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Living in Delhi, India as an Expat: What it’s Really Like

Contributed by Suzanne of Suzanne Wanders Delhi

Delhi is not a city that attracts a lot of nomads or slow travellers, but it should be.

The city has so much to offer. It is one of the oldest and most fascinating cities in

the world.

I moved to India in 2018, and have lived in Delhi since 2020. Here’s what you

should know about living in Delhi as an expat.

Living in Delhi, India as an Expat

Living in Delhi is not going to be for every expat. It’s a city of 33 million people

and to be honest, it’s a little bonkers. But it’s also vibrant, culturally rich, historic

and so interesting.

One thing is certain, you will never be bored in Delhi. It’s home to 3 UNESCO

World Heritage Sites, has plenty of live music and theatre, vibrant outdoor

markets, heritage parks, excellent restaurants and cafes, a thriving night life,

unique temples and festivals. There are plenty of reasons to visit Delhi.

VISA Requirements

Foreigners require a visa to enter India, and except for Japanese nationals, there

is no visa on arrival.

Most expats enter on a tourist, business or diplomatic visa. At the moment, most

foreigners on a 1 or 5 year tourist visa can stay up to 180 days in one year.

Regulations change occasionally, and I urge you to review the rules on the official

government site:

Under no circumstances should you over stay your visa in Delhi. India takes a very dim view of this. The government has been known to refuse visa applications of anyone who has overstayed in the past.

If you plan to do any work in India, make sure you get a business or employment

visa. Although India can be loosey goosey about a lot of things, when it comes to

visas and foreigners, the rules are very strict.

A picture of the tomb and mosque at Lodhi Garden in Delhi a favorite public park dating back to the 15th century.
Tomb and Mosque, Lodhi Garden in Delhi

Cost of Living in Delhi as an Expat

The cost of living in Delhi as an expat varies a lot. You can live very cheaply in

Delhi or you can spend more and have an upper class life style.

Foreigners can rent a one bedroom, furnished apartment in a good neigbourhood

for about $800 USD/a month, and a single room with bathroom for much less.

Short term renters will have to rely on Airbnb, where rents are higher.

Food costs are reasonable. Fresh produce and grocery items from local shops are inexpensive. Specialty, imported items are more expensive. Grocery delivery

services like Blinkit and Big Basket are popular and cheap.

Delhi is the food capital of India, and there are numerous choices for eating out.

Everything from delicious street food to luxury international restaurants is

available in Delhi. You can have a filling meal for $2.50 USD on the streets, or go

to one of the city’s best restaurants and pay $50.00 USD. There are plenty of

options in between these two extremes.

A plate of Delhi's most favorite street snack, bhel puri
Bhel Puri, Delhi's most favorite snack, cost less than $1.00

Transportation is cheap in Delhi. Uber, auto rickshaws and the Delhi metro are

the most popular ways to move around the city. An Uber ride from one end of

Delhi to the other is less than $10.00 USD, a metro ride $0.75 USD. An auto

rickshaw ride of 4 km is approx. $1.50 USD.

A local SIM card and data is also cheap in Delhi for expats. You can get a 4 week

pre-paid plan with 1.5 GB daily for $10.00 USD. Vi (Vodafone), Airtel and Jio are

the best networks.

Safety & Driving in Delhi

So this is where Delhi does not do so well. Delhi has the highest rates of crimes

against women in India. It is not safe for women to be out alone at night.

There is no problem going around during the day, just respect cultural norms and

dress conservatively. I live in Delhi as a solo female, and go all over the city. I

have never felt unsafe.

If you have dreams of renting a car and driving all around Delhi, park them.

Driving is crazy. Most expats in Delhi that own a car have a full time driver.

Delhi is officially LGBQT friendly, but it’s still pretty much under the radar. Public

displays of affection are also frowned upon. It’s only in the last 10 years couples

started to hold hands in public.

Healthcare in Delhi

Delhi has government and private healthcare. Private healthcare is excellent

(better than what I have experienced in Canada), and by North American or

Western European standards, very affordable.

A stay in the best private hospital in Delhi with treatment could set you back

$2,000 USD/day, but that is still pretty cheap. A specialist consultation might cost $35 USD, an at home blood collection $15 USD, an x-ray $20.00. Prescription medicine is also inexpensive. A dental check up with cleaning is about $40 at one of the top dental practices.

