Living In India, Expat, Expats, Expat Life

Living in India – a comparison on charges levied on Indian Nationals vs foreigners – By Jasper Fortuin

Go for a 30-minute walk in a random tier-1 or tier-2 city in India and you will come across the huge inequality of this immense country. Lush airy streets with huge bungalows are often built next to small one-room houses, which are occupied by huge families. A significant percentage of the population in India is very poor, with an average monthly income of 15.000 INR per month or less, roughly 170 euro’s. The upside for these less privileged families is the cheaper cost of living conditions. Groceries could be bought for a fraction of the cost when compared to the western world and rental prices are comparatively low. Furthermore entertaining your family is also very cheap. One could buy a cinema ticket for less than 50 INR (0,75 Euro). And visiting a museum, heritage buildings or wild parks are very affordable, entry fees are often a little more than 10 or 20 INR (12 or 24 Eurocent).

India is one of the most diverse countries in the world, a melting pot with Muslims, Hindus, Christians and other religions living side by side in a peaceful way. However, it’s also one of the most variable countries on earth. The difference between the ‘have’ and ‘haves not’ is often huge, while the proximity between those groups is relatively very small; there is a huge slum-area not far from Mukesh Ambani’s flashy tower house in Mumbai, the most expensive home in the world. The government in India is doing a lot in helping challenging families to improve their living conditions. Healthcare in India is free, and ‘the poor’ are often depended on government-run hospitals or medical posts. While the healthcare services in those hospitals are often very good, most people try avoiding these places because private hospitals can serve people faster.

The zero tax policy also helps a lot of the underprivileged people, although a growing group of tax payers in India is actually in favor of introducing liberal tax laws. They want to expand the group of people who should pay taxes. Some people told me that the ratio of taxpayers in India is very low; only a small percentage (less than 5% of the population in India) actually pays tax. Paying (income) tax is not a big thing in my country. Every Dutch citizen pays some tax, even if you are dependent on some kind of welfare fund. Although the high taxes in my country are being criticized by a number of people – the highest tier of my salary is taxed at 52% – I’m still in favor of this People with more money, pay more tax and I don’t mind supporting the people who have been less fortunate.

A lot of other basic needs in India – public transport, food, goods – are also relatively cheap. Driven by low wages, the cost of vegetables, meat, drinks and other necessities are comparatively lower when compared to similar products and services in western countries. And there is more: a lot of museums, landmarks or parks are open to the public for a small fee. Entry fees for museums are mostly not more than 10 or 20 INR (0,12 or 0,24 Euro). However, there is a catch; this is the entry fee for ‘Indian’s’, the entry fee for foreigners is much higher. I have seen multiple examples of entry fees being more than 10 – 30 times higher than the fee for an Indian. Let me give you an example. The Aga Khan Palace in Pune is one of the ‘highlights’ of the city, a well-maintained 1800-century palace which was once the home of Mahatma Gandhi. The palace was built in 1892 by Sultan Muhammed Aga Khan and was in use as Mahatma’s prison. He stayed there between 1942 and 1943, a sad period where he lost his wife and political assistant. The entry fee for this landmark is 20 INR for Indians (0,25 euro). A sign at the ticket counter points out the entrance fee for others: the fee for ‘foreigners’ is 200 INR.

Living and working in India as an expat is comfortable and everybody knows it; employers generally provide employees with luxurious accommodation. And traveling from A to B is easy, because the jobs most often also come with a car and personal driver. And let’s not forget the financial perks. Expats generally receive good pay. The salaries are high and many companies offer their employees a ‘hardship allowance’, a bonus on your salary in lieu of the challenging conditions of living far away from family and friends. I am fully aware of my privileged conditions. I am definitely part of the ‘have’ group and therefore am more than willing to pay a little extra from time to time. I generally pay a lot more for many things, but that is by my own choice: although I am a big fan of Indian street food, I generally dine out in upscale places. And I also do my grocery shopping at more fancy shops or supermarkets.

