Relocation to India - Home

By Rajkamal Rao 

You are here because, most likely, you are a person of Indian origin who has lived in the West for many years, and are seriously thinking about returning to India for good.  But you are not sure if doing so is a good idea.  And even if you have already made a decision to return, you would like a review of the entire move process.

Or you are a slightly older child of such a family who would like to digest these facts at your own pace rather than at the dining table when your parents are making important decisions - those that can have a profound impact on your life.

Or you are an Indian who has not caught up on recent developments in India and would like an overview.  Perhaps reading up on our blog may make you change your mind about India - or cement it even more.

Or you are a freelance foreigner who has visited India previously but is now considering a temporary relocation to India for either work or pleasure.  You have been to India before but have never really lived there.  You have enjoyed coffee table books about India but not a blog which describes how life may change for you.

Or you manage the Global Mobility team of a company fielding inquiries from your employees about potential expat opportunities or transfers to India.

Or you operate a business which advises clients on how to set up subsidiaries in India and want to educate them about what to expect when senior executives move their families to India.

This site is intended to serve all the above audiences.  We have included a vast menu of topics and provided overviews wherever possible so that all readers are on the proverbial “same page”.  India veterans who know these details may simply skip over the content with a click, but a cursory review may still be beneficial.  As India watchers ourselves, we were surprised to learn so many facts especially in the finance, tax, schooling and the physical move areas.

And, we have included an expansive section on comparing life in the US with that in India.  We recognize that every India watcher can come up with his/her private list of factors and reasonable individuals may disagree with our current state assessment.  At a minimum, we hope these differences trigger an active debate as decision time comes near.

Our site is therefore a practical guide on what to do after you have made a decision to return.  In fact, we even published a book that's available on Amazon for just $2.99.  Learn more about our book and its difference from our site.

Many things have changed life in India for the better; others are for the worse.  And quite a few have remained not quite different from the way they were 26 years ago when we first left India.  Our primary motivation for launching this blog - as against the goal of our book - was to share with you our fascination with Indian life.  Check out our section on India Live! which we hope to update several times a week.

We lived in the United States for 26 years and have now relocated to India for good.  We shipped to India all that we owned, rented out our US home, enrolled our 10 year old in school, bought a car and a motorcycle in India, signed a rental lease, received our shipment intact, signed up with service providers and launched our start up.  In short, our transition is complete.

We hope that no matter what your reason is to be here, you enjoy it as much as we did developing this blog.  Happy reading!

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Venture opportunities

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By Rajkamal Rao 


Go back to Earning in India

Innovation is the latest buzzword in India and numerous venture capitalist opportunities abound.  Green energy, mobile and tablet computing, infrastructure, agriculture, education, waste treatment, rainwater harvesting, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and hardware design are some areas of interest to VCs. 

In October 2012, the Indian Institute of Industrial Engineers hosted an international conference in Bangalore on global challenges, opportunities and innovation.  The target year?  2025.  Business and technology leaders are focused heavily on the appetite of Indians who are hungry for good products and services. 

Even if a business venture fails, the start-up costs in India are typically low so that an entrepreneur is more likely to recover to start another business.  Costly start-up government regulations of the kind in the West are mostly absent in India freeing entrepreneurs to experiment until becoming a successful, legitimate business.

The New York Times carried this excellent article about venture opportunities in India.

Annual health check ups

Go back to India Live!

By Rajkamal Rao 
 
The Miriam Webster dictionary defines "Laissez-faire" as "a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights."

Health care in India is about as Laissez-faire as it can get in a major world economy, and is fully the opposite of the US model.  Especially now that ObamaCare is the law.

The single biggest problem in the US health care system is that it costs too much for the quality of care delivered.  One reason for this is that a third party (insurance company, government) always pays for care.  Patients have no incentive to shop around and providers have no incentive to price their services to the market.  Obama took this already terrible problem and made it worse, moving the country almost close to a single-payer system with the proposed expansion of the already struggling Medicaid.

As we note in a prior post on health insurance, in India, only about 15% of the population is under the third party payment system.  The market therefore is robust and resembles the US Lasik surgery market (which conservatives often cite as a shining example of how costs come down and quality goes up when free market policies take over).

Annual health check ups

I wanted to get my annual physical done in Bangalore, and I shopped online.  There were various flavors of the so called "Executive Package" offered by at least 15 hospitals, all offering same day service.  I chose to go to Columbia Asia.

