Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Skywalks in train stations - what are they for?

This weekend I went to Mambalam station to receive my wife who was returning back from TUT. The train was delayed by an hour and a half. I got ample time to sit back & relax. It was Saturday morning, 8 am. Mambalam station was without its usual fanfare. I was silently enjoying what was going around me. Passengers of diverse age groups ... small kids to old folks, hopping in & out of the trains that pass by. The station master who comes out of his room religiously to wave Green flag to all the passing trains. But, the thing that stood out very significantly, is almost all the people (90+%) didn't use the skywalks to cross the platforms. The engineer in me started to analyze the problem & come up with solutions.

First of all, the present skywalk is at one extreme corner of the station. Second of all, reaching the other platform by crossing the railway tracks is damn easy. Despite the fact that I'm educated, I too was tempted to cross the tracks - but, managed to resist my temptation. How can we expect the 'common man' to NOT cross the railway tracks? People always tend to take the 'shortest possible route' to their destination - unless they're stopped by an iron hand or there is a serious threat to their life. All the trains start to sound horn few Kilometers before the station. So, people feel that it is absolutely safe for the passengers to cross the tracks. But, it is not true. Watch out this video.

How do you stop it? Well, this is indeed a tough question.

Constructiong another skywalk that is close enough
- Do you think people will take the pain of climbing the stairs (even if it is close enough), to cross the railway tracks? Absolutely, NOT.

Putting an Iron fence between the tracks - We may think that putting a fence between the tracks would solve the problem. However, people are bold enough to create walkways by breaking the fences. I've seen that in Nungambakkam station. Even metal rods/plates are broken by people to create walk ways.

Putting an electric fence between the tracks - This will technically solve the problem. However, it is not feasible to implement this solution. There will be unnecessary use of power/electricity. Also, if somebody unknowingly touches the fence, they may die. Government may not be willing to implement this.

Constructing a flyover for trains - The train stations will be in the first floor & passengers have to take the stairs to hit the road. This would sound like a logical solution. However, there is huge cost involved in constructing flyovers for trains. Also, the metro trains would consume more electrical energy to pull the coaches up over the flyover & then come back again to the ground level.

Putting a guard who will help people to cross the tracks in a designated area - The role of the gaurd will be like a traffic police. He has to stand in the sun/rain all day. He will get uptodate information regarding the arrival of trains in a hand-held device. He'll use that information to guide people to cross the railway tracks. This seems to be an OK solution. But, it may be difficult for the government to hire 'guards' for each & every metro train station. Also, considering the number of people who cross the tracks, it would be 'tough' for the guard to single-handedly manage/guide the crowd without any accidents.

Constructing a travelator/escalator/elevator - This is definitely a good solution. However, it involves lots of cost (for the initial installation & the subsequent maintenence/operation). Moreover, these systems cannot be used by several people at once. So, considering the current population & economical state of India, this solution is also ruled out.

Let trains not to sound horns when they cross a station
- Once this policy is implemented, few people will die when they try to cross the tracks. However, it will create a 'fear' among the rest. There will be handful of people, who will still try to cross the railway tracks without using the skywalks. The government may not be excited to implement this solution.

I couldn't think of a single solution that is cost-effective & easy to implement. I'm doubtful, if there is a real solution to this problem unless India becomes a 'developed' nation (people are educated/disciplined & there is lots of money to carryout such infrastructure projects). I'm very eager to hear feedback from others to solve this problem. If you can come up with something, please do let me know.

Also read:

If I don't care, who'll care?
Traveling near restrooms in the train isn't fun

Saturday, September 26, 2009

If I don't care, who will care?

I had a memorable travel experience from Tuticorin to Chennai. This time, for a change, I had booked my tickets in the "sleeper class". "Sleeper class" tickets cost only 30% of what you normally pay for "Third AC" tickets.

It is nearly 10+ years since I traveled in "sleeper class". My brain is still fresh with memories of "train travel" during my college days. During those days, "sleeper class" travel is a "luxurious thing". I normally used to travel in "unreserved" coach because it is very inexpensive. Unreserved coaches are typically packed with people. You'll be lucky if you get a chance to stretch your legs because someone will either be sitting or sleeping near your feet. During college days, the thought of traveling in 'sleeper class' excites me. First of all, I get a chance to properly "sleep" during my travel. Second of all, I get a chance to travel with all my college friends in "sleeper class". So, with all those sweet memories, I stepped into the "sleeper class" coach at Tuticorin.

