OK, this is a long one for our prospective Delhi-ites.
Someone asked me recently how much it costs to live in Delhi. Delhi’s growing prosperity and extreme urban poverty makes this a truly impossible question. People live on virtually nothing here, while others have built lavish lifestyles. In a city where you can find people begging outside a Ferrari dealership (something Evan saw his first week here), the question seems more philosophical, or at least political, than practical.
But I am a practical person; I am an American; and this is a very important question to ask before you move to another country. So I tried to answer some basic questions on what costs would be for a young person/couple earning dollars (i.e. a modest but comparable salary to what they would earn in the United States) in Delhi, with a view to save. I note that expenses in Delhi are complicated, while many things are much cheaper some will be more expensive than in the US. Here is a broken down list of some of the main items:
Most people I know tend to live in South Delhi, which means neighborhoods like Lajpat Nagar, Saket, Jangpura Nagar, Green Park, Hauz Khas, and Defence Colony (which are loosely ordered in least to most expensive). These neighborhoods offer a range of accommodations and are central to a lot of amenities. There are other extremely expensive neighborhoods like Jor Bagh, Nizamuddin East, etc. as well, but probably not in your price range if you are paying your own rent.
Like many growing cities, rent in Delhi has been noticeably growing each year. Right now, I would estimate Rs. 30,000-50,000 (US$500-850) a month for a furnished place would be possible in most of these neighborhoods. Be warned: 1-bedrooms are difficult to come by in Delhi. You may want to open up your search to 2 or 3 bedrooms, as they may be similarly priced. Most people find places through real estate agents/brokers who charge a standard one month rent for their fee. However, my friend Hima recently told me about two facebook groups for finding roommates and rentals without brokers.
Utilities can be pretty expensive in Delhi, particularly during summer. You can count on your electricity bill being up to Rs. 10,000 (US$180) a month during the hot months for a one bedroom depending on your insulation (though much lower, maybe Rs. 2500 (US$50), in the colder months).
A maid who comes 6x/week to do basic cleaning will be about Rs. 3,000-4,000 (US$70-90) a month in South Delhi, give or take depending on your negotiating skills. You can also have a cook to come to your house several times a week for a little bit more. You will also have a local dhobi, or ironing stand in your neighborhood, which can iron your clothes (same-day service) for between Rs. 3-5 (US$.05-.10) a piece.
My 8km commute to work costs about Rs. 80 (US$1.50) each way by auto-rickshaw, though I have been splurging on air-conditioned taxis for Rs. 200 rupees (US$4). The metro (a great way to commute) is really inexpensive alternative as it usually runs less than Rs. 15 (US$0.25) a ride. There is also the bus service, which may be slower and with a reputation, but is definitely the cheapest way to get around Delhi.
Food and Drink
Groceries are relatively inexpensive, and you should have a vegetable stand with a good seasonal variety in your neighborhood. Tiffin services (where a meal – usually dal, vegetables, and rice – is delivered to your home on a regular/daily basis) are really inexpensive, as are local Indian eateries – these meals should be between Rs. 50-150 (US$1-3) per meal. Eating trendy or international cuisine restaurants are much more epxensive about Rs. 500-1000 (US$8-20)/person, and drinking is through the roof. Drinks at bars are usually around Rs. 300-1000 (US$8-15) each. At happy hour you can probably get it down to something like Rs. 250-400 (US$5-8). The other day I was excited by a $6 Conona beer, immediately thinking, “Has it really come to this?” Buying directly from grocery stores is unfortunately not too much cheaper.
Yuni-Net has been a huge resource in preparing to move to Delhi. It is a helpful mini-craigslist-for-Delhi listserve of expats and Indians who have lived abroad for everything from finding a maid to where to get the best cheeseburger. Membership is screened so apply now to join as it may take several days to confirm your admission.