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What is life like in India: Here are 9 important life lessons I learned as an expat living in india

I spent one year in India, mostly living in Delhi, but I also traveled around the country. And traveling is the world’s greatest teacher. Following the premise ‘the best life-changing decisions are made without overthinking, I booked my flight after passing the job interview and I was on my way. I spent a year of my life in India, in a completely different environment from anything I ever saw before. I went through thick and thin and I grew a lot as a person. India turned out to be a great teacher and this article is about the 9 important life lessons I learned while living in India.

So if you’re thinking of moving and wondering what is life in India like, keep reading. 

Embrace Chaos And Find The Beauty In That

india street

It’s very hard to adjust to India in the beginning, especially if you are visiting for the first time. For the first few weeks, you’ll probably think that life in India consists only of overcrowded smelly streets filled with garbage, too many people, terrible traffic, and unbearable noise.

And no, that’s not because you are looking at the wrong places. That’s because you are looking with a wrong set of eyes and a locked mind.

It was only after completely opening my mind and starting to adopt pieces of the Indian way of perceiving things, that I realized that the problem was me. India was the first country in Asia that I visited and my mind was just used to the western way of thinking and doing things.

After completely opening my mind, I had a real revelation as I was walking the crowded streets of Old Delhi. I’ve been traveling the world searching for the beautiful but never until this moment I realized that if you don’t carry the beauty within yourself, you will never find it.

It’s moments like these that make us take a deeper look at ourselves while also finding beauty in the lessons learned from the depths of disarray. If you look hard enough, you will get to understand that there is a purpose in all of our experiences, no matter whether they are good or bad.

 Life Is 10% What Happens To You And 90% How You React To It

Jaipur india

Spending a year living in India, I got the chance to spend some time in the slums; the poorest parts of the country you often see in the movies. As I walked around the slums in Mumbai, I could see people, thrash, dirt, and poorly constructed houses where bricks and cement are a rare sight.

The kids playing on the streets were wearing old and worn-out clothes and I couldn’t spot a toy anywhere, not even a ball.

But still, I could see a lot of happy faces. I could see kids enjoying their innocent games on the streets with joy on their faces. These kids showed me that no matter how much you struggle or go through a rough time, you can’t allow yourself to forget about peace and joy.

Without these things life, in India or elsewhere, becomes meaningless.

Discover A New Dimension Of Patience

india temple

As I said, you probably won’t love India right away. It takes some time to start loving the country and the Indian way of doing things. So if you’re planning to make a quick visit, I wouldn’t recommend that. Take the time and travel as slowly as you can.

And while traveling, your best companions should be your open mind and your patience. You should immerse yourself in the local life and see and what is it like to live in India instead of just seeing the main tourist sights in India and leave right away.

Don’t count on finishing anything quickly in India. There’s this thing called India-time which basically means no one is going to show up on time when you make plans. Instead, they will come after they finish the thing that they were doing before that.

And this happens everywhere; in public transport, in the corporate world, in the bank, and even when meeting with friends. It’s something every tourist/expat is annoyed by at first, but if you look at it in a vacuum and forget about your western rules, it can be quite refreshing.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like our list of hidden gems in Delhi.

There’s A “Jugaad” For Everything

jugged india

Imagine that you need something or you have a problem. And there’s a machine that can fix that problem and make your life easier. But why would you pay for the machine when you can improvise a solution and make a jugaad by yourself.

Jugaad is basically a home-made substitution for practically everything. Most Indians have this hidden engineering part of their brain that can fix anything with a Jugaad.

I also started applying this principle to my life after some time. It was the summer and the temperatures were in the upper 40s’. It was my last month in that flat so I couldn’t find an AC to rent just for a month. All of the offers I could find were for the entire season.

So instead, I always used to put cold water bottles and ice cubes on the fan and the cold drops circulating around the room really made a difference.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like this list of the most isolated places in India.