I was first shocked to see the condition of the coach. Most of the things inside that coach was either rusty or dirty. The rest room was in pathetic condition - handles were 'sticky'; taps weren't clean; and there was a bad smell. The restroom had a western toilet and there were plastic bottles inside the toilet sink. I couldn't stop the tears that popped out from my eyes. Having traveled in 2nd AC & 3rd AC coaches recently, I know Indian Railways, maintain the rest rooms there, in a very good condition. But, the "sleeper class" rest rooms were in terrible condition. I couldn't imagine how the "unreserved coach" rest rooms will be. Why are people treated differently? Aren't the people traveling in "sleeper coach", HUMANS? (Also read: A ban on spitting pan in public places - who enforces it?)

I got down from the train at Mambalam and took a metro train to Nungambakkam. The coach was filled with people. Right after entering the coach, I smelled something very bad. I then observed that some of the other passengers have closed their nose with hand kerchiefs. I was looking around to find out where the smell was coming from. The thing that I saw, moved me very emotionally, again. There were human faeces on the floor spread out in a 3 ft x 3 ft area. It was in a dried up condition. I resisted the smell and got down at my station. But, I pitied the people, who were sitting in that coach for the rest of their journey.

I'm an educated youth. I'm passionate about my country. I get moved when I see things go wrong in front of my eyes. But, I didn't take any actions on that day. I didn't complain to anyone about the 'unclean' toilets or the 'nasty' condition of the coach in the metro train. I minded my OWN job on that day. If a person like me doesn't care for the society, who will care?

I see people on the road, violating traffic signs; I see people crossing railway tracks when there are well laid skywalks; I see people dumping trash on the road side when there are proper dumpsters; I see people using the road side as rest rooms; I see sewage gushing out of potholes on the roads, causing hygiene threats. But, I haven't taken any action.

(Also read: Kovilpatti Railway Station - Super Clean!)

Am I too selfish that I don't care about what happens around me? Why am I minding my own job? Do I also behave like an ordinary citizen of India? Am I expecting the government to take care of everything? Don't I have a responsibility towards this society? I'm privileged to have good education, health and wealth. Why shouldn't I be caring about this? If I don't care, who will care? If I don't take action, who will?

Also read:

Traveling near restrooms in the train isn't fun
Skywalks in Train Stations - What are they for?


IRCTC - Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation

In the last few years, Indian Railways has made great strides in improving the booking & travel experience of passengers. There are so many trains with improved service and faster travel time. My favorite of all the things from Indian Railways, is the online booking facility. I can book my train tickets at the click of my mouse. I don't have to go to the nearest booking center; I don't have to stand in long queues; I don't have to keep calling the railways to find the current status of my tickets; I don't have to have cash with me to book tickets. IRCTC.CO.IN has relieved us from all those sufferings. Ofcourse, IRCTC.CO.IN does have some shortcomings (web site is very slow, web site doesn't respond back at times, money once debited due to network issues/invalid transactions are returned to you only after 3 business days, web user interface is not very intuitive, etc.,). But, can I live with these problems? Yes, I surely can. I use IRCTC.CO.IN for all my travel reservations. They also have additional services such as providing tour packages, hotel reservations etc., I haven't had a chance to try them out, yet. But, I soon will.

I love IRCTC.CO.IN. Good job folks.

Also read:

Traveling near restrooms in the train, isn't fun
Skywalks in Train Stations - What are they for?
If I don't care, who'll care? 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Things to take care of, after your R2I

Have you made the "hardest" decision in your life? I mean, "Have you decided to Return to India?" Now, the rest of things are going to be easy. Have you already taken care of the things to do before R2I? What are some of the things that you need to take care of after reaching India? I've compiled a list of items to take care of, after your Return to India. This is purely based on my experiences and definitely not exhaustive. Feel free to recommend additional items, if any.

