Pros and Cons of Moving to Mumbai

by Manasi Vakil, expat integration consultant

Thinking of moving to Mumbai? Can’t decide whether to be excited or anxious?  Well, I have known several expats in Mumbai from many different countries and continents, and one thing everybody says is: “You’ll either fall in love with Mumbai and India or feel like packing your bags and leaving!” Since I am a die-hard Mumbaikar, I’ll highlight the Pros and then Cons of living here:


Pros


It’s a cosmopolitan metropolis, and if you speak English, you can manage everything in the city, without knowing a word of the regional languages.

India is one of the few countries where even common people are able to afford a maid and a chauffeur. You don’t have to be the CEO of an MNC to be able to have a driver for your car or a cook to come and prepare your meals on a daily basis. Expat wives often tell me that they are spoilt rotten here with so much domestic help, so much so that they find it difficult when they have to do everything on their own once they return to their home-country!
 
There are world-class schools for expat children, such as the American School, German School and Ecole Francaise, so that’s not at all an issue to be worried about.
 
Top-quality medical treatment is easily available in some of the world-class hospitals in Mumbai, and at a much cheaper cost. People who come from the USA just for dental treatment, because it cost them less to fly down to Mumbai and get all the treatment than to have the same treatment done back home!
 
Mumbai is also a heaven for shopaholics because one can purchase everything from street-side trinkets to high-end (read: ridiculously over-priced!) designer clothes and jewellery. On the whole, expatriates find it much cheaper to purchase their good quality daily-wear in Mumbai. Several Indian brands have come up with quality cuts and materials and are still able to price them lower than their competitors abroad.
 
As for restaurants, there seems to be a new pub/ lounge/ restaurant opening up often somewhere in this city. Again, there is wide choice in this matter, right from cheap road-side hawkers to reasonably priced restaurants to five-star hotels.
 
Contradictory to popular conception, Indian food is not always all that spicy and the variety of spices and flavours available in Mumbai can make the most banal vegetable metamorphose into a gourmet delicacy! There are several retail chains now which sell imported cheeses of a wide variety and several other food items (broccoli, bell peppers, olives, etc) not necessarily indigenous to the country. And the best part? The neighbourhood grocery shop will send you a home delivery with just a phone call!
 
There are many good expat clubs that help newly-arrived expats to settle in the city and to make friends with other expats. And there is a rich supply of cultural activities, such as plays, concerts, gigs, art exhibitions and so on.
 
Indians are generally warm and friendly. A client of mine describes how he can knock anytime at his neighbour’s doors if he needs any help and that is very reassuring for him. Mumbai is much safer than a lot of international cities and even women do not feel scared if they have to be out late at night.
 

Cons


And now for the negatives….

The traffic, the sheer number of people on the streets, the honking and the pollution. Doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, does it? It’s true that the infrastructural development of roads in Mumbai is not at all keeping pace with the number of vehicles that are rolling out of fancy showrooms every day. There’s bumper-to-bumper traffic on most of the important roads at almost all times and you would rarely reach anywhere in less than half an hour. Usually, travelling by car from South Mumbai (town) to any of the important suburbs in the north would take around an hour and a half, one way!
 
Local transport is daunting. Trains are fine - if you manage to get in them! During peak hours, we already have people travelling on top of the train roof, and hanging out of the doors of the moving train, so there’s no way an expat would think of using them. Train and bus transport in Mumbai is probably the best in India, but I hardly know any expats courageous enough to board them.
 
The tedious and time-consuming process to obtain the relevant visas and work/ residence permits can be daunting. Also, in the case of couples who are not married, or for homosexual couples, it becomes a little complicated to obtain a dependent visa for the partner, who then has to often rely on a tourist visa and keep going back to their home-country for two months after every few months.
 
Property rates in Mumbai are among the highest in the world (latest survey rates it as the 5th most expensive city in the world to buy/ rent a house). House rentals could range anywhere between INR 35,000 to 6,00,000 per month depending on the location and size. Thankfully, as Mumbai is a coastal city, there are several stretches of land where you can get plush apartments directly overlooking the ocean.
 
So should you move to Mumbai or not? For all those who find the option feasible, I strongly recommend making a trip to Mumbai once before taking a decision. No amount of guides and theoretical information can prepare you for the culture shock you receive when you land in Mumbai for the first time!

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