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The Cost of Living in India

by Globetrooper Todd | 41 Responses
Cost of Living in India

Since leaving Sydney, we’ve lived in Montreal, Cusco, Buenos Aires, and now Bangalore. We’ve experienced the full gamut of living expenses; from 500-dollar dinners in Sydney to 7-cent samosas in far-Eastern India. But this odyssey isn’t just about saving a few quid.

We left Australia to explore the world and live in places where our Australian dollars would go much further. Again, not just to save money, but to be able to live out a dream. Now, that brings us to incredible India.

A Recap of Previous Destinations

City Accomm. (/mth) Dinner (avg for 2) Beer (660ml)
Sydney $1733 $30-50 $4.00
Montreal $867 $30-50 $2.50
Cusco $433 $7-10 $1.00
Buenos Aires $800 $15-30 $1.20

The prices above were lifted from a previous blog post where we compared the cost of living in Sydney, Montreal and Cusco. That post further explains the assumptions of each category, but for now, we’re just talking about averages (an average apartment close to the city, an average dinner for two, and an average 660ml bottle of local beer).

Cost of Living in India

Firstly, Bangalore is known as India’s Silicon Valley. So using Bangalore as a proxy for the cost of living in India would be like using San Francisco as a proxy for the cost of living in the US. So I’ll talk about other Indian cities too, to give you a better idea. Secondly, living like a tourist here can be expensive. But like the other cities, we’re living here as locals. We eat local food and we work a lot, though not quite as much as the locals. It’s important to keep that in mind if you think our numbers are low.

Also, the prices I mention are in USD, CAD or AUD; they’re all about the same right now.

Accommodation

When we circumnavigated India by train only a month ago, we came across very cheap short-term accommodation. It was so cheap that if you extrapolated the daily rate to a monthly rate, it would still be cheaper than anything I’ve seen. For example, rooms in touristy Darjeeling were as low as $4/night. And I’ve heard in the off season in less touristic cities, rooms go for as low as $2 per night. Granted, we’re not talking about the Ritz Carlton, but hey, a bed is a bed, as long as it’s is clean and comfy.

However, unlike most other countries, you can’t really live comfortably in the average Indian hotel room. They’re typically too dark and pokey and don’t have Internet. So using a $2/night hotel room in comparison with our great apartments in Sydney, Montreal, Cusco and Buenos Aires wouldn’t be fair.

At the moment, we are paying $600/month for one bedroom in a large two bedroom apartment. It has a full kitchen, fast Internet, and is in the wealthiest Bangalore suburb (according to a recent newspaper article). We are renting the apartment from a hotel on a medium-term basis with a maid that visits daily. So although $600/month seems a lot for India, we have full cleaning, linen and laundry services, plus all utilities and Internet. You could certainly live here for 12 months for a lot less.

Here are some of the numbers from our experience in India so far:

  • $600/month for 1 bedroom in a semi-serviced apartment in the heart of Bangalore
  • $200-300/month for a 1 bedroom furnished apartment without Internet in Delhi
  • $5-15/night for an average hotel room in most Indian cities
  • As low as $2/night for cheap rooms in smaller cities and towns

The real problem in India is finding medium-term accommodation. That’s because long-term rentals often require an advance 10-month payment, which is a problem if you’re only staying for 3 months. That made India the most difficult place, so far, to find medium term accommodation. That’s also the reason we’re paying so much right now, because we’re only staying 3 months and have to pay for a semi-serviced property.

Eating Out

Although accommodation is our largest expense here, it would be very easy to spend more on eating out if we ate at touristic establishments. But the same goes for any city. Most of the restaurants close to our home in Sydney cost $100+ for two, but that’s because we lived in a business district. The same goes with where we are in Bangalore.

