If you are an expat moving to Chennai or even moving to India, this list of resources will be invaluable to you. It’s like a shortcut to knowing everything that you’ll need to get you (and your family) up and running in the city.
For a more indepth guide to living in Chennai including how to navigate a new culture and what to expect, get the Chennai Expat Guide book.
Download These Essential Apps
You’re going to need these apps to navigate life in Chennai
- Uber – The best way to get around the city if you don’t have a car or driver or the driver is on holiday. Enter this code to get your first couple of rides free: 4sk9w
- PayTM – A mobile wallet that is accepted in fast food restaurants and even for autos (tuk tuks). Also used to to make payments for your Uber trips
- Swiggy – The best food delivery app in the city. Track your delivery from restaurant to home. Alternatively, order from their website.
- Zomato – The best restaurant finder in the city (and other cities). Essential for finding a place to eat and drink
- Dominos Pizza – Sometimes you just need a Dominos. And they always have coupons. Alternatively, order from their website.
- BigBasket – Do all your grocery shopping from your smartphone. 90 minute delivery is available on many items. Alternatively, order from their website
- Practo – Read reviews of doctors and dentists before you book an appointment
- Walnut – Cool little India-centric app that automatically tracks all your spending so you know where your money goes each month.
Got any other apps that have changed your life in India? Let others know in the comments.
Discounts, Coupons & Cashback
You shouldn’t have to pay full price for anything if you signup for these discounts and coupon sites.
- CashKaro – Get discounts, coupons and even cashback on almost everything you can buy online (electronics, food delivery, furniture, clothing etc.)
- NearBuy – This is Groupon in India. Never pay full price for meals, spa and other stuff
Flights to India and Internal Flights in India
- Emirates – One of the most connected international airlines to Chennai
- Etihad – Similarly well connected airline that flies via the UAE
- MakeMyTrip – Search multiple domestic airlines to find the best internal flights
- JetAirways – Low cost, full service airline for internal flights in India and international flights
- Indigo – Low cost, no frills airline for internal flights that has a reputation for being punctual
- SpiceJet – Low cost, no frills airline for internal flights
Shipping Your Stuff
Need to get your furniture and belongings shipped to (or from) India? Use these global companies:
Got a tip on other international shipping companies? Let everyone know in the comments.
These companies will provide you end to end assistance in relocating. From finding you a new home to making sure your kids have a school to go to, they’ll take care of everything to make the move as stress free as possible.
If you use a different company to help you relocate, please let us know in the comments!
Dealing with the Government
You’re going to have to deal with the Government and its bureaus in many different ways. Here’s the links to point you in the right direction:
- FRRO – You must register at the FRRO when you arrive and you must go back each year to renew your visa.
- Aadhar Card – Essential to get any kind of service from mobile phone to paying your taxes
- PAN Card – If you earn money in India you need to pay tax in India and your PAN card is mandatory
- Income Tax – You must file your income tax each year which you can do yourself but it’s strongly recommended you get an accountant to do it for you
- Universal Account Number – If you earn a salary in India, you must contribute to your Provident Fund (like a pension). Your UAN helps you manage your Provident Fund
- TANGEDCO – Pay your electricity bill online
Finding a Home
Possibly the hardest thing you can do is try and find a place to live in Chennai without ever visiting the city. The Chennai Expat Guide contains more information about finding the right place to live in the city and conventions to be aware of. These links will also point you in the right direction though.
- MakeMyTrip – If you need a hotel or serviced apartment in Chennai to stay for a few days, you’ll find plenty of options here
- Somerset Serviced Apartments – This has been the first accommodation for hundreds of expats who have moved to Chennai. It’s a good base to use while looking for a place to rent.
- ITC Grand Chola Service Apartments – Similar to Somerset, they have serviced apartments available
- Golden Fruits Serviced Apartments – Cheaper serviced apartments in the centre of the city
- House of Hiranandani – Perfect for people living in the far south of the city
- No Broker – connect directly with apartment & house owners
- Housing – Large real estate portal with loads of places to rent in the city
Found a good place or service to hunt for homes in Chennai? Let everyone know in the comments.
