Friday, November 6, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "Can a foreign woman work in India?"

Sharing a letter from a reader...

"Recently, I have become a great fan of your blog. I find it a fantastic source of practical advise for those - like me - who are in intercultural relationship. Being in such relationship means that every day of your life you face lots of cultural differences that bring up many questions. For example, regarding women’s rights. I find this topic extremely interesting and worth talking especially in our times in which women are given a chance to become very independent. How, in such political and social circumstances, to find a good balance between love & relationship and, greater than ever, a woman’s potential for freedom and self-development?

This is a universal question, but I would like to discuss only one aspect of it, which, as mentioned above, is - women’s rights in India. What is it really like for women to live there? What about women expats married to Indian men and living in India? Can they be independent at all? What freedom do they have that is socially accepted? Can they, for example, go out on their own for sport activities (e.g. yoga), meetings with other foreign people or travel on their own? I have heard many different opinions on it...

And what about work? Many foreign women do not work in India, whereas in whether European, American, Australian or Canadian cultures - a woman not working is quite a strange phenomenon. What is it like for an expat woman to adjust to the Indian way of life?"


Dear readers, what advice can you give to this reader?
Do you notice that many foreign women who move to India with their spouses do not work? 
Why do you think that is?
Have you ever been a working woman in India?
Can you give the reader any tips about being a working woman in India?
What kinds of industries would be open to hiring a foreign national?
And what about safety?
Are foreign women less safe or just as safe as the average Indian woman?



  1. Hello Alexandra

    I think this would be an extremely good informational blog post. Perhaps "foreign women" working in India could also include the logistics (besides living conditions, safety, health) of this if they were to leave a comment here? (logistics: work permits, documentation, cost of living etc)

  2. Hi,

    I am a regular reader of Alexandra's blog. As per my knowledge foreign women can infact work in India. However it depends upon the place (City) where the woman is based. Large cities Bangalore, Mumbai Chennai, NCR, Hyderabad aren't a problem, where one can work easily, provided you have valid documents and papers (check this with your embassy, Indian embassy as I have limited knowledge on work permits). Also with the qualification and work experience needs to be valid in India. In Tier 2 cities such as Amritsar, Nagpur, Jaipur etc., however one may not see the same thing.


  3. Yes, yes, and yes! I am that woman. Foreigner (white European) married to Indian who live and work in India. I was not working at the beginning due to visa issues. But after I got my PIO card I joined my current company. It all depends on mutual understanding and willpower of your husband to be strong and sometimes strict with his family. It is funny because even if they disapprove something at the beginning they actually accept quite fast if they see that you are strong and unbreakable.
    First of all to live in India you need to somehow like this culture. Husband and his family have nothing to do. You should enjoy aspect of life here which are outside of the family. Indian family can be overwhelming but if you just like India for being India you will find yourself here. You will most probably stay separately just with the husband and your daily life will not be much different than anywhere else. I go out on my own often. You can join any activities you want: yoga, gym, salsa dance class etc. You can go to parties and drink alcohol and dance. I often enjoy ladies night with free unlimited alcohol for ladies. You can meet foreigners. You can travel alone. Safety depends on place, city, region. If you follow basic rules which are required by this country you are safe. Working in India can be little different, depends on your previous experience (country). Office timing can be annoying. People are unproductive and unprofessional (very often management), plus very hierarchical structure. It means you have to spend long hours in the office but your productivity is low. But maybe you can go with the flow and enjoy laid back attitude and ignore things which you will immediately understand should be improved but are not and will not be. Telling about Indian corporate life is another long story.

  4. Yes you can work! I actually moved to India on an employment visa and it was in the office where I met my Indian hubby! Getting an E visa is a bit more difficult but if you are married and have your OCI getting employment is considerably easier. I had full independence, I owned and drove my car or took a ric (if it was easier). I would go out for dinner/drinks or yoga or shopping. My life (in terms of independence, movement, friends, social life) was the same in India as it is/was in the USA. Since I was living and working in India prior to meeting and marrying hubby he really had very little say in my comings and goings. My point was that if I could go about my business as an unmarried foreigner then I will continue as a firangi bahu!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I'm curious to ask more details (which industry you work in, where in India you are) but also want to respect your privacy. I'm assuming you are in one of the larger cities?

      I also happen to think you've got quite a lovely name. ;-)

    2. I was in Pune with TechM for 18months then I joined Wipro in Bangalore. Alexandra knows who I am and can put you in touch with me on fb if you want to talk more!

  5. What is it really like for women to live there?
    - Just like it is for anyone moving to a new town. Getting familiar with the town maps, transportation (bus or driving license), food source (markets, stores & restaurants).

    Can they be independent at all?
    - Depends on the person / lady. Nothing in India will stop a lady who wants to be independent.

    What freedom do they have that is socially accepted?
    - As much as they want.
    Clothes, speech or behavior which are out of place, out of context, clashing with the event (casuals ina formal dinner) or offensive are frowned in USA as well as India.
    Use the same logic you would use when moving to a new town in America which is not your hometown.

