Expatriating to and Repatriating from India
Contributed by Mieu Phan Coaching, 02 May, 2019
Okay, you have agreed to move to India. Now, what! This article provides considerations for successful expatriation throughout the various stages of expatriation. With preparation, all members of the family are able to grow and be fulfilled.
Before Moving to India
1) Join online expat networking groups in India. If possible, join ones specific to your destination city. A few sources are Internations, FaceBook, or Google might be able to find a group as well. The benefit of these networks is to build confidence, awareness, and build relationships. Perhaps, you can meet a friend living in your host city. One of the hardships of expat life is loneliness, even for serial expats.
2) Get to know India and the culture. To know India is to live the culture. Some considerations are:
a) The importance of building a strong relationship - In business, a good relationship builds trust more than a person's accomplishments. In friendship, the idea of interdependence where no one is left alone means an Indian is generous to those in the inner-circle.
b) India is a saving face society - Indians want to be pleasing and have a hard time saying "no". In providing feedback, one places considerable effort in minimizing the criticism.
c) Roles of a hierarchical society - In Indian society, everyone has an assigned role within the caste society, kinship structure, work culture, and friendship relationships. Surprisingly, some view foreigners as being in their own society. Interactions among the various member of the hierarchical levels are structured. Going against the flow or the structure can cause confusion and tension.
d) Communication is read in between the lines - The true intention involves evaluating what is said, how it is said, and what is not said. For instance, an employee may say that things are hectic to indicate certain tasks will not be complete on time.
e) Dating - The old tradition of arrange marriages is still common where marriages are among those of the same community. Even though love marriages are becoming more common, most Indian parents do not believe in the Western approach of "trial and error" of dating.
f) Prepare to hire domestic staff - Hired help have predefined roles and code of conduct for the employer and help. Written contract detailing job description, rate, holidays, sick leave, and bonuses. It is common for expats especially from egalitarian societies to break away from the predefined role; however, these actions may cause unforeseen conflicts. Listening to the stories from both expats and both locals may make you more informed of the consequences of your actions. For instance, a foreigner may invite his maid to have coffee with him. The maid's husband may take offense to this.
g) Learn Hindi - If you are able to practice a few phrases in Hindi then it shows your determination to bond.
3) Finding a place of residence that suits the needs of the entire family. Indian cities are congested and polluted. Living close to amenities saves time for fruitful activities other than riding in the car. Besides long travel time to and from work, expats tend to work long hours from managing an Indian team and a team abroad. For the trailing spouse, living in an expat community provides support to deal with culture shock and loneliness. For school-aged children, the choice of school depends on the age of children, continuity of education for returning home, or preparation to enter secondary education. Another consideration of education is the style of learning within the world community such as the Asian holistic approach, the Anglo-Saxon practical approach or the European theoretical approach. In India, the international schools are have a combination of holistic and Anglo-Saxon approach that follows international standards such as education in United Kingdom, education in the United States or other curriculum designed for international schools. For pre-school children, living in a complex with a play structure and ample room for children to ride bikes and scooters may be a consideration. Few children walk on the streets of India as most local parks are closed during the day and the sidewalks are uneven.
4) Pet import process. Pets have their own visa process which involves application requirements from home country's embassy, host country's embassy, and airline regulations. An international moving company can support pet lovers through the legalities of obtaining health certification, documentation, vaccinations, quarantine, passport application for pet, agriculture/ wildlife requirements. Failure to comply may result in pet euthanasia.
5) Inquire into getting a car. Indian drivers are astute, responsive, and courteous. These traits are not enough to combat the consequences of congested roads, meandering live-stock, swerving vehicles (including ones going the wrong direction), and pedestrians. According to the World Health Organization, Indian cities are one of the most polluted in the world and has the highest traffic fatalities anywhere in the world.
6) Pack comfort supplies. This includes items you can have immediately while your family are able to find the supplies locally and items that are not available in India.
7) When getting immunization for moving abroad, physicians are relying on government agencies for immunization recommendations. The most reliable information is from those already in your destination country and city. For instance, every member of our family were given a year's supply of malaria drug. Living in Bangalore, this was not an issue except when we went into the countryside. My husband experienced nightmares as a side effect from the drug. We can only imagine what our 3 young children were experiencing.
8) Give extra time for paperwork. Paperwork for work visas have a lot of moving parts. There may be a lot unforeseen challenges. For me, I had to become an American to make sure I would be allowed back into the US.
9) Have supplies at the apartment/house just before you moving in. If possible, ask a local to do two favors. The first favor is to have someone check for missing items. The second favor, is to have someone drop off food supplies for a few days, toiletries, and mosquito repellents.
10) Decide where your income will be deposited. Evaluate the cost the consequence of depositing your earning in your home country vs host country. For some, it is a choice on where your earnings will be deposited. Weigh the cost of transfer fees from home country versus the cost of repatriating funds.
While you are in India, consider some of these actions
1) Put yourself out there. Join local expat support groups where you can meet other foreigners. These foreigners are aware of what you are going through and are a wealth of information. The local Indians are innately helpful as well. If an Indian chooses to help foreigners they are in the in-group and it is almost like helping a family member. They will not rest until the task is done.
2) Watch what you say. It is easy to complain about the injustice you have endured. For Indians, it can be hard to hear complaints about their own fellow Indians even if they agree. Imagine what is like for friends to complain about your own family. You may agree but it hard to listen to. You naturally become defensive.
