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Life in India is unlike anywhere else. While the hugely crowded cities can make the country a little daunting for first-time visitors, the hustle and noise are normal aspects of day-to-day life, something expats soon get used to.
India is attractive to expats worldwide for countless reasons, mainly the fast-growing economy, low living costs, and rich cultural history.
Finding a property can be one of the biggest challenges of living in India, as we will discover information about applying for a visa and accessing the state healthcare system as a foreign national.
Table of contents
- India – Quick Facts
- Visas And Residency
- Safety And Security
- Cost Of Living
- Buying Or Renting A Home
- Where Do British Expats Live In India?
- Working In India
- Local Laws And Customs
- Education And Schooling
- Living In India FAQ
- Related Information
India – Quick Facts
- The Tiraga, or tricolour – the Indian flag
- Population: 1.408 billion
- UK expat population: 32,000
- Capital: New Delhi
- Main cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad
Visas And Residency
All foreign nationals require a visa to travel to India, excluding verified Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) with a registered card. There are varied visa categories, and using the wrong permit can mean being detained on arrival, deported and prohibited from returning.
E-visas are available from the Indian Bureau of Immigration, and eligibility criteria apply depending on how long you intend to stay, whether you have a confirmed work offer and whether you have family members already living in India as residents.
UK expats usually need to arrange an appointment at the High Commission of India in London to progress a visa application for a long-term or permanent stay.
Any visit to India over 180 days is considered a long-term visa, and relevant visa categories are available for students and employees with confirmed work offers.
Regardless of your visa type, you must register with the Foreign Regional Registration Office in the relevant area within 14 days of arrival – you will be fined if you register late or cannot provide a copy of your registration certificate.
Proof of vaccination
Expats do not need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to travel to India but must comply with thermal passenger screening on entry. The Indian immigration authorities may also randomly test around two per cent of foreign national travellers on arrival, including children over 12.
If you have suspected symptoms, you must follow the instructions, including being transported to a local medical centre for isolation. More information about testing protocols is available from the Ministry of Health.
Note that other vaccinations are recommended before travelling to India, including yellow fever and polio vaccinations depending on where you are travelling. Travel Health Pro provides more details about vaccine recommendations.
Foreign nationals arriving in India should have at least six months of validity remaining on their passports past their entry date. Passports must have at least two blank pages and a machine reading chip. You will be refused entry if you arrive without a machine-readable passport at a port.
Taking medicines into India
Some medications are prohibited in India, and you should check with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare if you expect to travel with prescription drugs.
Medicine must be in the original packaging, correctly labelled, and accompanied by a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP. You should also verify whether any drug within the medication is a banned substance in India.
Expats may be asked to provide a police certificate from the ACRO Criminals Record Office before applying for a visa to live in India.
Safety And Security
India has a heightened terrorism alert, and foreign nationals from the UK are advised to be vigilant. Political tensions in India can erupt, and rallies or demonstrations called hartal or bandh should be avoided as the risk of violence is high.
The potential for civil disturbances is elevated during elections or following the death of politicians or government officials, normally resulting in delays to public services and transport networks.
You should keep copies of your passport, flight tickets and visa separate from the originals and report passport thefts immediately to the police. Robberies are common on trains, buses and in crowded areas.
Scams such as card skimming are prevalent, as are confidence scams where criminals may purport to be from an embassy or the British High Commission.
Harassment and sexual assault worry foreign national females, particularly those travelling alone. Verbal and physical abuse is reported in Goa, Rajasthan, Mumbai, Delhi and Kerala. Female expats should not travel to isolated areas at any time of the day, particularly beaches in tourist zones.
UK expats can drive with their British licence and an International Driving Permit for up to one year after their arrival. Specific rules about how long you may use a UK licence vary between states, and you may need to contact the nearest traffic office to arrange a driving test.
Accidents and collisions are common in India, with multiple deaths every year. Foreign drivers should avoid travelling overnight and only in a maintained vehicle with fitted seat belts.
