Government: Federal parliamentary constitutional republic
Currency: Indian rupee (INR)
Main languages: Hindi, English and over 20 other recognised languages
Main religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism
The colourful and diverse nation of India borders many of the major countries of Asia. As well as sharing land borders with Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal and Bhutan, it is bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west, the Indian Ocean to the south and the Bay of Bengal to the east, placing it at the heart of South Asia. Formerly a British colony, it gained independence in 1947 and has since become known as the world’s largest democracy, with 29 federal states and 7 union territories.
With such a large land mass, a sixth of the world’s population and over 4,000 years of multicultural heritage, it is not surprising that the culture of modern India is so diverse. Typically conservative in nature, the country blends modernisation and progress with curious throwbacks to colonial times. Home to some of the richest and some of the poorest people in the world, India is socially centred on family and religion, and the controversial caste system continues to inform the culture today.
Cricket is often referred to as a religion in India, and the analogy is far from an exaggeration. It is the most popular spectator and participatory sport in the country, and successful cricketers are quickly elevated to national hero status. Field hockey is also very popular, alongside traditional Indian games like kabaddi and kho kho. Outside sport, Indian music and dance are popular. India also has a thriving film industry with the Bombay stylings of Bollywood and beyond, so cinema trips are a social event.
Food and drink
Often incorrectly associated with super hot curries, Indian cuisine is in fact better characterised by the aromatic spice blends which include turmeric, tamarind, cumin, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and saffron alongside the chillies which add that heat of flavour. Although regional variation is significant, some staple foods including lentils and rice are common across the country. Many Indians are vegetarian on religious grounds, but chicken, seafood and lamb are popular amongst non-vegetarians – Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims do not eat pork. Similarly, many Indians abstain from alcohol, preferring traditional cold drinks like lassi or sharbat. On the hot drinks front, the northern states tend to produce and consume more tea and the south more coffee.
India has over 20 recognised languages, with different states designating their own official languages. Nationally, Hindi is the most widely-spoken language by some distance; however there are millions of speakers of other languages too. Before its independence, India used English for all administrative functions and it is still widely spoken today, particularly in business.
The climate in India can be broadly characterised as a tropical monsoon type climate, with much of the country experiencing hot and humid weather. There are four distinct seasons, but the weather follows the terrain, so the western deserts contrast with the wet eastern plains. Northern India experiences more extremes of weather during winters and summers. June is the month with the hottest temperatures, while monsoons are common across the subcontinent from July to September.
Safety and security
While much of the country is considered safe, India does have some disputed areas which many governments recommend against travelling to – many in the vicinity of the border with Pakistan. These areas include Kashmir, Jammu and Manipur, so always check the latest travel advice. The threat from terrorism is higher in these unstable regions, but attacks have also taken place in major cities in recent years, so vigilance is always recommended.
Although most visits to India pass without incident, travellers should take the usual precautions to look after themselves – concealing valuables and avoiding travelling alone or at night. Women should be aware that India has an above average rate of sexually motivated offences, although such incidents are still relatively rare.
In India, school education is broken into two main levels: primary education (ages 6 to 14) and secondary education (ages 14 to 18) ahead of university education from 18 onwards. In theory, primary school education is compulsory and free for all children, but in practice it is estimated that a large number of children are enrolled in school at these ages but do not attend. Although many schools teach in English as well as Hindi, most foreign nationals prefer to send their children to private or international schools. Some employers in India will incentive international staff by offering to pay school fees for their children.
The school year in India usually runs from June through to March, although universities and international schools may set different schedules. The school day tends to start early and end early, but this can vary from state to state and according to the type of educational establishment.
With over four hundred university-type establishments, India has the third-largest higher education system in the world after China and the USA. Higher education institutions can be divided into several types:
Central university – established or incorporated by a Central Act
State university – incorporated by a Provincial Act or a State Act
Private university – established through a State or Central Act by a sponsoring body
Deemed university – a high-performing institution declared to hold equivalent status to a university
Institution of national importance – established through an Act of Parliament
Institution under state legislation act – incorporated by a State Legislature Act
University courses are usually taught in English or Hindi. Admission requirements vary between institutions with many requiring entrance exams as well as school qualifications, although this requirement is sometimes waived for international students.
Although not free, tuition fees in India are very affordable compared to other countries. Even though international students usually pay more than Indian citizens, the low cost of living makes India an attractive prospect for students from around the world. In addition, there are various types of scholarship on offer to support students through higher education.
