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Moving to India is an experience full of colours, chaos, and surprises
Moving to India is an experience full of colours, chaos, and surprises | © JudaM / Pixabay
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11 Essential Tips for Moving to India

Picture of Arun Venkatraman
Updated: 28 March 2018
When it comes to moving to a different country, India is distinctly different from other places around the world. And the country’s surprisingly diverse culture means that there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all approach to getting it right. Depending on how well you’re prepared (or not prepared) it could quickly go from being either a blessing or an utter disaster. Right from what to pack to which language to pick up a few phrases in, here’s everything you need to know before moving to India.

It doesn’t hurt to know the language

While it’s true that English will get you through the day without trouble in most cities, it would be wise to pick up at least a few basic phrases in the language of the land, primarily to interact with the locals, shopkeepers and autowallahs. It is also important to know which language to pick up because contrary to popular belief Hindi isn’t spoken as widely in the country, especially in the southern part. If you’re moving to South India, racking your brain to learn basic Hindi is just the same as learning French before going to China. Plus, you’ll often find that Indians can be really appreciative if you put in a little effort to learn their local language.

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Picking up at least a little bit of the local language can be a lifesaver in India | © Superfast1111 / WikiCommons

You’ll have to say ‘no’ a lot

From pushy roadside vendors to scammers trying to fleece you, you’ll have to learn to say ‘no’ a lot if you don’t want to end up with a lighter wallet. And this is especially true if you are a foreigner in India because of the perception that foreigners tend to spend more than locals. While there may be things on the street that might catch your eye, it is always better to actually know what you’re paying for and what it is actually worth.

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Indian cities have an informal market for everything from fake electronics to even stolen goods | © David Brossard / Flickr

Bargaining is a life-saving skill

Haggling for a better price might seem like too much of a hassle, but it is an essential skill for anyone living in India. And this is especially true for anything that you buy on the street since the prices aren’t market-regulated. Vendors often quote prices based on the impression they have of who’s buying and what they would be willing to spend rather than what the product is actually worth. And sometimes the markup can be as high as ten times the original price! So if you start bargaining, you’d actually be surprised at the amount of money you can save.

Be technologically prepared

Technology cuts both ways in India depending on where you are. In the rural parts of the country, finding internet connectivity can be a big issue, however, in cities, technology-enabled local services become almost indispensable. In big metros, getting the hang of systems such as local transport can be mind-numbingly confusing even if you are an Indian from another region. So it is always prudent to keep a check on which locals apps could help you get a better hang of things. Whether it is transport-based apps like M-Indicator (for Mumbai) or Delhi Metro app (for Delhi-NCR) or ones that help you find the closest ATM or public toilet, there are a number of must-have tech tools that can really come in handy.

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From transport apps like M-Indicator to toilet finder apps like Swacch Bharat, there are now apps in India for just about everything | © Jason Howie / Flickr

Go easy on the flavours

You might be excited about tasting Indian food in India but the prudent thing to do is to take it easy, at least initially. Indian food is known for its flavourful nature, and in many ways is vastly different from western cuisines. So if you’re moving to India, it might be wise to give your body time to adjust before digging into Indian thalis every day. And while this goes without saying, drinking water served at restaurants or digging into street food is a complete no-no unless you want to spend your first few days here being sick.

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Indian food is known for its heavy flavours and can be hard to adjust to at first | © Catriona Ward / Flickr

If you’re in a big city, leave half-an-hour early

You might think this applies to just about every big city in the world, but what you need to realise is that unlike in western cities, traffic on Indian roads can be a lot more unpredictable and chaotic. Public transport options such as trains and buses too often don’t stick to the timetable. And as for the roads, in big cities like Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata, it is always prudent to take into account everyday things that can disrupt traffic such as local festivals, strikes or even wedding processions!

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The number of registered motor vehicles per 1000 in India has nearly quadrupled in the last 15 years | © Carlo Venson / Pixabay

Get used to people staring at you

Whether it is on the roads, at restaurants, or at public places, you’re bound to encounter a few people in India who stare at you just because you’re different. This is further accentuated if you are of a different ethnicity and can sometimes be quite annoying, especially when you’re just trying to blend in. While it is mostly just harmless curiosity with people who will ask you for a selfie or try to make conversation, it is prudent to be on guard as well.

You’ll have to re-learn how to drive

Driving in India is unlike anywhere else in the world. It is equal parts madness and 80s Hollywood action flick, and yet it still maintains a semblance of order in all the chaos. While simply being on a busy road can be panic-inducing, if you want to start driving in India, there are a lot of makeshift rules that you will first have to get the hang off. For example, while the orange light at the signal usually means ‘be ready to stop/go’, in India drivers just start at the sight of the orange signal. Plus, Indian drivers aren’t big on lane discipline either, and sticking to your lane and holding up traffic will earn you a lot of honking from the back.

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Driving in India is a whole different ball game compared to western countries | © Simon / Pixabay

Know what to pack

While India is often seen as one country, it is in many ways just as diverse as a continent. And this is true not just culturally, but also geographically. India is one of the few countries in the world which has almost all the major geographical features — from deserts and rainforests to beaches and snow-capped peaks, India has it all. Consequently, each state or region within the country can be as climatically distinct from others as possible. So depending on which region you are moving to within India, what you need to pack can drastically change too. While in the north, closer to the Himalayas, it can get as cold as in Western Europe, in the south it is just as hot and sultry as Central Africa.

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India can be just as cold as the Swiss Alps or just as hot as Central Africa, depending on the region you’re visiting | © Confused_me / Pixabay

Local transport is not for the faint-hearted

Public transport is a lifesaver almost everywhere around the world, and this much is also true for India. However, if you’ve never boarded a train or a bus in any Indian major city, it is prudent to first know what you’re actually getting into before landing up at the platform or station. No number of ads or YouTube videos can actually do justice to the kind of chaos you’d have to face on local trains, especially in cities such as Mumbai. But if you still want to experience it for yourself, use public transport only during non-peak hours.

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Indian local trains or buses are prone to overcrowding and can be packed several times over capacity | © Simon / Pixabay

And beware of the cabbies and auto-wallahs

Public transport in India isn’t for everyone, but the only other alternative, taking a cab or an auto-rickshaw, isn’t that great an option either. Particularly because in most cities, cab drivers and auto-wallahs are notorious for fleecing and overcharging. While some cities, such as Mumbai, do have a standard fare system, in most other cities auto-wallahs just quote fares arbitrarily. And not just that, in a lot of cases the auto-wallahs are also known to take longer routes just to make more money. However, most cities now also have app-based services such as Uber or Ola, so it is always advisable to take one if you’re not familiar with the routes and fares.

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Auto-rickshaws in most Indian cities do not operate on a fixed meter | © Devnath / Pixabay