The equipment used for tests was all manufactured in the US, Japan, Germany or Switzerland.  The nurses were excellently trained on the machines and knew what they were doing.  The process was like an assembly line where I was shunted from one station to another to provide my samples or undergo a test.  An usher watched over me and squeezed me into another station if my next station had a longer-than-anticipated wait.

The tests were all over in 3 hours, and I even got a free breakfast coupon (for them to check after-breakfast sugar levels).  And I returned the following day for a consultation with an experienced physician (this was at my request; they were ready for the same afternoon) who went through my results and wrote prescriptions.  The format of the results was identical to what I used to get in the US so I could even compare my latest reports with those from my previous annual.  On exit, I got a beautifully bound folder with all reports immaculately filed and a CD to boot. 

Ok, but am I comparing apples to oranges?  What tests were covered?  Here's a list for those who didn't click on the previous link.
  1. Stress test or Echo #    
  2. Chest X-ray
  3. Blood Glucose Fasting and Post Prandial    
  4. Ultrasound of Abdomen and Pelvis
  5. Blood Grouping- ABO & Rh    
  6. Urine Routine
  7. CBC with ESR    
  8. Pap Smear (For females)
  9. Lipid Profile    
  10. Bilateral Mammography (For females) - Optional
  11. Liver Function Test    
  12. Consultation with Opthalmologist
  13. T3, T4, TSH    PSA (Male) Optional
  14. Serum Creatinine    
  15. Consultation with Gynecologist
  16. Consultation with Physician with Reports*
  17. Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) (Spirometry)    

The price?  INR 4,500 (about $81). I converted the amount to USD just in case an Obama administration official was reading!

Knee Surgery

A close relative of ours got surgery done in November 2013 to get her knee replaced.  The facilities at the new Apollo Hospital in Madhavan Park, Bangalore - were truly world class.  Once we stepped inside the building, there was no difference from a US hospital.  Rooms and bathrooms were extremely clean, all rooms had flat panel TVs and free Wifi.  The nurses station was over-attentive, in fact, so attentive that we began to wonder how we'd provide care for the patient after she was released.

The surgery was flawless.  The after-surgery X-ray picture showed how high technology surgery tools can create a near perfect knee cap.  Materials used were titanium cobalt.  The doctor, a consummate professional trained in the UK and the US, also had excellent bedside manners.

The total stay in the hospital was for seven days.  Food served bedside three times a day was excellent.  The total cost for the cash-paying patient was INR 1,86,000 - about $3,000. 

The Obama administration must take note - because blaming cheap labor in India alone no longer cuts it any more.  Similar surgery in the US is reported to cost $25,000 - $30,000.





Social Security and Medicare

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By Rajkamal Rao 


Go back to Comparing Life US v. India

The returning Indian family can count on receiving US Social Security benefits, if eligible, even when in India.  Given the exchange rate and the relatively lower cost of living in India, this income is not trivial.  However, the US government does not offer Medicare benefits in India - something that returning Indian families should be prepared for. 

India does not offer generous social security benefits to its citizens.  If returning families work here, the only retirement benefit they can count on is the equivalent of the US 401K where you contribute a part of your income in a public Provident Fund account.  You get tax benefits for your contributions and unlike in the US, the PF account is backed by the full faith and credit of the Indian government.

Although this matter is not directly related to Social Security and Medicare, one big unknown is the impact of ObamaCare on the returning Indian family.  By law, starting 2014, every US Citizen and Resident must show proof of health insurance to the IRS or be liable to pay a penalty.  The exact amount of the penalty is dependent upon income but expect it to be about $2,100 per family in the lowest bracket.

Should a US citizen living and working in India show proof of health insurance to the IRS although he is domiciled abroad?  Is a person's India health insurance plan adequate?  Should the India health insurance plan include coverage for when the US citizen returns to the US for a brief visit?

According to an Oct 2, 2013 story in the Wall Street Journal titled, U.S. Citizens Abroad Avoid Health-Law Mandate, "Americans who live abroad at least 330 days of the year will be treated as if they have qualifying insurance coverage and won’t owe any tax penalty, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That’s true regardless of whether the U.S. citizen actually has health insurance in the country where he or she lives."

This is great news indeed.

Other Conveniences

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By Rajkamal Rao 


Go back to India Live!

In this section:
Bleeped Out Hollywood Programs
Train Tracking Real Time
Banking Anywhere
Cash Recharge for Mobile Phones
Long Distance Bus Availability
Pest Control


Bleeped Out Hollywood Programs
The average Bollywood movie or TV serial is full of racy and suggestive content.  Returning children generally don't get into TV serials, so they are fine.  But Bollywood movies continue to push the envelope and may be inappropriate for children.