 Action Rather Than Words

India festivals

It was difficult in the beginning. Indians don’t really use the words please and thank you. My friends told me I’m being too formal several times in the beginning. Formalities aren’t necessary, they said. It’s even completely common to get silence as a response to offering your seat to an elderly person on a crowded train or even doing a favor to someone.

Those kinds of things would be considered rude where I come from.

But once you have close Indian friends, you get to understand that they will always be there for you, no matter what. And they wouldn’t expect a “thank you” or “please”. They see helping you as their duty. If you get rid of the formalities, life can be much easier.

Just show your appreciation for someone with your gestures, rather than your words. Just think about it: which action would show more appreciation? Saying thank you to your mom for preparing a wonderful meal or waiting for her to sit down so you can all enjoy the meal together?

You Can’t Control Everything And Life Should Be Spontaneous

life in india

Seeing all the problems in Indian society, in the beginning, I was extremely critical. I was even starting to be judgmental. We could have sold these problems in such a simple way in my country, I used to think.

Besides all the jugaads, I was getting frustrated by the lack of societal solutions. I was even starting to think less about Indians and was wondering if I am actually becoming a bad person.

After some time, my curiosity lead me to read some ancient Indian books when I had another revelation. It was more than 2000 years ago when Buddha was teaching his pupils about the nature of existence. Everything is constantly changing, eternally, in a flux, he used to say.

Then it hit me: he’s right, but we Westerners have put so much effort into trying to create a society that brings stability, certainty, and control. Although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can turn you into a control freak. You need to learn to let go. Chaos is the truth of reality.

You need to let go and learn how to dance with chaos. If we want to survive in this century of constant change, we must learn how to embrace chaos and live with it.

Related: 15 most unusual festivals in India

 Living In India vs Traveling In India

Indian independence day

Traveling around is completely different compared to actually living in India. Most travelers coming from the west travel with first-class AC trains or with private chauffeurs. And if you are one of them, you are losing a lot.

You can’t get any idea about the way Indian society works, nor about their social problems, traditions, norms, and customs. India has much more to offer than sight-seeing. There’s much more to see than the Taj Mahal or the ghats in Varanasi.

That’s why even if you’re staying for a couple of weeks, mingle with local people, eat street food, do things the Indian way, try to make a jugaad, and embrace life in India.

Don’t just search for the easy way out. The streets of India are filled with adventure, revelation, and life lessons if you only step out of the box and find the beauty in the chaos.

 Racism Is Here Too?

living in india people

Now I know some of my friends might get mad at me for this one, but racism is present in India. Not in an extreme form maybe, but it’s still there. It’s true that India is one of the few countries in the world that had a lot of different ethnic groups without any major inner wars historically.

And they managed to preserve this big land filled with all these different people because of their tolerance and respect towards others.

However, some of the Indians of today seem to forget that. I’ve witnessed several instances of racism, especially towards people from the Northeast (Asian appearance), South Indians (darker skin), and even dark-skinned tourists. Here’s a very interesting article that talks in more detail about whether India is racist towards black people.

There’s even positive racial discrimination towards white people who, unfortunately, are still perceived as superior and rich. I guess not even the most tolerant countries are an exception when it comes to racism everywhere where there are minorities.

 All Is Well In The End; If not, It’s Not The End

delhi travel guide

The turn of fate is an important concept in Hinduism. Hindus believe that anything is possible and hope and faith can always change things for the better. India is a patience test, and the first months certainly weren’t easy.

Believe me when I say, India will bring your biggest personal flaws out on the surface and will make you confront them. I’m pretty sure my roommates would agree with this (they were also ex-pats).

During the time of my life I spent in India, I did everything, from washing clothes with my hands to cooking on my own jugaad, through traveling in the cheapest trains and buses, getting my phone stolen, but also going to fancy parties and events, and even dining with an actual maharaja descendant.