So when we talk about eating out, we’re talking about local restaurants with average prices. Here are some of the numbers:

  • $1-4 per main meal at most restaurants regardless of city
  • $0.40-0.80 for a bottle of brand-name soft drink in most restaurants (e.g. Coca Cola)
  • $0.07-0.20 per samosa at most bakeries and street food vendors
  • $4-9 for dinner for two at small local restaurants

The funny thing with India Rupees is that the conversion rate acts as a psychological brake. When your bill comes back at 450 rupees, you really feel like you’ve spent much more than $10, especially after spending only 3 rupees on a samosa a few hours earlier. That certainly helps foreigners maintain a cost of living like the locals.

Lunch is even cheaper. I went to the bakery with Troy Floyd, from FOGG Odyssey, and he bought a chicken pastry, a vegetable pastry, a jam doughnut and a 600ml bottle of Coca Cola for only $0.90! I bought a couple of loaves of tasty whole wheat bread for only $0.35 each. Bananas? About 5 to 8 cents each! A Kit Kat? About 20 cents. A small cup of coffee? 10 cents. The list goes on… if you’re wiling to buy local, it is very cheap to eat here.

Compared to the Cost of Living in South America

Without a doubt, the cost of living in India is lower than anywhere we visited in South America. But… and this is a big ‘but’ for us. Broadband Internet is much more pervasive in South America and the property market is setup perfectly for medium-term visitors. It was very easy to find an apartment in Argentina, almost as easy as Montreal. India is much more like Sydney in that it doesn’t cater well for visitors staying for 1 to 6 months.

Conversely, beer was cheaper in South America. The cheapest I can find a 660ml beer for here is about $1.40, whereas that sized beer was readily available in South America (Peru and Argentina) for about $1.00. Meat is more expensive too, because much of the population is vegetarian. Beef can be found in foreign restaurants, but I try to avoid it out of respect for local customs.

Adjustments to Lifestyle

Although the cost of living in Sydney is about five times the cost of living in India, you’re obviously not getting the same quality of service. Some of the adjustments aren’t easy, some are quite positive, but none of the adjustments are very dramatic.

Negative Adjustments

  • Meat Becomes a Luxury: Personally, that doesn’t bother me. I absolutely love Indian food, and the less meat the better.
  • Services are Slow: Despite what you hear about India’s growth rate, the services are still very slow and often held up by bureaucracy. I tried to buy a SIM card and the phone company (Tata Indicom) wanted a letter from a consular official. Bureaucracy is so ingrained that most people won’t question it.
  • Pollution is Bad: Air pollution is especially bad in Bangalore, and that means morning jogs are out of the question if you value your health. Then there’s the rubbish. On an overnight train, a man stopped me from putting my rubbish in the bin. He grabbed it and through it out the door and told me not to clog the bins up (???). I didn’t understand what he meant until I saw the train attendant empty the bin out the door of the moving train a few minutes later.

Positive Adjustments

  • Never Wash/Iron Clothes: Labor is so cheap that it doesn’t make sense to wash your own clothes. And I’m more than fine with that. It can cost as little as $10 to have your clothes washed for an entire month!
  • Travel by Taxi Everyday: A taxi ride within Sydney city costs about $20, which is prohibitively expensive for travel to and from work. As long as you find an honest rickshaw driver, you can travel 5-10km on about $1 in Bangalore. That means you don’t need a car and get get your own chauffeur at any time of the day in any place you want.
  • Cheap Medication: Everything seems to be 2 cents per pill. Panadol, Imodium, anti-malarials, etc. Even Lauren’s rabies vaccine was only $7 (compared to hundreds in Australia). Of course in Sydney you don’t need Imodium, anti-malarials or rabies, but if you’re older and on expensive lifetime medication, you’ll love the savings here.

Final Numbers for the Cost of Living in Bangalore

I’ve added Bangalore to the table from above to give a fair comparison of the cost of living. Remember that Bangalore is an expensive city in India and that we weren’t able to get long-term accommodation rates due to the nature of the property rental market. In other cities, accommodation and eating out would be more than halved.

