Moving to India: everything an expat needs to know
Rohit Kumar is a co-founder of IKAN Relocations, a leading relocation company in India, and has been in this business for the past 23 years. In that time he has seen how India has changed culturally, economically and politically - and has witnessed how those changes impacted life for expatriates living in India.
Immigration: quite simple and easy!
When moving to India, you first need to be aware of the different immigration norms. With investments pouring in from different parts of the world, many foreign workers will be required to move to India to work in Indian plants with Indian colleagues and the very first thing they need to ensure is whether they are allowed to work in India or whether they can acquire a legal work status upon relocating in India.
Indian Immigration Regime – Pre and Post arrival formalities
The Indian immigration system or regime is fairly simple and not very complicated. The only complication experienced usually is the paper work and the coordination between various departments within the respective Government organisations. The Indian work permit system is unique and different from most other countries because there is no in-country clearance process involved. Once an employer identifies a possible international recruit and is willing to pay the employee relocating in India in excess of 25000 USD per annum, they are then only required to complete an online application at the closest Indian consulate, ensure paperwork is completed and submit the physical application for an Employment Visa type – E. Accompanying family members of an expat moving to India too need to apply for a dependent visa type – X.
Typically, these visas would be granted within a week of the application, depending on the country they are applied in and usually valid for one year or the length of the assignment, whichever is longer. On arrival in India, the visa can be extended every year, in country, and since this process is also online now, the applicant need not face any bureaucratic hassles.
Post arrival, the family moving to India must register itself with the local police office to secure a residential permit. Only with this registration in place can bank accounts be opened.
Immigration risks: not too many, but still there!
As an expat moving to India can be quite hassle-free. However, there are some points that a foreigner moving to India for employment must know. Now, though the visa process and subsequent registration process are simple and straightforward, it is not bereft of certain risks and challenges.
Delayed registration: The very first risk is the delayed registration. If registration is not secured within 14 days of arrival, there can be financial penalties for the delay. Also, exit from India would not be allowed until the registration has been secured. I recall a case where a German national arrived in India a few years back and did not go through the mandatory registration process. Those days the penalties were low: approximately 30 USD. After about twenty days in India, he tried to leave the country from the Delhi airport due to a family emergency but was stopped from taking the flight.
Incorrect Visas: We also often experience cases where people arrive on business visas while they should have been on employment visas and this is also illegal and akin to tax evasion.
Same sex partners: Recently in 2018, Indian Supreme Court decriminalized LGBT rights to have same sex partners. But the government has still to recognize marriage between same sex partners. Thus, dependent visa for a same sex partner is yet not possible.
On-time and correct tax filing: To ensure visa extension in India, tax returns for the previous year must have been filed and tax should have been paid up to the date. Many a times, we experience delays in tax compliances even by the largest of the companies that result in complication at the time of extension of the visa. Thus, when moving to India, see to it that the above aspects are taken care of.
Living in India: a mixed bag of miscellaneous options!
While relocating to India, an expat must get it very clear, that India is a diverse nation made up of different political, regional, and cultural entities. Thus, before moving to India, an expat must understand different aspects pretty clearly. The cost of living depends on the expatriate’s lifestyle, the housing area and the community he or she chooses.
Accommodation continues to be the expats’ biggest expense in India. Certain cities like New Delhi and Mumbai are particularly expensive. An average 3-bedroom property in these cities could cost above USD 2500 per month. On the other hand, living in a tier-2 city like Ahmedabad can be as cheap as USD 1000 per month.
Housing: Know it beforehand to make suitable choices!
Housing is one of the top-most agendas of an expat relocating to India. Before relocating to India, if an expat knows about housing in India, it would be easy for him / her to make choices. For instance, Mumbai, the financial hub of India, is often considered at par with New York or Hong Kong. The city presents stark differences when it comes to the type of housing options. You have beautiful high rises surrounded by slums in various parts of the city. Matchbox size houses dot most of the expensive areas like that of Bandra. Thus, an expat moving to India in Mumbai may get numerous options of compact housing.
Accommodation options: something for everyone!