There are plenty of Hollywood movies on your TV dial and luckily, these are heavily censored.  All bad words are completely bleeped out and close captioning (which is standard) also shows a series of **** for these words.

We watched Basic Instinct last week and noted that there were so many scenes that were cut from it that its director would have sued a US distributor for interfering with his artistic rights!

We have now enjoyed great Hollywood movies with our 10 year old without having to reach for the remote to fast forward through uncomfortable scenes and language.


Train Tracking Real Time
Indian Railways information technology is now so good that you can track current status of your train - right down to its exact position.

But they messed up the user interface. They require you to know the train number before proceeding (thank God that they didn't need a Gazetted Officer's signature).
  1. If you know the train number, go to http://www.trainenquiry.com/ and key it in.  Like in flight tracking, you must enter the departure date.  The exact position of your train is displayed.  Try it for say train no.12650 - from Hazrat Nizamuddin to Bangalore - it's fun!
    asdfag
  2. If you don't know the train number, go to http://www.cleartrip.com/, select train reservations and choose a departure date in the immediate future which coincides with the day your train left.  If your train left on a Sunday, choose an immediate future Sunday.  You need to do this because trains don't always run each day and train numbers can vary depending upon the departure day. Cleartrip will display a list of trains and train numbers on the next page. 

    Now, go back to Step 1.
By the way, here's an interesting link for all of you train buffs - a slide show of the 10 longest train routes in the country.  The longest scheduled run is by the Vivek Express, which takes 82.5 hours to cover a distance of 4,286 kms between Dibrugarh and Kanyakumari.  There are no showers on the train, so God alone help those (or rather the neighbors of those) who travel from end to end!


Banking Anywhere
If you have a check leaf and a photo ID, you can generally withdraw cash at any branch of your bank - up to INR 50,000.

Suppose you forgot to take your ATM card on a trip, or you lost it enroute.  Because most banks maintain customer profiles through a screen called "Know Your Customer", a teller at any bank branch will honor your check provided you can prove that you are who you say you are.

We withdrew cash in Manali, Himachal Pradesh at a SBI branch although our home branch was in Bangalore.


Cash Recharge for Mobile Phones
As we have noted elsewhere, the cash recharge process for pre-paid mobile phones cannot be improved.  Period.

There are so many stores and retail outlets that offer cash recharge services that it is simply mind boggling.  In dense parts of Bangalore, there may be more than 10 mobile cash recharge outlets per square kilometer.

The process is so easy and often times, the only words you tell the clerk are, "Recharge for Airtel Prepaid". The clerk hands you a basic Nokia phone (it's always a Nokia phone) in to which you key your number - the number whose prepaid balance you want to increase.  The clerk adds the amount next to the number (say, INR 249) and sends an SMS to Airtel.

You will get an SMS on your phone that your balance has increased - even before you have received change for your cash from the store clerk. 

There are plenty of other ways to recharge - including on the service provider's website or your bank's website.  Again, the transaction takes just a few clicks.

Most prepaid plans allow you to share funds across voice and data plans.  If you make it a habit to recharge your phone at regular intervals, you will do just fine.

Long Distance Bus Availability
The number of long distance buses is so large that for those that can endure travel by road, travel has become a breeze.  State buses operate extremely generous schedules (both reach and frequency) with many buses actually going nearly empty.  When booking a ticket for a relative to travel to Goa from Bangalore, I counted 8 (eight) KSRTC Volvo buses all spaced within a few minutes of each other.  KSRTC has now introduced a luxury coach called Flybus - an Intercity service from Bangalore International Airport to Mysore.  Click here for the KSRTC Volvo long distance route map.

There are so many private operators that one never needs to worry about not having to obtain a seat on a bus.  Vijayanand Road Lines, a company claiming to be the country's largest private fleet operator recently introduced a service from Bangalore to Jodhpur, a distance of nearly 2,000 kms.  Buses can now be booked online directly at the bus company's website or at travel consolidators such as Redbus, Makemytrip, Cleartrip and Goibibo.

Pricing is relatively inexpensive - about INR 2 per km - for travel on an Air Conditioned Volvo Multi Axle coach.  Prices drop steeply for regular, non-A/C coach buses to about less than INR 1 per km - although travel on such coaches is not recommended for long distances.

Our trip log to Kolhapur, Maharashtra, May 2013

For all of you long-distance bus addicts, here's a report on a recent trip we took to Kolhapur.  As always, we booked easily online at the KSRTC website.  At the time of booking, the pick up point (where we are supposed to board the bus) defaulted to the central bus station.  I wanted to change this to Navrang Park, a location close to our home.  This too was no issue at all.  I simply logged back into my reservation and changed the location.