City Accomm. (/mth) Dinner (avg for 2) Beer (660ml)
Sydney $1733 $30-50 $4.00
Montreal $867 $30-50 $2.50
Cusco $433 $7-10 $1.00
Buenos Aires $800 $15-30 $1.20
Bangalore $600 $7-12 $1.40
Posted in India | April 14th, 2011

41 Responses to The Cost of Living in India

  1. Thanks for the nice breakdown. Im glad you actually stated that to compare a $2 room with a luxury room someplace else with internet etc. Im guessing having the clothes washed for $10 is something you can get used too.

    • Hey BK, yes, love having my clothes washed. Here in Chiang Mai, it’s about $1.50 for wash, dry and iron.

      • ” As low as $2/night for cheap rooms in smaller cities and towns ”

        could you tell us the names of those place ? thanks in advance !

    • I am 73 plus , from 1960 I have been travelling internationally. I have covered most of the globe. Here is my take, today India is among the cheapest countries in the world for an English speaking person. If a couple lives like a local one can live in $450 quite comfortably in a small city like Mysore, which is close to Bangalore or Nasik near Bombay. Yes India is filthy and crowded. It has all the facilities, products and services and lot of corruption bundled with red tap. For a returning Indian it is a paradise, as he can handle these tricky issue and livve in comfort with small income. The bottom line is if you have friends in India, you can handlethings better.

      The other country is Phillipines, English speaking, more westernised. Require $550/month.Kenya, live away from Nairobi, English speaking more westernized, but immigration is a problem for long term. Require $700/month. Thailand difficult as English speaker but can live with $800/month away from Bangkok. Costa Rica, Pannama are also good but a bit more expansive. I am planning to start a help center for India, as I am planning to go and retire there, at the moment you can contact me without obligation on email ID :tryguru@yahoo.com. India will soon have an anti-corruption law that may ease a lot of red tape.

      • Just came across your reply to Todd re the comparision of costs of living in cities around the word. And loved your brief story. Would it possible to keep in touch? I need help/guidance about semi-retiring in India, Mumbai specifically, in 3-4 years.

        Kavita

  2. I love these cost breakdowns that you do. Keep them coming!

    • Thanks Gray, will do. Just need to travel somewhere new first :) Choosing between Korea, Thailand, Nepal, and basically anywhere else.

  3. Thank you immensely for this!! I am in the beginning stages of planning my trip to India. I am shooting to arrive in July and backpack throughout!! I was wondering if you had any knowledge of long distance transportation within the country – such as a bus ride from Mumbai to Goa. Anything is much appreciated!

    Kate

    • @Kate: There is daily bus service in between Mumbai-Goa. I think there are several buses (also companies) running on that route and it would cost not more than 10 USD. The ride takes about 12-14 hrs. Happy touring…..Cheers…

      • Give the bus a miss the train is a much better choice

    • u can book buses online either
      in redbus.in
      or makemytrip.com

    • Hi Kate,

      Train is definitely the way to go. Have a look at some of our other posts on Indian trains. We go into deep detail about the booking process. The trains are really comfy and show you quite remote parts of the countryside.

      Highly recommended :)

    • Kate,
      From Mumbai to Goa the cheapest is by plane. The services have become competitive with more than one airlines in operation. I have been out of India for the last 30 years though my wife Kate from MA USA and I have traveled to India, Japan, Europe often since my wife folks live in Germany and Japan and my folks sister and brother live in Chennai. I have been in the US since 1981. Write me if you need any directions or suggestions (Educationist@bellsouth.net) living and traveling in India. Kate and I are planning to move to Chennai (we bought a 3 bedroom flat) in the near future.

  4. Hey, this is nice information. We are an India based website and thought your readers might find it great to know interesting facts about india

  5. This was a good read. I am an Indian and was trying to understand cost of living in Sydney and stumbled onto this :-). Had a chuckle reading through this. Hey, Samosas ain’t 3 rupees anymore, they cost atleast 7-8 bucks now! Why is beer so expensive in Sydney? I thought Australians were massive beer drinkers and it would be dirt cheap.

