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Moving to Mumbai?

ASB's front entranceThis page answers some of the more common questions that seem to come up in the course of folks moving to Mumbai. We came in the summer of 2007 and had these questions, concerns, and observations as well, so I thought it would be good to document them all in one place. Many of them are cut-and-pasted from emails and discussion boards that we’ve participated in. Naturally these will be much more accurate for people who come to work at the American School Bombay, as other companies and organizations have different ways of setting people up.

(And, of course, these are not “official” answers in any sense of the word. We do not purport to represent the school in any way; these are simply our personal observations and opinions)

We’re moving to Mumbai!! What’s it like?

This is one of the biggest cities in the world: I would tell you to be ready for it, but that is just a plain silly thing to say. Just be prepared for some serious city shock. I’m not even talking about the cultural side of things. This is a concrete jungle, with people, buildings, animals, and vehicles tripping over each other.

OK – tell me more. How’s the weather?

It is hot and smelly, nothing you can do about that. When you first get here it will be the tail end of the monsoon, so it will be hot and wet (and maybe not quite so smelly). It is something else to realize that walking out into the rain is not going to cool you down! The rains continue until around the end of August, and Mumbai starts to get socked by the ‘second summer,’ which is plenty warm.

Monsoon rains in Mumbai

Between November and February is ‘winter,’ when temperatures this year hit the unheard of frigidity of 50 F, so those are easily the most pleasant months, temperature wise. You might want to bring a sweatshirt for evenings then, but realistically that is the extent of your cold weather gear. If you intend to go up to the Himalayas you can buy stuff here, and if you ever find yourself getting chilly in Mumbai, there are plenty of roadside stalls that sell fleece jackets! Unfortunately, with the great temps come lousy air. It is pretty disgusting to be able to see, smell, taste, and actually feel the air that you’re breathing.

After March, things start heating up again, and the air starts to clear out soon after. By May, clouds reappear in the skies and the rains usually start (so “they” tell me) about a week before school gets out.

Sounds interesting. What about our homes?

The suburb many teachers live in is called Bandra, which is supposedly a pretty tony place to be. All housing is in apartments, and teachers tend to live grouped 2 or 3 in an apartment building; not on a compound and not in a communal building (although ours houses 9 separate couples and families – by far the largest concentration in one building). As such, apartments vary greatly from place to place, but as a general rule: the apartments are not very big, but they are very adequately furnished).

BEWARE – furniture: tables, chairs, cabinets, couches, etc is the one thing that absolutely everyone goes berserk over buying here. You can get very nice looking stuff for reasonable prices. So my advice would be to not bring furniture unless you absolutely love it and want to have it always with you, because your apartment is furnished and the opportunity to purchase major items is certainly everywhere. For pictures of our place, look here: http://stutzfamily.com/TravPix/india/Home/index.html. The desk, bedroom stuff, and major appliances are from the school; all the others are things we’ve purchased here. We didn’t bring any furniture at all with us when we came.

Great – sounds like I’ll need a lot of extra room for all my stuff!

Unfortunately, storage space is at an extreme premium. In our apartment, there is no ‘out of home’ storage available, so our luggage and boxes are shoved under beds and on top of wardrobe closets. We have a box with a fake Christmas tree, a box of Christmas stuff, and a box of other holiday things, but there isn’t necessarily going to be space for lots of extras.

Now, we also have 2 kids taking up space in our home, so you might very well have an extra room (office, guest room, etc) that you can use for such things…

Oh. Ok, so how do you get around the town?

The school is not located near anyone’s residence, so a good portion of your day (20 minutes in the morning, 30-45 after school) is spent in transport. The school provides vans/buses for teachers and teachers’ kids, so at least you don’t have to worry about driving yourself. (You can purchase a vehicle here, but interestingly enough most people also hire a driver as well!) The school does a great job of making sure that transport is available for all school events, which is really helpful.

As an aside, when you first get here you will be completely twisted and turned around trying to keep the route to and from your home and school straight. You will also think, “No way is this the most direct and efficient route to follow.” Everybody goes through this, but after about 3 months you realize that yes, this highly circuitous route is the only way to travel. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you get here.

Traffic in Mumbai

The school and the apartments are located about an hour travel time north of downtown Mumbai, the area you see in whatever tourist pictures you’ve surfed on the internet. Local transportation is very easy and very cheap in foul smelling little rickshaws, so getting around using them is the way to go. Don’t worry – you’ll get lost once or twice, but (unlike many other Indian cities), the drivers here start their meters pretty automatically (and even if they don’t, just say something and they will), and so we’re talking about $3 at a huge stretch for a really long ride – longer than anything you’d typically do. The only downside of them is that there are parts of town they are not allowed into (like downtown), so for going there you’ll need to rely on big black and yellow Godfather-era taxis. These cost about double what rickshaws do – but remember that by expensive, I’m talking a $5 charge for a long trip.

Should I bring my electronics?