Gated communities: When we refer preferred accommodations options in India to expat moving to India, we typically refer to communities that are gated. These communities provide 24/7 maintenance, security, club house facilities viz. swimming pool, gym, tennis, basketball courts, children’s play area to name a few. Some even have grocery stores and an ATM machine within the community. Most communities also provide basic power backup which is quite essential in India. These communities are modern structures and often house other expats. Schools buses cover these communities on their route. Many of these housing communities are relatively in close proximity to the international schools.
Non Gated: There are other housing options available in India which need not be in a gated community, At times the maintenance and upkeep of these properties is a time consuming task. Most of these properties do not have any amenities or club house facilities and one would have to make direct or personal arrangements for security guards, power back up and handyman services.
Apartments: Sometimes the housing options available in the destination city are restrictive – for example in a city like Mumbai there are no row houses or villas in gated communities due to lack of space. Whereas in Delhi, expat preferred neighbourhoods would not offer any condos. Nevertheless, there is a wide array of accommodation options including apartments to an expat moving to India.
Serviced apartments: vast options available today!
There are different types and categories of serviced apartments available in India that cater to the varying budget and quality requirements of an expat moving to India.
International Brands: Oakwood is present in few cities. Some hotels like Leela, Marriott, Sheraton and Hyatt offer serviced suites.
Local Operators: While there are professionally run serviced apartments like Oakwood as one category, there are smaller serviced apartments run by local companies which fall under a second category, they have independent buildings but the quality and service may not be at par with international standards.
Unorganised sector: The third category is when a serviced provider converts one unit in a regular residential housing complex into a serviced apartment and appoints someone to manage the housekeeping. This option is typically taken for long-term bookings and the unit may be customized based on negotiations with the service provider.
A typical expat quality serviced apartment may cost about USD 100 to USD 350 per night + taxes. Monthly rent: diversity seeps in here to the core!
An expat moving to India must know that in addition to monthly rent in Mumbai and Delhi, rent in other cities of India can be a fairly expensive affair. For instance Bangalore, which is now known as Bengaluru, has one of the highest expatriate populations moving to India. The apartments that are expat-quality range from USD 1000 for a 3-bedroom apartment in a less expensive neighbourhood to USD 6000 per month in a premium neighbourhood.
Gurgaon, which is a part of the National Capital Region (NCR) and located in the outskirts of New Delhi, has few gated communities like the Aralias or the Magnolias that the expatriates favour.Pune is emerging as a prominent location for IT and manufacturing and thereby it’s a popular destination among foreigners moving to India or relocating to India.
With newer areas like Aundh, Baner, Hinjewadi and Kharadi developing fast, the focus is shifting away from the city centre to these pockets. Expat preferred property rentals range from USD 900 to USD 5000 in this city. Thus, an expat relocating to India would definitely get suitable accommodation options upon proper guidance and information.
Rental practices: varying from city to city!
An expat moving to India must be aware that every Indian city may have different rental norms and market practices so it is important to understand the unique requirements. To begin with the rent: it differs from city to city- it can range from monthly in advance to quarterly in advance or even bi-annual or annual basis payments.
Escalation clause: The escalation in rent typically takes place after every 11 months or every year and ranges from 5 to 15%. This depends on the negotiations with the respective landlords.
Security Deposit: The security deposit again varies from city to city in India. In a place like Bengaluru, the deposit is as high as 10 months of rent, payable upfront. This deposit is refunded by the landlord at the end of the lease period, free of interest.
Overseas payments: The Reserve Bank of India imposes several restrictions on transfer of funds outside the country, so it is recommended to try and pay the deposit locally to the landlord in India so that they are able to refund it easily at the end of tenancy.
Regulations: present yet often absent!
As an expat moving to India get this straight: India has an extremely unregulated housing market. There are no entry barriers to becoming a real estate agent therefore the real estate sector is unorganised. There are no Government benchmarks or index for rentals. Subsequently, rentals may differ for the same quality of apartment within the same complex. We have an extremely dynamic market in most cities and especially in the low and moderate categories. Thus, an expat moving to India or relocating to India must be prepared for wide variations.
Lease process: getting it right is important before moving to India!
