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.
I 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.
– 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 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.