from the guidelines of the International patterns of education.
Transport in India consists of transport by land, water, and air. Public transport remains the primary mode of transport for most Indian citizens, and India's public transport systems are among the most heavily used in the world. India's rail network is the 3rd longest and the most heavily used system in the world. The railways transport about 18 million citizens daily.
Meter Taxi/Cab Services are well established in all main cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Web based consolidators like Uber are also now ell established and are fast becoming the mode of choice for millions.
Mass Rapid Transit System like the Delhi Metro has come a long way. Suburban rail transport system of Mumbai is world famous and other cities are slowly adopting similar solutions.
Most expatriates living in India are usually offered a company car along with a driver as expatriates are recommended to not drive in India due to the chaotic traffic conditions.
Visa and Immigration
A foreign national planning to work in India and hence become a resident here needs to meet various criteria’s and full fill a number of statutory compliances.
India, unlike other countries, does not have a work permit system – instead has an “Employment Visa” which needs to be acquired at the closest Indian embassy or consulate. Closest means closest to the current city of residence.
However to be granted an Employment visa, usually for one year many conditions are to be met first.
Accompanying family members of these foreign nationals can also apply for Dependent Visas and these would be granted co terminus with the Principal Employment Visa.
Once an Employment Visa is secured, it can subsequently only be extended in country in India. The foreign national must be in compliance to get an extension which can be secured for an additional year and year on year to a maximum of five years only. Some of the critical compliances are:
- Residential permit.
- PAN card
- Tax returns and advance tax receipts.
The Indian government may also introduce the requirement and provision of the foreign national resident in India to have an AADHAR card which is a unique Identification number.
Indian Currency is ‘Rupee’ and the symbol is . We often also refer to it as ‘INR’ (Indian National Rupee).
Expatriates may choose to open a Bank Account in a Government/ State Bank, Private Indian Banks or Foreign Banks in India. Bank accounts and money transactions for Foreigners are regulated by various regulatory bodies. The following Banks are most suitable for Foreigners – Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, ICICI Bank & HDFC Bank.
A bank account is usually functional up till the date of Expiry of the residential permit and Visa.
An Indian Tax ID; frequently addressed to as PAN (i.e. Permanent Account Number) needs to be obtained for being able to work in India and have salaries paid in India. A PAN application can be submitted online or physically.
Indian tax system
The Indian fiscal year runs from 1 April to 31 March. An expatriate is liable to pay taxes in India based on his/her tax residency during a fiscal year.
Taxes on income earned will be payable through the following mechanisms.
- Withholding Tax (TDS)
- Advance Tax
- Self-Assessment Tax
The due date for filing the India tax return is 31 July following the end of every fiscal year.
Expatriate families do have a difficult time settling into India and the first few months can result in cultural shock caused by the strangeness of culture, nature of housing issues, unavailability of brands and products that they may have been used to, sheer volume of traffic on the roads, many languages and the accent, cacophony of sounds, population, beggars on the street, visible poverty, unreliable utilities specially quality of water and unreliable power supply.
Amidst all these challenges, all is not gloom and doom and once settled in, the expatriate family does begin to enjoy the perks of an India posting. Indians are generally very friendly, helpful and trustworthy; they would always go out of the easy to help and are always very hospitable. India at one level is a very cheap country and a shopper’s paradise. Modern malls and markets have now quickly become a way of life. Most shopping malls come with entertainment and wide food selection. All main cities offer multitude of shopping experience, ranging from malls, to stand alone shops to large bustling local markets.
Utilities like power supply is still challenging as many states have a dearth of power and only a few are surplus states. Expatriates families thus experience the unique living conditions where they may have to be dependent upon generators when power failures happen, which in most cities is a daily occurrence. Quality of water supply is iffy and hence eater from the tap is never drink quality.
Do’s and Don’ts’s
- Most Indians dress conservatively; however in metropolitan cities one may find western wear acceptable (especially within closed network of individuals
- It’s advisable to run tap water through water purifiers before being consumed for drinking or cooking purposes. DO NOT drink water directly from tap.
- Always carry a hand sanitizer, liquid soap, paper soap on person.
- Do NOT accept or consume food or beverages offered by strangers; especially in night clubs.
- Beggars in India usually belong to syndicated begging groups and hence avoid giving money to beggars.
- Conservative Indians may avoid handshake and hugs between members of opposite sex or at least till they know someone better. So please observe the reaction of the individual before you greet someone with a handshake or a hug.
- Expatriates are advised to avoid public display of affection between opposite sex.
- For hiring household help maids and drivers, please check for reference from the previous employer.
- Keep valuables, expensive gadgets and cash locked when not required. Avoid display of large amount of jewelry or cash in front of your maids or drivers.
- Avoid travelling alone after dark especially in deserted areas.
- At various stages you will need to accept the cultural difference of Indian Stretchable Time, and hence please be composed while encountering such situations.
Read more in the Everything that an expat needs to know before moving to India article on the IKAN Relocations website and the May 2019 Relocate Magazine article Why you need to know - right now - about relocating to India.