Mumbai is undoubtedly India’s most cosmopolitan city, with a burgeoning population and vibrant cultural life. Over the past decade, Mumbai has transformed into a major international metropolis with a flurry of multinational companies and booming industries, breaking into the international business world and leading to increased popularity with expats.
Perhaps what most expats find appealing in the city is the diversity of life: there are people of varied social, financial, and cultural strata, coexisting in one of the most populous cities in the world.
This variety is evident in the celebration of religious festivals that highlight life in Mumbai.
There is vibrancy and a quality of daring to life in Mumbai that is not so apparent in Dubai, where daily life is much more ordered, predictable, and convenient.
For expats who want to step out of their comfort zone and experience adventure on a whole new level, head to Mumbai – which definitely promises an expat experience never to be forgotten.
Quality of life in Mumbai vs. Dubai
Expats who decide to move to Mumbai will discover that the city has much to offer: a buzzing nightlife, a ton of restaurants and eateries to choose from, and a vibrant cultural and commercial environment with the possibility of meeting new people whose way of life may be very different from your own.
However, moving to Mumbai can be a huge cultural shock for expats who come from a more organized and less disparate Western world. The huge divide between the wealthy and the less fortunate is nowhere more apparent than in Mumbai, where glistening skyscrapers overlook some of the world’s largest slums.
Mumbai is truly a city of contrasts and contradictions, where boutique restaurants and cafes share an uneasy proximity to beggars, shantytowns, and open sewage. Luxurious, foreign manufactured automobiles jostle in traffic jams alongside horse-driven carts and oblivious cows.
The poverty and hardship that many local people face on a daily basis may be a hard pill to swallow for expats. In Mumbai, safety is also an issue, and expat women should exercise caution particularly late at night or if planning to travel to remote areas.
Go with trusted friends and travel in a group if possible. The crime rate in Mumbai is quite high, and is definitely made worse by the poverty that is rampant in the city.
Dubai, by comparison, may seem a lot more sterile to those used to the chaos of Mumbai: clean streets and low crime rates characterize this city, which boasts a large Indian expat population.
For those expats looking to maintain an expat lifestyle away from home, Dubai is the better choice, as most expats experience less of a cultural shock than in Mumbai.
Housing and Accommodation
Finding property in Mumbai can be very frustrating for expats, as there is a severe shortage of housing and demand is constantly on the rise. Expats who arrive with the notion of living in one of Mumbai’s old colonial bungalows are often forced to settle for cramped apartments.
As you move further south, rentals and property prices soar, making Mumbai notorious for having some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Older apartment blocks are not equipped with amenities such as gymnasiums or clubhouses.
Some expats are lucky enough to have housing provided for in their relocation packages, but as the economy slows down, fewer companies are offering such lavish benefits. For most expats, going through a real estate agent can save a lot of time and hassle.
Those who are brave enough to hunt for apartments themselves should remember to check that the building they are looking at has an Occupation Certificate. Also check with neighbors that there is no water scarcity issue as this is common in Mumbai.
In Dubai, going through a real estate agent can make life easier, but it is also possible to find an apartment lease directly through the landlord. However, many landlords are not subject to rent control laws and can increase the rent with minimal notice – and without a cap on the increase.
It is therefore prudent to select a building that does come under rent control laws, even if the initial deposit and rent is a bit higher. In comparing housing and accommodation costs in both cities, most areas in Mumbai – even the posh localities – are still cheaper and more affordable than those in Dubai.
Schools and Education
Available schools in Mumbai are public, private, or international. Each type is affiliated with a different board and follows different curricula based on their board affiliation.
Public schools are affiliated to the Maharashtra State Board of Education and provide free education to the general public. However, even though most classes are taught in English, teaching methods and materials are often outdated, and the focus is more on learning by rote rather than a focus on understanding to enhance overall development of the child.
Private schools are an option for expats looking for premium education for their children at affordable prices. There are two boards that govern curricula in private schools: The Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
Curricula and teaching methods in private schools generally follow Western methodology, and are regularly updated to keep with the latest trends. The focus is more on overall development of the child and lessons taught are in English, and the quality of instruction in the English language is of world-class standard.
International schools are the most popular choice of education for most expats who come to Mumbai. These institutions often follow the curricula and language of the home country or the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is recognized and followed world-wide.
International schools are the perfect choice for parents who plan on staying in Mumbai for only a short while, and would like their children to assimilate the local culture without too much adjustment on their part.
However, the school fees are often exorbitant, and as few companies now provide educational allowances in their hiring packages, expats should be aware that a large chunk of their salary is likely to go towards schooling and education.
Despite the high cost of education in Mumbai, especially for premium schools, Dubai is still much more expensive for schooling, and on average, 20-25% of a family’s income is likely to be spent on education in Dubai.
Getting around in Mumbai can be daunting for most expats, as daily traffic jams and congestion make even the shortest of commutes a long, drawn out affair.
Although Mumbai’s public transport system is widespread and can get you to any corner of the city, it is often overcrowded and poorly maintained. During peak hours, the number of people using the public transport is astounding, and most expats will shy away from using either buses or trains.
Taking the train might be a great one-off cultural experience for expats, but the system is so overcrowded that the congestion deters most expats from using it as a permanent means of transport.
BEST buses operate numerous bus lines that navigate the city, but buses are overcrowded, poorly maintained, and are vulnerable to traffic jams as there are no dedicated bus lanes in the city.
Modern, metered taxis are the most common mode of transport for expats, especially if travelling short distances. Passengers pay by meter, so it is common for many drivers to take the long route for a heftier fare. It is also important to check all your belongings at the end of the ride.
The most common method of transport for expats is chauffeur-driven private cars that can be hired through a range of agencies. Although still prone to traffic jams, this is the most convenient and comfortable option for travel. Most drivers work a nine-hour day with overtime paid for extra hours.
Mumbai is fast becoming a popular medical tourism destination for expats from across the globe. The standard of healthcare provided in Mumbai is of international standards: doctors are highly trained and many of the hospitals are well equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology.
The public healthcare system in Mumbai generally does not meet expat standards, so most expats opt for private healthcare. Private clinics generally have English-speaking staff, and many are linked to overseas universities and adhere to strict standards of operation.