1) School admissions - This is the most important thing, especially if you have kids of 'school going' age. Some schools distribute application forms in October for the following year. So, you may have to ask your relatives/friends to get the applications well in advance. Some schools also have an admission window during "Vijayadasami". You should be able to put your kid in school during that time also. (Also read: R2I school admissions - FAQ Getting KG admission for a kid in school - the math behind it)

2) Ration Card - Ration card is treated as an address proof & may be required irrespective of whether you buy things at the Ration shop or not. So, it is recommended to get one.

3) Driving License - If you don't have an Indian driving license or if your driving license has 'expired', you need to get a new one. AFAIK, you need to go in person for submitting the application & to take the driving test (on a different day) [irrespective of whether you go through a driving school or not] (Also read: Getting a two wheeler driving license)

4) PAN Card - This is also very important, these days. This is very much equivalent to your Social Security number. You have to quote your PAN number for all financial dealings (Banks, Demat trading account, loan, etc.,). There are so many agents available to get you a PAN card for a nominal fee.
I went to the nearest UTI TSL office and submitted my PAN application. I got my PAN card within months. (Also read: Getting a PAN card in India - Not easy)

5) Bank Account - You need to have a Bank Account for keeping your money safe & for ATM access. If you have been having a NRI account, you can convert that into a NRO account and use it. You need to get an ATM debit card. In India, you can withdraw money from any ATM (even though you aren't a member of that bank), without any charge. This is very convenient. There are ATMs everywhere.

6) GAS connection - Electricity is not very reliable in India. So, you need to buy GAS stove and apply for GAS cylinders.

7) PIO stay extension/OCI application - Based on your/your family's legal status, you may need to take care of the PIO/OCI formalities. (Related posts: Extending stay of PIO holder, OCI Hooplah)

8) Credit Card - I would highly recommend you to get a credit card. Using ATM/Debit cards may not be safe in all the locations (Your ATM card provides direct access to your bank account). So, you may have to selectively use Credit Cards in places that are not safe. Also, credit cards give you the flexibility to make payments later.

9) Buying/Renting a property - You would need a house to stay. Renting can be done pretty quick - though the rents have gone up quite a bit in the last 10 years. I heard that home prices have come down significantly in some areas after the 2008 bubble crash. So, it may be wise to "own" a property instead of "renting" a property. There are some HRA (House Rent Allowance) benefits for the "interest" that you pay on Home loans.

10) Finding a physician/hospital - This is important especially, if you have kids. It takes a while to 'identify' the 'right' physician. The penetration of "medical insurance", has made the medical services so costly. You need to start looking for a good physician & hospital before you have some "emergency" health issues. Some hospitals are 'money minded' so, you need to be aware of that.

11) Buying a vehicle - There are ample public transportation options available in India (based on your comfort & price requirements). However, having used to a car in US, you definitely need a vehicle. There are zillion options available. So, this is not going to be a easy exercise. I bought a Honda Aviator scooter, just to get myself acquainted with the Indian roads. I never owned a motor vehicle in India, before. So, it is very exciting to ride a vehicle in India :)  [Also read: Bought a new car - Maruti Swift Dzire]

Related posts:

R2I Checklist
R2I - Salary Negotiation
10 things to know if you are Returning to India
R2I - How can I get my Social Security benefits/money?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

List of places to see in USA

This blog post contains the "List of places to see in USA" including top U.S attractions, important sight seeing places, travel experiences, and tips for planning your trips in USA. I have shared my travel experiences to these places. Hope you find them useful.

Also read:  

How do you plan a sightseeing trip in US?
Tips to get good deals on flight, hotel and car

Arizona (Trip Planner)

RV Driving and Motor Home Experience
Sedona & Flagstaff
Places in Phoenix
Navajo Canyon Ferry
Glen Canyon, Page  

Miami & Bahamas  (Trip Planner)

Royal Carribean Cruise Experiences

Maui, Hawaii

Maui Trip Planning - Tips & Recommendations
Maui Trip Preparations
Maui Parasailing
Hana Lava Tube & Haleakala Crater Visit
Trip to Iao Valley, Tropical Plantation, and Snorkeling
Maui Atlantic Submarine Tour
Banyan Tree, Jodo Mission, Luau Visit