    • Hey Ravi,

      Samosas were only 3 rupees up in Assam only a couple of months ago. But agree they’re more often 7-8. They were 10+ in Bangalore.

      Wages are very high in Sydney and the city has quite a high cost of living. But it’s true they love beer in Australia, more so outside of Sydney, which is quite cosmopolitan now. While things seem expensive, the average wage in Sydney is probably about US$60k, maybe more, so it’s all relative. An average waitress or waiter in Sydney would make more than one in New York.

  6. i would like to be explained in terms of:

    Accommodation
    Transportation
    meals
    drinks
    shopping
    sports & leisure
    utilities

    Total

    both to be per month

    regards
    Angel

  7. Hi
    I am trying to figure out if 45-55 thousand rupees per month will be enought for living expenses . I am Canadian planning to spend six months in India soon

    • Hi Cathy, it depends on how much travelling you have planned and what level of luxury you like. 50k rupees is easily enough to get by. You can get cheap rooms in most places for $5 per night and food also costs as little as $1 per meal. On the other hand, there are also hotels for $300/night and restaurants with meals from $30/ea. You can at least have comfort in knowing if things get tough, there are plenty fo cheaper options. When I stayed for a similar timeframe, I splurged on a room that was $600/month. But I was mostly working, not traveling. And that was in Bangalore, which is the most expensive city after Mumbai. I probably spent 50k rupees in total per month during my stay.

      Also, travel by train very cheap, especially in 3ac or 2ac (forget 1ac, it’s nowhere near as interesting).

  8. This is very informative! I lived in Bangalore in the 80s but things have changed much since then. Have things improved anymore on the connectivity front? My husband and I have virtual jobs (currently living in California) and wanted to live in India while continuing with our American jobs. Which city would be best for high-quality internet connectivity? Any other recommendations — we’re moving with tots.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Sandy,

      Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore for the fastest Internet. I’d go for Bangalore, especially if you enjoy the climate in California. I stayed there for a few months and the weather was perfect. Once we found a place with Internet, the speed and reliability was pretty good. It was mostly the electricity that would go out due to load.

      That said, Bangalore was almost as bad as New York in terms of free WiFi. It seems to be getting better quickly, but you tend to have to go long distances to find cafes with WiFi that also open early in the morning. Bangalore is also very spread out, which doesn’t help.

      All the best. India is still one of my favourite countries.

  9. Love your website. Keep up the good work and keep the updates coming

  10. Hi Cathy,

    I just returned from Goa. Rather than a hotel room, you can also book a sea side furnished serviced appartment with a kitched.
    It is quite cheap.

  11. I am an indian and about to go to boston to do my MBA so I am interested in this. The average outgoing salary of my school is 120000 dollars/years. So I wanted to know how much it is in america as I do not plan to return after 5-10 years like some. So no prospect of converting dollars to bountiful rupees. Your post was nice but was touristy. It may work for specific people like retired persons but not everyone. I have a sister who lives in charlotte in america. And she keeps telling me how cheap america is!! For example one of their friends bought a mansion for around 200,000 dollars.really large with large gardens. It will cost around 500000 dollars in an emerging metro like pune. Mind yo charlotte is relatively unknown but is second margest financial center in america. If you plan to settle down in india you got to look at prices of gas,manufactured goods,electronics etc. Gas costs more. Cars nearly same. Tv,fridge,washing maching nearly same. Mobiles and laptops more. Branded clothes cost more. I have purchased shirts on wallmart for 10 dollars which will cost 17-18 dollars here. General rule is labour,and less value added stuff and raw material is way cheaper. Finished ,high value good is equal to even expensive.that’s how it is likely to be in a develoiping country with a huge population. Also government provides many services at no cost there which have to be expensively bought here. My sense is for every dollar in america it will take 50 cents in india. So forget 4 and 5 times dreams. Also a decent hotel room cost a lot more.you must be staying in really dirty rooms. I routinely shell out around 150 dollars per day on hotels in big cities. And they are just average.

