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Exit China, Enter India – Expat Transitions: Part II

Apartment Hunting in Delhi vs. Shanghai

Olaf Griese has spent six years with Dezan Shira & Associates in Shanghai and has just recently relocated to Delhi. In this series of articles, he will detail the differences, as well as the pros and cons, of living in both China and India.

Apr. 10 – My first apartment when I arrived in Shanghai six years ago was on the 11th floor of a high-rise building in the city’s Hongkou District – an area popular among the local working class looking for cheap accommodations close to People’s Square. After a few years, I moved to Huaihai Road opposite the well-known Jiaotong University where I shared a flat on the 21st floor with a friend. Finally, just before coming to India, my last apartment was on Madang Road close to the old quarter at Tianzifang where I lived on the 15th floor. During all these years I worked out of our local Dezan Shira & Associates office on the 18th floor of Tian’an Center overlooking People’s Square. Generally speaking, I found living in Shanghai relatively easy and fairly hassle-free. Finding and maintaining an apartment was not difficult, and I was able to have friends and family stay whenever they visited. But I never lived below the tenth floor. That has interesting implications.

After moving to India, however, I’ve found that the sky is no longer the limit. So far over my first 10 days, I’ve been living out of hotels. When I first arrived in the country, I checked into a hotel in Gurgaon, which is where our office in the city is based. That’s rather like being placed in Shanghai’s Pudong – nice, but very much a business area with not much to do after work. That being said, it is very convenient for walking to the office just five minutes away.

The real action, however, is downtown. So to assess the differences in living, I moved near to Connaught Place at the Shangri-La last weekend to get a feel for the area. While this new location is an hour’s taxi drive from Gurgaon, it is considerably nicer: more trees, green, a lot of nice parks, as well as a better selection of restaurants and night life. Delhi, like Shanghai, has a local “Time Out” magazine and it is easy to find some nice bars and other entertainment. The only downside in my mind would be the combined two hour commute each day.

So, after weighing my options, I decided to try and look for an apartment in downtown South Delhi reasonably close to our office, though it was immediately obvious that I will not rise in New Delhi to the same physical heights as I did in Shanghai. For example, I visited an apartment today on the fifth floor, and that was the highest apartment I’ve seen during my apartment search thus far. I even had a look at the apartment’s beautiful roof terrace, which seems to be a common feature in South Delhi while such luxuries are typically reserved for only the ultra-rich in Shanghai.

From what I’ve seen so far, residential property rarely reaches above six floors. Most of the time when I’m visiting properties with my real estate agent, we take the stairs even when an elevator is available. On the way out, we often take the elevator down with the landlord as if it is a validation of a sales process; a useless luxury.

The composition of apartments in Delhi is also somewhat different. It is interesting to see that most of the bedrooms have an integrated bathroom and that this is not limited to the master bedroom, but also applies to the guestroom. In Shanghai, only my last apartment had a similar feature.

Some of the furnished apartments can also be surprising. Decorated with ancient furniture and traditional Indian handcraft, they can be very classic. On the other side of the spectrum, I also visited an apartment with a modern kitchen and dining room with colorful glasswork. In stark contrast, the bedroom – with a very colorful, bubble-gum squeeze style – could have been the perfect hiding place for Alice in Wonderland. The housing market in New Delhi is very dynamic and it seems not to be difficult to find suitable housing.

Regarding transportation, I decided to take the Delhi Metro to work instead of a taxi ride to see if the one hour taxi journey would improve via subway. A lot of Delhi’s metro system runs above ground, and although it was busy at rush-hour it was easy to use, clean and efficient. It also cut the driving time in half – I was able to make it to my office in Gurgaon in just 30 minutes. Traffic in Delhi is not too bad in terms of volume, but there is so much construction going on that there constantly trucks and cement mixers everywhere holding up the traffic. That will change, and it is surprising that it is not the big infrastructure problem that I expected.

In the end, I found a suitable four-bedroom apartment in South Delhi that I will probably take that also features a large living room and nice kitchen with plenty of natural light. Not being surrounded by so many tall apartment buildings like in Shanghai means the natural light in Delhi is better and reaches lower.

How much? I believe I can get it within my budget of US$2,000 per month. In Shanghai, such an apartment would be more than double that figure, and perhaps not quite as nice.

When I left Shanghai many friends told me Delhi was dirty and horrible. The funny thing is that I can see myself improving many aspects of my expatriate life here and apartment accommodations is one of them. There are two other things I can see in Delhi near the apartments that I cannot see in Shanghai: parrots flying about the trees, and sometimes monkeys. It is certainly very green, and I am looking forward to moving in.

The deal? Three months deposit and one month rent upfront. Normal, I think. But living on a lower floor when all other surrounding buildings are also low allows more sunlight, more greenery, and more birdsong in the mornings in Delhi than it ever did in Shanghai.

This is Part II of our ongoing Expat Transitions Series. The rest of the series can be found below:

Olaf Griese is a partner with Dezan Shira & Associates in India. He is based in the firm’s Delhi office providing corporate establishment, tax planning, business advisory and on-going tax, accounting and related services to foreign investors throughout the country. The firm has five offices in the country. Olaf can be reached at [email protected].

Related Reading

Doing Business in India (Second Edition)
This book aims to provide a basic overview of all topics related to doing business in India – history, business etiquette and culture, and how to invest into the country, in addition to a detailed, state-by-state demographic and geographic overview and a comparison with China.