Washington DC, New York & Niagara (Trip Planner)

Pittsburgh Trip, Pennysylvania
Visit to Niagara Falls, Canada
Visit to Liberty Statue & Ellis Islands, New York
Visit to New York Downtown, New York
Washington DC Trip

Denver & South Dakota

Colorado, Denver & Mount Rushmore

Oregon, Seattle Vancouver (Trip Planner)

Seattle, WashingtonVancouver, Canada
Portland, Oregon
Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Crater Lake & Mount Shashta

Wyoming, Utah & Idaho (Trip Planner)

Yellow Stone Attractions

Road Trip (Southern States) (Trip Planner)

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Little Rock, Arkansas
Memphis, Tennessee
Atlanta, Georgia
Birmingham, Alabama
Jackson, Mississippi
Shreveport/Monroe, Louisiana
Dallas, Texas

New Hampshire / Vermont (Trip Planner)

Fall Foliage Colors Trip

Chicago, Illinois (Trip Planner)

Chicago Trip Experiences

Las Vegas & Grand Canyon, Nevada


Mendocino - A stay in Cabin
Death Valley VisitSacramento Day Trip
San Francisco Downtown / Golden Gate Bridge
Carmel by the Sea
Los Angeles (Disney Land/Universal Studios)

    Thiruchendur Temple Visit - Poojari's demanding money

    We had been to the famous 'Thiruchendur Temple' over the weekend. This temple sits magestically along the sea shore, in the east cost. I visited the temple after 4+ years.Things haven't changed much with respect to the temple and its infrastructure. However, I had a very unpleasant experience this time. All the Brahmanas/Poojaris inside the  temple were "forcing" people to leave some donation on their plate. I felt very awkward when the Poojari asked me "openly" to drop some donation. Had it been just one Poojari, I wouldn't have felt bad - of course, there are chances for a rotten apple to be in a bag full of apples. But, almost all the Poojaris 'asked' openly for 'donation'. I wanted to complain to the Temple office. However, the temple office was closed and I couldn't do much.

    For 'Archanais', they sell tickets outside. But, in addition, we have to pay Rs. 20 to the Poojari, inside the temple.  We had to give the donation (whenever asked) & pay the extra Rs.20 to the Poojaris for 'Archanai'.

    We completed our worship and came out of the temple. We were intercepted by road side beggars. They asked for some money saying that they haven't had food in a while. I had to literally scold them to get out of my view. I don't want to encourage the act of begging/beggars (especially, when they are fit & can work).

    I took a moment to think about what happened inside the temple vs the thing that happened outside the temple. The Poojaris weren't any different from the beggars who were standing outside the temple. Yes! They are educated beggars.

    Also read:  

    Tirupati Tirumala Temple Visit - May be the last?
    Kovai Trip - Maruthamalai / GCT visit 
    Rameswaram Trip Experiences

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    R2I - 401(k) closure FAQs

    Have you thought through all the options regarding "What to do with your 401(k) account" during your return to India? Have you decided to close your 401(k) account? Do you have questions lingering in your mind regarding 401(k) account closure? Hopefully, you'll find an answer to your question here.

    1) When can I close the 401(k) account ?

    You should be out of job to close the 401(k) account. Typically, you'll get the 'participant distribution' application to fill during your last working day. You can fill the application and submit it to your HR or 401(k) Benefits Provider.

    2) What is the process involved to close the 401(k) account?

    You'll receive the 401(k) 'participant distribution' application (from your HR) during your last working day. You need to just fill-it and hand it over to the HR or 401 (k) Benefits provider.

    3) What are the options that I'll have when deciding to close the 401(k) account?

    Read "R2I - What to do with the 401(k) account" post which describes this in detail.

    4) Will my tax be withheld at the source when I close the 401K account?

    A flat 20% Federal tax will be withheld at the source when you close the 401K account. In addition, there is a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

    5) What would be the with holdings done at source by the 401K Benefit Provider, when I close the account ?

    There will be a flat 20% federal tax withheld when you close your 401k account.

    You can settle the remaining tax when you file your tax returns, next year. (If you fall in a lower tax bracket, you'll get the excess money back from the government. If you fall on a higher tax bracket, you may have to pay the money that you owe to the government).