Visiting an Indian landmark is – however – different. The actual landmark and its service is actually the same. So my question here: why should I pay much more than the Indian visitor? I want to share two views on this topic:

1)            Varying entry fees based on background or Nationality is discriminatory and should be stopped.

The policy of charging higher fees for foreigners is not new; I assume it has been there for decades. I have encountered this during many of my previous travels through the country. My first thoughts about it were actually not negative. It is progressive: assuming that foreigners have more money than the average Indian national, one could argue that it’s not a big deal to pay a little extra. Having lived in this country for some time now, I have actually changed my view. As a foreigner – being a traveler or employee – I am already paying a lot of taxes. The visa fees are still very high, which brings in a lot of foreign cash. Furthermore: working here for more than 182 days a year, I am obliged to pay taxes in India. In addition, one should not forget that India has become a popular travel destination, funneling in a lot of foreign money into the economy.

2)            If they want to continue with this weird policy, they should start checking all visitors ID cards or passports

Some fancy nightclubs refuse people entry at the door with a fabricated story. A lot of you would be familiar with this phrase: ‘sorry, members only tonight’. I do not mind being refused, but I hate to see people entering a club without showing any membership card. The same goes for the Indian landmarks. They will charge the fees based upon someone’s appearance. If you look Indian, you are ok to enter paying the Indian fee even if you do not speak Hindi or one of the local languages. As a result, a lot of tourists from Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia and a lot of other South Asian would only pay the local fees. This is weird and sad at the same time. The government should only implement policies if they have also implemented a solid control mechanism.

The Indian government launched the Aadhar card, a nationwide ID-proof system which seemed to be one of the largest personal data projects in the world, a program to track data of more than one billion people. A lot of people carry this card as proof of their ID. I was one of the lucky ones to get one and I carry it with pride. I do not carry my passport for domestic trips; the Aadhar card does the trick for me. And here’s my point: I can also use my Aadhar card to buy a ticket for the ‘Indian’ tariff. It does not work everywhere though. Some officers actually tell me that I am still a foreigner, which is true. Using my Aadhar card is fun and I always get a positive feedback. Airport security guards more than often asked me ‘Oh, you’re Indian’, not realizing that this card is actually ID-card and not a proof of being an Indian National.

For more wonderful stories about India, through an expat eye please visit Jasper’s personal blog:

Expats, Expats Life in India, Employee Relocation, Relocation

Strong hierarchy is still the dominant approach in India – Jasper Fortuin

Micromanagement sucks! I have had micro-managers for some time until a new wave of managers within our company came to light. If I hadn’t moved to another role, I wouldn’t have developed myself to what I’m now. A brilliant young and modern manager gave me one of the most valuable drivers in corporate life: autonomy. I have been reading a lot about how to motivate people for the last couple of years. Every book is different, they write about this topic from various angles. However, they are all very clear about micro-managers: their approach only works in very specific companies and the success rate is very limited.

Daniel Pink: Drive

If you want to read about this subject I would strongly advise you to start with Daniel Pink’s masterpiece ‘Drive’. He’s a great storyteller and the book includes a lot of proof that already has convinced a lot of managers and CEO’s to change their management approach. More recently I just read ‘The Best Place To Work’. The book has been written by Ron Friedman, an award-winning psychologist and behavioral change expert who specializes in human motivation. If you want to draw one bold conclusion out of the many books on this topic, what would it be? The very brief and bold summary after reading thousands of pages is actually simple and logical: it’s important to give people a purpose in life, invest in enhancing their knowledge and give them the trust to work in an autonomous way.

We’ve moved to Agile

Usually I’m a bit reserved in talking about company-related topics, but our corporate Agile- journey has gone public in many ways, so I wouldn’t reveal a lot of company secrets by sharing any insights. A couple of years ago my former department chiefs decided to move to Agile. It wasn’t far from being easy, but the new way of working brought a lot of new energy and some of the latest innovations have been built based upon these new principles. The working ways of my recent department has also been transformed, we are completely Agile now. The result for me is that I don’t have a traditional manager anymore. My ‘chapter coach’ has some HR-responsibilities but he mainly focuses on my personal development. Apart from ‘having’ a coach, I don’t have any people around me to direct my work. The peers around me are responsible for creating an energetic working environment in which I can succeed. Furthermore: everything is centered on the actual (virtual) teams.