China’s Ex-Expats: Emerging Asia Beckons

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5 Responses to Exit China, Enter India – Expat Transitions: Part II

  1. allan says:

    ya india is good one gets to see animals in the streets and birds in the air,
    which is not possible in many other cities.
    I would get bored just looking at those human faces…

  2. Girish says:

    Thanks for this was very interesting write-up..!! and would be looking forward for Part III.

    It is interesting fact that Delhi is indeed under process of developing modern infrastructure just like Beijing or Shanghai but one elements that Delhi cannot be beaten is its greeny and the life eco system which lives in it.
    All the modern high-rise are under construction in Sub cities like Noida, Greater Noida, Gurgroan which would look like Shanghai in next 10-15 years. But Delhi will be known for its own uniqueness and that is its low rise and forest look.
    I am sure Shanghai people would not believe that an efficient city exists inside a forest.

  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Yup New Delhi itself is a very beautiful green city. All people think about are the crowded streets of Old Delhi or the construction in Noida and Gurgaon. The latter re indeed Delhi’s Pudong, while Old Delhi is like stepping back in time 500 years. But New Delhi is one of my favorite capital cities worldwide.

  4. W. Tseng says:

    Whenever a comparison is made between India & China, I find your sentiments nuanced in favour of India over China – but not overtly so. One tends to share your belief & confidence when reading your articles on the potential of India. But now comes an article from Asia Sentinel (see link), that puts a bit of apprehension on investing in India. Do you share such views or agree with the comments column that it’s just India bashing by the West?

  5. Girish says:

    @W. Tseng

    Although, today’s India is poor, dirty with lack of infrastructure. But it was much worst yesterday then today and its only getting better for tomorrow.

    To understand India’s potential, one must read into below mentioned parameters.

    Market Potential (For Industry)
    1. Its a billion plus people country
    2. 250 million middle class (400 million by 2020)

    1. Maiden age of India : 23 years. (youngest among top 10 major economy of the world)
    2. Labor cost (rock bottom)
    3. English speaking technical/semi technical/managerial people

    1. Developing highways at 6000-7000 km per year.
    2. Upgradation of Airports/sea ports across the country in full swing.
    3. One Trillion dollar of infrastructure investment by 2017 already planned (Power/transport/industries etc).
    4. Projects like Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor projects (1000 KM long industrial belt) under development with 100 billion dollar investment. This will change the manufacturing landscape of India and Asia.
    5. Example Subways. First subway was opened in 1976, second in 2002, today 8 cities have subways under construction and by 2020, 35 cities in India will have subway underconstruction/operational.
    (Most importantly, 60% of investment in Infrastructure is from Private sector and thus are profit conscious. Their ROI is better from day one and thus are not bubble investment)


    1. Indian export is increasing at 20% growth rate. It will be at 500 billion by 2014.
    We exports from Cars, Software, Electronic, raw materials, machines etc. A healthy combination.
    2. Import are much higher (mostly of petroleum, raw materials and high end machinery important for infra development and industries for future growth)

    1. India is a Nuclear Power with self reliance on strategic weapons like missiles, missile defense system etc enough to avoid the wars and thus investment is safe from external threats.
    2. India has a strong, formidable, war experienced defense force.

    Science & Technologies
    1. Right from Space program, Nuclear Technology programs, renewable energy etc India is there where any developed country is.

    World View:
    1. West, Russia, Arab, Japan, Australia, ASEAN etc doesn’t see India as a military threat and that is very importance for growth. India’s growth is a real peaceful rise. All are comfortable to share sensitive technologies with India (to some extent).
    2. Shared values of democracy, transparency etc helps India on every global platform.

    1. India is fastest growing tourism major market in the world.

    1. Every society is corrupt in the beginning of its development cycle due to rush of money and lack of proper law enforcement. But Democracy, freedom of press and power of vote can ensure that corruption gets eradiated with time when people start standing against it and start taking action against government with vote. People of India are now standing up against corruption, so it’s the beginning of the eradication of corruption in India.

    Note : All developed and least corrupt countries are democracies.

    Soft Power:

    1. India is mother of spiritualiy. Do you want to know yourself, come to India.
    2. A great souce of knowledge and wisdom for the world.
    3. Ancient Science : Yoga, Arurveda, martial arts etc
    3. Indian food
    4. Bollywood
    5. Colours
    6. Indian Contribution to Maths, Medicine, Life science, meditation, language is know to the world.

    Power/Cultural blocks of the World
    West, Arabs, Asian (chinese,keoran,japanese etc),Indian (Indian subcontinent)

    India is becoming very relevent for this world very fast. India is leaving one country behind (in terms absolute size of GDP). Last year, it left behind Spain, this year Canada and Russina. Next year it will left behind Brazil. By 2015 it will be above Italy & Britain.
    By 2020, it will be 3rd largest economy in absolut terms where as it is already 3rd largest in PPP terms.

    India has a stable democracy with massive economic potential. Indian economy is a consumption driven economy which is a better model then export based economy.

    Free and openness in society is the reason behind Western innovation based growth. And that will happen to India as well (as I can see that happening every day).

    Investment in India is a safer bit for everyone. Japan is moving from China towards India (DMIC project it the proof)
    India can provide better IPR protection and law abiding governance. People can challange the Goverment Of India and can win if they are right…!!!

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