There are loads of broadband providers in the city but the larger providers tend to be more reliable in terms of uptime and customer support.
- ACT – At 200 Mbps, it’s the fastest internet in the city but not available in all locations.
- Airtel – Upto 40 Mbps, it’s the second best option in the city
- Docomo – The speed and plans aren’t great but the customer support is exceptional
As mentioned, there are lots of other providers, if you’ve had good (or bad!) experience with any of these, let us know in the comments.
Cable TV is exceptionally cheap in India. It will honestly boggle your mind. It’s also not cable, it comes via a satellite dish rigged up on your home and is know locally as DTH (Direct to Home). There are two main providers in the city.
Mobile Sim Cards
You’ll need an Aadhar card and passport photographs to get a sim card – and you need to submit them for each sim card you buy. Pre-paid or post-paid sims are available. There are loads of networks available and they are competing like crazy for your business so 4G data is phenomenally cheap.
If you need to buy a new smartphone for India, Amazon India always has some great deals on Moto, Samsung, HTC and Lenovo phones.
Streaming has really taken off in India in the last 12 months. There are several services now available where you can watch most American TV shows as they are released. TV shows from other countries are not as well supported yet though.
- Hotstar – Get all the latest American TV shows
- Netflix – No explanation required 🙂
- Amazon Prime Video – You know the drill, TV shows and movies on demand
If you’re looking for music streaming, Spotify and other streaming services don’t work here without a VPN (a computer in your home country that you connect to in order to browse the internet and fool websites into thinking you’re browsing from there instead of your actual location). However, you can try Gaana or Saavn which have a lot of Bollywood music but plenty of international tunes as well.
Getting Around the City
A car and drive isn’t an absolute necessity for living in Chennai. I’m not suggesting you drive yourself (although plenty of expats have), but thanks to ride hailing apps, you no longer need to rely on autos (tuk-tuks).
- Uber – The number one ride hailing app in the city and indispensable for every expat. Use this code to get money off your first few rides: 4sk9w
- Bala Transport – For trips outside the city or if you need a car and driver all day, Bala Transport are the people to contact (don’t forget to read the founder’s story)
- Fast Track Taxis – Used as a last resort if Uber and Bala Transport can’t help you out. Seriously, it’s a last resort if everything else has failed
- Chennai Metro – Fast, air conditioned and cheap. Pity it doesn’t go anywhere useful really
- MRTS – Fast, ultra cheap, open air carriages that might sort of go where you want to go
- MTC – Buses are cheap but way too over-crowded in the mornings and evenings to be a viable option. Actual bus timings are rumoured to exist but perhaps in a different time and space
Most companies in Chennai will force you to open a bank account with a specific bank rather than one of your choosing. They’ll bring in a bank representative and have you fill out all the paperwork – don’t forget your Aadhar Card though. There are a few international banks in Chennai where you can open an account though.
Credit card interest rates can go as high as 40% APR, so think twice before applying for one.
You can get expensive expat health insurance from your home country, but you may wish to consider getting health insurance in India instead. It’s far cheaper and way more comprehensive. Many companies also offer health insurance to their employees, so check with your company before getting a policy.
Additionally, health insurance works differently in India to many other countries. The insurance company covers the initial bill upto a predetermined amount. Anything over that and the patient has to cover the costs.
- ICICI Lombard
There are a large number of schools and pre-schools in the city. They follow various international syllabi and costs can run upto $35,000 per year per student.
- American International School Chennai
- Canadian International School Chennai
- British International School Chennai
- German International School Chennai
- Vaels International School
- Hiranandani Upscale School
There are so many good hospitals in the city that will treat every known disease. The most expensive is Apollo Hospitals, which seem to have a hospital on every street corner in Chennai. Most doctors and dentists will also have their own after-hours practice as well. Sundaram Medical Foundation is a non-profit hospital in Anna Nagar and while the buildings and ambiance can’t compete with the likes of Apollo, the medical treatment is just as good and at a fraction of the price.