Driving can be dangerous in busy cities where traffic is often overwhelmingly heavy, and the rules of the road are ignored. Drivers must also be cautious when livestock is crossing the carriageway – cows are sacred, and any accident involving a cow can become violent.
Cost Of Living
Living costs in India are significantly lower than in the UK. A family of four requires a budget of around Rs90,737 (£910), and a single person roughly Rs26,487 (£266) per month, excluding accommodation costs.
General consumer expenses are 64.1 per cent cheaper than the British average, and renting a home 82.3 per cent more affordable.
The population in India is vast, and the country covers 1.269 million square miles, so the area you choose to live in will impact your living standards, the amenities available, and how much you might expect to spend on everyday outgoings.
Larger cities are the most expensive, but still low cost. They are preferable for most expats since the urban regions have more employment opportunities and significantly more comfortable infrastructure such as drainage, electricity and transport.
Buying Or Renting A Home
Most British nationals rent properties in India through an estate agent but should be cautious of high commissions, equivalent to one month’s rent. However, finding a property without an agent can be very difficult if you do not speak the language and are unfamiliar with negotiation and haggling.
Accommodation includes various properties from studio flats and condos, large family apartments, luxury family homes and detached houses.
Landlords may not accept foreign national tenants, and the culture differs from that in the UK. Single people trying to rent a property may be turned down, and landlords commonly refuse to rent apartments to unmarried women or couples who are not married.
Foreign nationals may be asked to provide a character reference, usually offered by an employer. In Southern India, there may be rules about what you can and cannot do in a rented property, including eating or cooking meat or fish.
Expats can only purchase a home in India if they are either of Indian heritage or meet the following requirements:
- Holding a valid residency permit and work visa.
- Be buying a home to live in as a primary residence.
- Applying through an Indian bank.
- Retaining any income from selling or renting the property in India.
Expats most commonly buy properties in Kerala and Goa.
Cost of renting and buying a home
|Property Type||Average Rent Per Month|
|One-bedroom city centre apartment||Rs. 14,732 / £148|
|One-bedroom apartment elsewhere||Rs. 9,454 / £95|
|Three-bedroom city centre apartment||Rs. 32,268 / £324|
|Three-bedroom apartment elsewhere||Rs. 20,164 / £202|
|Property Type||Average Purchase Price Per Square Metre|
|City centre apartment||Rs. 110,979 / £1,113|
|Apartment elsewhere||Rs. 55,278 / £554|
Where Do British Expats Live In India?
Most expats live in bigger cities, including Kolkata, New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. Many complexes and gated communities in the suburbs are aimed at foreign nationals.
Indian residents receive free government healthcare, but facilities are often understaffed and may not have adequate equipment or supplies. Private healthcare is strongly advisable and often a prerequisite for visa application.
The National Health Protection Scheme provides support and subsidised treatments for low-income households. It may offer free private healthcare where necessary, but it is not available to any individual who is not a long-term Indian resident.
Private healthcare costs are generally affordable and are, on average, around Rs. 122 (£1.22) for an over-the-counter medication, Rs. 230 (£2.31) for a course of antibiotics and Rs. 608 (£6.11) for a GP appointment.
Local health insurance providers are available, but international insurance companies tend to be safer and provide more comprehensive coverage. Insurance is essential for expats travelling to rural regions of India.
Working In India
India is an increasingly attractive workplace, with multinationals in the major cities often employing English-speaking expats. The economy is the largest globally in spending power, and although the workplace culture differs from that in the UK, businesses often provide cross-cultural training programmes.
Delhi has the most job opportunities, whereas tech professionals tend to live in Bengaluru, also called India’s Silicon Valley, and Mumbai is a hub for fashion, entertainment and commercial businesses.
Competition for higher-skilled roles is fierce, and most working expats travel to India with a confirmed job offer rather than retrospectively applying for a work visa.
Expats moving to India must register for a Permanent Account Number (PAN) through the Indian Income Tax Authority, completing several forms. Tax numbers are issued within 15 days of application, and you must apply immediately on arrival – proof of application is necessary to register with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office.