    6)  When would I have to pay the penalty?

    You'll have to pay a 10% penalty for early withdrawal. The penalty will have to be paid when you pay your taxes.

    7) How long does the 'closure' process take?

    In a couple of days, your 'participant distribution' form will reach the 401(k) Benefits provider. Your 401(k) Benefits Provider will take care of the formalities in a week.
    You may expedite the process by contacting 401(k) Benefits provider upon your last day. Tell them that you'll have to R2I & hence the urgency.

    8) How long does it take to get the 401K money after I close the account?

    The check takes about 15 business days and the wire about a week.

    9) Can I still maintain my 401K account after moving to India?

    Some 401(k) Benefit Provider will let you to manage your account online. Talk to your 401(k) Benefit Provider or transfer your 401(k) account to someone who'll provide you online management.

    10) Do I have to pay additional tax when I file the Income Tax returns, next year?

    It depends. Depending upon your tax bracket, you may have to pay additional taxes. Look at the tax bracket into which you'll fall when you file the tax returns.

    You'll have to pay the 10% penalty for early withdrawal, when you file your tax returns.

    11) Can the 401(k) Benefit Provider 'direct deposit' the proceeds of closure to my bank account?

    Yes. The 401K provider can wire the proceeds of the 401k closure to your bank account. You need to work it out with them when you fill the 'participant distribution' form on your last working day.

    Related posts:

    What to do with the 401(k) account?
    10 things to know if you are thinking of Returning to India
    How can I get my Social Security benefits/money? 

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    R2I - What to do with the 401(k) account?

    Have you decided to Return to India (R2I)? Wondering what to do with your 401(k) account? Handling your 401(k) account is one of the big things in R2I checklist. This blog post explains the different things you can do with your 401(k) account, during your R2I. (Also read: R2I Planning Guide)

    When you quit job during your return to India, your 401(k) account will move to 'terminated status'. On your last day of employment, you'll be given a 'participant distribution' form. You'll have to decide what you want to do with your 401(k) account.

    You'll have the following options:

    1) You can still maintain your 401(k) account without making any contributions to it. You'll be allowed to manage the funds. You can wait till your retirement to close your 401(k) account. You'll need to pay taxes only when you close the account (i.e., after your retirement). Many 401k providers allow you to manage the account online. So, you don't have to be worried about remotely managing the account from India.

    2) You can close your 401(k) account. In which case, there is a 20% federal tax + 10% penalty for early withdrawal. You'll have to settle the remaining taxes (based on your income bracket), when you file your taxes next year.

    3) You can rollover the funds to an IRA account. No tax will be deducted when you rollover the funds to an IRA account. However, when you close the IRA account in the future, you'll be taxed.

    4) You can rollover the funds to a Roth IRA account. Tax will be deducted when you rollover the funds to a Roth IRA account. However, when you close the Roth IRA in the future, you won't be taxed.

    Filling the 'participant distribution' form is a must on your last day of employment or a few days after that.

    You should talk to a financial adviser for greater insights.

    • You'll be in Resident but not Ordinarily Resident (RNOR) status for the first two years after your R2I. Subsequently, you'll have to pay taxes in India, for the money that you are bringing from USA. Yes, you'll be taxed twice.
    • Some people will close their 401(k) after they R2I. They'll withdraw funds in small amounts so that they'll fall under the 'minimum' tax bracket. That way, they'll have to pay very less tax to the US government. However, after 2 years, you'll have to pay taxes in India too (since you won't be in the RNOR period)

    Related posts:

    Return to India (R2I) - 25 things to do
    R2I - 401(k) closure FAQs
    How can I get my Social Security benefits/money?

    Sunday, September 6, 2009

    Return to India (R2I) Salary Negotiation Tips

    How do you know the best salary that you can get when you R2I? Does the R2I salary look like a dark black box to you? Yes! You need to do a lot of homework before you go to the negotiation table. The following information will give you enough ammunition to negotiate your R2I salary :

    1) Check with your friends in India who have more or less the same experience like yours. Having worked in USA for sometime, you should've gained more experience and exposure. So, you should be definitely paid 10 - 20% more than your friend who has been working in India, all these days.

