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Return to India Checklist & FAQ

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(Last Updated On: March 1, 2019)

I returned to India from the USA in 2017 end. While trying to find information about the whole process, I decided to roll up my sleeves and share my experience, list out the process, tools and learnings in an article, so that others benefit. I ended up creating the Back to India website, an amazing WhatsApp and Telegram group (invites available) and this article.

This article is made with the help and inputs of several well-wishers from the community and is an ever growing list. If you have any suggestions or input to develop it further, please let me know in comments.

Table of contents

How to find a job in India

Finding a job is probably the hardest of the entire process. I was lucky to have an entrepreneurship dream and made it happen within months of reaching India. But for others looking for a job, here are some helpful tips.

What not to do

Experts and HR folks recommend that going through the typical job portal route is a bad decision.

Reason 1 – There is no NRI tag for recruiters to see, they count you in with the regular folks applying from India and will give you no special consideration.

Reason 2 – There are no special jobs for NRIs or returnees that these job portals usually post.

What to do

Try hiring HR/Recruitment consultants who can place you with good companies who are looking for returning talent. Recruitment consultants work closely with such companies and will be able to give you better opportunities.

Websites to apply for jobs

https://www.returntoindiajobs.com
https://www.iimjobs.com

Consultants to approach

List of consultants are here > https://backtoindia.com/tools/

When to start looking for jobs?

It is recommended to start looking for jobs as early as 8 to 10 months before moving to India.

So you have enough time to attend interviews and negotiate before having few options.

What salary to expect

Experts suggest that you can expect jobs in India that can pay up to 50% of your US job salary. But of course, there are many variations here and it really depends on you, your skills, experience and of course, your employer.

50% is never a guarantee and is probably the highest we’ve seen among returnees. (Source – Michael Page)

US v/s India – Work culture differences

Indian work culture is different from the US and for someone who’s used to the US culture, might find it shocking.

While US has a laid back (this too is relative), professional culture with sharp 9-5 timings, in India, you’ll find people coming in late, leaving late, favouritism, politics etc.

However, this is a debatable topic as to whether only India has such a culture. Community members have reported that some of them have reported favoritism and politics in higher up positions in the USA as well.

Fact of the matter is that, the work culture depends on where you are in India. Which company, which city, which industry etc and it’s very hard to draw a common line through. Many Indian companies even follow strict guidelines and has professional approach these days, particularly startups.

Shipping your stuff

Here’s all the shipping related questions answered.

What are the USA to India shipping methods available?

You can ship all your stuff from the USA to India in three ways.

a. Through a shipping agency
b. via Air
c. As hand baggage

Using a shipping agency is cost-effective, but takes a lot of time (count weeks or months). Via Air is faster but costs a little higher than shipping. Taking your stuff along with you in boxes as hand baggage is safer, but the disadvantage is that you can’t take everything with you if you have a lot of items and depending on which flight you’re taking, the charges will be different and some items disallowed.

Community members suggest that you sell off all the “unwanted” items in the US itself and only carry the absolutely necessary items back. This way, you can avoid excess charges and go for a fresh start.

How to plan your move & prepare for shipping

Sell off all the heavy items like furniture, electronics etc via Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or using an app like OfferUp or LetGo.

Tip: Donate your books and clothes..

Which is the cheapest shipping agency from USA to India?

It is very difficult to name one cheap company as the rates are not significantly different for each company. However, the service and customer service is vastly different for each company.

Here’s a curated list of most used (among the RTI community) shipping companies > https://backtoindia.com/tools

  1. UniRelo
  2. Universal Relocation
  3. Earth Movers
  4. SFL Worldwide

Unirelo seems to be popular among returnees. Other shipping agencies are mentioned here – Best shipping agencies from USA to India

Note: Universal Relocations is not the same as Unirelo. They’re two different companies.

Full container shipping charges

Booking a full container is a common way for returnees to ship their stuff from USA to India. This is particularly useful when you have a large shipment, like moving an entire house worth of items.