Indian universities offer courses in a full range of subjects, but technical subjects tend to be favoured so subjects like IT or engineering may attract better sponsorship from businesses in India. Most universities provide study opportunities from undergraduate level through to postgraduate and doctoral courses, although some institutions specialise in a particular level or subject. The majority of universities in India are internationally accredited, but some are not and international students who take courses at unaccredited institutions can find that the qualification is not recognised by potential employers, so make sure you do your homework before enrolling.
Internationally recognised research is a relatively new area for many Indian universities and funding can be difficult to obtain. However, institutions are increasingly seeking partnerships with industry to support world-class research, so contact the university directly for advice on accessing funding.
Nurseries and daycare centres are increasingly popular in Indian cities, however most are privately-run and unregulated, so standards and costs can vary significantly. A more traditional and surprisingly affordable alternative is to hire an ayah – a maid or nanny who takes on both childcare and domestic duties.
South Asia is one of the least expensive regions in the world for expatriates, particularly those who are working on a generous international salary. Consequently, most foreign nationals in India can afford to enjoy a good standard of living, although demand for high-quality housing and accommodation has risen sharply in recent years with prices following suit. Cities are typically more expensive than rural areas, but for domestically-produced consumer goods the distance to production areas also has an impact on pricing.
There are some restrictions on foreigners purchasing property in India. People from many of India’s near-neighbour countries are barred from purchasing property there, while people intending to live outside India must hold documentary evidence of their Indian heritage to purchase property. Even for foreign nationals who work and reside in India, various other restrictions apply, so the vast majority rent property instead. There is no shortage of cheap accommodation in India, however quality can be an issue so many expats end up paying more than they anticipate to secure the type of housing they expect. Typical rental contacts run for 12 months, but many landlords will push for an 11-month deal as this exempts them from rental control laws. To rent or buy property in India, it is almost essential to use an estate agent, so expect to pay a hefty percentage in fees.
Landlords are free to set their own deposits, so while two or three months’ rent is probably the average, it is not unheard of for people to be charged six months of rent or more as a deposit – a problem exacerbated by a willingness amongst expats to pay such figures to secure a better standard of accommodation.
Property owners are liable for property tax in India, and depending on the state the charge is accompanied by levies for municipal services. This charge is calculated based on the market value of the property, the rental value of the property, or the rent received for let properties. For rental properties the owner may pass on the cost of the tax to the tenant. If the owner is a permanent resident of the property, the tax rate may be zero.
Somewhat uncommonly, many Indian landlords will organise the provision of electricity, gas and water to their properties. Costs may be included in the rent or billed separately. If you need to arrange your own connections, mains electricity and water are usually supplied by local state-run companies, although supplies can be sporadic. Tap water is not considered safe to drink in India. Most gas is bottled rather than delivered by mains connection. Telephone and internet services are not usually part of a rental agreement, so you are free to shop around for the best deal – a list of suppliers is available on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India website.
The television licence was abolished in India in 1984 and the industry is now funded largely by advertising. There are a mixture of free-to-air and paid TV channels, with terrestrial services provided by state broadcaster Doordashan in a mixture of Hindi and English.
Healthcare and medical costs
India does provide some free healthcare, however this is limited and costs can mount up quickly even for minor ailments. Most foreign nationals who live and work in India therefore take out private medical insurance. Mediclaim policies, a tax-deductible insurance product regulated by law are one option, but cover is limited. If you can afford to take out a more comprehensive insurance scheme, or your employer offers one as a benefit, it is well worth taking up.
Indian cities have a great choice of shops from family businesses to international stores. In rural areas, choice can be more limited but smaller businesses leave you more room to negotiate on prices. Markets are a great place to shop whether you are in the country or the city – just be prepared to haggle!
Unlike many countries, India’s value-added tax is administered at a state level rather than nationally. First implemented in 2005, it was initially adopted by just a few states, but is now applied almost across the board at varying rates. Separate sales tax also applies on many transactions.
Rent on 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – INR 9,119.47 (≈£95.80) per month
Rent on 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – INR 5,700.62 (≈£59.89) per month
Price of apartment in city centre – INR 70,147.96 (≈£736.95) per square metre
Price of apartment outside city centre – INR 38,090.20 (≈£400.16) per square metre
India’s roads have a worldwide reputation for variable driving standards to say the least. The accident rate is amongst the highest in the world, not helped by heavy congestion in many major cities and the number of aging vehicles on the road. Driving in India is therefore a challenge and many foreign nationals choose not to, preferring to take public transport or hire a chauffeur-driven car.