About an hour before scheduled departure, I got an SMS from KSRTC giving me the license plate of the bus.  This is valuable information when you are getting on a bus at a location different from the bus station (at the bus station, you can always ask people where your bus is).  So many buses pass Navrang Park during the peak evening hours that having this extra information is handy.

Our Volvo multi-axle bus arrived about 30 minutes late, at 9:00 PM, at Navrang Park.  The bus was gleaming and shining to boot.  The conductor verified our mobile e-tickets (the SMS that came out at the time of booking) and the Photo ID of the person whose mobile had the e-ticket confirmation.  Technically, he is supposed to verify the IDs of all in your party - we were four in ours - but this is rarely done.  So, you could potentially swap one of your party members with another person rather than going through the hassle of canceling and re-booking - although this is not legally allowed.

All of our bags went into the huge storage area below.  Our seat numbers were written on the bags in chalk and the door was locked shut.  We climbed in to the air conditioned cool of the bus and took our assigned seats.  We found bottled water and blankets already in place, so we slowly settled in.

About 90 minutes later, the bus stopped at a nice rest area at Dobbspet, a few kilometers before Tumkur.  These nice vegetarian restaurants are typically open from 6 AM through midnight - and unlike at city locations, you can order whatever you want all day.  If you are craving for a breakfast item such as Idlies at 11 PM, your wish will be fulfilled - unlike at city restaurants which manipulate their menus in such a way that only high-end and expensive items alone are served after 8 PM.

The bus left about 30 minutes later after the conductor verified that everyone who got off had returned.  And even before the bus hit the highway, the conductor slowly made his way into the first two seats of the bus and began settling in to get some rest.  On long-distance buses, the crew is made up of a driver and a conductor (who also is licensed to drive).  The conductor gets paid INR 75 extra one way - that is, INR 150 round trip - for also assuming responsibilities around selling tickets and verifying passengers.

With everyone drifting off into a nice sleep, our driver labored ahead alone, all on his own.  Most Indian highways are toll roads - and much like the annoying Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, all traffic grinds to a halt to pay tolls for using that particular section of roadway.  Our driver had to stop at all of these toll stops and manage the cash/receipts.  He told me that a full round trip to Kolhapur costs INR 3,996 in tolls alone - assuming that tolls are bought on a "return basis".  If you were to buy tolls on a one-way basis only, the tolls cost even more.  Even state road transport corporation buses are not exempt from paying the full retail price of tolls - a welcome change in a country which practices crony capitalism of amazing proportions.  Digressing a bit, there are 53 types of discounts offered to passengers on Indian Railways - based on your status - and these are entitlements, which mean that if you qualify for a discount, you get it.  India's road economy fares much better - there are no discounts on the KSRTC Airavat at all since everyone pays full price.

At 2:45 AM, the bus stopped a few hundred yards in front of a lonely toll stop.  There were other truck drivers parked off by the median, drivers too tired to slog on for the night, and sleeping on their cramped bunk beds (benches, really) in the warm cabins.  This is India, where truck drivers continue to brave weather extremes in their cabs unlike their long-distance bus counterparts who increasingly drive comfortable air-conditioned coaches.

A few of us got off and looked around for a vacant spot to relieve ourselves.  This included a couple of elderly women on the bus who were escorted by their husbands to remote corners of the several bushes that dotted the toll plaza.  If the women had any fears of snakes or other wild creatures, they let them rest for they had more pressing items to think about and act upon.

Our driver was clearly tired - he had been driving non-stop for about 6 hours - as I could make out from his blood-shot eyes.  He lit up a cigarette and explained to me how, he by sheer stroke of good luck, got into a cleaner's role with KSRTC 28 years earlier.  His father was a cobbler and he only had schooling until 10th grade.  He proudly told me that he makes INR 35,000 a month - even in modern India, sharing with strangers how much you earn is common place - and that he put his son through engineering college.  He said that his conductor partner makes less because he has fewer years of service.  At this moment, the conductor, who had had a good long rest, washed his face with a fresh bottle of water and climbed into the driver's cockpit to adjust seat controls to his liking.  He would be taking us to Kolhapur and driving through the night.

