Living in India – A Guide for PhD Students
Written by Alice Clubbs Coldron
The Indian higher education system is the world’s third largest, with more than 1000 universities and the capacity to enrol 20 million students, making it a great place for international students looking to study a PhD. India prides itself on being a place for innovation, creativity and leadership .
This guide gives you useful information on accommodation options, living costs, work permits, transport and banking. If you are thinking about doing your doctorate in India, this page provides an insight into what living in this multicultural country would be like.
Many Indian universities are located in beautiful, natural campuses, and host festivals and events to allow students to experience the local life and traditions. With almost all courses delivered in English, overseas students are welcomed and can settle in easily.
India is famous for its rich heritage and myriad of attractions. This makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to soak up the culture as a student. During your studies you may want to explore the architecture and visit the Taj Mahal (which some say is the most beautiful building in the world), the City Palace, the Sun Temple or the Amber Fort. India is also home to some spectacular landscapes and wildlife such as the beaches of Goa and Kerala as well as the Valley of Flowers National Park and Ajanta caves. And of course, India’s climate means you will have the chance to see some exotic animals at the Kanha Tiger Reserve!
The diverse terrain and scenery mean there are plenty of activities on offer in India, from trekking or paragliding in the mountainous north, to diving, surfing and canoeing in the south. You can do a jungle safari in one of the many protected areas, or join a mountain biking and motorcycle adventure in the Himalayan towns. Furthermore, as India is the birthplace of Yoga, the many spas and yoga centres allow you to embark on a spiritual journey (or just try something new!).
Where do we start? India is famous for many of the things we all know and love, like its spices, rice, amazing bread such as roti and puffy-fried bread pillows known as puri, along with a huge variety of dahl. You may even encounter up to 60 different types of pulses! Fruit and vegetables are a big part of every main meal, and veganism is becoming more recognised by restaurants. Wherever you are, no matter the place or the time, you can eat well in India with street-food vendors and street dhabas, which are casual eateries serving snacks and small basic meals, in every neighbourhood.
Fast-food’ restaurants (no, they don’t serve pizza) in the south have some of the best tiffin boxes, which consist of rice, lentils, curry, vegetables, chapatis or meats and are usually a lunchtime food or afternoon snack.
One thing to keep in mind when eating out is that taxes and services charges are not included in the prices, apart from in some cheaper restaurants. This means your bill will be higher by 22% in non-air conned (AC) restaurants and 28% AC restaurants and those that serve alcohol, or if you are feeling fancy, then 38% in luxury hotels and top-end restaurants.
Most big cities have plenty of bars, which often turn into nightclubs after 8pm. Bangalore is the craft beer capital of India and the more upmarket bars serve a good selection of domestic and imported drinks. Some restaurants don’t serve alcohol, and there are drinking laws in place all over the country, and several states have regular dry days, with a country wide alcohol restriction on Gandhi’s birthday (2 October). Local non-alcoholic drinks include chai tea and masala soda, a fizzy soft drink made with lime, spices, salt and sugar .
Some universities do provide on-campus accommodation for international students, but privately rented accommodation such as hostels, apartments or shared houses is affordable.
Types of available student accommodation in India include:
- International hostels - Hostels provided by the university are essentially halls of residences similar to those in the UK, and some Indian institutions have accommodation that is specifically for overseas students.
- Combined hostels – Like those described above, but these are not exclusive to international students.
- Private room/apartment - Private rooms or apartments are available to rent with or without the option of catering.
The cost of accommodation in India is relatively cheap compared to the UK and Europe. You can expect to pay around INR 12,387 (USD $150) per month for an apartment outside of campus. For accommodation costs and more information about on-campus living at individual institutions it is worth getting in touch with someone at the university.
India is one of the least costly study abroad destinations in the world. Students can expect to spend INR 33,033 (USD $400) per month for accommodation, transportation, food and other living costs.
The following table gives an indication of prices for some common expenses during a PhD in India:
Student Cost of Living in India - 2023
||INR 200 (USD $2.42)
||INR 300 (USD $3.63)
|Monthly Travel Pass
||INR 800 (USD $9.67)
||INR 2,860 (USD $34.69)
|Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.
In order to study in India, you will need a student visa. These are issued for up to five years, and you are expected to enrol in a full-time course, and you can extend your visa whilst in India.
The Indian government does not allow international students to work during study in India, however Non-Resident Indians (NRI), Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) are exempt from this rule and can take up part-time work, but do need permission from their university to do so.
International students are able to take up internships and training whilst undertaking their doctorate but it must be part of the PhD programme or relevant to their studies.
It is a good idea to open a bank account upon your arrival in India as you may need to make or receive rupee payments for things like bills and groceries. This will also mean you don’t have to worry about the exchange rate between rupees and your home currency.
When opening a bank account, foreign nationals are required to provide KYC (know-your-customer) documents:
- Valid foreign passport
- Valid Indian visa
- Copy of Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) permit
- Overseas address proof
- Indian address proof (if you are not able to do this immediately, you can still apply)
- Letter of contract from supervisor/employer
- Passport-size photograph
- Copy of PAN card or Form 60 (document to be filled out in order to carry out financial transactions)
ATMs are widespread in India but it is always sensible to carry cash as a backup, especially in remote regions. Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro are the most commonly accepted cards and there is a set fee usually between INR 150 to INR 300 to withdraw money.
Getting around in India is easy as there are plenty of options when it comes to travelling within a city, or to a different one. From rickshaws to airlines, you will always be able to get from A to B. We have provided some information about the most popular modes of transport below.
Travelling by train is often advised for long journeys, particularly overnight travel, as they offer a smoother ride with more space than other forms of public transport. India’s rail network is one of the largest in the world, with more than 7000 train stations across the country. You can book tickets in person or online, and some foreign ticket types require passport and visa as ID.
Domestic air travel has vastly expanded in India. The major airports include Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai, Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi and Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru (which is fully solar-powered!).
Metros have been established in some of India’s biggest cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Other local transport includes buses, cycle-rickshaws, trains and boats. For any transport without a fixed fare, it is always best to agree on a fixed price before you start your journey. App-based taxis such as Uber and Ola Cabs are also a convenient (and sometimes cheaper) option compared to ordinary taxis.
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