India isn't just a country - it is an experience. One that may well overwhelm your senses if you are not prepared. To help mitigate culture shock and to help you make the most of your time in India, here are some great practical tips you should know before you relocate there, courtesy of Preeti Roongta.
1. Local Registration
If your assignment means you will be in India for more than 180 consecutive days, you are required to register at the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) within the first 14 days of your arrival. Failure to do so could mean losing your Indian visa. Some cities provide an online application process but generally, a physical appearance at the FRRO office is mandatory for visa related services.
2. Social Security
While many from the US can rattle off their social security number faster than their spouse’s birth date, India is just about getting used to the concept. Its equivalent, called “Aadhar Card” is gaining momentum, backed by the current government. It is becoming a legitimate document, and in certain cases, essential for opening a local bank account, obtaining insurance and even a long-term phone connection.
3. Emergency Services
An emergency service number isn't available everywhere in India and has been reported to be sometimes unreliable, so it's a good idea to have the number of a doctor you can call on for any medical assistance. Or even better, keep the emergency numbers of the closest hospital tagged in your phone for a quick call. Keep 108 handy for an ambulance.
4. Local Language
Corporate India’s first language is English but it helps if you learn the basics of the native language - if nothing else you score bonus points for trying. Hindi works in most part of Northern India, while a little Marathi in Mumbai/Pune won’t hurt. Use Gujarati in Modi’s home state or any of Tamil, Telegu or Malayalam in the southern states. Home and office support staff may still struggle with fluent English so a smattering of the local language can be very handy. What may start out being a little entertainment for the locals may become one of your biggest strengths whilst you get familiar with the spoken (and sometimes unspoken) language.
5. Cover Up
Showing skin in India is considered disrespectful. While attitudes in India are slowly changing, do stay covered especially if you are out and about on the roads. A good way to know what is acceptable to wear is by observing others around you. This is also a wise tip to follow if you prefer to avoid unwanted attention. The flip side: experiment with colours, patterns in cotton, and wear them as dresses or long skirts. Indian tailors can be useful.
6. Power Up
There are gods for everything in India – including power supply. But when they get upset, electricity can play truant, ranging from a few seconds to an entire day during a heavy monsoon downpour. Irregular voltages and frequent power cuts can be the order of the day in smaller cities, so investment in stabilisers for electronic appliances and a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for your computer is essential.
Steve McCurry's India portraits are stunning. Award-winning, to say the least. And what makes them so is the unique quality of sunlight and the dust that his filters capture. Yes, dust. But in real life, dust can be your biggest enemy if you come from a super-sanitized western world. Indians like their windows open to sight, sounds and smells - and with them comes ample dust that will come to rest everywhere.
8. Love Thy Neighbour
Universal truth is most applicable in India. From babysitting your kids in an emergency to being the last minute go-to before the ice cubes run out at your house party, your neighbours will be on hand to help you. Building a good rapport with your immediate neighbours is a worthwhile investment. Indians do make great neighbours, albeit slightly nosy ones...
9. And Also Love Your Delivery Person
Your local corner store delivery person will remain loyal. From toys to toiletries, gourmet food to bottled water and beer kegs, everything can be delivered to your doorstep. Keep those phone numbers handy - some of them even take orders via “WhatsApp” - all for no extra service charge. But it is always a good idea to tip them.
10. Stash the Cash
It may not be a bad idea to invest in a slightly bigger wallet. Much of India prefers cash and carry, especially for smaller buys at local neighbourhood stores. With the gradual push towards digital transactions, a change in cash being the preferred mode of transaction is likely to happen, but for now the love for crisp currency notes still persists, particularly outside of the cities.
The life of the average white-collar worker in India is a lot different to what we know in the West. Personal and professional lines are blurred. First, when you interview for a position, you are asked about your marital status and family history. Once you’re in, you’ll find that the entire staff eats lunch together every day. Managers closely monitor hourly activity, interpersonal interactions, and the personal lives of employees. There are even "Office Mums" responsible for staff health and well-being.
A common occurrence in bigger cities is that one meeting can spill over into the next one for various reasons. Evening catch-ups possibly lead to a few rounds of drinks that may be tough to refuse, as business tends to be more social in India. And traffic is never your best friend if you are packing in more than 2 or 3 meetings across the city.
13. Getting Around
Even a short drive can guzzle fuel and time, so having a driver or similar service can be beneficial and help you avoid the uncertainties of driving in India. Chauffeur or Uber? Both work well, depending on your driving schedule that work and running errands demands. Most senior colleagues have day-long drivers, with cars doubling as mobile offices or downtime sanctuaries. Prepare your next presentation in peace or get a cat nap on the go. Younger India is using Uber more than ever before but let's see if the new wave of metros/subway lines changes that.
14. Google Maps Work – Most of the Time...
US-style grid streets and signage are not common in most Indian cities, given how old they are. What definitely doesn’t help is that roads are given pet names. Only in India does a road have four different names depending on whom you ask. And that may sometimes mislead your navigation system. Knowing some sort of landmark will prevent you from going around in circles. Fortunately, Indians will not assume it’s just an excuse for showing up late for a meeting.
Are you relocating employees to India? Or are you considering venturing into India? Contact us for more information about how we can make it easy for you.