As an expat relocating to India remember that all leases have a diplomatic clause. This is standard market practice in India. The notice period is typically 1 to 3, however, it is subject to the lock-in period, or a minimum guarantee of stay, if any. The lock-in period is when neither party can terminate the lease agreement. So if you sign a lease agreement for an 11-month period, it could have a 9-month lock-in, after which a two-month notice may be given to terminate the lease. Landlords in India typically do not like the lease being terminated during the initial term. If you believe your assignment is going to be for a short duration – that is lesser than 11 months or a year, it is advisable to look at serviced apartments / corporate housing.
Lease registration: Know the norms right!
Before moving to India understand that laws around registration of lease are ambiguous in India. Firstly, laws differ from state to state. For example, in the state of Maharashtra- that is for cities viz. Mumbai and Pune, registration of lease is mandatory. In some of the other cities, the lease is not registered if signed for an 11-month period, renewable for further periods of 11 months each. In such cities, registering a lease depends solely on each corporate and their internal policies and it is best for the legal team to provide guidance as an unregistered lease is not admissible in the courts of law, in case of any conflict.
If registration has to take place, both parties have to be present- that is the landlord and the authorized signatory from the company in the case of a company lease. The costs towards registration again differ from state to state in India. It is also dependent on duration of lease, rental amount, deposit, escalation and term of lease.
Other formalities and costs: being aware of them would help a great deal!
Once lease formalities are completed, some cities in India have a mandatory police or tenant verification process as well. Some forms need to be filled and submitted at the local police station with supporting documents to be compliant with this process.
Agents fee / Finder fee: In addition to these costs, you would also have to cover the real estate agent’s fee. This is typically equivalent to 1 month’s rent paid by each party of the two parties i.e. landlord as well as tenant once the lease is signed.
Taxes: Taxes are typically paid by the landlord. However, many landlords these days have included a provision in the lease agreement: if the Government levies an additional tax on residential rental properties, that tax in the future would have to be paid by the tenant. As of date, no such tax has been imposed by the Government.
Withholding tax: Do note that depending on the value of the lease, the tenant may be required to deduct tax at source from the rent and deposit it with the Government. The corporates have been doing this for company leases for several years and this process has now become mandatory for personal leases as well. So, please understand this before moving to India.
Utilities: knowing them beforehand could save you from a lot of hassles!
While going into a rental property in India, an expat relocating to India must always note that while electricity and water connections are provided by the landlord, the bills will come in the landlord’s name but will have to be paid by the tenant during the lease period. The transfer of bills to the tenant’s name is not possible.
The other utilities may be provided by the landlord or typically in majority of the cases a fresh application would have to be made for the same. This would be for satellite TV, internet, telephone, mobile connections, drinking water and cooking gas. In some cases, nominal deposits would have to be paid by an expat moving to India to procure the connection and thereafter you would be charged on a monthly basis, depending on the package selected. Some gated communities would have additional charges like move in move out charge, maintenance charge – which covers common area maintenance only, club house deposits and charges, gardener’s fee, generator or power back up charges.
Maintenance: Required assistance available in time and at a reasonable cost!
Most landlords do not cover the annual maintenance charges for white goods. If need be the tenant i.e. the expat moving to India or relocating to India would have to directly take up the AMCs. Household help is certainly required in India to maintain and clean the properties. These costs are typically lower compared to most Western countries. Depending on the expatriate requirement, you can employ a maid, driver, nanny and cook. These days many expatriates relocating to India are also employing house managers to manage all the household help and coordination work for their homes.
Risks: Make sure you know them right before moving to India!
In earlier days we used to be asked questions like do people live in houses in India? Today, the average expatriate relocating to India is extremely well informed; they do their homework prior to moving to India. However, the online listings provided in India are often outdated, irrelevant and often posted simply to attract customers.
Quality: Previously, the rentals were driven by the lack of supply. Landlords profited a great deal and some communities have practically witnessed bidding wars. This has gradually been brought to check with the advent of good quality gated communities.
Time and distance: It is advisable to find a property close to the office, due to cumbersome traffic conditions in the major cities. Most expatriates, especially those with school-age children, prefer to reside in gated communities located close to the international schools.
Size: We often have a family size of 1 or 2 moving to India with a restrictive budget but due to the lack of 1-bedroom properties and very few 2-bedroom properties, they eventually have to take up a 3-bedroom unit. So corporates have to take this into consideration while carrying out their budgeting exercise for certain cities.