You’d need to pack your stuff to boxes, and will be charged per box (considering its weight). You’d also have to pay for the insurance (optional).

Unirelo experience – Took 5 months to ship, but good service.
Costs ~$100 per box and ~2.5% insurance, no duty fee and Rs 3,000 dock fee in India. (Based on actual user experience from Prashant Dewangan)

Unirelo has also received negative reviews, with delayed shipping due to unforeseen reasons etc, so overall be it any shipping company you use, has mixed reviews and the risk is the same.Unirelo seems to be really popular among returnees, however (Based on this poll).

Note: Despite assurances, expect delays when you’re shipping stuff. They usually quote “unforeseen circumstances”.

How much custom duties to expect on shipping?

Shipping companies will not pay for customs on your behalf and it’s totally up to you to pay it off once your load reaches customs/port. You’ll be intimated by the customs office and/or by the shipping agency and a fee will be slapped on, based on their evaluation of the value of your shipment.

You can expect up to 40% in customs duties on new items, but if you’re moving houses and can show the proof of it (letter stating that you are + visa cancellation or similar document) you can get fully exempted from it.
Overall, dealing with customs is a hit or miss and there are no standard fees. The maximum customs duty we’ve seen so far in the community is 36–40% on electronics. These were new electronics and hence the high charge.
For moving things that are already used, customs could charge anywhere from 0–10% (based on experience from community members).

Note: Customs fee vary largely and there is no standard rate that we can quote or give.

What boxes to use for packing items

Pack your stuff into boxes while shipping. Some shipping agencies will do it for you (of course, you have to pay extra) or you can do it yourself by getting boxes from shops like Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Community members recommend using 18x18x24 boxes with max 50 Lbs in weight per box.

It’ll cost about $100 per box approximate in companies like Universal Relocation. Its 18x18x24 boxes and max 50 lbs in weight.

Property in USA

What to do with the owned property in US?

Community members recommend that if you own a property in the US, it’s better if you rent it out with the help of a property management company, instead of trying to manage it yourself from India.

Make use of property managers

It’s suggested that you find a property manager, preferably local to your area, who can manage the property on your behalf while in India.

Cars & Automobile

What to do with a car loan?

If you have a car loan existing while moving back to India, it’s a good idea to either sell it off or transfer the ownership to a willing party (friend, buyer etc).

To sell it to another person, you should have cleared all your pending payments. Once paid off, you’ll get a notice from the DMV. Only with this notice can another person buy the car from you (legally).

If you want to transfer the ownership to another person however, you’d need to approach the DMV (both parties) and request for a transfer of ownership. This can take a few days to process.

Where & how to sell your car

CarMax can do the whole process in under one day or a few hours.

I sold my car to CarMax (while under loan) and it was a totally hassle-free process. I ended up paying back CarMax the remaining loan amount, but I got the title signed and sold it to them. This is probably the best way to settle the car loan.

Note: It’s probably not a good idea to leave the country without settling your car loan as it might back bite you someday.

Should you take cars to India with you?

According to community members, importing cars to India from the USA is a bad decision, economically and practicality-wise. Because you’ll have to pay almost double the price of the car in customs duties. Plus, the US made cars will not have the standard specifics as India Govt. regulations.

How much would I end up paying in customs duties?

125% and upwards.

Difference in standards

Personal Finance

Let’s answer some of the most frequent answered personal finance questions.

What to do with the money in the bank account?

One of the frequently asked question is what to with the money you’ve saved up while living in the USA. Savings, 401K etc.

Many members from the community thinks that it is best to send most part of the money to an Indian bank through an NRE account. For this, you’d need to have an NRE account opened in India already. You won’t be able to open an NRE account while in USA, so if you don’t have one, you have to look for alternatives like Xoom, Remitly etc.

How to transfer money from USA to India

There are two things to consider. One, how fast you want the money transferred. Two, how big is the amount you’re trying to send.

If you want to send the amount fast, then services like Western Union, Remitly, Xoom etc are great options. They take a cut from you but will deposit the money within minutes to your NRE account.

