The Inside Scoop on Living in India

Indian meal

It’s not for everyone, but India is one of the cheapest countries in the world to travel in and live in. It’s got a wide variety of geographies, anyone who has been to school speaks English, and you can live a good life for a fraction of what you would in a fully developed country.

Last week I interviewed Margot Bigg, author of Living Abroad in India and a frequent visitor/resident of the country. She once spent five years living there working in the publishing world. “I made the equivalent of $1,000 a month and lived quite well,” she says.

The people in my Committed Group for A Better Life for Half the Price usually get early access to these talks, but I’m putting this one up here since it’s such a popular place for long-term travelers and (lately) digital nomads.

You can download/stream the whole 20-minute interview here. That will take you to Dropbox, but you don’t have to sign in to listen to it. We talk about costs, adjustments, and the peculiarities of Indian bathrooms.

Moon Living AbroadI talked to Margot for this blog back in 2011, after the living abroad book came out, so I thought I’d check in and see what’s new and different. As I indicated in this earlier post on a visa for living in India, this is now one of the most foreigner-friendly places in the world if you have the right passport. If you’re just popping in on a short-term tourist stay you get 30 days, but some nationalities (including Americans) can get a 5- or 10-year multiple entry visa. That allows 180 days in a row in the country at one time and now you can do a border run or vacation and return. You used to have to stay away for two months in between, but now you don’t.

This visa process has gotten more streamlined too, with more of it happening online through standardized forms.

The other change is that the infrastructure is finally improving in a lot of places, with ever-improving wireless internet and fewer daily power outages. The power can still go out a lot in the dead heat of summer when the grid gets overtaxed, but the rest of the year the power supply is noticeably better each year.

A few  other points on India living:

– There is a much more fluid understanding of time and being late is generally accepted. There are so many things that can be unpredictable (traffic jams, cows in the road, power going out) that there’s a built-in understanding of problems.

Essential India book– India is “green” in a lot of less obvious ways. “Everything gets recycled or reused somehow” and there are a lot of rain collection initiatives by individual households.

– You can’t own property there legally, but rent is very cheap even in the big cities. Most people have a maid. “The lifestyle you can have even as a middle class Indian is good because of all the people you can hire to help you for a very reasonable price.

– A thali meal in a decent restaurant these days will run you around $1.50, or down to 60 cents in a train station restaurant. In the south it’s all you can eat.

Goa is still the top destination for expats, partly because it’s more relaxed and permissive. There’s good infrastructure in place for people trying to work. Most avoid the big cities because of the pollution and head to a place like the beaches of Kerala or the yoga-centric town of Rishikesh instead.

Margot Bigg authorMargot has written for Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveller India,  Slate, Sunset, Rolling Stone India, Robb Report, United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine and many more. See more about her at her website and follow here on social media as MargotBigg, including on Twitter.



  1. Thomas E Mayer Jr

    What is the date of this interview? The book was published in 2011 which make it about 7 years old since if was approved for publication. I would like a more recent edition, any chance?

    • Tim Leffel

      Thomas I’m assuming the publisher thinks things have not changed enough to warrant a new edition, that the sales generated would not justify the cost of creation. They have not commissioned a new one at this point. The interview is new and as she said, it’s cheaper in India now in most respects than it was when that book came out, due to exchange rate changes.

  2. Aaria John

    Yes, India is one of the cheapest destinations for travelers across the globe.
    It’s got everything to suit each taste, from quiet places to beaches to mountainous hill stations and of course, sophisticated urban cities. Even safety-wise, India is much better than many other countries. The people are friendly, though they stare at a foreigner.

  3. Alina Jack

    I also found that India is cheapest country. It has a lot of things to learn and explore. The culture, ethnicity, languages, delicacies, heritage sites, wildlife, beaches and many more. I visit India last year and i love Kerala very much.

  4. Maria Han

    Lovely ”Thali Meal”! Power breakdown and traffic jams are indeed a problem but I think everybody face hardships while travelling. India is cheap and you may visit lots of places around including jungles and beaches.

  5. James Alex

    Nature food and culture these are the main attractions in India..Kerala is one of the top ecotourist destination in the world..really India travel is an affordable travel….

  6. Natasha Sen

    the things you have mentioned makes India – an Incredible India. Though Crowd, Safety problems but always being the most friendly and enriched place to ever visit. I love India and it’s people. Cuisine is a little spicy but yes yummy…

  7. singh

    thanks for nice blog about india.

  8. Stella Jones

    I never visited India but yes, would love to go. Kerala and Rajasthan is in my bucket list. I would love to stay in houseboats. Can you please suggest me, how many days are enough to experience the culture of India.

    • Tim Leffel

      It takes a few weeks just to get your bearings and figure out how things work (or more often, don’t). So a least that long, but it’s a big country so a couple months would be better.

  9. Akash Mirchandani

    India is blended of many cultures. Food taste changes after every state. Paradise for food lovers

  10. Praveen Galagali

    It’s great that you mention Thali in your blog. Sabzi, Roti, Dal, Rice, Sweets all in just 2 $. First time visitor must try veg as well as nonveg Thali

  11. Pradish

    I agree with your point that Goa is the top destination for expats. Many traveler stay over there for 1-2 months. You can get house for rent, good food and alcohol at very cheap rates. Paradise for any traveler

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