Sunday, December 27, 2009

IP Phone - Magic Jack vs Vonage vs Skype

When I decided to R2I, carrying an IP phone to India was one of the important things that I had in my R2I planning list. I wanted to stay in touch with my friends in US & be contactable from US. I wanted to carry something that is 'Always ON', so that I can make and receive calls anytime. So, I decided to get an IP Phone connection with US number.

Many of my friends, suggested to buy a Magic Jack, because it was cheap (just $40 for the first year & $20 for subsequent renewals). However, I was not very excited about that option because I've to connect the phone to the computer & the computer has to be kept ON, always. Also, Magic Jack has an upper limit on the total number of hours that you can use in a calendar year (A few of my colleagues used Magic Jack for about 6 months and their services were de-activated due to excess usage - I'm not sure about the 'actual' limit). Also, Magic Jack doesn't provide you an incoming phone number. So, you cannot receive incoming calls. One advantage of using Magic Jack is that you can use your regular phone for making calls using the 'Magic Jack'. You don't have to buy a new phone.

Vonage service is good - the only drawback is that you've to be on a hefty monthly plan, irrespective of whether you use the service or not (approx. $20 every month, which is $240 for the whole year).

I decided to go for the Skype phone service. I bought a Skype Belkin Phone ($80) & signed up for SkypeIn Service (this provides a US phone number for $30) & SkypeOut Calling Plan ($3 every month). They provide 10,000 minutes of talk time, every month (which is more than enough for me). Every year, I had to pay approx $66 for Skype. Also, the voice quality is excellent. So far, I don't have any issues with the Skype Phone Service.

Note:

The Internet connection in India is at times, very unreliable (unlike US). Hence, any IP based phone connection cannot be guaranteed to work 100% of the times.

Also read:
R2I - 25 things to do / checklist
R2I - List of things to pack/bring from US

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Goods in US market - lots of options & cheaper price


During my recent trip to US, I had been to Frys Electronics. Man ... Electronics are so cheap in US ! Until a few months ago, I used to think "We get everything in India. Why should I carry things from US to India?". But, now I realize that there is at least 20% premium you have to pay for buying the same electronic item in India.  (Also read: IP Phone - Magic Jack vs Vonage vs Skype)

I bought a Panasonic phone in India (with 2 cordless handsets & no base station dialing) for Rs.5,500. Frys sells Panasonic phones (with 3 handsets & base station dialing) for just $74 (approx. Rs.3,500). It is not just phones. All electronics (including Televisions, Laptops, Printers, MP3 players etc.,) are cheap in US. Also, there are lots of options to choose from.

I really miss a shop like Frys electronics, in India. Yesterday, the engineer in me wanted to stream movies from my laptop (Youtube) and watch it on my decade old Sony Trinitron TV. I visited Croma (TATA's Electronics store) to look for a specific S-Video cable. My TV didn't have a S-Video port. All it can take was input from a component cable (yellow, white and red ports). So, I was looking for a S-Video to 3 pin RCA cable. But, Croma didn't have that. All they had was an S-Video to S-Video cable. This was my first visit to a Croma store. The show room looked more like Best Buy showroom - however, it was very small. They had a decent collection of TVs, MP3 players, DVD players, Cameras, Music systems etc., But, they didn't have lots of electronic accessories. So, I went to a mom & pop electronic store near my house. Surprisingly, the store carried an S-Video to 3 pin RCA cable. I bought it for just Rs.100. I came home and tried it out. I worked OK and I was able to stream Youtube videos to my TV. We all watched a full Tamil movie online, from Youtube.

It is not just electronics, even dresses are cheaper in US. Also, the goods are of very high quality. Though most of these items get manufactured in China/India, they're sold at a higher price in India (when compared to US). Big ticket items such as imported cars are also way too costly in India. Honda Accord costs nearly Rs.19 Lakhs (~$40K) & Honda Civic costs nearly Rs.12 Lakhs (~$25K)

US market has lots of options for consumers and the goods (mostly, electronics & big-ticket items) are also sold at a relatively cheaper price. I think the reason for this is due to the large consumer base and tough competition. There are only a few people who would be interested in things like these, in India. It doesn't justify for the Indian retailers to sell them at a low price to just a handful of consumers. Hopefully, a day will come when the cost of electronics become very affordable to Indian consumers. Until then, I'll have to pay the premium for buying these fancy goods.

Also read:

IP Phone - Magic Jack vs Vonage vs Skype
10 things to know before your R2I
Canon Camera Service Centers in Chennai - Scarce & Costly

Back from a short trip to US


I had been to US on a short business trip and I got a chance to meet many of my friends. Some of the common questions from them, were - How is life there in India? Is it difficult to get adjusted? Are you thinking of coming back? Your wife/kid liking it there? Some of them were trying to solidify their R2I plans by asking such questions and others were trying to collect ammunition to justify their continued stay in America. I can empathize with all of them. Though I had always wanted to return back to India, it took a long time for me to just 'pull the plug'.

I didn't try to camouflage the living conditions in India. I told everyone "India hasn't changed much. In order to R2I, you really need to have a strong passion and determination. Otherwise, R2I attempt would be a failure". India hasn't changed much - the roads are bad, traffic is horrible, pollution everywhere, dealing with government is painful, you've to wait anywhere you go, punctuality isn't valued,
you've to work for long hours and it goes on and on. However, there are certain things that are special to India - Staying with/closer to parents, attending weddings/functions, celebrating festivals,
 meeting people regularly (actually often!), abundant house hold help, kids getting a lot of support from grand parents, etc., I didn't want to paint a rosy picture to my friends about R2I. I just wanted to give them the facts.