Income taxes are calculated in the tax year, and your tax obligations will depend on whether you are a resident. Most expats are considered non-residents, or residents who are not ordinarily resident, for the first two tax years.
The Indian tax system uses income tax ‘slabs’, similar to tax brackets in the UK, and applied to the relevant fiscal year in the following assessment year. Tax slabs are as follows for the 2023-23 fiscal year, which is the 2024-25 assessment year.
|Up to Rs. 300,000||Zero per cent|
|Rs. 300,000 to Rs. 600,000||5 per cent|
|Rs. 600,000 to Rs. 900,000||Rs. 15,000 plus 10 per cent on income above Rs. 600,000|
|Rs. 900,000 to Rs. 1,200,000||Rs. 45,000 plus 12 per cent on income above Rs. 900,000|
|Rs. 1,200,000 to Rs. 1,500,000||Rs. 90,000 plus 20 per cent on income above Rs. 1,200,000|
|Above Rs. 1,500,000||Rs. 150,000 plus 30 per cent on income above Rs. 1,500,000|
There are several approved Indian pension funds on the HMRC QROPS list of Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes, allowing British nationals to transfer a pension fund to the country if they wish. UK nationals living in India can continue to receive the State Pension but will not be entitled to an annual benefit increase.
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Local Laws And Customs
- All accommodation providers must register foreign guests. You should check that it is registered with the Foreigners Registration Office if you plan to stay in a hotel.
- Indian immigration enforces strict rules about what you can take into or out of India, and travellers are advised to declare anything subject to duty.
- Satellite phones are illegal in India without a licence, and you can be arrested for carrying one without permission from the Indian Department of Telecommunications. Other devices like powerful cameras, binoculars and radio transmitters may also require approval.
- Non-Indian nationals are not allowed to arrive with Indian currency.
- Some areas have local laws that dictate appropriate dress standards, such as dressing modestly and covering bare shoulders.
- Drinking alcohol in public is an offence, and some states require foreign nationals to purchase an alcohol permit every 30 days if they wish to buy it. Alcohol sales are banned during elections, festivals and national holidays and are completely banned in several regions, including Bihar, Nagaland, Mizoram and Gujarat. Sentences for drinking or possessing alcohol can carry five to ten years in prison.
- Smoking is illegal in most public places, and e-cigarettes are banned.
- Drugs are strictly prohibited; even drugs classed as C in the UK can carry a minimum six-month prison sentence.
- Photos or videos can be high risk, particularly near airports, train stations, government buildings and military sites.
- Homosexuality is legal, but same-sex marriage remains illegal. The Indian culture is conservative, and LGBTQ+ expats may be subject to discrimination and harassment, particularly in rural areas.
- Capturing, killing, selling or buying protected species or products derived from animals is illegal without a licence.
Education And Schooling
Most expats send their children to international or private schools following the UK curriculum. These schools teach in English, whereas public schools may teach in English and Hindi.
Public schools are free to all children aged six to 14, but standards vary considerably, and class sizes can be very large. In private education, focusing on attainment can be a transition for British students, and pressure to achieve high grades is common.
Fees can be expensive, and many expats moving to India have an allowance in their employment package to cover the costs of private education.
Living In India FAQ
The Indian currency is the Rupee, abbreviated to Rs. or the symbol ₹. One Rupee is worth £0.01.
There are high instances of criminality targeting tourists, and foreign nationals often live in gated communities or travel with a local guide if venturing outside of the cities.
Laws around alcohol sales and consumption are strict. While it is not illegal everywhere in India, some states have banned all alcohol, including Gujarat and Bihar.
The primary language is Hindi, spoken by around 53 per cent of people. Other languages include Bengali and Marathi, although most people in the major cities speak some English.
India is a vast country, and weather conditions vary between regions. It is generally tropical, hot and humid, although the higher mountainous areas can be much colder, particularly to the north.
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