If you do decide to take to the road in India, be aware that driving laws vary slightly from state to state. As a general guide, vehicles are driven on the left-hand side and the minimum age to drive is 18 years of age. The maximum speed limit for cars is 100kph (≈62mph) for cars, but other vehicles including motorbikes face different restrictions. Some foreign driving licences are valid in India for a limited period, but again regulations vary so it is best to check with your local state transport authority. You must carry your driving licence, insurance certificate, vehicle registration certificate and pollution under control certificate – proof that a mandatory emissions test has been passed.
Taxis and rickshaws
Taxis are required to be registered and metered, although some drivers may try to work off the meter instead so be aware of this before beginning your journey. Some companies also accept prepayment of fares. Taxis can be pre-booked across the country and in some regions you are still allowed to hail them at the side of the road.
Alternatively, for short trips you might wish to take a rickshaw. There are two types: the traditional cycle rickshaw and the auto rickshaw – small three-wheeled motor vehicles that operate much like taxis. Also like taxis, they should be on a meter but this is not always enforced. Some cities do limit the jurisdiction of rickshaws, so don’t be surprised if they can’t take you all the way to your final destination. Both taxis and rickshaws can be booked by phone or often by using mobile apps.
Buses and coaches
Bus services are plentiful in India and account for the vast majority of journeys made in cities due to their inexpensive and convenient nature. Modernisation efforts have seen new air-conditioned buses introduced in many regions and some cities now have bus rapid transit systems too. However, services are often overcrowded and it can be difficult for newcomers to India to negotiate the plethora of routes at first. Intercity coach services are provided by numerous private operators between most major cities at relatively inexpensive prices. The Redbus website allows you to search for routes across many operators.
The railway of India is an important and revered part of the country’s identity. Founded in 1853 and run by the state-owned Indian Railways, it has over 115 kilometres of track covering most of the country and is estimated to carry in excess of 20 million passengers every day. With passes like Indrail available the fares are generally quite low, although punctuality can leave something to be desired and overcrowding can also be an issue. With the longest journeys lasting days rather than hours it’s not the quickest way to travel either, but an authentic long-distance Indian rail journey is cheaper than flying and offers a real perspective on the country.
Trams and light rail
Modern India is working hard to improve urban transport and most large cities either have light rail, trams or underground metro systems, or have plans to develop them. Monorails are also becoming more popular as authorities seek to ease congestion on city roads.
There are ferry services in operation between the main ports and a catamaran service from Mumbai to Goa, however these are mostly seasonal and generally do not operate during monsoon season. Inland waterways also offer a scenic if sluggish way to see India.
The working week in India can be five days from Monday to Friday or six days from Monday to Saturday depending on the type of work you do. Hours are usually up to 48 per week, but overtime is often expected and not always paid as the competitive nature of the labour market encourages people to go above and beyond what is expected of them.
The statutory minimum holiday entitlement for employees in India is 12 days, although workers in international firms can expect significantly more than this. Sick leave and maternity leave are usually accounted for in Indian employment contracts. There is no legal requirement for employers to recognise paternity leave or adoption leave requests, but many international firms operating in India will do so.
In India, only three public holidays are observed nationally: Republic Day, Independence Day and Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday, which are observed on the same date each year. The other public holidays are set annually by state governments according to cultural traditions and religious sensibilities. As a result, the number of public holidays can vary between by several days depending on where you live. Detailed holiday information for each state can be found on the National Portal of India website.
National holiday dates
Republic Day: 26th January
Independence Day: 15th August
Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday: 2nd October
Visas and eligibility to work
Almost every visitor to India requires a visa before they can enter the country. The application process may differ from country to country, so it’s recommended that you contact the local Indian embassy or consulate in your home country to find out the specific requirements. In many cases, applications can be made through the Online Portal for Visa Application. To apply for an employment visa you may need proof of a job offer in India. In some cases health checks will be made on arrival. If you intend to stay for more than six months you will also need to register at the local Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office or police station within 14 days of arrival.
