1 August 2016

Caroline Stedman - Expat in Mumbai, India

Caroline Stedman - Expat in Mumbai, India

Caroline Stedman is a 32-year-old woman who works in creative event production as a sound engineer and writer. She is currently in the United Kingdom for her work visa, but intends to return to Mumbai, India soon. Originally from the United Kingdom, Miss Stedman decided to relocate to India to try working. She noted that another reason for relocating had to do with the weather in the United Kingdom, as she hated the cold. At present, she has been living in India with her daughter for two years.

Miss Stedman noted that her most difficult experience as an expat in India involved being accepted as a woman and as a single mother by Indian society. “It has been hard to get accepted at work and socially also – a lot of this is to do with the stigma of being a single mother, being a woman - not to a great extent – no one has been openly sexist (except in the Foreigners Registry office) but gaining respect has been a challenge in some cases,” she said. Miss Stedman also talked about the challenges that came with language barrier. “It has been isolating at times not being able to join in with jokes and conversation as my Hindi is not up to scratch yet.” She also said that dealing with formalities was difficult. “The rules are tight and it took two months more than I expected to get my visa with some rules seemingly being made up as whatever official who was dealing with me at the time went along,” she said, adding that the man at the Foreigners Registry office reduced her to tears after he told her she was never going to survive in India, especially without a husband. “They made me jump through a lot of hoops,” she remarked.

Like Miss Stedman’s experiences, it can be quite difficult for expatriates to deal with an unfamiliar culture when it comes to processing important documents and other formalities. Expatriates looking to know more about the immigration laws and procedures of the country that they are planning to relocate to may want to consider availing of professional immigration services which can help speed up the immigration process. Additionally, expatriates who are seeking out opportunities to learn the local language may want to consider visiting their local embassies while overseas to find out about language-learning prospects.

Find out more about Caroline Stedman’s experiences in India in her full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: England

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: I lost my job when I had my baby (yes illegal I know!). I had stayed in India before many times and had a great love for the country as well as many friends there. I went there on a short holiday with my baby daughter and her godmother and happened to be staying in a hotel near a large beach festival. I worked in events back in Europe so I thought ‘why not give it a try in India – big shows happen here also!’ and set about finding a job. Another big influence was the UK weather – I hate the cold!

Q: Where are you living now?

A: I was in Mumbai – a large part of my life is there as is my heart – but I am currently back in the UK for some time. I intend to come back to Mumbai as soon as I find more work (and a new work visa!). I travel back and forth on a regular basis as my boyfriend is still there and does not have a visa to come to the UK as yet.

Q: How long have you been living in India?

A: I have been in India on and off for the past two years. As mentioned above I’m currently back and forth between UK and India. I first came to India when I was 18 and have spent extended periods there ever since so it feels as much like home as England!

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in your host country?

A: It has been hard to get accepted at work and socially also – a lot of this is to do with the stigma of being a single mother, being a woman - not to a great extent – no one has been openly sexist (except in the Foreigners Registry office) but gaining respect has been a challenge in some cases. As a foreigner you get treated as more important and paid more sometimes just because of the colour of your skin – I was really uncomfortable with this and hated it. It doesn’t make you too popular with the people you work with – especially if they are more talented and experienced than you. The main challenge though has been returning to work after two years away from the industry with additional health issues to contend with as well as a new baby (I was still breastfeeding when I started my job and sometimes would be at work for 18 hours plus) – this is a problem I would have had whatever country I was in. A new language to learn is also a challenge – it has been isolating at times not being able to join in with jokes and conversation as my Hindi is not up to scratch yet.

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?

A: The rules are tight and it took two months more than I expected to get my visa with some rules seemingly being made up as whatever official who was dealing with me at the time went along.