Most companies are being managed very traditionally

Working in ‘Tribes’, manage your work in short ‘Sprints’ and operate without managers for giving direction? You might assume that this would be a bridge too far in India. Let me start with some positive news: India has changed drastically in this aspect, especially if you look at the very flourishing start-up scene and some innovative companies in the corporate world. I’ve heard and seen a lot of good stories about companies adopting Agile, Lean or other ways of working in order to speed up the innovation process. Also our Indian partners have completely moved to Agile, often being an example for other (potential) clients. However, most of the companies and institutions in India are still being managed very traditionally. They’ve implemented a very dominant hierarchal structure, with checks and balances. The regular modus operandi of Indian managing directors and/or CEO’s; they treat their employees as family, with a lot of loyalty flowing in both directions. However, there are sad examples where employees are being treated very suspiciously.

Worship the owner or director 

As most of you, I’m also part of a lot of WhatsApp groups and I’ve recently received a very good joke about Indian working culture: ‘A manager told a joke. Everyone in the team laughed except one guy….Manager asks him: ‘Didn’t you understand the joke?’ The guy replied: ‘I resigned yesterday”. I probably will have enough material for writing a book about Indian office politics, but the joke actually says it all: the boss, owner, managing director or CEO has a very dominant role in the Indian corporate world. He or she is being worshiped. And to be honest: while being far from a comedian, a lot of people are laughing when I’m telling the joke….

Autonomy doesn’t exist in India; it’s a very ‘directive’ society

Unless one is working for a fancy or modern corporate in a responsible role, in India, people are regularly being hired to execute things. The owner, CEO or manager is on the other side of the spectrum. He or she is not only the boss, but also the full time strategists. They have been put in place to be very directive. Where most employees in Europe are only being told to get from A to B, in India they will also receive some extra guidance: please go from A to B, take this route and inform me about your whereabouts on every crossing.

Changing the mindset does work, but it will take years

It’s a pretty bold statement but unfortunately it’s true. However, things are changing and moving in a faster pace than one might think. After India opened up its economy for outside joiners, the service industries has grown very rapidly. The banking industry, IT and general corporates are still being managed in the Anglo-Saxon model, mostly with strong hierarchical structures and a lot of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) to control employees. Fueled by the demands of western companies or people who have worked outside India, the newer ways of working methods are being introduced into India. I have spoken to some people who recently started their company and almost all of them have launched modern structures, based on trust and autonomy. Let’s all hope that the new ways of working will be adopted by more companies and institutions!

For more wonderful stories about India, through an expat eye please visit Jasper’s personal blog:


Security in India: It’s a disadvantage to be treated with an advantage-Jasper Fortuin

Feeling safe and being safe are two different things. You could feel very safe, while still in danger. And you could be very safe, while actually being in danger. Amsterdam, my former hometown, has recently been rewarded “the safest city in Europe”. The very extensive research conducted has been based on outcomes of various earlier researches. I’m very proud with this reward, despite the fact that Amsterdam is known for its red-light district and tolerance towards soft drugs. Having many other controversial policies it still managed to reach the top position. Well done, Amsterdam!


The awesome achievement is party based on good luck. Yes, the city government has been doing lots of things to increase the city’s safety. However, a lot of the ‘work’ has been done by the population and its visitors. There are multiple factors which have contributed to the very positive result. A fall in crime in almost every annual report since the 90’s has been a result of this. And here’s something really funny: there are still a lot of people complaining about the crimes and ‘unsafe’ city. Thus, it’s all about the individual perception!