Delhi has excellent specialists, and clinics. In fact, Delhi is becoming known for

medical tourism.

If you have any kind of respiratory condition Delhi is not going to be a good fit. Air

pollution is a big problem. AQI readings are routinely around 200, and on the

worst days in winter they can be over 500.

Although medical care is pretty affordable in Delhi, it’s always best to have travel

insurance. And make sure you get your vaccinations before arriving in India.

Check the World Health Organization for the latest recommendations.

Click here for health insurance.

The Best Areas for Expats to Live in Delhi

The best area for expats living in Delhi is South Delhi. This is the greenest, least

polluted and nicest part of Delhi.

Neighbourhoods like Greater Kailash, Hauz Khas, Defence Colony, Vasant Vihar,

Chanakyapuri, Nizamuddin East, South Extension, Jorbagh, Safdarjung, Lutyens’

Delhi are all excellent.

The diplomatic community tend to live in Chanakyapuri, Vasant Vihar, Anand

Niketen and Moti Bagh, which are close to the embassies.

Some expats end up living in Gurugram, which is basically a suburb of Delhi.

Gurugram is where many international companies have their Indian

headquarters, and there are lots of luxury high rise condo buildings. It’s a good

location if you’re working in Gurugram, but it’s a bit removed from Delhi.

In Delhi it’s common to have a cleaner, cook and driver. Labour is cheap, and

most expats (and every single middle class Indian family) has full time house help.

I did not want a full time maid or cook, but I did have someone come in 3 times a

week to sweep and wash the floors of my 3 bedroom apartment. This cost less

than $25.00 USD/month.

Living room of a 3 BR 2BA partially furnished apartment just outside of Delhi, $350 per month
3 BR 2BA partially furnished apartment just outside of Delhi, $350 per month

Food and Delly Belly

Delhi is the food capital of India. There are fabulous restaurants with every kind

of international cuisine, as well incredible Indian food places. The most delicious

and freshest food is at the local dhabas (casual, road side eateries) and on the

streets. The street food scene in Delhi is on fire!

The truth is, if you’re going to eat out regularly in Delhi, you will eventually get

sick. This is not always the fault of the eatery, often it’s from bacteria on our

hands. But Delly Belly is mostly avoidable. Just eat at places that are busy with

locals, wash your hands before eating, and avoid water based foods. I eat street

food all the time and have rarely gotten sick.

Tap water is not potable. Expats in Delhi should only drink bottled or filtered

water. Most homes have a wall mounted water filtration system, commonly

called an RO.

Transportation in Delhi

Delhi is not a very walkable city, mostly due to the heat, poor sidewalks and crazy

traffic. But there are excellent transportation options.

The Delhi metro, ride share programs like Uber and Ola, and auto rickshaws are

the most popular ways to move around the city. All are very cheap and reliable.

Uber even has a motorcycle option!

What is There to Do in Delhi

You could go somewhere different every day for a year, and still not see or do

everything in Delhi.

There is just so much: museums, theatre, live music, nightclubs, lounges, historic

monuments, vibrant neighbourhoods, festivals, temples, shopping malls, street

markets, parks, and cultural centres. Delhi is the capital of India, and it has the

best of everything.

Weather in Delhi

The weather in Delhi is extreme. In summer the temperature can go up to 47 C

(116 F) and in winter it drops to single digits. It’s basically stinking hot, or polluted

and cold, but there are a few nice months in between the awful ones. The best

times to be in Delhi are February and March, and October and November.

Most expats try to travel abroad in the hottest months, and go to areas in South

India like Kerala and Goa in the coldest months.

Making Friends in Delhi

It’s very easy to make friends in Delhi as an expat. The city has a large

international and diplomatic community.

Many embassies and consulates have their own cultural centres which host

events and offer classes for the expat community. There are several FB and

WhatsApp groups for expats that are excellent ways to make initial contacts and

get advice.

Joining a social network group like Seven Cities, Internations or the Delhi Network

is another excellent way to build a new social circle.

Final Thoughts on Living in Delhi as an Expat

Living in Delhi as an expat takes a certain amount of nerve and laissez faire

attitude. It’s India, and things don’t always go according to plan. But if you can

relax and go with it, you could have the time of your life.

Delhi is one of those cities you have to take the time, and make the effort to

know. But if you do, you’ll be amply rewarded.

To find the best flight options across the world, check out this site!

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