However, if you can wait and want more value (better exchange rate) for your money, then going through a bank would be the better idea. A bank like SBI Cal (in California) will give you competitive exchange rates and send the money in about 24-48 hours. They have a 24 hour hold period, and that’s the only disadvantage.

Read more here : Best money transfer methods to India

Should I keep 401k or take the money out?

How about stocks and investments like bonds and ETFs?

Can you operate your US bank account from India?

Yes you can. Most US banks allow you to operate your account remotely online and this is good enough for most of the transactions you’d be doing from India.

Tip: Make sure your account doesn’t use a US phone number for verification. Once in India, you won’t be able to use the US number.

Should you continue paying for insurance?

Probably not. Unless you have pending payments, you probably will not be using your medical insurance once in India. So it’s probably a good idea to close it off. However, if you have medical conditions that you think would be better treated in USA, then it might be a good idea to keep the insurance plan.

Should you withdraw your HSA funds?

Taxes – Should you pay off everything?

  • Sailing permit
  • What happens if you don’t get a sailing permit?

Should you cancel your credit cards?

Yes and No. Yes if you absolutely want to be sure that they won’t be used again. If you cancel, it will affect your credit score, so if you’re not worried about it, go ahead and cancel it.

Consider whether you’ll be using/needing the credit card for online purchases while in India. If you do, it’s probably a better idea to keep it for a while.

Should you pay off credit card balances?

Ideally, you should. If you don’t it’ll back bite you at some point. So, avoid maxing out your credit card before leaving your country thinking that it is safe. It is not.

Should you freeze your credit?

Yes. While you’re not using your credit card, your ID is prone to theft and to avoid some distasteful situations, it’s better to freeze your credit with all agencies.

Here are instructions on how to freeze your credit.

What to buy from USA to India

For a list of things that you could buy from USA to India, check out this list.

Kids

Do you need an OCI card for kids (US citizens) moving to India?

Yes. You’d need to apply for OCI card for your kids (US citizens) well in advance before the move (at least 4–5 weeks earlier). If they are PIO holders, they need to be converted to OCI before moving.

With the OCI card, you’d get a multiple entry visa to India and this is enough for them to live in India. They can always return back to the USA when they are 21 years of age. (Source –Wiki)

If you are moving back to India, it is recommended that you get the OCI from the USA itself, because getting one from India has more processes and loops to jump through and might bet into some unwanted bumps.

How to apply for OCI card

Here are detail instructions on how to file an OCI application from the USA

When to apply for OCI card?

At least 4–5 weeks ahead of moving back to India.

Is PIO cards still accepted at immigration?

Not any more. You have to convert PIO cards to OCI cards before landing up at immigration to avoid surprises. Here are the instructions.

Which are the best schools in your city

Many aspiring returnees ask this question and I think it’s best to do your own research. Because, this is a very personal and subjective topic. What is good to me isn’t good for another person.

Having said that, there are many international schools that have come up in India recently, that claim that they have curriculums matching US or other countries. They are expensive but sure does come with it’s perks and benefits.

We have city based WhatsApp groups where a lot of questions on best schools gets discussed, so if you have a question, please ping me on +001-408-489-4785 and I can add you to the corresponding group (currently, there are groups for Hyderabad, Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Kochi, Kolkatta, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru etc.

Admission process

Admissions process in Indian schools usually revolves around the following.

  • Application – Where you fill in an application form for the class intended, filling in particulars of the student.
  • Interview – Where they have a personal interview with the student and the parents. This can go in to rounds in certain schools.
  • Test – Some schools do a written and/or a verbal test for the student, to check his/her aptitude.
  • Fee – Once selected, you pay the fee to be able to join the class.
  • Admission .

Do OCI holders have higher fees?

At the school level, kids who are OCI holders don’t get any special treatment or higher fees. School fees is dependent on which school they go to, the city/neighbourhood, the curriculum etc and not whether he/she is an OCI holder.