In India, security is a serious thing. You will see security guards almost everywhere and security procedures at airports, in official buildings and at places with big crowds – The Taj Mahal, The Gateway of India, large hotels, and malls – are always stressful places to visit. Do you want to buy a pair of jeans at your local mall? If so, your bag will be x-rayed and in worse cases they would even ask you to empty your pockets. Being in India for more than a year now and having observed a lot of security, I now want to state something very bold: A lot of security procedures have been implemented to give us a safe feeling, not to necessary create a safer place. You could even say that the approach often is a ‘safety and procedural theater’. I will explain. It’s my assumption that the very kind and loving security guards are not trained to be successful in their work. Thus, they are not trained to create a safer mall, nor are they trained to make the Taj Mahal a safer haven for the wandering tourist. No “the security guards are there to execute the procedures that were designed by people who work in offices and have almost never set a foot in this areas. The ability to think, to anticipate, to help and to solve problems; that has not been written in their job description, with ‘executing officers’ as a result. They only focus on following the procedures, not bringing real safety to people.


Let me give you some examples. Buying fireworks for Diwali is a big thing in India. I was surprised to see many temporary outlets selling all kinds of fireworks. In and around Pune I observed a lot of open fields that were temporarily transformed into fireworks stalls. Despite the existence of special guards, the whole thing seemed very dangerous. The actual outlets were placed very close to each other, only bordered by a very narrow open lane. Above all: the actual storage of the fireworks was very ‘open’. When the shit does hit the fan, things could go horribly wrong. We were able to purchase a trunk full firework that would be illegal in any western country. This was enough to cause a lot of damage. After purchasing our fireworks, we were a bit hungry and drove to a nearby 5-star hotel for a western-style lunch. When we entered, something funny happened. The traditional car-inspection and luggage check-up at Indian 5-star hotels is not unique in the world. Whether you like it or not, it emphasizes the exclusive elements of the ‘fabricated luxury’. It feels as if you enter another world. However, the guards at the security gate didn’t say anything about our trunk full of explosives, no questions asked!


It was also during Diwali that I wanted to ship a package from Pune to Hyderabad. Wanting to deliver 200 Diwali-lights in only a few days, I approached a courier company to research the possibilities of shipping this by air. He came to my house and took the package with him for delivery. Unfortunately, he called me within a few hours to inform me that air-shipping was not possible. They had found out that there were little candles inside the lights and it’s ‘forbidden to ship candles by air’. I was a bit angry about this, because the guy should have come to my house to inspect the actual delivery prior to the actual pick-up. He didn’t. He only showed up to pick up the actual delivery, so there was no time anymore for a plan B. A few days later I took off myself for a business trip to Hyderabad and decided to carry the 30 boxes of Diwali-lights with a candle. And guess what happened at the security? Nothing happened; it was ok for me to take the flight. One last experience. I went outside for an early morning run during one of my stays in a well-known 5-star hotel. When I came back to the hotel, there was nobody at the door. So no security checks at all!


Let me be very clear: there is nothing wrong with the ‘theatrics. It’s a major achievement if people in malls feel safer! And having all those guards in place will definitely have an effect on potential criminals or terrorists, they will hopefully think twice before they act. My point is this: things could be improved if security guards got more responsibilities. Therefore, you need more education and better management. But it all starts with a fresh new mindset towards this topic. In India, security jobs are seen as the ‘lowest of the lowest’ jobs. If you haven’t finished your school, there is always the possibility to become a security officer. That’s wrong and needs to be repositioned. The job needs an upgrade, with better education, better people and better PR!


And one other thing: as a foreigner, I’m not treated equally by security officers. In fact, I often feel prioritized! And here’s my point: they treat me better than Indian Nationals. When I want to enter a new fancy society in my car? No questions asked, while my Indian friends are always questioned very heavily. I cannot describe it, but it feels as if the guards don’t dare to question me. They look up towards foreigners; at least that’s my experience.

For more wonderful stories about India, through an expat eye please visit Jasper’s personal blog:


India through loving eyes (Jasper Fortuin): Having friends over is fun

The moment we told our friends & family that we would move to India, there were a number of people who directly responded with a firm commitment: ‘wow, we will definitely be going to pay you a visit’.