    2) Your salary should be approximately 1/3rd of what you are earning today in US (include your total compensation such as stocks, bonus etc.,)

    3) The salary range significantly varies across companies - service companies vs product companies, established companies vs startups, local companies vs multinationals. The formers pay less, while the latter pay more.

    4) There is a significant difference in the salary based on the city/state in which you'll be working. For example, in Bangalore you may get 20 - 30% more than what you can get in Chennai.

    5) The salary will also vary depending on whether you find your job from US or after landing in India. When you look for a job in India from US, you'll be among the very few who is trying to move back to India. But, when you look for a job in India after reaching India, you'll be among several thousands who are hunting for jobs. You may not get a special treatment, there.

    6) Check for prevailing salaries in India from web sites such as, etc., However, these sources are less reliable when compared to the actual numbers you may hear from your friends/acquaintances.

    7) Your salary is decided by how well you perform in the interviews & how much value you can bring-in to the company. You can negotiate your salary based on your performance during the interviews.

    8) At times, companies will be very eager to fill a position with a specialist. If you are a specialist, then you have an upper hand in the salary negotiation.

    9) If you are interviewing with companies who are based in US, your chances of getting a good pay is high. So, approach US companies who are trying to fill a position in their India office.

    10) India's salary structure is slightly different that of US salary structure. In India, they'll call it as CTC (Cost to Company). It includes the pay, bonus + all the benefits that you receive from the company. You'll have a Basic Pay (which is completely taxable) and there are other allowances such as House Rent Allowance (HRA), Travel allowance (TA) etc., (the allowances are non-taxable, if you produce bills. There is a cap on the amount up to which you can produce bills). All Indian IT companies offer medical insurance these days (will be very useful if you have elderly persons or kids in your family). Some companies give you Sodexho passes (you can use them to buy groceries, to dine out, for shopping etc.,). All companies have a annual bonus component (typically, added to the salary. So, check with your employer before you sign the offer letter). Some companies will also take care of your relocation costs. That will be a sweet deal. There are very few companies that give stock options to employees.

    Hopefully, these 10 tips give you enough data points to negotiate your salary. Wishing you good luck !

    Related Posts:

    Cost to Company (CTC) - Peeling the Onion
    10 things to know if you are thinking of Returning to India (R2I)
    Work environment in India - Then & Now

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    Driving on Indian roads - Pleasure or Pain?

    I postponed my decision to buy a car until I get some good road sense and gain some experience on the Indian roads. I bought my Honda Aviator, 3 weeks ago. This is the third vehicle that I'm owning. My first vehicle was the bicycle that I got during my high school days. Second vehicle was the Honda Accord, that I owned during my stay in US.

    Also read: Shared van/shuttle services in Chennai - hard to find!?

    Honda Aviator is very cool. It is stylish, has more leg space and is well suited for tall guys like me. It is also good at shock absorption (apt for Indian roads). I'm obsessed about dark/bright colors and I chose a red colored vehicle. I decided to buy the Honda Aviator model for 3 reasons - I don't have experience driving geared vehicles, I needed more leg space and there was a 2 months wait time to buy a Honda Activa (cannot wait that long!).

    I bought this scooter as if I was buying a soap bar at a grocery store. I went to the shop, looked at the scooter and wrote a cheque. My benign attempt to negotiate the price proved to be futile. Well, all the skills that I picked-up during my masters & in sales training faltered. My urge to buy the scooter was higher than the dealer's urge to sell.

    Also read: Self-adjusting traffic - a miracle on Indian Roads

    I don't have prior driving experience on Indian roads. So, I've been learning quite a few interesting lessons about driving on Indian roads. You can see them below:
    1. You cannot avoid an accident if YOU alone drive carefully.. others also should
    2. People don't treat traffic signs/signals as RULES. They are treated as GUIDELINES
    3. Don't tail gate autos/cars. They may avoid a pit/bump on the road & you cannot
    4. Crossing or taking turns during the first few minutes of a signal change or during the last few minutes of the signal change may be dangerous
    5. Survival of the fittest holds good (You need to master the art of driving through even inches of gap between vehicles)
    6. You cannot avoid honking or getting honked
    7. At times, pedestrians have right of way & at times they don't (It actually depends on the driver)
    8. Your indicator light signals are typically ignored (When you turn-on a "right-side" indicator, the person coming behind on your right will not slow down or give you way)
    9. Expect vehicles from the opposite direction in one-way roads
    10. There is no real speed limit in any of the roads. Use your intuition
    Driving on Indian roads is definitely not a pleasure. I'll continue to update this list as and when I learn new things :)

