63 Things You Need To Know Before Moving to Chennai

63 Things You Need To Know Before Moving to Chennai

- in Expat Life
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Moving to Chennai? I counted exactly 63 things* you need to know before you move to the city. If you’ve got any more suggestions, leave them in the comments at the bottom of this page!

* Subject to change

So, here’s what you need to know before boarding that plane to Chennai.

(There are a lot of images on this page, give it a little bit of time to load, you’ll appreciate it more!)

1. You will literally melt into a human puddle the moment you step off the plane at Chennai airport

2. But after a few months you won’t lose twice your body weight in sweat when you walk from the house to your car as you adjust to the heat

3. You’ll finally understand what it means to “walk through pea soup”

The humidity regularly pushes past 90% and the temperature tops out at 40 (104) degrees

4. Even the sports / pro / power / extreme anti-perspirants give up trying to prevent you from sweating after the first hour

5. Stepping out of the arrivals gate at the airport is your first introduction to the glorious, chaotic, manic energy of India

6. After waiting for three months for your furniture to clear customs, you’ll wonder whatever possessed you to ship your furniture here in the first place

7. The FRRO isn’t actually hell. It’s just the regional headquarters

8. You’ll document your FRRO survival stories like a hero returning from war

9. The importance of an official document is directly proportional to the number of passport sized photographs you need to submit along with it

10. You’ll learn to carry passport sized photographs in your wallet because there will always be a situation that requires at least one of them

11. You’ll photograph EVERYTHING and upload it to Facebook

Look, there are people in Chennai! Look, there are funny yellow vehicles on the road! Look, there are brightly coloured temples on every street corner! Look, I found Starbucks at Phoenix Mall!

12. You’ll probably turn half vegetarian given how many incredible vegetarian dishes are available

13. You’ll fall in love with the food

14. You’ll fall in love with paneer

15. You’ll fall in love with butter naan

16. You’ll fall in love with ghee roasted masala dosas

17. You’ll fall in love with the filter coffee

18. It will become a habit to say “sugar illa” (no sugar) every time you order a filter coffee

19. Or order a fresh fruit juice

20. Even cottage cheese has sugar added to it to make a dessert

21. You’ll wonder how your life existed before gulab jamuns

22. You’ll almost definitely gain back all that weight you lost from sweating as you eat your way through all the super tasty cuisines and lazy Sunday brunches at the luxury hotels

23. You’ll learn that turning up to a restaurant at 6pm will be a waste of time because nothing opens until 7pm

24. And your new dinner time will become 9pm like the locals

25. You will eventually come to accept that you can’t have a beer or wine with your meals at any other restaurant than in a five star hotel

26. You’ll make a commendable effort to eat with your hands

And after a few years of practice, some of the food will even start landing in your mouth!

27. You’ll see more dogs on the street than at a dog show – but don’t worry, they are all friendly

28. You’ll see more cows, goats and chickens on the streets of Chennai than at the local farm park.

You’ll photograph them all and upload them to Facebook. Look, animals just walking in the street!


OK, so this actually happened in Lahore in Pakistan, it doesn’t happen in Chennai!

29. But after a few weeks you’ll appreciate the city for all its vibrancy and culture

30. You’ll make a noble and valiant attempt to learn Tamil the first month you are here

But like many before you, you are destined to give up around the middle of the second month after your tongue has tied itself into knots

31. There are eight different ways to say the letter ‘L’ and five ways to say ‘N’ in Tamil. They’ll all sound the same to you

32. You’ll roll your eyes every time a local tells you that learning Tamil is “easy”

33. You’ll scratch your head from the moment you arrive to the moment you say goodbye wondering what the jug and bucket is used for in the bathrooms

34. You’ll idly try the ‘bum gun’ while sitting on the loo and spray water everywhere except for where it’s supposed to go

35. You are totally going to call the bathroom water jet the ‘bum gun’ from now on

36. Speaking of spraying water, your first monsoon rain will be a magical experience

37. And then it’ll become a pain in the neck because the roads have all flooded, the school announces a holiday and the maid can’t turn up to work

38. You’ll wince and cringe every time you see more than two people on a motorbike

39. You’ll take a photo and upload it to Facebook the first time you see five people on a motorbike

40. You’ll wonder why everyone talks about ‘bikes’ when you don’t see that many on the road

41. Then you’ll realize that a bike in India is a motorbike

42. From the back seat of your car, you’ll marvel at how the traffic can be so chaotic, so unorganized, and yet no one seems to crash into each other

43. Five minutes later, you’ll be involved in a minor collision

44. You’ll be invited to three weddings in your first month

45. You’ll make a legitimate effort to attend each of those weddings

After all, it was impressed upon you how important it was for you to be there. Having found out the venue was a three day train journey plus an afternoon’s ride on the back of a bullock cart across the paddy fields, you will have serious reservations about the viability of attending the wedding – but you did promise!