The same driver-conductor pair shuttles on the same route, Bangalore to Kolhapur, month after month.  Mondays are days off for this pair.  A Tuesday night departure from Bangalore brings them to Kolhapur at 7:00 AM on Wednesday morning.  They are entitled to stay in an air-conditioned hotel room in Kolhapur, although, the driver told me that they manage to sleep in the bus's huge baggage hold but claim the hotel room expense anyway. [I am not sure how this is done - presumably, a hotel gives out a false voucher for a larger amount after charging the pair a smaller amount for use of shower facilities in the morning].  Their return trip starts at 7 PM on Wednesday and they bring back the bus to the Bangalore depot by 7 AM on Thursday.  At this point they go home and don't report for work until Friday evening (i.e. they get a 36 hour break) when the cycle starts.  On average, each pair definitely completes two round trips to Kolhapur each week, with some weeks being three round trips.

As the bus rolled off into the night, the tired driver #1 hit the first two seats and was practically snoring in just a few minutes.  I had been awake for much of this action but I could see that I could no longer do so.  And I slept soundly only to wake up not far from Kolhapur.

Truckers and long-distance bus drivers the world over, along with pilots and ship crew, have always had my admiration.  These fellows do what they do so that the rest of us can, well, rest. 


Pest Control
Pest control services are pretty modern and compare with those in the west.  We signed up with a national provider to pay INR 3,500 to service our 2,360 SFT four bedroom apartment four times a year.

Service has been extremely prompt and the result has been flawless.  The office calls us the day before a scheduled appointment, confirms the date and time and sends us an SMS on the day of the appointment as a reminder.  Technicians call us before arriving (largely to find out our location) and are rarely late.  Service takes about 30 minutes.

Of course, we moved into our apartment new; so there were no pest problems prior.  I am not sure how effective this provider is with older homes that may already have a history of pest activity.  The technician told me that they will need to cleanse such homes once or twice, and only then enter into a contract.  I don't know the pricing of such an effort but I presume it will be nominal.

Opening a bank account

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By Rajkamal Rao 


Go back to Finance: Core Banking in India

The first thing that a returning Indian should consider doing is setting up a savings bank account, preferably jointly held with a spouse.  Doing this is easy and requires nothing more than an application form, an introduction from an existing account holder at the bank, a few passport size photographs [Indian institutions - from gas agencies to your mobile provider love passport size photographs; one of the first things you need to do on arrival is to visit a local photo studio and carry with you dozens of copies of your passport picture] and preferably a PAN (Personal Account Number).  Notice that a PAN is not required for account opening - most bank managers will ask you to submit your PAN once you get it from the Indian tax authorities.

Obtaining the Personal Account Number.  The PAN is similar to the US Social Security number in that it serves as the primary identifier for the Indian government to track tax collection.  Getting a PAN is again easy to do.  In fact, there are hundreds of Indian agents who, for a small fee, will help you file for a PAN and get the PAN card for you.  But if you don’t want to go to an agent, you can obtain a PAN yourself - online - when you are still in the west.  There are really two things that you will need:

Proof of identity (your US passport will do fine);

Proof of address (for US Citizens, the list of documents that provides evidence is unfortunately rather limited - but if you have an India bank account, that will do fine.  Your OCI card or a copy of the certificate of residence in India or Residential permit issued by the State Police Authority is also acceptable).

The name on the above two documents must exactly match, letter by letter.  A "Mahesh Iyer" on the first and a "Mahesh S. Iyer" on the second are no good.

A recent addition to the mix of accepted documents for identification is the Adhaar card.  This may not be a viable option for returning US citizens, however.

Bangalore - All about cabs, self-drive rent-a-cars and GPS autorikshaws

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By Rajkamal Rao 

GPS enabled Auto-Rikshaw bookings - Pune and Bangalore

We have stressed multiple times that India is developing not because of, but despite, government intervention.

Private equity, an enterprising business idea, modern technology and a smart team of founders has launched what would previously have been unimaginable: a call-center based booking system for that ubiquitous beast on Indian roads - the 3-wheeled auto rikshaw.

You no longer have to flag down an auto rikshaw and be refused by a driver not wanting to go where you want to go.  You no longer have to negotiate over-the-meter premiums.

You simply call 30 minutes before your departure:  080.5066.1111 (Bangalore) or 020.6611.1111 (Pune).   An autorikshaw shows up at your door.  The meter starts only when you board the vehicle.  You pay by the meter and a small service fee - of INR 20, per trip.

For more information, check out: http://autowale.in/service/how-it-works/


Cab and rental car guide

We came across a nice guide in a local paper and thought to document it here.  The English language is not the best in the world but everything you've always wanted to know about cab, self-drive rent a car and auto online options is here. 

http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/view/5322-quick-and-convenient-cabs-in-bangalore