    Also read:

    Got the two-wheeler driving license - after hours of waiting
    Two wheeler service - Can't escape from those long lines and hours of waiting
    Heavy Rain made Chennai into Venice

    When is the right time to go to US?

    Are you one of those folks who dream about going to US, but haven't taken any action towards it? Are you waiting for the 'perfect' time to go to US? Have you been procrastinating your move to US? Are you not sure about when to go to US? I have seen people walking into this dream land during different stages of life. I'll share my perceptions here & hopefully, it helps you in making a decision.  (Also read: Green Card vs. US Citizenship)

    Right after your college education - Many folks go to US to do their higher studies. Leading a student life is a bit difficult - not much money at hand; have to maintain multiple credit cards to payoff bills; have to work somewhere in addition to studies etc., But, you'll learn lots of interesting life lessons during this period. Depending upon the university you join, you'll also get good academic knowledge. You can also develop a network of friends during your school. Only thing you'll miss is "luxury", unless your parents have piles of cash under their mattress. You'll complete your higher studies in 2 or 3 years. After that, when you get into a full-time job, your quality of life will improve tremendously. (Note: I haven't seen someone going to US to "work", right after their college. You'll need some work experience in India before going to US to work)

    When you are a bachelor - This is the time when you can take more risks. You have everything in the world to GAIN but very little to lose. It will be more fun when you have lots of friends in US (especially, in the same locality where you live). You can do a variety of things with your friends - regular get togethers, lots of driving, visiting new/interesting places, hiking/sports, hangouts during nights, etc., Also, you'll have lots of time to work - you can go above and beyond what is expected out of you at work. This period will help you to 'establish' yourself at work. Even if you don't have a stable or high-paying job, you can take the hit during your bachelor days. Your cost of living will also be very low (because of shared accommodation/expenses). You'll be able to save a lot of money during this period.

    Right after your wedding - Spending the first few years of post-marriage life in US is exciting. Your spouse would enjoy getting your total attention (i.e., you won't be disturbed by family/relatives etc.,). You can also visit a lot of places. You may have some challenge with respect to achieving work-life balance. If your spouse cannot work in US & if you are spending more hours at work, your spouse may feel lonely. Some spouses may enjoy loneliness and others may not. I have seen a case where it ended up in divorce, right after a year. If you don't have a stable job or don't have good pay - you may have to lead a conservative life (i.e., you cannot buy a lot of things for your home, you may not be having a car, you cannot dine out frequently etc.,) The single biggest expense during this period will be your house rent. Other expenses are somewhat manageable. If you have a stable job & good pay, you can lead a luxurious life.

    After your kid - Going to US during this stage of life will be challenging. You need to have lots of patience & tolerance. You should be able to adapt quickly to the changes/challenges. If you have a stable job & good pay, you can lead a decent life. However, job stability in US is always a big question mark - especially during the first few years of your career in US. Moreover, your starting salary would be typically less. If your kid is too small & if your spouse is also not working, you'll feel the pinch. You may not be able to do justification to your work as well as your family (i.e., establishing work-life balance would be difficult). During the initial days, if the kid gets sick, you may have to depend on someone to take you to hospital & you may need help from your friends to do even shopping. You have to lead a conservative life because the expenses will sky rocket (house rent, groceries, medical bills, commute/travel costs, kids' toys, etc.,). When the kid is above 2 years, you need to put him/her in pre-school. For a kid to go to a day care or a pre-school, you need to pay atleast $500/$600 per month. After 4 years, if you cannot put your kid in public school, you need to pay atleast $1000 per month as private school fees. You have to sit tight on expenses. If your objective is to earn money in US, you may not be able to achieve your goal quickly (especially, if there is only single income).

