Monday, 30 June 2014


One would think getting an Indian driver’s license would be fairly straight forward.  All that is needed are three passport size photos, ID and proof of address.  A learner’s permit is given after a medical exam and a written test is passed.   After one month, if a driving test is passed a driver’s license is granted.  This is easy for Indian citizens, but not so for Expats.  At least this is our experience.  

Prior to going to the Regional Transport Office (RTO), Ram tried calling for information. No information could be obtained by phone. Appointments cannot be made.   Ram went to the nearest Regional Transport Office (RTO) in Haldwani which is an hour and a half drive from our residence. After waiting for several hours he was told he needs a Voter ID card, Ration card, electric bill receipt, phone bill receipt or property tax bill to prove legal residency. Only Indian citizens will have a Voter ID and a Ration card. Our electric and water is included in our rent. We have no phone bill.  Our local bank statement with our address was not accepted as proof. After much debate the RTO Officer decided our rental agreement would work as proof of residency.  Ram came home tired and irritable.  The RTO building is constructed with concrete and without insulation.  There is no fans or air-conditioning.  There is a small window and door for ventilation.  Basically he spent hours in a hot box and managed to get little done.  

Ram obtained a photocopy of our rental agreement and three passport size photos. Again he made the hour and a half trip to the RTO hot box in Haldwani. After waiting several hours to meet with the RTO Officer, Ram was given an application to fill out and told the original rental agreement is needed for inspection. Our landlord was not available on short notice.  Another trip to Haldwani will be necessary.  

Ram, prior to trip three to Haldwani was able to arrange for our landlord to give the original copy of our rental agreement for the RTO Officer to inspect. Unfortunately the RTO Officer was tied up in a meeting until 2 PM. He was very apologetic for not being available and for Ram’s long wait.  After this hot and uncomfortable wait, the RTO Officer told Ram the original rental agreement must be registered at the court in Nainital. Nainital is an hour and a half drive from Haldwani. Too bad Ram was not told this during his previous trip. It would have saved one trip to Haldwani.   

Ram feels there is little chance of our landlord’s cooperation. Our contract is up and we are now renting month to month. Some needed repairs to our cottage have been requested and not done.  We are strongly thinking of moving to another rental cottage.  Our landlord is not inclined to make a three hour round trip to register the agreement.  However, it looks like the application has been approved according to the instructions written on the application by the RTO Officer.   We hope the Officer will be understanding and not demand the registration of the agreement.  Ram was told to appear Monday 6/30/2014. 
Considering the difficulty of getting a license and the availability of drivers, one might wonder why we still persist with the quest of a Driver’s license.  There have been instances where a photo ID and proof of address was needed.  We cannot get an Indian credit card without a photo ID and proof of address.  Many vendors do not accept American credit cards.  If they do, there is an added fee.  When we stay in a hotel, a photo ID is requested.  The same goes for a rental home.  When we show our passports and visas the price seems to go up.  

We do understand the need for caution by the Indian authorities. They take every precaution due to recent terrorist bombings. This is something the United States needs to take more seriously.

Up Date:  Monday 6/30/2014 5:41 PM    Ram has returned form the RTO in Haldwani.  Per the written instructions given by the RTO Officer Ram attempted to pay the learner’s permit fees.  The clerk refused the fees saying there was something missing.  The RTO Officer was needed to resolve the issue.  He was not available.  We are not surprised.  It’s India.  Disappointed, yes.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Our India adventure began January 2013. A year and a half later we are still here. I have learned how some things work. It seems to me, it’s more difficult for expats to live and find happiness here. Layers upon layers of bureaucracy make our lives difficult. I am sometimes ready to throw in the towel and go back to the States.

Ram’s Over Seas Citizen visa is a permanent visa.  It gives him all the rights of an Indian citizen, except the right to vote. Funny, the right to vote opens many doors for Indian citizens that are closed to expats. A voter ID (proof of Indian citizenship) is required to get cooking gas. The cost of cooking gas is subsidized by the government.  Only Indian citizens can buy it. We will never have a voter ID card. The voter ID card is also used for official proof of address. Without proof of address one cannot get a phone, open a bank account, get an Indian credit card or get a driver’s license.  Many vendors do not take American credit cards.  There is an extra fee for those that do.

Things simply do not work well here. Most Indians are unaware of the inconveniences and lack of decent infrastructure.  They have never known anything else unless they have lived overseas.   A Google search does not yield the same results here as it does in the States. There is no such thing as a phone book, at least where we are. This is probably because most of India’s population relies on cell phones. A land line is difficult to get. There is a long wait time for installation. We hear the service is unreliable. Word of mouth is the only reliable way to find a local business, service, domestic help or real estate for rent. Local tea stalls are the best place to find information that would be typically found in the phone book. There has been a time or two when I have found a local business and phone number with an Intranet search.  When I call, they do not answer the phone or they have no information about a product I want.  Power is intermittent. We experience rolling blackouts several times a day, sometimes for a few minutes and sometimes for hours. We have noticed increasing frequent power outages.

I find it very annoying that expats are perceived as being wealthy.  Expats are expected to pay more than Indian citizens. We have actually been told this by a person with an in your face attitude. This same person told us that he was glad to see American companies fail here.  What he does not understand is American companies choose to leave because of the lack of infrastructure and excessive bureaucratic red tape.  Things take a very long time to get anything done unless bribes are given. This has been a way of life since India's independence was won from the British. Older Indians will tell you life was much better under British rule.  We hear the black underground economy actually twice as large as India’s legal economy.

Even so, we have managed thus far. Somehow we have survived the bureaucracy and the inconvenience. We buy cooking gas on the black market. We have, we think managed to scrape enough documents together to prove we have a permanent address. With is documentation Ram will try to get his driver’s license.  With the license we will have proof of residence.  Hopefully more doors will open for us.  Most likely it will take a bribe. It’s expected. 

Why stay? This is a question we are asking ourselves more often. Perhaps now that India has overwhelmingly elected a conservative Prime Minister, things will get better.  Time will tell.  For the next two years we will travel India to see and experience her diverse cultures. I’m especially anxious to visit Rajasthan, home of Ram’s Rajput ancestors.  I do for the most part enjoy my day to day life here.  We have made some good friends.  It will be hard to leave and not easy to stay.