- Practo – Locates doctors and dentists in your area with reviews from other patients. Book your appointment and pay online. Also download the app.
For more information how hospitals work and how to get healthcare in Chennai, get your copy of the Chennai Expat Guide.
Supermarkets are not really supermarkets how you might find in the west. They are more like convenience stores. The range of items available is also limited as well.
- BigBasket – The best online grocery store with 90 minute delivery
- Amazon – They do grocery deliveries
- Amma Naana – Super popular with expats as they import a lot of products
- Gourmei Market – Small store of hard to find imported items
- Brown Tree – Various imported groceries
- Nut and Spices – Various imported groceries
- Nilgiris – Neighbourhood supermarket with generally a good range of items
- Spencers – Neighbourhood supermarket
- Big Bazaar – This is a ‘proper’ supermarket in Phoenix Mall
- Spar – Another huge supermarket in the basement of Forum Mall
All drinking water comes in 20 litre bubble top cans that are delivered to your door. Every neighbourhood has a few local suppliers but there are also some branded suppliers as well.
- Bubble Top – order branded drinking water online
- Water On Click – SMS and get branded drinking water delivered
- H200 – Bulk order smaller bottles of branded water
Bread, Cheese & Meat
Most supermarkets will sell frozen meat. For fresh meat you have to hunt a little bit harder. Good quality bread is harder to find still and as for cheese that doesn’t taste like plastic, good luck!
- Tryst Cafe – Sells breads, cheese and fresh meats that has the stamp of approval of all expats
- Royal Meats – Good for people south of Adyar river
- Epicure – Good for people in the centre of the city
- BigBasket – Online delivery of meat
- Supreme Seafood – Delivery of fresh fish. Order by email, SMS or telephone
If you know of any other great places to get good quality breads, cheese or meats, please let us know in the comments.
Beer & Wine
Alcohol is strictly regulated in Chennai but conveniently it’s the Government who regulates and sells the stuff. You can only buy alcohol in Government run shops called TASMACS. Most of these serve the working class, but there are a few ‘elite’ shops in various shopping malls around the city that sell branded spirits, wine and beer.
- Velachery, Phoenix Mall – in the basement
- Royapettah, Express Avenue Mall – in the basement
- Nungambakkam, Parsns Complex – spirits shop on the 1st floor, beer shop in the basement
- Egmore, Alsa Mall – in the basement
You can buy virtually everything and anything online and get it delivered to your home in Chennai.
- Amazon – ‘Nuff said
- Flipkart – The biggest competitor to Amazon, they usually have some great deals on smartphones
Virtually every street in the city will have a Xerox copy shop, a Coffee Day, a small vegetable shop and a beauty salon.
- NearBuy – Groupon for India, has offers on salons and spas
- Naturals – Inexpensive unisex salon that can be found everywhere in the city
- GreenTrends – Same as above
- Toni & Guy – Upmarket hair salon
- Page 3 – Another upmarket salon
- Studio Profile – A very, very upmarket salon
A pain in the ass in India. Foreigners are restricted to the amount of currency they can exchange and you must present your flight tickets to the country you are trying to get currency for.
- Thomas Cook India
- Akbar Travels
Social Groups & Expat Clubs
A few social groups exist to kickstart your social circle or start making some local friends.
- Overseas Women’s Club of Chennai – An essential group to join for all expat ladies
- Internations – An international group where like-minded people come together once a month for food and drink
- Chennai Trekking Club – Organize treks across the south of India
News & Weather
- The Hindu – News the old fashioned way. Facts without the hyperbole
- Times of India – News the sensational way
- TheNewsMinute – South Indian news for the attention deficient generation
- Scroll – News for the liberals
- Republic – News for the conservatives and nationalists
- KEA Weather – Weather radar and upto the minute weather data
- TN Weatherman – The most reliable weather forecaster in Chennai
Did you find all these resources useful? You should check out the Chennai Expat Guide book! Packed full of useful information, insider secrets and hilarious anecdotes from fellow expats. Worldwide shipping is available, or buy it on the Kindle!
Got any other suggestions for this list? Let me know in the comments below.