Maintenance: Properties may not be clean / well maintained at the time of inspection. Once selected, the necessary work is carried out prior to move-in. Most landlords do not accommodate any structural changes to the property. The move-in inspection report with pictures is extremely crucial to avoid claims during departure.
Schools: Strong academics is every Indian’s aspiration!
Most expatriates relocating to India prefer to enrol their children in international schools. Each major city has several options which follow an international curriculum like IB or IGCSE. Another option is Indian international schools. They follow the international syllabus alongside the Indian board or one may have the option to choose between the international and Indian syllabi. Some of these schools may follow the Indian syllabus but with some teaching and assessment methodologies from the international patterns of education.
Most international schools have fabulous campuses. They offer children academic as well as all round development. Their faculties have the ability to support children with individual attention. The class size is limited to ensure the same and classes are conducted in English. For children who are not fluent in English, the schools may arrange for additional classes.
International school fees range from US$5,000 to US$35,000 per annum depending on the grade. The international schools are typically open for admission all year round but subject to availability. The enrolment process should begin as early as possible. Some of the schools provide full or weekday residential facilities. Thus, before moving to India, you need to understand the education system here well.
Transportation: Ensure your safety with the right techniques!
This is one of the most important aspects you need to know before moving to India. Driving anywhere in the world is difficult, but in India, it can be extremely dangerous! There are no standards and set methods and vehicles and drivers tend to make their own roads and rules. Most expats rent cars with a driver and fuel on a monthly rental basis. The employer usually contracts with operators on monthly or annual contracts for new or even used vehicles.
Bus travel is cheap but often hot and overcrowded, so it is extremely unpopular with expats. Taxis are moderately priced but with the advent of the Uber culture, hailing or calling a cab seems to be a practice of the past now.
Autos, also known as three wheelers, are widely available and used my many including by the expats moving to India.
The Delhi Metro is a comfortable and fast way of moving within the city of Delhi. Other cities in India are also working on possible mass rapid transport systems.
As dangerous as it might look, Indian roads are relatively safe. An expat relocating to India needs to develop a knack for ploughing through and making steady progress, whether on foot or in a vehicle. Moving in India can be trickier than one would have thought earlier.
Other challenges: Jugaad is the key!
As Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel Peace Prize awardee, said, India has hundreds of problems and millions of solutions. Upon observation, one can see the numerous ingenious quick fixes called jugaad doing the right trick. Some of the inherent problems can be attributed to the culture. Most expats upon landing in India are quite overcome by the sheer mass of population and / or lack of personal space, decorum or patience while waiting in queues and the overwhelming noise all around, while others are quite bedazzled by the colours and stark contrasts of the developed and under-developed factions of society.It does take few days for one to get acclimatised to India and the discovery process continues through the assignment period.
Traffic in major cities can be extremely unnerving and the lack of proper infrastructure adds to the woes.One would often find themselves challenged by the apparent cultural and language barriers. Indians have peculiar characteristics like the classic Indian nod which is a head bob from side to side neither accepting nor denying their agreement. Although corporate India has become more professional on this aspect expats would still find handy men or labour rarely keeping their appointments.
Accompanying spouses would have to find other means to keep themselves occupied like taking up voluntary work or being part of expat groups which organize events and other cultural activities as taking up full time employment, consultancy work or any job which involves compensation is prohibited.On the whole, despite of these challenges expats and their families moving to India acclimatize very well to India and it is often very overwhelming for them to leave the over friendly people and the vibrant culture behind.
Exploring India as a nation
When relocating to India if an expat has a fair idea of what India is as a geographical and cultural entity, it would only allow him / her to settle better in India. So, in the following segment, I shall throw light upon some interesting facets of India.
Knowing India: A civilisation older than time!
Though the idea of India as a geographical entity has existed for centuries and its earliest civilisation dates back to 5000 BC, modern India was only born on the 15th of August 1947, when it gained independence from the British. India has continued to evolve as a superpower ever since. However, in the real sense, the Indian economy was only born in 1993. During the time between 1947 and 1993, India was a closed country, focusing on socialism. Under pressure from the World Bank and on the verge of being bankrupt, India opened to the world in 1993 and then quickly grew to become a major economic power in the past twenty-five years. It is expected that by 2030 India would be world’s third largest economy as long as it is able to maintain its current growth rate of close to 8 % per annum.