3) Stay committed. You have a reason for being in India. What are you committed to? Did you come to India to learn a new culture? Did you come to India to advance your career or your spouse's career? Did you have the allure of living at the birthplace of mindfulness meditation? Did you come to India for a change of pace? Now, create a plan or structure towards your commitment.
a) Housing - Housing in Indian cities are surprisingly expensive even more so where expats congregate. Expats prefer conveniences such as swimming pool, dishwasher, oven, playground and live in quarters for help.
b) Grocery - Eating an Indian vegetarian diet is inexpensive. As a foreigner, it not quite so simple. For one, meat can be more expensive than at home. For another, the imported food items you are familiar with at home are marketed up.
c) Car - Luckily India is a manufacture of cars yet they still cost thousands of dollars.
d) Gas (known as petrol) and diesel - India imports crude oil and diesel so the prices are reflected at the pump. For most foreigners, there is one car for the household so the hired driver drives back and forth to accommodate every member of the family. For many, the cost of petrol costs more than the cost of a driver.
e) Domestic help - Hiring household staff is for the most part necessary. All these staff such as a driver, a nanny, a cleaner, and a cook add up. Some of these staff members are part-time workers and some are full-time. On top of the help class is the driver. He is a full-time employee. For other staff members, they can either be full-time or part-time. Getting someone that is trained to Western standards will cost more.
5) Maintain relationships from back home. It is good to keep up with the news for work and for your home country.
6) Getting support from traumatic experiences - If you have experienced trauma while in India, consider getting professional help. It is easy to blame India and the Indian people especially when the type of trauma is not common in your home country. For instance, if you experienced a near-death experience like contracting dengue fever you might consider South East Asia as a dangerous place. To put into perspective, people in the States die every year from pneumonia.
7) Think positive. India is known for its mouthwatering cuisine, preservation of ancient traditions and culture, Bollywood dancing, birthplace of mindfulness practices, and beautiful people. These uniquely Indian things are going to be missed if you focused on what is not working. Consider that what we focus on is what we experience. For example, if you are pregnant then you are going to notice more pregnant women, toy stores, strollers, playgrounds, and daycares. Those are all places and people that were always around but it was not in your field of vision. You see what you focus on.
8) Make friends with the locals. Friendships with an Indian opens a door to another level of friendship that is only unique to India. The benefits of Indian friendships are:
a) Indians are naturally warm and show their true selves. They are quick to give personal details about their religion, job title, family detail, and themselves. There doesn't seem to be any question they wouldn't answer as long as it shows everyone in a good light.
b) Making friends with an Indian is similar to making friends to a larger community. The words brother, sister, and cousin are not restricted to blood relatives and thus everyone takes care of their own kinship. One wonders of this extended community is the wedding celebration. If a person is invited then there are 5 more coming.
c) Immersing into the culture. You are quickly invited to celebrate in the traditions among friends and family. If you have committed a mishap, then you are quickly forgiven for being a foreigner.
d) Resourcefulness. Perhaps, this is the result of living in a collective mind. There will always be someone who has useful insights. One time, our driver took the keys of a reckless scooter driver in our neighborhood. That evening the scooter owner knocked on our door. We wondered how many people he asked around about a white man with three half-Chinese looking kids.
e) Take on the initiative to help. Indians have this ability to anticipate a problem and take it on upon themselves to resolve the issue. They don't need permission or thanks.
Getting ready to return home
1) Prepare pet immigration. The immigration process for your pet returning home requires the involvement of your home country's embassy, Indian embassy, and airline regulations. In countries such as the States, bringing a pet home is like your pet has never lived in the States before. Fortunately, international moving companies are able to provide support for pet immigration.
2) Contact international moving company. Pay attention to the policies because you are now following the Indian policies.
3) Budget. The cost of returning home could be the cost of housing, car rental, and expense to set up household.
4) Plan career opportunities. - You have gained new skills and your old job may no longer serve you. Perhaps, the company that moved you to India may have different plans. On the other hand, you may have had a hard time in India and blame the company that moved you. Now, it is time to consider the needs of every family member again.
5) Make plans to repatriate your funds. Be aware that repatriating large sums of money may be subject to taxation.
What to expect when you return home
1) Expect your work relationships to change. There are many factors at play when it comes to reintegrating into the work place.
a) You are out of sight and out of mind - Your circle of influence is not the same anymore. You will have to introduce yourself to new co-workers. For some other co-workers, you will have to reacquaint yourself.
b) You are no longer on top of what is happening - It's time for you catch up on office politics and the status of projects.
c) People are not interested in your working abroad experience - There is an exception if your findings are supportive.
2) Re-acquiring skills you have not used for a while. - Living in India, you hired help for driving, cooking, cleaning, or even taking care of children. These unused skills are no longer second nature. For instance, I got into a car accident the first week I moved back to the US. I know of another friend in the same situation.
3) Expect personal relationship to change. These are some changes you might experience:
a) Those closest to you do not understand you - Your family and friends remember you as the way you were when you left. On the other hand, you have changed from your experiences abroad and have new approaches to life. Another change is relatedness with your loved ones. Your stories and insights are interesting to you but not necessarily for those closest to you. They have not gone through the various stages of progress and cannot relate. With good intention, your loved ones might question your decisions and give suggestions. These well-meaning acts are often misinterpreted and you want to be left alone.
b) The importance of your friendships - Friends you thought you were close to aren't as close as you thought. On the flip side, there are friends you didn't think much of are now around more often.
4) Cultural readjustment. You have adjusted to a way of life in India. Now, you have to relearn your own culture to design a new routine and ritual.
5) Readjusting to new climate. Your body and your lifestyle needs time to readjust to the weather.
Successful expatriation and repatriation is a wonderful experience but requires preparation and work. The experience is a rebirth of oneself where developed a muscle for overcoming obstacles, adaptability, resiliency, and broadened view on life. The only problem with India is that there are too many other countries to visit and live.