India has played host to people from different parts of the world since 2500 BCE when the highly urbanized Indus Valley Civilization attracted foreign traders and artisans keen to do business with the local populace. Later with the spread of colonialism, many Europeans found trading, working and living in India a far more lucrative prospect as compared to back home. Conditions now though are quite different from earlier times – with both favorable and unfavorable results. So if you too are thinking of having a long term stay in India, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Pick the right visa
If you are planning to stay in India and work in the country, you will need to apply for the appropriate visa. Employment visas are issued to foreigners who are working in India, for an organization registered in India. While Foreigners doing volunteer/intern work in India were earlier asked to apply for X visas they are now granted employment visas. The duration of Employment visas vary according to the nature of the employment contract. For instance according to the Home Ministry website of the Indian government foreign technician/expert coming to India in pursuance of a bilateral agreement between the Government of India and the foreign government, can be granted an Employment visa for the duration of the agreement, or for a period of five years while highly skilled foreign personnel being employed in the IT software and IT enabled sectors, the Missions/Posts can grant Employment visa with validity up to three years or the term of assignment, whichever is less. Some types of employment visas can be extended in India. In order to apply for an Employment visa, you'll need proof of employment with a company/organization in India, such as a contract that states the terms and conditions. There's a new rule that applicants must be earning $25,000 a year or more. Exceptions are made for volunteers, ethnic cooks, translators, non-English language teachers, and members of Foreign High Commissions and Embassies.
Every year many foreign nationals go to India as students of the country’s ancient arts and disciplines like yoga, Vedic culture, and Indian system of dance and music. These foreigners are granted Student visas often loosely referred to as the ‘yoga visa’ too. The main document required is student admission/registration papers from an officially recognized institution. Student visas are issued for up to five years, depending on the duration of the course. They can also be extended in India.
Business visas are another option if during your stay in India you wish to explore business opportunities or conduct business in India. This type of visa differs from an Employment visa in that the applicant won't be working for, and earning an income from, an organization in India. Business visa applicants will require a letter from the organization that they intend to do business with, stating the nature of the business, duration of stay, places to be visited, and intention to meet expenses. A Business Visa with multiple entry facility can be granted for a period up to five years or for a shorter duration as per the requirement. Indian Missions can grant Business Visa with 10 years validity and multiple entry facility to the nationals of the United States of America. However this visa should be issued with the stipulation that the stay in India during each visit shall not exceed six months.
Even if you are not planning to work in the country, you will still have to go for one of the long term visas. The tourist visa is usually granted for up to six months and though it can be renewed in India, the government has come up with certain restrictions – like a gap of two months between its renewals – to minimize abuse of renewals. The X visa is another renewable visa in India and is primarily granted to dependents of foreign nationals working in India. To keep abreast of latest modifications in visa rules it is best you check out Indian Government Ministry of Home affairs site on visas.
Go through the legal necessities
Within the first 14 days of your arrival you need to register at the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office (FRRO). Usually, your employer helps you with that. If not, try to find a reliable Indian person, who can help you out with the language spoken in the area you live in, since it is very unlikely that anyone in the FRRO will speak enough English to understand you. Registration at the FRRO will include filling out a form with your address and other details as well as attaching your passport photo. In fact you could start carrying about five to six of them with you all the time since in India passport pictures are needed for practically everything.
Once the FRRO has worked on your registration, you (or somebody in the company you work for) will be asked to pick up your 'residency permit'. This paper is very important as it is proof that you are an Indian Resident and thus will be required for a range of purposes starting from renting house and getting a phone connection to getting discounts at many tourist sites. Do not lose it and carry it with you when you are traveling. A word here about the way Indian bureaucracy works – there is a great deal of paperwork for almost everything that you want to do in this country – get married start a business, study at a university, pay taxes or open a basic bank account. Files are passed from one department to another and the process is usually excruciatingly slow. Add to this the rampant corruption in government departments and you may feel ready to tear your hair at the way things work here. For instance the process for your permit to be approved can take anything between 5 days and 2 months. However do not lose your cool or succumb to the other extreme of paying bribes. Ideally enlist the help of a respectable and trustworthy Indian citizen who knows his/her way about this or get in touch with other expatriates or your Embassy officials who may be able to refer you to reliable contacts.
Get a telephone
One of the first things to do after arrival in India is to get a mobile phone – these days almost every Indian owns one. Getting a mobile phone may require some paperwork, but is quite easy. Identify the most reliable mobile provider in your region. Common ones include Airtel, Hutch (now Vodafone), Idea and the government carrier MTNL or BSNL. Usually you need your residency permit and passport as well as a couple of passport pictures. You can use your European telephone or a U.S. one (although India providers are mostly using the GSM network -- same as AT&T and T-Mobile in USA) though simple mobile phones can be bought starting from 30 USD.
Apply for a PAN card
If you are working in India, your employer will pay taxes for you. Or you will pay your own taxes - In any case you will receive a PAN card that shows firstly that you are an Indian Resident and secondly that you are paying your taxes in India. This card you can carry with you instead of the residency permit, as it serves the same purpose and is accepted by most people and institutions as a means of identification.
Deciding on accommodation
If you plan to live in India for some, you need to choose your accommodation carefully. Usually your employer or Liaison officer at the organization you are involved in will help you out with this matter. Alternately you can check out expatriate forums online and explore locations in the city that you will be working in. On the other hand if you are here as a retiree or a long term visitor, then certain cities and towns are better residential options for foreign nationals than others. While metropolitan centers like New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have the advantage modern amenities, wider recreational and swankier lifestyle options, smaller towns like Kodaikanal and Dharamshala could be much more suitable in terms of weather, culture and local hospitality. Wherever you decide to stay, taking a house on rent may again involve some paperwork whereas buying property comes with a lot of restrictions. It is best to hire the services of an Indian legal expert who can guide you through the maze of laws and legal requirements.
Though bigger cities in India have good private hospitals and doctors at prices that are affordable as compared to many US cities, still it would be a good idea to go for health insurance. You could either take up a private health insurance in your home country which will provide coverage in India or your employer could offer you a certain health insurance package with your contract.
Integrate with the local culture
For a satisfying long stay, it is best to find some ways to integrate with the local culture – even if partially – rather than insist on following the lifestyle you have done in your home country. If you are not living in one of the cities that have a metro, find out about local methods of transport which can range from rickshaws to autos and taxis. Check with your Indian friends, co-workers and neighbors as to which methods of transport they consider safe and reliable especially if you are a woman and living alone. Restaurants are quite cheap and usually the food is fine, though on the spicier side. However never compromise with issues of hygiene. Better still start cooking on your own - explore fresh local produce and different ways of preparing them. This will turn out to be far healthier and more economical option as compared to eating out daily. Ideally follow dressing conventions of the locals or at least avoid tight, revealing clothes – this is not only safer if you are a woman but you will find more practical too – for instance full sleeves and covered pants keep away mosquito bites while cotton is comfortable in humid conditions. As far as possible respect local traditions – like the veneration of cows and removing slippers before entering holy places or even people’s houses – even if you need not follow them in your own circle. All this will not only make your stay less confrontational but you could gain an entirely new perspective on doing things and living life.