    In Tamil, there is a saying "Thirai kadal oadiyum thiraviyam theadu" which means "Sail across ocean to find wealth". Going to US gives you lots of exposure & can also make you rich. Unless, you have family reasons that force you to stay in India, I would highly recommend you to go to US and work for a few years (especially, if you are in the IT field).

    Related posts:

    Going to US through a consultant on a H1B Visa?
    Stages of Immigrant Life in USA
    Green Card vs. US Citizenship

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Going to US through a consultant on a H1B visa?

    Thinking of going to US through a consultant on a H1B visa ? What are some of the things that you need to look for? Here is the list of guidelines/tips that I normally share with my friends. Hope you find this useful.

    (Also read: Green Card vs. US Citizenship)

    1) Money to sponsor H1B visa - Consultants shouldn't be charging you money to sponsor H1B visa. It is definitely illegal. If you are paying your consultant, then you are taking a risk.

    2) Employment Bond/Contract - The consultant may insist you to sign a bond (i.e., He/She may ask you to stay with them for a finite period). An employer cannot legally force you to be in the same company for a specific period. When you violate the terms in the bond, the cost of fighting with you legally is also very high. The consultant has to pay a lawyer to take this to court. The money that he may get back from you will be very very less than what he paid for the lawyer. So, even if you signed a bond, you don't have to worry much. You can move away from the consultant at any time.

    3) Salary - The salary structure varies drastically. Some consultants offer a fixed salary and some may offer a % of the pay that they get from the clients. It is always recommended to negotiate a fixed pay. However, you don't have to be hung up on fixed pay. Consultants normally charge their clients hefty amount per hour. So, % of the pay is also a good deal. Normally, folks stay with a consultant for a very short period (3 - 6 months). So, the actual salary doesn't really matter.

    4) Medical Insurance - Check who should take care of the medical insurance. Typically, the consultant should take care of this. However, the consultants may insist that you take care of it. You should pay more attention to the medical insurance if you are going there with your family or if you have some existing medical conditions. Medical insurance cost is normally high in US.

    5) Who gets you the job? - Consultants who have good contacts in the industry can get you placed fast. People working in the 'hot' technology areas/domains typically find jobs/clients on their own because there are ample opportunities. Consultants need not be relied upon. If the consultant has already placed people in reputed firms, he/she can leverage that relationship. (Note: You will need a confirmed offer letter from a client for visa interview. So, it is better if the consultant can get you a job before your visa interview. U.S embassy verifies the authenticity of the offer letter by contacting the client directly. So, don't try to cheat. You may end up in jail :))

    6) Flight tickets - Flight tickets should also be legally paid by the consultant. However, the consultant may ask you to pay for it and get it reimbursed after you reach USA. It is absolutely fine if you have a written commitment.

    7) Pay during the bench period - This is a tricky thing. Many consultants don't pay their employees in bench (i.e., when they are looking for a job/client). However, they are legally supposed to take care of ALL your expenses (or pay you) during your stay. Some consultants take care of your accommodation and give you a fixed pay for your expenses. You need to negotiate this in advance.

    8) Premium Visa Processing - Check if the consultant would do a 'premium processing' of visa. Premium visa application processing will be over in just 2 weeks. So, if you want to speed-en up things, you can ask for this. (Note: Normally consultants don't do premium visa processing because it costs them more. They'll do it only if their clients insist on it).

    9) Consultant's Office Location - Choose a consultant closer to your job location. For ex., silicon valley has lots of job opportunities in 'hot' domains. So, if you are working in such domains, you've to choose a consultant in silicon valley. Normally, consultants prefer you to work in their office during the bench period. (Note: Companies hiring contractors would not pay for flight tickets if you've to travel for interviews. Normally, companies hire local candidates for contracting positions. So, it is recommended if your consultant is closer to your job location)

    10) Consultant's Professionalism - Check if the consultant is professional enough with all the dealings. This is very important. There are very few good stories that I've heard about consultants. They typically tend to be greedy (The reason being ... you stay with them only for a very short time & hence, they want to get maximum out of you).

    (Treat these as just guidelines. I'm not responsible for the outcome of any decision that you may take based on this ;-))

    Related post:

    When is the right time to go to US?
    Green Card vs. US Citizenship

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