    Can they, for example, go out on their own for sport activities (e.g. yoga), meetings with other foreign people or travel on their own?
    - A lot. Everyone (expats or locals) form their network of friends & acquaintances and participate in social activities (health, exercise or entertainment). Its just that initial time needed to find out about them.
    Any culture or country will collapse without a form of socializing.
    And India is very open and free country, to keep its ladies couped up in house.

    All different opinions you have heard are true. You will have to hear them all, but you can choose to experience India as you like.

    Women's Rights in India is a very broad topic to reply here. Your simplistic questions may be influenced by the sorely negative news often published. I have to confess my tone is not soft here. Please excuse me - but I blame the biased and lazy media.

    MadhMama, your questions are much more learned.
    - Working in India depends on your skillsets, companies in your town and work permits.
    I am Indian and have always worked in India. And everylady I know in India works, in different sectors.
    In USA meanwhile I see many qualified immigrant ladies not able to work in their areas due to H4, but still trying to volunteer and be active in some good work.
    And in USA, I see many local ladies opting to stay at home due to expensive daycare costs.
    - About safety, I hear number of instructions in USA because "Safety First". It includes not being alone in lonely places, being home by a certain time, using certain precautions while running in dark. They all hold true and most of the time you are safe. Same thing holds good in India. Me & others have been out late & safe numerous times and yet we adhere to most of the safety instructions.
    - Foreign women attract more attention anywhere - in USA or India, that's true. Blending in and paying attention to that particular place's safety standards is the only solution - the place being that city, neighborhood or establishment.
    - Being a foreign national, looking for a job will involve same struggle like anywhere - working through a consultant and combing through companies who have opening for your skill-set and work permits.

    1. I have to recommended this article in this context

  6. Legally you can work only holding OCI card or being employed and coming on a work visa. To get OCI you have to be married for two years, so if you came to India and then marry you will have to wait two years to be able to legally work. Work visa is whole another hassle, because it's requirements include a very magic number for the wage., which is waaaay above average salary. Practically you can take up freelance jobs or work in the family business.
    About the first part of the questions...I can tell you my perspective from a smaller town located 120 km's from Delhi. Frankly you can get whatever freedom you wish. The question is how much you care about what your family and the neighborhood thinks of you. Indians don't have a principle of privacy, especially in small towns and villages, so eyes will follow wherever you go and that will be discussed. Another point is safety. You CAN go wherever you want and do what you want, but it is not always safe. Language is an issue in small towns. You have to learn native language to be able to communicate and indulge in whatever you want to indulge in. It is whole another case in big cities, of course.

  7. I am working as a translator from home. I find it convenient to mamage kids and still have my own income. In fact, when I started, I became too loaded with work after some time so I started a translation agency with my husband. Now it has been over 10 years that our agency exists and now we mostly outsouce work to other translators and I take whatever I want or don't take at all.
    I also go for dance classes, meet friends and go shopping alone, feeling quite independent. I feel safe in Delhi.

  8. I have been living in India for 12 years and counting, living in Bangalore, Chennai, Navi Mumbai and Mumbai. The first 3 months of my life in India I was living alone and never had a problem (that was in 2003 in Bangalore).
    My husband had a job as a consultant before switching to retail and logistics. That meant that he was away on business trip a lot and we don't live with or anywhere near his family, so I stayed home alone for long period of time.

    The thing that amazed me the most is how often I hear foreign ladies saying India is not safe and you loose independence as a result. From experience, India is no less safe than Geneva Switzerland, in fact cities being crowded until late at night probably makes India safer in that aspect, just don't fall for what the medias want you to believe.
    I worked in a call centre for a while, then did freelance translation for years because I preferred working with flexible timings from home (because as a notorious introvert office going is not my first choice). When my daughter was born I MADE the choice to be a SAHM. It was not imposed on me, it wasn't because India's society "called for it" (not even true, many Indian women work after having kids). It was purely my choice 100%.
    I now am focusing on my blog and have many artistic ideas that are still projects at this point.

    As far as social life goes, I go out all the time, meet friends for lunch, dinner, activities, parties. It never occurred to me I was going to give that up in India, DH never even hinted at it being bad. Both my SIL have their independence and as far as I know, my MIL wants us to have a life. She is super happy at the fact we all have hobbies beyond raising kids, and she strongly encouraged the SIL that lives with them in a joint family to have a job.

    I know ladies who live in joint families that have as much freedom as I living in a nuclear family, and I know some whose in-laws are freaking out every tie they go out to the market to buy milk. It really all boils down to what the people you live with are like, it's not an INDIA thing, it is a individual issue.

    As a foreigner you need to either be an OCI or have a work permit to work in India, and getting a work permit has been made harder over the years. This could be why some foreign women do not work.