Indian culture: An eclectic mix of everything under the sun!
Get this right from the start before moving to India: India is a land of diversities in every way one can imagine. Thus, an expatriate moving to India must be ready for regional or provincial peculiarities and vast cultural differences. Cultural sensitivity would only allow a foreigner, working and living in India, assimilate better!
Being the seventh largest country in land mass, India is a large geography. It’s a diverse culture with nearly all religions of the world living here. Nevertheless, it is probably the only Hindu dominated country in the world with 80 % of its people following Hinduism. With every sixth human being living in India, it is the second most populous country on record, though some say, it may have already over taken China (as the census systems are not that accurate).
With two official languages – Hindi and English, India has another twenty-two national languages and over a thousand other languages and dialects! And we thought Europe was complicated! With its sheer size and diversity, India seems like it is always at conflict with itself. Depending upon who you are and what experiences you may have had before moving to India, the Indian stereotype could differ. So on one hand, one may say that India speaks English for English is one of the national official languages, most foreigners are left dumbfounded when they learn that only 4 % of India actually speaks English. 4% of a billion is still a sizeable number! Some would say Indians are innovative, intelligent and hard working – after all India has some of the best technical and business minds in of the world – but many would say that Indians are lazy and undisciplined – and probably both these observations could be correct.
Unique cultural challenges: Overcoming them in the right way!
The cultural challenges faced by foreigners relocating to India can be immense – most of India is rural and majority of Indians may have never seen a foreigner. We at IKAN recently had a German intern with us at our Delhi office who became a star attraction because where ever she went, people wanted to take pictures with her. She, who had then recently relocated to India, had never experienced this in the West. When she went to see the Taj Mahal she was amazed at the sheer number of people at the Taj! The promotional pictures she had seen before moving to India were always of a Taj with no people.
Space and time management
Thus, it can be said that Indians are used to the lack of space as that is a luxury they can never enjoy, but foreigners are disturbed by the noise and the air pollution that they experience besides the complete lack of physical space that they take for granted back home. An expatriate moving to India must learn about the Indian sense of timing and their disregard for keeping on time which is now fondly referred to as the “Indian Stretchable Time” – a concept of time derived from IST which stands for Indian Standard Time. Getting these things right before moving to India would save an expat relocating to India from a lot of frustration!
Infrastructure: coming of age!
Just check out India from a satellite picture taken at night on the Internet. I still recall the immortal words of our first man in space – Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, when he was asked by the late Mrs Indira Gandhi, how India looked from space and he said “Saare jahan se achha”, meaning, the best in the world. Most Indians are patriotic and carry similar thoughts in their hearts.Nevertheless, India has its own set of challenges just like most countries challenges but her evolving educational and social systems are addressing some of these pretty rapidly. Indian infrastructure is always under stress due to the sheer size of the population, but is also getting better by the day. Electricity, roads and banking have reached the remotest corners of India.
Foreign direct investments: Evidence of India’s growing power!
The Indian story has though just begun and with the investments only growing and with the many Make In India initiatives, sky is the next limit – literally. Recently, we heard that the Boeing and Lockheed Martin Companies will manufacture their defence systems in India and export from India. Similarly, many other multi nationals are setting up such initiatives in the country due to the incentives provided by the Government to help the industrial, technological and infrastructure growth of the country.
Indians are certainly industrious, educated, enterprising and hard working, considering that despite being an agrarian economy, it has the largest network of engineering colleges in the world. Indian intelligentsia comprising some of the most renowned scientists of the world is contributing constructively to build the nation. Thus, expats moving to India find it easier today than ever before to settle here.
As a relocation expert of a highly renowned relocation company in India, I would say that moving to India or relocating to India and working in India for an expatriate can be an odyssey of a lifetime and if a relocating expatriate moving to India is open and welcoming, India can offer some wonderful experiences to cherish for years to come! Relocating to India would be a roller-coaster ride to remember for the entire life!
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