Hello, my name is Sade (pronounced Sha-day). I was born in Miami, Florida and my heritage is of African-American and Cuban descent. I’m currently living the expat life in India – a country I moved to a little over a year ago.
My passion for travel started after studying abroad in Spain in my senior year of college. It was my first time traveling alone and the first time traveling outside the US, other than to Cuba to visit family. Spending months studying in Spain – as well as traveling through Europe – was the spark that would turn into a constant in my life, for the rest of my life: travel.
Moving to India with my Husband
Moving to India was definitely not on the cards for what I planned for my life. I had always wanted to travel here but kept putting it off due to pure intimidation. India, from my perspective, was the big league for travelers.
Nothing about traveling through India is easy and I didn’t feel ready nor up for the challenge just yet. But as fate would have it my husband – who serves in the US military – received orders to be posted here. At first, I was so nervous but then those nerves quickly faded into excitement!
India can be a lot to swallow all at once. So the opportunity to explore the country in doses seemed more palatable to me. Living here has also given me the opportunity to make local friends and dive a little deeper with a better understanding of India’s culture, customs and daily life.
An Extraordinary Year Living as an Expat in India
I have been living in India for a little over one year. I’m based in the capital, New Delhi. Since we are a military family and have moved several times, I’m currently not working in Delhi. Instead, my time is spent studying the Hindi language and taking care of two stray puppies we rescued.
Delhi is a large city. Despite the traffic, getting around is quite easy and affordable. Apps like Uber operate here. You can even hire an auto-rickshaw (aka tuktuk) on Uber for $1 – $3 USD for a 20-30 minute ride. It’s incredible!
I personally would not recommend taking the local buses, especially during Covid. There is also a metro system but due to Covid, I have largely avoided it. I have, however, taken the Indian railways for longer distance trips.
Domestic flights are also super affordable. I have been lucky to make some local friends as well as other expat friends in India. Having local friends has been a God-send because I have been exposed to way more than I believe I would have been had I otherwise not had those friendships.
Delhi, although an aesthetically older city, is full of young entrepreneurs. There are tons of cute restaurants and bars to hangout at, great markets for shopping, and parks and historical sites to experience.
We moved to India shortly before the Covid lockdowns. Movement that wasn’t deemed essential was prohibited for months. A lot of my fellow expat friends in India decided to return back to the US once the government closed the country and shut down international travel.
Honestly, I also went back and forth as to whether I should return as well. Healthcare in India isn’t the greatest and if I were to get sick I would be stuck because the airports were shut down. We also weren’t sure how reliable the food supply chain would be. Ultimately, I decided to stay here with my husband as he could not return due to his military job.
Our diplomatic community offers a private commissary that we have the privilege of shopping at. So I felt that as long as I’m able to get food, we would be okay. Also, Delhi has a culture of delivery for anything you need. Whatever I couldn’t obtain at our commissary, I was able to get delivered.
Exotic Vegetarian Food of India
Probably the thing I was most looking forward to was eating lots and lots of Indian food. I have been a vegetarian since 2014 and most Indians are vegetarian as well. This made ordering food super easy and enjoyable for me, as there is a great variety of vegetarian options unlike in the US.
One of my favorite dishes is paneer lababdar. I also enjoy gulab jamun which is a fried glazed donut ball dessert dish. It’s amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! Being from a Latin culture, I’m used to flavorful food.
However, Indian food is unlike any other flavor I have ever had. There is a nice juxtaposition of salty and sweet in a lot of Indian. For example, Indians love to eat a yogurt called raita with their rice and spicy dishes.
At first, I gagged at the thought of eating rice and yogurt together but honestly when the dish is a bit spicy yogurt is just the perfect touch needed to balance out the meal. Indian food was definitely not something I was used to but I have grown to love and prefer it when eating out.
My Expat Travels around India
The pandemic put a damper on my travel aspirations for my first eight months living in India. I was largely unable to travel outside of the state of Delhi without having to make a mandatory quarantine upon my return. Each state also had their respective quarantine guidelines. So it just didn’t make sense to travel. Also, considering the health crisis, it just wasn’t safe.
The country went into a lockdown in March and began to slowly re-open in October. The borders were still closed to international travelers but I was now able to travel domestically. My first stop was the Taj Mahal – of course!