  9. These days, it's not a walk in the park for women to live anywhere. But, in India, depending on you and your family, your experience is what you make it. You can decide what kind of life you want to have. If you have heard differently, it's because many women have husbands or family-in-law that tend to hold them back from going out and working, or doing what they like. People's mindsets on women working and having a life of her own, are very limited still. That's not to say it's not possible to have a life of your own anyway - because it most definitely is. India is a place that welcomes women and men into the professional world.
    I am a woman expat, married to an Indian and living in India. In my personal experience, I prefer to take freelancing jobs from the comfort of my home. Mostly because what you would expect to get paid in your home country is diminished to less than half of what you will get paid in India. In my state in the US, $1,200 USD is minimum wage, per month. In India, the best I can make for the same job that earns me $112 per article in the US, earns me $400 a month here. The commute is also long and treacherous. I'd rather not commute 2-3 hours to and from, which seems to be the circumstances here in Delhi, if you are not lucky enough to find a job nearby. Aside from that, as many others have said, you need to have a PIO or OCI to work. Which I won't have for some time.
    Women have the freedom to live whatever kind of life they want, as I said before, it really depends on your husband and his family. If they are the kind who really support your independence, you are in luck! Society can't stop you - no one can.
    My husband is still not comfortable with me going out on my own, and it may take a few years before he is. This is my personal experience, though.
    Adjusting to Indian life is different for everyone, considering there are varying degrees. For example, your partner may be totally fine with you going out alone, and that changes the experience of Indian life for you.
    I hear that people have trouble even adjusting to India during a short vacation, so it's safe to say that India is not for everyone. It's especially harder when you take on the role of housewife or if your parter has great cultural expectations of you.
    It's all very dependant on your husband, his family, and you.

  10. I think a big part to how much freedom a woman who is a foreigner has in India is largely based on where exactly they are living. I have had very different experiences throughout India. We live in a second-tier city and I do not feel comfortable going out of the house and around on my own for the most part. There are a few places in the city where I go, if I do go, but other than those few places I only go with another family member. Not only am I uncomfortable about going out, but my husband is also hesitant to have me go out by myself. On the other hand, in first-tier cities (i.e. Delhi) I don't have a problem going around by myself and my husband actual encourages it when we are there. We have had many discussions about possibly moving to a city like Delhi just so that I am able to have more freedom. With such a lack of freedom, the ability to have social circles and your "own thing" becomes increasingly difficult, which can sometimes lead to being lonely. For the longest time I thought it was normal to stay in and not go out as much on my own, but since we have started traveling and I have been out doing my own thing I realize now how unhealthy it has been and we have begun discussing what it is we need to do so that we can both lead happy and healthy lives. I think this applies not only to personal freedoms but working in India as well. All in all, it largely depends on where you are exactly in India and its own "city" culture.

  11. I stay at home. According my current visa, that's my only option, but I'll be getting my OCI soon. Still, I at most plan at working from home because even in America I'd want to be a stay at home mom. However, I would say your ability to have freedom really depends on your relationship with your family. That is, Indian families can be totally suffocating regarding their expectations and some families are totally fine with women having freedom, and others are not. Regardless of your family, you can still exercise freedom, but without your family's support chances are your stress level will be exponential compared to the woman who does have it. For myself, I think my family would be fine with me working, but they have FREAKED OUT about me doing social things on my own. My mother-in-law in particular sees rapists everywhere in her mind, a fear she's passed on to her son (and when he starts easing up, she calls him up and tells him true life crime stories until he gets scared again.) Women living here who are NOT married into Indian families absolutely are capable of having freedom and enjoyment. If you're married into a family, it really depends on their opinions and the level of control they think they should have over your life. Again, you can always oppose them, and I often have, but the stress going into it often takes the enjoyment away from the activity you engage in. This being said, time and persistence has made it better. I've been living in India three years now and feel fairly certain I can go out and do whatever... but I exercise that privilege at a far less rate than I would if I still lived in America.

  12. I'm a foreign woman who lived in Bangalore for seven years, along with my husband (also non-Indian). We decided we wanted to live in India, and my husband easily found a job in his field. He got an employment visa and I got an X visa (entry visa for dependants) which did not allow me to work. This is a very difficult situation for expat women and most have a very hard time, being 'unemployed' for the first time and forced to become a 'housewife'. For women married to Indians, they can get an PIO/OCI card which allows them to work. Others must find a job which is suitable for them and pays a minimal salary which is quite high -- it used to be the equivalent of 1000 USD per month -- I'm not sure what it is now. This is the simple reason why foreign women do not work. In the Indian context, married women not working is considered normal and if you're from a certain social class and married, then you are not expected to work. So a married woman not working does not raise eyebrows at all. So what did I do all those years? Well, I saw this as an opportunity to become a freelance writer, something I had never had time to do because I had always been stuck in an office. And I studied Indian classical dance and the local language, Kannada. I was certainly never bored! I also travelled a lot all over South India, mostly on my own, and had no problems. With regard to safely, it's just important to use common sense like you would anywhere else.


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