Best time to join schools in India

Schools in India start their admission process the previous year usually. So, if you contact them early on, the better. However, processes begin during early start of the year, so you might want to check in at that time.

Some schools, that have a reputation of enrolling NRI students usually take interviews etc via Skype even, but this probably isn’t common practice.

Documents required for School admissions (for NRIs and OCI holders)

  • Passport originals.
  • OCI card.
  • Current visa.
  • Parents KYC documents.
  • Photos.
  • Document from US school stating transfer.

Should you take your TV with you?

This is an often repeated question. Whether its a good idea to take your TVs with you to India.

The short answer is no, but it depends. Let me explain.

If you have a large TV (like 55inches and plus), it’s probably a good idea to take it to India, provided you can get a good shipping company that’ll take it safe and sound and not get you custom fees. The real advantage is only price. For 55 inch TVs and beyond, there is a significant amount of price difference between Indian and US TVs. Also, in some cases, you can get a better technology TV from USA (it is debatable whether you can use it in India though).

Price difference of TVs USA v/s India

If the TV is a new one, is bigger than 55 inches, then you’d get a TV from USA, cheaper than in India. But make sure that it’s a good idea considering the shipping and customs fees (which can go up to to 40% of the price of TV)

Options in India

The reality is that you can get pretty much any top brand TV in India for cheap. Especially, if you follow trends and get one for one of those special sale online. I rarely have come across a situation where the technology was only available in USA and not India. Also, keep in mind that most of the time, the same technology is called by different names in USA and India.

Agree that the same TV might be expensive in India, when compared to US prices, but always add customs duties and shipping charges, before you make a call.

Custom duties for imported TVs in India

When you bring a TV from USA to India, it automatically attracts customs duties and it can go anywhere from 10% to 40% of the actual price of TV.

Community members have reported that they have been charged customs duties at various levels depending upon which port they’re in, which city they are bringing it to and “the mood” of the officers.

How to keep your US number

VOIP

If you use Vonage (or a similar VOIP), you could make use of the Vonage App to make calls using WiFi when you’re in India. But you’d need to keep the connection and keep paying it monthly from your US account.

WhatsApp

Before moving to India, make sure you have your WhatsApp number tied to the US number. Once back in India, even if you change SIM, you can still use the US number on WhatsApp since it is tied to the phone. Some members prefer to keep using the US number on WhatsApp.

Call forwarding

There are several call forwarding services available like Google voice that will help you forward your US number calls to an Indian number. But here, you have to keep paying for the US number as well as the forwarding service to make use of this feature.

Using Google Voice to use your US number

You could also use Google Voice to use your US number outside of the USA.
This method is a hit and miss though, and some members from the community have reported that it is broken.
Here are the instructions.

Maintaining green card status

How to maintain the green card status?

If you stay outside of the US for more than six months, then you may be losing your green card/permanent resident status.

Experts recommend that you get a re-entry permit from USCIS before leaving the country for extended stays.

To qualify for a re-entry permit, an applicant must prove ties to an “unrelinquished lawful permanent residence” in the United States. To determine whether these ties exist, USCIS looks at various factors, including:

  • Location of family, property holdings, and jobs;
  • Intention to return to the United States as a place of employment, business, or as an actual home;
  • Purpose for departing from the United States; and
  • Whether the visit abroad is short.

Whether or not a returning PR has a re-entry permit, he/she may be subject to increased scrutiny if an act that triggers “removal” was committed before or after departing the United States.

Source

Is there a restriction as to how long you can stay outside the US?

If you are a permanent resident, then yes, six months. (Read this article)

This is an article written with inputs and contribution by members of the backtoindia.com community. A wiki version of this article is available here.

About the author

Mani Karthik

In my pursuit to happiness, I share everything I've learnt on this blog. From productivity to spirituality and everything in between. I quit my cozy job in Silicon Valley to pursue blogging & is an Entrepreneur now. I help startups grow & teach people blogging.

Let's make it a better life. One article at a time.

In my pursuit to happiness, I share everything I learn on this blog. From productivity to personal finance, spirituality and everything in between.

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