I have been reading a lot of books about psychology in the last 20 years, so I’m aware of the big difference between ‘saying’ and ‘acting’. People can easily find excuses to postpone their travels, and India isn’t a very easy country to visit so a commitment could turn into a firm ‘no’ after reading different horror stories. The dirt, poor people on the streets and the constant honking of cars are not appealing to everyone and could even change someone’s mind.


Luckily we had some overseas guests the last year. Some of our friends were so kind to spend some time with us, combining a visit to Pune with a trip to Goa, Mumbai and/or other places in the Indian Subcontinent. We already had decorated and furnished a room in our house for guests; sleeping in a wonderful Airbnb in Sind Society, with an unlimited bar and a nice big garden was the offer that we made to our friends and family. And a big bonus off course: seeing us and spending some days in the wonderful city of Pune.


Time passed by until our first friends were to arrive in Pune and we started wondering: where should we take them? What places should we visit with them? We have travelled through this immense country over 5 times. It doesn’t feel arrogant at all to say that we ‘know India’ exceptional well. It is easy for us to weigh out various options and we have been very happy with Pune. In fact, it’s one of the finest cities to live in! The weather conditions are good (except for the very damp and hot months of April and May) & there are a lot of easy to access facilities within the neighbourhood. It’s the ideal place to live, and I still feel very blessed to be here!


However, there are some limitations, although Pune may be the ideal place to live in. It’s one of the largest cities in India without too many tourist attractions. Pune has no large temples, no must-see caves and no unique heritage buildings. We find living in a city without this very convenient. As a Westerner, you can easily walk around in the city without being approached by pan-handlers and that’s a big plus. Have you ever been in Mumbai or have you walked around or near the Taj Mahal in Agra? Then you know what I mean: you will find numerous people with other purposes rather than kindly talking to you; they want to sell you stuff. These people haven’t defined Pune as their hunting territory as yet.


But what should you do when your loved ones are coming over to see you? You want to take them a bit further than the society gate, right? And you definitely want to show them more than the H&M and Zara at the Phoenix Mall….? Are you with me? We had this challenge numerous times last months and found a 2-day tour that was appealing. It will give your guests some flavor of the city and it’s fun. So, what did we do? So, what Pune ‘highlights’ have we brought them?


The main highlight is to see each other after so many months again, of course. But after the cuddling and chatting, you probably want to go out and explore more of the city. I know a guy from the Netherlands, he told me e very funny story: when they had friends over, they would always take them to the meat market of Shivaji Market in Camp. It is an interesting concept but I must admit it: I have done it a few times and the looks on their faces tell if they like it or not. I don’t take them to Shivaji to annoy them. I want to explore the beauty of the market with them and show the magnificent architecture and hundreds of colourful shops in the area. A brief visit to the church opposite of Shivaji is also on our list, followed by a lunch in Koregaon Park. We recently found a new favourite hotspot in Lane 6: Indigo Delicatessen. It’s not a cheap place, but the food is awesome and you will impress your guests if you take a lunch break here. My advice is to go for a late lunch. It will allow you to visit the Osho Commune Park after lunch, as it re opens again at 3pm. The Osho Commune Park is a love-birds paradise, but the main attraction is the clean and green setup. It’s fun and relaxing to walk around.


Another Pune-area to wander around is the Tulsi Baug area. The beautiful vegetable market, the narrow streets with kitchen aid goods and Laxmi Road, which is the (traditional) fashion street of Pune, can easily fill up a whole day, especially if you have lunch in one of the thali restaurants. On Sundays or Wednesdays, one should definitely explore Juna Bazaar. It’s a predominantly Muslim area near Camp, with a large flee market. Please prepare yourself and your loved ones: it’s a bit of a gritty and messy place, with goats running around in small alleys and people selling second-hand stuff. But we have found some great catches for our house, of course for bargain prices.


Do you have a recommendation for us to explore in this lovely city? Please share your list of must-visits for tourists and residents. For more details about this city please visit

For more wonderful stories about India, through an expat eye please visit Jasper’s personal blog:


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