  12. Hello Globetrooper, I’m Vietnamese and I’m going to come India for 4 months. I just can afford 500 USD/month for cost of living. Do you think it’s enough to live there?

    • Lynne,

      It depends where you want to go. Yes $500/month can get you going in Bangalore if you can live cheap and eat cheap. But you can go a step further if you plan to visit smaller cities with the same money. I recommend you register to http://www.couchsurfing.org to get some shared accomodation if you plan to visit big cities as hotels and rents can be very high there.

  13. Hi Globetrooper. I’m going to India and staying there for 4 months. I just can afford 500 USD/month. Do you think it is enough to live there? (as a local people)

    • @lynne,
      depends…you might have to cut back on the non-vegetarian food, including fish (except probably in kerala where it is cheaper). don’t travel by auto’s/taxis ANYWHERE, the public transportation, however crowded or ill-maintained, is very effective and dirt cheap. read through as many travel forums as you can and acquaint yourself about various scams….and don’t be afraid to bargain, this is india! enjoy the ride :)

    • Hi Lynne
      I am vietnamese from U.S on business trip for a month. I have been trying to see if any Vietnamese live in Bangalore so I can make friends and have Vietnamese talk.
      If you are intersted, please email me at Phi029@yahoo.com

  14. Fabulous the way you break it down .. Yes I am from Calcutta and I have lived in Delhi, Ahmedabad and been to Bombay as well …. Bangalore would be the most preferred among all these cities.

    Keep your comments coming. I also see a lot of foreign nationals now riding their own bikes/ scooters as its cheaper to travel and you can then splurge on other better things than Autorickshaws.

  15. Dear Sir,
    I appreciate all that you share with us. I am planning to move to India on a professional level for some years. This will help a lot. Please, come to Ethiopia if you have other plans of seeing more places and write your impression about it like those places you saw. Please ask any thing you would want to know since I am Ethiopian.

  16. dear sir
    many of the columists are speaking bangalore as reference. this is not true representation. avoid metropolitans and see beautiful small towns for example RAJAHMUNDRY in the state of andhra pradesh. here you can find good cultural view plus good people and river view . and excellent extremely cheap vegetarian food. in my view any one spends 250 dollars per month can happily live and the place highly suitable for all religions.

  17. Hi Globetrotter,
    I am a Peace Corps Volunteer planning a trip after my close of service. I want to tour India in a month on about $2000. It sound’s like you did a similar trip, may i have your itinerary, accommodation and price information? I will arrive in early june and leave early July. I am also going to Malaysia and Thailand, if anyone has suggestions for cheap and safe (I’m a solo femal traveller) places to stay, I would really appreciate any input! Thanks, Yaa

  18. There are surely a few more details to take into consideration, but thanks for sharing this info.

  19. This is fabulous information. My boyfriend and I are going to India late summer of 2014 and are planning to stay for at least a year – maybe longer. We will be getting married there at the Parmouth Ashram but are thinking of staying in India after we leave the ashram (3 month stay) any suggestions for Americans where we can live, work and enjoy the sights of India? I welcome anyone who would like to correspond with me who is living in India or is also planning to do so……nancy@newlifetransformations.org

    Thanks for the great info!

  20. Hi Globetrotter.
    I am almost 72 and wanting to visit India again soon, within the next 6 months. Having been to Delhi, Rajasthan and Mumbai, my wish now is to visit Kerala and Tamil Nadu (right down on the most southern coast).
    If I were to stay for 3 months in one place, trying to live more like a local, would it be feasible to hire a servant for that duration, so he would do my shopping, cleaning, etc. around the house? What would be a fair wage for him, per week?

  21. Hello to all,

    I’d like to ask what would be the cost of living for a month in Chennai. 40,000 Indian Rupees, may be enough? Thank you in advance.

  22. Here is a good list of current prices in Goa / India

    http://www.poipleshadow.com

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