Tax and National Insurance
India operates a PAYE (Pay As You Earn) system with tax deducted from your wages at variable rates depending upon the amount of money you earn. If your income will exceed the basic tax threshold, you must apply for a Permanent Account Number (PAN). The tax year runs from April to March, and you are usually considered resident for tax purposes after six months of residency in India. As well as registering as an Indian tax payer, you may need to file tax returns.
Welfare benefits are provided in India by the Employees’ Provident Fund, although it’s believed that only 10% of the population are actually covered by this scheme. However, foreign nationals are enrolled and along with their employer will make contributions directly from their wages. If you are paying into the fund, you should be able to access state benefits as required. However, if your country has a social security agreement with India, you can request exemption from the contribution and continue to access benefits at home. Alternatively, private pension and healthcare schemes may be offered by your employer.
Although India offers various supporting benefits for disabled people, disability discrimination laws are relatively new and enforcement can vary. Disabled workers may find it difficult to get a job or make any adjustments necessary to enable them to work. However, perceptions are changing, and the growing number of international companies also represents an opportunity for disabled workers to forge careers in India.
Although a traditionally hierarchical business culture, the influx of international companies in India means organisational structures can vary. However, the Indian regard for title and status, and the tendency to defer to their superiors, means that decisions are usually taken at the top even if more levels of the company are consulted now than they would have been in the past. Processes and protocol are strictly adhered to so the implementation of new ideas can take time, but can be widely adopted and embraced if rolled-out effectively.
New managers in India often find juxtaposition between the traditions and values that inform business in the country and the willing and competitive workforce in the country. Traditionally, each person had a distinct role in the organisation, and supervisors were expected to monitor an individual’s work for quality and punctuality. However, many Indians, particularly the well-educated and ambitious youth of the workforce, are now keen to take a more active role within the organisation. As a result, more companies are embracing the autonomous approach of giving employees more responsibility.
Even in businesses where the hierarchical structure is becoming less prevalent, individual respect is important. Titles help people to quickly establish the relationships and positions within a group, so it is usual to address contacts by their title and surname at all times unless you are invited to do otherwise. In some Indian firms it is not uncommon to find colleagues of many years using the same levels of formality as new employees might use on day one.
Personal relationships are valued in India. Most people like to build personal relationships and a mutual level of trust before entering into a business arrangement. Make sure you take an interest in the family and personal lives of your contacts and expect to be asked similar questions in response. It can also be useful to be introduced to new contacts by common acquaintances.
Business attire in India is not necessarily always formal, but can be best characterised as conservative. In a formal setting, men should wear dark coloured business suits and women usually select business suits or dresses. In warmer regions, dress may be less formal, but you should always be modest and avoid ostentatious or flashy accessories. Bear in mind that India has many different cultures and religions, so make sure that your dress is appropriate to the customs of your contacts.
Although it is normal to shake hands when greeting colleagues or contacts in India, some women prefer not to greet men with a handshake. If you are unsure, it may be better to wait and see if a hand is offered than to initiate the greeting yourself. When exchanging business cards, make sure you position the card so it can be read immediately.
It is best to schedule meetings or appointments at least one month in advance and confirm just prior to the date. Appointments are typically scheduled for late morning or early afternoon to allow time for preparation beforehand. Usually, schedules and deadlines are taken quite seriously in India, so it pays to be on time and you should always call to apologise if this is not possible. However, priorities can change quickly, particularly in more hierarchical businesses, so important deadlines should still be checked and reinforced by managers.
Meetings in India usually feature small talk at the beginning, with family top of the topic list. Discussions are initiated by the more senior people in the room, with subordinates invited to add detail as required. Indians favour an indirect style of communication, so avoid declarative statements, particularly when expressing a negative view. The decision-making process can be slow as Indians prefer to evaluate information and make a rational, informed decision. Sincerity and honesty are valued over sales tactics, so don’t be pushy or try to speed up the process – this will be seen as rude and impatient and may hinder your chances of closing a deal.
Be aware of the diverse cultures of India and try to avoid confusing the customs of one group of people with another. Remember that many Indians are vegetarian and do not drink alcohol, either on religious grounds or as a cultural choice, so consider your choices of food and drink when dining with your Indian contacts.
While there are many different languages and dialects spoken in India, English is widely used as a common languages and the majority of Indians speak at least a little. In the largest cities, where more international businesses are based, it is very possible for English speakers to live and work without needing any knowledge of a local language. However, if your work takes you to more rural areas, you may need a translator to assist you.