A silver lining to the closures was that there were no other foreign tourists around. The Taj Mahal would normally receive around 20,000 – 25,000 visitors per day. During my visit, the place was completely empty with the exception of a few local Indian tourists. What an experience that was.
The same scenario applied to popular monuments in and around the Delhi area: Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar, the Red Fort, the Old City and spice markets were all void of foreigners. For me, it was awesome. Although I recognize it probably was not great for businesses who rely on tourism.
Since then, I have also traveled to the wonderful state of Rajasthan to explore the popular cities of Udaipur (the City of Lakes), Jaisalmer (the Golden Fort City), Jodhpur (the Blue City) and Jaipur (the Pink City). I also traveled to the north Indian state called Himachal Pradesh, a wildly popular state in the Himalayan region, to explore the hill village of Shimla.
Goa in the south was incredible too – with those long stretches of golden beaches and jungle. There are still many places I hope to visit as India is an incredibly diverse nation in topography, culture, language, religion, etc.
Biggest Challenge Living in India
I thought the biggest challenge for me would be the language barrier. However, a lot of Indians, especially within the tourism industry and in the capital, speak English. My biggest challenge has been the pollution.
The pollution in Delhi is shocking. The smog can get so thick that it’s difficult to see five feet in front of you. Even before Covid, I wore N95 masks because of how terrible the air quality is here. It just goes to show what a privilege it is to have clean air. It’s still something I struggle with everyday.
The people here are used to it but I didn’t do well adjusting. Oftentimes, the air would be so polluted that it would be the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes a day. I have even had a severe case of bronchitis. The pollution is probably my least favorite thing about living in New Delhi, India.
Cherished Memories from India
One of the most memorable moments for me in India would have to be a friendly encounter while visiting Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Jodhpur has been coined the Blue City because within the boundaries of the Old City all of the houses and businesses are painted in this beautiful, pastel blue.
Well, while walking through the maze of alleyways, my travel friend and I were greeted by a gentleman selling vegetables on the street corner. He then proceeded to invite us onto the rooftop of his home where he claimed there would be the best aerial views of the city. And he was correct!
We met his wife, mother and daughters who offered us some chai. We conversed for 30 minutes. We also discussed how hard hit they were from the effects of Covid and the country’s loss of tourism. I greatly appreciated the kind gesture of the invitation into his family home and enjoyed meeting his daughters. For me, travel is all about those types of moments.
Tips for Expat Life in India
India isn’t a walk-in-the-park kind of place. It’s gritty, disorganized and chaotic. However, once you look past all the honking cars and auto-rickshaws, India is mesmerizing. Before arriving, prepare your senses to be overwhelmed. It can be a culture shock and quite intimidating at first. So below are a few key things you should know before moving to India:
- First, India has bad air quality. I recommend you bring an N95 mask to wear when the AQI gets above 200. Mind you, anything below 50 is considered an acceptable air quality which is extremely uncommon. I have only seen the AQI reach below 100 during the peak of lockdown. Typically a “good” day in India is anything below 200. If you have any respiratory problems or sensitivities, then I encourage you to wear a mask as much as possible.
- Secondly, although many speak English especially in the larger and more touristic cities, it’s up to you to learn some basic Hindi as it would be quite helpful. Namaste, which means hello, would be a good start!
- Next, you will witness poverty on the streets, a lot of which will be child beggars. As much as you want to give money, I recommend that you don’t. Often those children are trafficked, and they are meant to pull on the heart strings of the potential givers. Giving money perpetuates the problem. You are welcome to give them bottles of water, snacks or candy but please do not give them any money no matter how sad the situation is.
- A few useful apps you should download:
– Uber or Ola: Ride-share apps which are super cheap to use
– Zomato: It’s the Uber Eats equivalent for food delivery. Tons of great restaurants to order from. Be sure to check the reviews and the star ratings.
– IQ Air: Air quality index app to check the pollution levels
– Big Basket: Grocery delivery app
– Urban Company: Home services app for salon, spa, massages, carpenters, plumbers, painters, cleaners, electricians, etc.
– Make My Trip: Local app for booking flights, hotels and railway tickets.
Thanks for reading about my expat life in India. I hope you have taken away some inspiration and recommendations for your move to the subcontinent. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch 🙂