To put it simply, I learned that there’s a jugaad for everything. And that no matter how rough things get, all will turn out in the end. Just don’t rush and let things take its course. I always kept in mind the legendary quote from one of India’s most successful blockbusters, Three Idiots; ‘All iz well’. And I’m going to finish this article with my favorite quote from this movie:

‘Life is a race’.  “I don’t think so. Girls, buses, trains, and even exams and jobs – all come back after some time, so there’s no point in running after them”.

Helpful Resources For Life In India

  1. Let’s start with getting an Indian visa. I visited India more than 10 times and the best visa intermediary I came across is definitely IVisa. Their price is almost the same as getting a visa on your own, except their team will do all of their work for you.
  2. For further information, you can check out the Indian Bureau of Immigration for information on various visa categories, eligibility, and registration requirements for foreigners​​.
  3. The Ministry of Health offers guidance on necessary vaccinations and health precautions for traveling and living in India​​.
  4. Websites like India Property, and Magic Bricks can be useful for searching for rental or purchase properties.
  5. Learn basic Hindi phrases; it’s a gesture of respect and helps in daily interactions.
  6. Always negotiate prices in markets; it’s expected and part of the culture.
  7. Carry bottled water to avoid water-borne illnesses common in tap water.
  8. Embrace the local cuisine but start with milder flavors to gradually adjust to the spices.
  9. For flying to India, I always choose Qatar Airways. Not just because I’m their affiliate but also because their this special offer gets me the cheapest flights and now, you can use it too.
  10. If you want to take a tour in India, I recommend GetYourGuide’s tours for the main tourist attractions and for learning as much as possible about Indian culture.
  11. To get some great accommodation deals in India, use this link and save 15% on all accommodation bookings in India.
  12. For the best digital nomad insurance in India that has you covered in all situations possible, check out SafetyWing and get 10% off with my link.
  13. If you’re a fan of expat posts, you may also like our guide to living in Georgia country, living in Bulgaria, and living in Moldova.

Did you like this post? Would you spend some time of your life in India? Let me know in the comments.

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Wednesday 15th of November 2023

what does racism have to do with India?

Passport Symphony

Friday 22nd of December 2023

just my personal view and I believe your answer is answered within the article


Saturday 9th of September 2023

Such a great post!!

Passport Symphony

Saturday 30th of September 2023

Thanks, Mary

F. Emerson

Saturday 9th of September 2023

I spent two years in Mumbai, then still called Bombay, in the mid 1980s as a college teacher. Much of what you have described here I experienced myself. I also traveled across the country by train (second class) from Srinagar to Kovalam and Mumbai to Kolkata, and everything in between. Luckily, I got a lot of help from my faculty colleagues to get used to the customs and to find my way around. I loved the food right away, of course. You might have wanted to mention the importance of getting vaccinated. It is easy to catch viruses against which first-time visitors have no defenses. Other than that, I would recommend to put India on your bucket list at least once.

Passport Symphony

Saturday 30th of September 2023

Thank you for sharing your experience, F. I'm sure our readers will find it very useful :)

Supraja Lakshmi N

Sunday 2nd of July 2023

I really enjoyed reading your perspective on life in India. You did a great job of highlighting the diversity, culture, and challenges of my incredible country. I agree that India is not for everyone, but it is definitely a place that can teach you a lot about yourself and the world. Thank you for sharing your honest and insightful thoughts on life in India!

Passport Symphony

Sunday 13th of August 2023

Thank you, Supraja, I'm really glad you liked it :)

Himanshu Rai

Wednesday 1st of March 2023

This amazingly written blog describes how the writer has portrayed things about India. I greatly admire your decision to live in India, which I also aspire to do. Unfortunately, it's not a common choice, and I find it inspiring. I can relate to everything you've shared, and you should continue to travel and motivate others, as it is a passion many desire but does not pursue.

Passport Symphony

Saturday 4th of March 2023

Thank you for your kind words, Himanshu, it really means a lot