India is on 220-240v electricity, so European appliances work fine here. Remember that you’ll get a laptop from the school to use, so that is handy. We sold all our big items before coming and replaced them here (TV, DVD player, etc). If you don’t have 220 volt appliances, it is really not worth it to ding around trying to get all the converters you’ll need. If you have European voltage stuff, it’ll work fine, but otherwise I’d suggest not bothering with bringing it. Most higher-end electronics (computers, camera battery chargers, etc) can run either on 110 or 220v – check their info to be sure. Adapters for the prongs themselves (so they fit the outlets) are available in Bombay, so take a look at your video games and all to see if they can run here. The school was good about setting us up with trips to the mega malls that sell electronics and appliances (a 1 hour + trip each way!), so you can certainly get outfitted here.

As far as BIG appliances are concerned, our apartment had a microwave, washing machine, dryer, stove/oven, AC, and dehumidifiers, so we didn’t need to bring any of that sort of thing. Items we found to be a little pricey here included coffee maker and blender. Also, the current is too unpredictable to run a plug-in alarm clock (really an interesting discovery!) so battery operated (or from your mobile phone) is the way to go.

What about the availability of other goods?

(Mumbai, as befits the biggest city in the world, has tons of things to buy. What follows are North American-centric comments on what is easy to find and what you should bring with you.)

In general, the bigger the item, the easier to find. Everything “big” – towels, sheets, appliances, etc – is available here; the smaller things are what you’ll miss. Prices are very comparable to those in the US – i.e., much more than we’d expected. The big city of Bombay is certainly not the dirt cheap India that backpackers rave about.

Kitchen

It is amazing how many of the “little kitchen implements” you can grab at Target over the summer and fit in a bag. If you are into cooking, and have specialty cookware, bring it. You can probably find it here, but at a headache and price that are both easily avoided by bringing things with you. Items we’ve heard mentioned as worth bringing include tea ball, travel mug, cooler, garlic press, kitchen chopper, kitchen timer, oven thermometer, and paper coffee filters.

Foodstuffs (aside from market fruits and veggies) are also surprisingly more expensive than expected – not intolerably so, but noticeably. Liquor is as well, especially wines, so whatever you can do with your duty free limit is a bonus.

Bathroom and medicine

We find almost all toiletries more expensive here than in the US or elsewhere. The exceptions are toothbrushes – they are 25 rupees (60 cents) – and Allergen eyedrops. Stick deodorant is really hard to find; all we’ve seen is the old fashioned wet roll on stuff. Bring your solid! Shampoo is about 5 bucks a bottle, and the choices are limited.

There are lots of different vitamins here, but they are local brands and for adults (we’ve never seen children’s vitamins). There are LOTS of homeopathic and ayurvedic remedies available here, if you are into that kind of thing. Bring prescription medicines; there are pharmacies are all over here, and you don’t need a prescription, but you can’t always get the specific medication (but the pharmacies are great – cheap with delivery!!)

Surprisingly, eyeglasses themselves are dirt cheap, so don’t stock up on those before coming! Dental care is also one of those mega-discounted services available. We’ve heard of people who take dental vacations just to come here and get teeth work done.

What about other things that we should bring?

Well, we have kids, so their needs topped our ‘must bring’ list. We wish we had brought more birthday party gifts and/or holiday gifts (like LEGO, Bionicle, PlayMobile). The selection here is very limited and reaaaally expensive.

We have a typical “Buy every summer and bring in our suitcase” list that includes the following:

  • Dried foodstuffs: Mexican seasonings, dry French onion soup mix (for chip dip)
  • French vanilla coffee beans (10+ bags!!)
  • Clothes: new stuff for everyone (garage sales are great for the kids)
  • Small electronics: cables, rechargeable batteries, camera cards
  • Toiletries: deodorant, contact lens solution, tampons & other feminine hygiene products, shampoo, vaseline, vicks, cold medicine, allergy medicine, cough and flu Theraflu etc…
  • Toys for holiday presents and as give-aways for other kids’ parties

Things that we will buy this summer for bringing back (or that we wish we’d bought with us originally)

  • Picnic sized coolers for ice and, um, ‘beverages’
  • Coffee travel mugs
  • Scotch Guard for fabric protection
  • Inflatable pool toys
  • Garlic salt
  • Spray on hair detangler (for our daughter with long hair)

And money – how do we get that?

You’ll set up an Indian bank account (with the school’s help) when you get here. Each month, you tell the school how much you want put in rupees into you Indian account and how much to have wired to your bank in your home country. These are actual wire transfers, for which you’ll pay a fee (our bank – Wells Fargo – charges $11 for each), not your typical free direct deposit scenario.

The bank accounts here come with an ATM card, and ATMs are everywhere (and there is a lower-than-nominal charge for using one that is not your own bank, so even more flexibility is yours in that respect).

You should check to see what the fee, if any, is for you to use your own bank’s ATM card here, as it is extremely handy to be able to access that money if you should not have enough deposited into your rupee account and need to get cash from some other source. Wells Fargo has a program that, with a minimum deposit (which we meet by having a couple of CDs), there are no charges for international money withdrawals (otherwise it is 5 bucks a pop).