The man in the FRRO had me in actual tears when he told me I was never going to survive and what was I doing here without a husband?! They made me jump through a lot of hoops. Renting a flat as a single mum was also difficult – I was told that they only rent to families – having a child apparently doesn’t make you a family if you don’t have a husband – do you see the running theme here? I found that I had to lie most of the time and say I had a husband who was ‘coming soon’ – I hated this, but you have to accept and respect the culture which you are living within.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I live with my daughter – she loves India and misses it when we are in the UK. Her schooling there was of a much higher standard than the UK (though not free!) and everyone loved her there so she got a lot of attention which she loved! I was worried though that she would get a bit of a princess complex and when she is back in the UK she can’t understand why she is suddenly just another kid – her blond curly hair set her apart from her playground friends and made her an object of fascination and I’m not sure how healthy that is in the long run. She picked up the language much quicker than me – as she is so very young she has grown up there so she didn’t need to do much adjusting – she took her first steps on the beach in vagator, goa and loves spicy food. She has never seen snow or known cold so I would say she has more trouble adjusting when we are in the UK.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in India? How did you manage to find a social circle in India?

A: I don’t have really any ex-pat friends in Mumbai – I know one lady but we never got the opportunity to become friends as I work so much. I know some in Goa. Most of my friends are Indian. I didn’t go out on any of those ex-pat social things – I was always so busy with work and it just felt a bit strange to go and hang out with strangers just because they were foreigners also. I mainly hung out with my work mates (I was the only foreigner at work) or friends of my boyfriend or people I had met in my housing society. I didn’t go to all the cool places ex-pats normally hang out as I just don’t have time with work and a young daughter!

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Gorai Island is great fun with a theme park, water park and meditation pagoda – I have written a couple of blogs about tourist things to do around Mumbai.

Q: How does the cost of living in India compared to your home?

A: A cup of coffee in the UK will cost you maybe five times the price of Mumbai. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant in the UK is again at least five times the price. When it comes to a meal in an expensive restaurant, I dread to think! I don’t get to go to those kinds of places! Wine in India costs maybe 250 rupees – UK wine maybe 800 rupees

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?

A: Some were nice, some were not – it is the same anywhere in the world! Indian people in general are cheerful, hardworking and resilient by nature – I love how the importance of family is sacred to Indian society and the west has a lot to learn from this. I have a lot of respect for Indian people and their culture and their beautiful country.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in India? 

A: Well I have mentioned a lot already. It is certainly cheap compared to the UK and Europe. You get what you pay for and you have to pay for everything – no free healthcare, no free schooling. The standards of both can be higher than the UK if you can afford to pay for it. Childcare is very cheap also and we had a live-in nanny who became an important part of our family. The neighbors found this very strange as it is not usual to become friends with “the maid” – I am writing a screenplay based on our friendship. There is a big problem with poverty and infrastructure like roads and sanitation are not up to the standards that we have in Europe. Indians complain a lot about corruption in the police and in government. There is a lot of black money. We have our own problems back in Europe but I appreciate the NHS and the access to free education that we have in the UK a whole lot more now! One of the reasons I am back in the UK for the time being is my health and the help I can get on the NHS. I also love how cosmopolitan London is – being a foreigner is the norm in London. Until I moved to Mumbai I had no concept of what it felt like to be a foreigner and the amount of attention you get is not always wanted!

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: India is home as much as England. I miss my parents and my friends.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Skype and wine


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I have plans to go back to India and also to spend time between UK and there. Maybe I will get married to my Indian boyfriend one day and who knows where my work will take me. The money you can make working in the middle east is quite appealing…..

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Being a single mother in a country where that is looked down on. I am now on my second serious intercultural relationship and the distance and difference involved in these relationships have been a big challenge – one that the first relationship did not survive (visa laws didn’t help). I have hope for the second one but only time will tell.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in India?

A: Don’t get trapped in the ex-pat bubble. Bother to try and learn Hindi. Don’t drink the tap water or brush your teeth in it no matter how long you have lived there. Citricidal is good for ‘delhi belly’! vada pav is the best. Don’t drink fenny! Madera wine is nice. Learn the local train seat swapping technique and how to gain ‘the fourth seat’ on the local train. Beware of Indian men that want to be your friend on the internet if you have never met them before – they are most likely out for one thing! (In some cases though it could be the love of your life so use your discretion and you might just live happily ever after!) If you fall in love with an Indian be prepared for a lot of hard work with visas!

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: Everydayadventuresinasia is a good read (especially if you like whisky!) There are a few other India ex-pat blogger also. IndiaMike forums and internations are good sites and there are tonnes of ex-pat fb groups. There are apps for local trains which are brilliant.