Margot Bigg is a freelance journalist and author. After working as an editor in Paris, she moved to India where she joined the staff of Time Out Delhi and turned to writing full-time. Her articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers across the world, including Rolling Stone India, Outlook Traveller, The Caravan, Courrier International, The Times of India, and The Oregonian.
She knows a lot about one of the World’s Cheapest Destinations: India She’s the author of Moon Living Abroad in India, a guide for expats moving to the country, and a contributing writer of Fodor’s Essential India.
I hit her up for some answers on what involved in living in that madhouse country.
1) Despite all the luxury hotels and a rising middle class, India is still a pretty cheap place to travel for those on a budget. What are monthly living prices like for the average expat who’s not expecting a penthouse in Mumbai?
It depends entirely on the city. An expat without dependents would need around Rs 50,000 per month ($1,100) to have a reasonably comfortable experience in Delhi. Bangalore’s a bit more expensive, and Mumbai rents in decent areas are on par with many Westerns cities. Students could get by on considerably less, as could people staying in smaller cities or towns.
2) What are some of the most desirable areas for foreigners to live in India if they don’t have to be chained to a desk working for an international company?
Goa is a hotspot for artisans from around the world, and there’s a large community of self-made expats there. The southern state of Kerala attracts fewer foreigners, although it’s arguably more pleasant. Auroville, an “intentional community” (read: commune) near Pondichery in Tamil Nadu is also popular with foreigners, although as it’s an established community, it’s not the kind of place you can just land up in. Pondichery itself is also popular, especially with the French. The hills of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are also nice, and Dharmsala in particular attracts foreign visitors interested in studying Tibetan Buddhism (as it’s the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile).
3) In your research, what kinds of jobs are expats doing there?
Along with the diplomats, journalists and international organisation employees, you also meet a lot of people working in social enterprise, offshoring, tech support, fashion, education, and hospitality. More and more foreigners are moving to India to start their own businesses and I know of expats who own health clubs, hair salons, interior design firms, travel agencies, and plenty of restaurants.
4) How’s the infrastructure coming along for mobile workers who just need a laptop, reliable electricity, and a good internet connection?
It’s coming along quite well in most places. Public electricity can be an issue, so you need to ensure you have backup electricity. You can get either a generator or an inverter (and set your device so that it switches on as soon as the public power switches off. Internet is generally reliable, although beware that if you exceed your monthly download limit, some providers will slow down your service for the remainder of the billing cycle.
5) Tell us what’s involved in getting a resident visa or working visa in India. How do you stay for longer than six months?
You have to apply for an employment visa under the sponsorship of your country at the embassy of your country of residence before leaving for India. Employment visas normally last one year and can be renewed in India. You’ll be asked to submit detailed contract and employer information along with your visa application. Specific requirements can vary and change, so it’s best to check with your local embassy or consulate. You’ll also be required to register for a residency permit within 14 days of your arrival in India.
6) I remember lots of grizzled backpackers in Manali and Goa who had stayed long past their exit date and I guess they were hoping for amnesty someday. What happens if you overstay your tourist visa?
Don’t let this happen. If it does, you will need to report to the FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office) as soon as you can. They will grant you an exit visa, but you may never be allowed back in the country again and you could face deportation. If you are deported, you may have a difficult time returning to India or getting visas for other countries in the future. Again, I can’t stress this enough, do not overstay your visa.
7) You’re going to teleport into India to eat a grand meal wherever you want. What’s on your plate?
I’d probably have my all-time favourite Indian dish: jackfruit cooked with savoury spices.(kathal ki subzi). As jackfruit is one of those things people either love or hate, you’re more likely to come across it in a home cooked meal than at a restaurant. I’d also be happy with an aloo parantha, a spiced flatbread stuffed with potatoes and served with curd and spicy Indian pickle. It’s traditionally a breakfast food and tastes best with a sugary cup of spicy masala chai.