Emerging Market Profiles: Living and Working in India

By Pat DeDonato Aug 15, 2014

India has grown significantly over the last decade with gross domestic product growth of 7.6 percent and population growth of over 17.7 percent. According to the government of India, the country is predicted to reach a population of 1.4 billion in 2030, surpassing that of China.

In the coming decade, India’s cities will continue to multiply exponentially with new cities also being created to manage the population growth. India was ranked the second most challenging destination for international assignees in Cartus’ 2014 Global Mobility Policy and Practices survey.


India has a landlord-driven market where demand exceeds supply. This often leads to high price volatility. Infrastructure is a challenge in many cities and the floor area ratio parameters, which vary from state to state, are closely governed by the respective city development authorities, resulting in limited low-rise housing choices.

In big cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, housing options are restricted to apartments only.

In Tier 2 cities, the real estate markets are still growing. The quality of houses may differ, hence an element of compromise is needed: while the basics are normally of an acceptable standard, certain finishing items may only be passable when moving in. Often, the slum areas and pavement dwellers are in fairly close proximity to premium apartments. As a result, expatriates typically choose to live in the select areas and gated communities of each city, which offer amenities, privacy and security.

Assignees need to act quickly to secure a property they like. The highest rent offered will usually secure the preferred property. Corporate HR and assignees are highly encouraged to signal their intent by placing a deposit which is usually equivalent to a month’s rent to secure the premises. The final lease agreement needs to be recorded in advance and should include a diplomatic clause, clearly defining the landlord and tenant’s responsibilities.


India is home to several well-acclaimed international schools, which are located in main cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune. However, each city may only have one or two such schools. Many expatriates prefer sending their children to international schools compared to high-quality local schools, adding to the unprecedented demand for international school places and long waiting lists in certain grades.

Many returning Indians prefer local schools of repute as the costs for international schools are very high; however, securing admission is a challenge. The schools may have only few or no places available.

In India, lessons are normally conducted in English although the schools may follow different boards of examination. In addition, schools will only conduct coordination with the parents. They do not liaise with any third parties, including relatives.

It is essential to plan early in order to get a place at an international school in India. Before leaving the home country and setting out on assignment, the family should take time to research the various schooling options including the availability of school places, waitlists and admission criteria and they should submit applications to preferred schools as quickly as possible.

In cities where international schools are not available, the “split-family” arrangement can be an option. This is where the assignee works in one location in the country, while the spouse and family reside in a nearby location where their children can attend an international school.


Generally, traffic in most major cities in India moves slowly. Road traffic congestion is acutely felt in most major cities in India as infrastructure growth may be slower compared to the increasing number of vehicles. The non-lane based disorderly movement of vehicles and pedestrians walking between vehicles add to the recurring traffic jams, accidents, noise and air pollution. The government has recently announced that new bridges, ring and bypass roads will be built to help reduce traffic congestion and traveling time.

It is recommended that expatriates do not drive in India as general traffic conditions can be very difficult. Similarly, using public transport is not advised. Typically, most companies provide their assignees with a car and driver for the duration of their assignment.


Generally, employment visas are issued to highly-skilled specialists, managers and executives with salaries of over U.S. $25,000 per year. The foreign national must evidence a degree of proprietary knowledge, specialized skills or managerial/executive-level skills that are not readily available in India’s domestic labor market.

Documentation requirements and processing times for employment visa applications may vary significantly and change frequently without notice across Indian consulates.

The E employment visa may be issued with varying validity periods ranging from three months to one year and, although rare, sometimes for a longer duration generally driven by reciprocity schedules. Employment visas may be extended for a total validity period of up to five years from the visa’s initial date of issue.

There are expected visa processing delays for applicants in the United States as India has recently transferred processing duties for all visa applications to a new outsourcing firm. As a result, visa applicants from the United States should expect processing delays.

India recently launched its Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration & Tracking (IVFRT) Central Processing Office in New Delhi. The IVFRT acts as a hub for all of India’s immigration matters, monitoring and tracking the entry and exit of foreign nationals, standardizing all immigration-related forms and processes, and facilitating data sharing between India’s consular posts abroad, ports of entry, Foreigners Regional Registration Offices and Foreigners Registration Offices.

Foreign nationals are now able to change employers within the same corporate family without having to leave India and re-enter with a new visa. The applicant must apply to the Ministry of Home Affairs with documentation proving both current and future employers’ consent to the move. If successful, the foreign national will remain subject to the same visa conditions, with only one change allowed per original employment visa and five-year maximum period of stay.

As requirements for employment visa applications vary, it is recommended that relocating employees be prepared with their required documentation as early as possible. The better prepared they are, the faster and smoother the immigration process may be, which is especially important as visa processing times for India can vary depending upon the country of issuance, again largely driven by reciprocity. Indeed, we recommend that visa applications be made as soon as an assignment is scheduled.

We also recommend that after receiving the visa the assignee checks the city stamped on the passport. The work location and the city stamped on the passport should match as applying for change of location on arrival will take time. If there is a difference the assignee should seek to change this before arrival in India.

In line with the new visa registration and extension procedures, we also advise that relocating employees who are exempt from Indian taxes ensure that they submit an official declaration from the appropriate government office in India stating so. Failure to do this may make future visa applications to India more challenging. For further information or queries regarding immigration, you should always consult your immigration provider.

Cultural Issues

One of the biggest challenges organizations encounter in India is the failure to recognize the unique diversity within the country itself. They look at India as one entity, with the same universal needs throughout the country, and do not take into account the unique and distinct regional differences when doing business in the financial centers of Mumbai, the high-tech center in Bangalore or the capital city in New Delhi.

There are 18 official languages in India, but 325 spoken languages and over 1,500 dialects, so approaching India as one “culture” is a costly mistake that needs to be avoided to be successful in this important emerging market. Despite the diverse regional nuances, there are key cultural expectations of India, based on its historical, economic and political traditions, which drive Indian management practices today.

The number one rule to working effectively in India is the importance of building relationships. Business is done by not only “what you know” but “who you know.” What connections do you have to support your business that can develop the relationships you need to accomplish your business objectives? Without relationships in India, you have no trust, and without trust in India, you have no business. Relationships drive business in India, so taking the time necessary to invest in long-term business relationships is a win-win for all parties.

Another key cultural factor when doing business in India is the importance of “high-context” communication. When communicating with Indian nationals, it is important to pay close attention to what is being said, but also to what is not being said, by reading between the lines and listening for hidden messages. While a more direct or “low-context” communication style might work in some countries, it could prove to be highly ineffective in India. We advise that close attention should be paid to the nonverbals to ensure every aspect of a message is “seen” and “heard.”

Pat DeDonato is senior vice president of supply chain management at Cartus, a provider of global relocation solutions serving half of the Fortune 50, in more than 165 countries, helping clients with their mobility, outsourcing, consulting, and language and intercultural training needs.

Copyright 2014 © Cartus. All rights reserved.

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