46. You’ll want to “get away from it all” one weekend by heading down to Mahabs or Pondy, only to find out the rest of Chennai has had the same idea

47. A “lakh” is 100,000, a “crore” is 10,000,000. No one says ‘hundred thousand’ or ‘million’

48. A “buck” is a rupee. A hundred bucks is 100 rupees

49. The first time you go to an ATM to withdraw the equivalent of $100, you’ll feel like a freaking millionaire as your wallet bulges with all the notes

50. The cute yellow vehicles you keep calling tuk-tuks are called autos

51. If the auto driver asks you for more than 200 rupees for any journey, it’s better to take an Uber

52. It’s actually always better to take an Uber

53. If you hire a driver, he will literally become an extension of your own family

54. If there is a way for your instructions to be misunderstood by your maid or driver, then they will absolutely be misunderstood in the worst possible way

55. You’ll arrange a meeting at the office for 9 AM and get upset when the first person turns up at 9:10 AM

56. All the late comers will make the same joke about them thinking it was 9 AM IST – or 9 o’ clock India Stretchy Time

57. Just like with jet lag, you’ll eventually adjust to India Stretchy Time

58. You’ll wonder how if everyone runs on India Stretchy Time, do movies and flights start and leave on time?

59. After your first flight from Chennai’s Domestic Airport, the phrase “Ladies and gentleman, can I have your kind attention please” will be replaying itself over and over in your dreams

60. You’ll return from your first visit to the north of India and exclaim “It’s nothing like Chennai!”

61. The Chennai Metro is an awesome, cheap, air conditioned marvel. It’s a pity it doesn’t go anywhere useful, yet

62. The head wobble means “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, “OK” or “I don’t know”. It’s down to you to decipher which one it is depending on the context

63. You’ll hate Chennai with every part of your body when you arrive, but after three months you’ll be like every other expat. You’ll fall in love with the city and people and never want to leave

Now you know everything you need to know, check out the expat book on how to adjust to life in Chennai. It’s also available on the Kindle.

Got any other tips on what to expect before moving to Chennai? Let me know in the comments below.

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About the author

Author of the Chennai Expat Guide book, Peter splits his time between writing and discovering new places in India. Somewhere along the way he manages to lead the marketing team at Unmetric. He dreams of one day playing for Manchester United.

28 Comments

  1. Excellent list, spot on, witty, and now, thanks to you, I can’t help but abide by #35 . . . 🙂

    1. Thank you, David! What unusual tips do you have for expats moving to Chennai?

  2. I couldn’t stop laughing reading this! 😀

    1. Thanks, Andrea!

  3. Vankakkm Mr.Peter,You missed Vanakkam Mr.Peter …I just love your note on 63 things , I can match the most with my expat students in my dance class with thier experience.Its all about culture and I love teaching to everyone existing in this planet Appreciate your time and effort on CHENNAI !

    1. Vanakkam Leo 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by and letting me know what you thought. I’m sure visitors would love to know more about your Zumba classes down on the ECR!

  4. Interesting observation Peter. Well done. Tryst cafe.

    1. Thanks, Rafiq! All expats should check out Tryst cafe!

  5. Mette Ballegaard Madsen

    That is hilariuos, thank you!
    The people of Chennai is very interested in you as a foreigner. They often ask this: “Which country you are from, mam?” Or “What is your good name”
    Also the would love to take a selfie with you!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Mette! Glad it made you smile. Yes, there are lots of questions that new expats can expect like “You are basically from?”. We recently went to Aurangabad and so many people were asking for selfies that it got to the point where I had to start saying “No” 🙁

    2. Only when you’re blonde. They pushed me out…🤣

  6. Wow Peter.
    Incredible observations about this beautiful city. I loved it from the beginning and have met with all 63 points. Vanakkam is missing and.
    Oh madam no worries it’s bad karma.

    1. Thank you, Gülsüm! Your comments just made my day 🙂

  7. Paneer, Naan, Rasgolla, Gulab Jamun – these are all North Indian. Chilli Beef, Chicken 65, Masala dosai and Biryani are the go-to foods in Chennai.

    1. The food in Chennai is delicious whichever corner of India it originated from. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Lovely and witty Peter! I love my city and I am a local and every point is so true. You must add go on a walking tour with Storytrails! Happy to invite you on our walks filled with stories about the city !

    1. Thank you so much, Lakshmi! I’m relieved that I didn’t make any mistakes and that a local appreciates all the points 🙂 I will definitely try out the Chennai walking trails soon – or even the new audio trails 😉

  9. #63…never want to leave, I don’t think so. I get out of this city every opportunity I can!

    1. Haha, OK 🙂

  10. It is so true, I live in Chennai for the past 37 years n have seen so many expats coming here.
    They cry while coming and also cry while leaving Chennai.

    1. I know expats that have come, left and then come back again because they missed it so much!

  11. I just love the article and shared it, so people back home can see a bit of my life here.
    There are good and bad times here
    and overall it is an experience which will make you grow! You learn more about yourself than you could’ve imagined. Patience,trust,unbelieve, kindness,rage and how you love things you had never thought of before.

    1. you missed: 2 minutes only ….

  12. Absolutely LOVED this post!!!!!

    • Saying Vanakkam to people you pass in the street. They know you can’t even begin to speak Tamil, but they will smile from ear to ear knowing that you tried.
    • Knowing that you are being charged double for every auto ride, but hey peeople, it’s a QUARTER!!
    • Being asked embarrassingly personal questions, especially about money. My favorite, though, was being asked whether I had had sex with over a thousand women (Wilt Chamberlain had just made that claim in his autobiography). I guess maybe I should have been flattered?
    • Being prepared to explain why you really have no connections to get people an H1B visa to the United States.
    1. Thanks, Steve – or perhaps I should call you Ron Jeremy?! If I had known I’d get so much love for this post I would have written it five years ago! Thanks for stopping by and adding some extra tips for new expats!

  13. Loved every bit of this article, and bingo to every other point!
    Thoroughly enjoyed it, Peter 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sangeetha! Hope all is going well over at Ethnic Photography!

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