I visited some of the places that I normally go to - Great Mall, Frys, Walmart, Safeway, SCUMBAT & TGIF Toastmasters, Milpitas Jain Temple, Rivermark Plaza etc., Yes... the roads are clean, the shopping malls are huge, there are lots of friends, life-style is good. But still, USA looked very alien to me. I was literally counting my days to go back to India and live with my family. May be, I'm telling my conscience that 'These grapes are sour'. But, I feel that it is right.

I reached India on the 17th of Dec. By the time, I reached home it was 4am. My wife opened the doors for me. I went to the bedroom to see my daughter. She woke up on hearing me stepping into the room and got very excited. She ran to me and hugged with lots of passion. She said "Dad ! I missed you". My excess joy showed up as tears on my eyes.

Also read:

100 reasons to Return to India (R2I)
10 things to know before your R2I

Monday, November 30, 2009

Traveling near restrooms in the train isn't fun

I had an interesting (rather horrendous) experience during my return trip from Tiruppur, last week. I had booked two tickets (for me & my wife) from Tiruppur to Chennai. Both the tickets were in the Waiting List (single digit waiting list number) until the last day. Most of the times, the wait listed tickets get confirmed just before the charts were prepared. Unfortunately, only one of the two tickets got confirmed during the day of the journey. I went to the station and checked at the "Inquiry" department. The person at the counter recommended me to board the train & check with the TTE if there are any vacant berths. It was too late for me to cancel the train tickets & to take a bus to Chennai. Also, it won't be comfortable to travel in a bus, with a kid (There is only one stop in-between the whole journey & kids cannot control peeing in-between). I decided to take a chance - hoping that I would definitely get a berth since I'm traveling with a female & kid.

The train (Allepey Express) came to Tiruppur at around 10.45 pm and we boarded the train. To our surprise, there were already 3 folks sitting near the restrooms because their tickets are wait listed. All the lights inside the coach were switched off and the coach was completely dark. All the other passengers were in deep sleep. I asked my wife and kid to get into the confirmed birth. I waited for the TTE to show up. The train started to move and pick up speed. I waited with the other 3 passengers near the restrooms. The TTE showed up in about 15 minutes. He said all the berths are booked and there are no vacant seats. At about 11 pm, the train stopped at Erode and all my 3 companions got down/vanished.

I was the lonely person sitting near the door/restrooms. It was not a pleasant experience, though. I was very tired and fell asleep in about 30 minutes. However, I couldn't continue to sleep for more than an hour. The smell emanating from the restrooms was constantly increasing as more and more passengers start to use them. To add to this, there was a trash bin close to the restrooms. It was filled with cockroaches and mosquitoes, that were busily scavenging the left overs of food parcels. I couldn't imagine how I was able to sit there for such a long time. But, I didn't have any other option. My eyes started to burn and I went back to sleep again. Around 4 am, the TTE stopped by and asked me to take a vacant berth. I had a sound sleep for 2 hours.

The few hours that I spent near the restrooms made me to think about several issues in the system - the 'automated' ticketing system that confirmed just 1 out of 2 tickets, the unhygienic condition of the restrooms, the fate of poor passengers who travel in cramped 'unreserved' compartments etc., At least, I was better-off traveling in an A/C coach :) I'm thankful to the TTE who let me stay in the A/C coach. The state of unreserved coaches is pathetic. They are packed with people and there is hardly any space to walk or even to comfortably sit. We keep talking about human values and human rights. But, people are packed like cattle in these unreserved coaches. When would the system change? I'm very confident that the system wouldn't change, unless we do something about it.

Also read:

I love IRCTC.CO.IN
Skywalks in Train Stations - What are they for?
If I don't care, who'll care?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kovai Trip - Maruthamalai/GCT visit


We went on a short trip to Coimbatore, last
weekend to attend a couple of weddings. I visited Maruthamalai temple & Government College of Technology (GCT) after nearly 7 years.

The thought of Coimbatore brings deep memories of the past - a colorful college life ... filled with lots of dreams & ambitions, 5 or 6 of us eating from the same plate at hostel, exciting college tours, sleepless combined studies, vibrant college symposiums, campus interview preparations, watching movies from the front rows, chit chats in-front of tea shop ... the list goes on and on.

We took Nilgiri express from Chennai which promptly reached CBE Junction at 5 am. We got down the train and came out of the station. It was still very dark. However, the place was very busy. It was filled with people everywhere. Tea stalls were busy catching up the morning crowd. The weather was slightly cold. We tried to rent a hotel room near the station, for a short stay. We couldn't succeed in getting a reasonable accommodation at an affordable cost. We decided to go to Maruthamalai and rent a hotel room there. We went to the bus stop and waited for Maruthamalai bus. In the mean time, an auto driver was eagerly trying to persuade us to board his auto rickshaw. He closed the deal at Rs.120 for taking us to Maruthamalai. I was pleasantly surprised. An auto driver in Chennai charges the same amount to take us from just Choolaimedu to T.Nagar !! He took us through the streets of Coimbatore and I was reminded of the days when we used to walk back to the college after watching night show movies. He dropped us at a hotel near the foot steps of Maruthamalai.

Also read:

Rameswaram Trip Experiences
Tirupati Tirumala Temple Visit - May be the last?
Tiruchendur Temple Visit - Poojari's demanding money

We rented a room in Hotel Podhigai Regency. It appeared to be recently built and they gave us a single bed room for Rs.600 (one day stay). We got ready, had breakfast at a road side restaurant and visited the temple. There aren't any decent restaurants in that area (Well, the same restaurants looked decent to my eyes 12 years ago). We took the mini bus from the bottom of the hill to the top. There are some infrastructure changes going on at the temple. Other than that, there are not many changes. We spent a couple of hours there and came back. We then took a bus to GCT Coimbatore.

We reached GCT, at around 10 am. The famous 'Mahalakshmi bakery' where we had our late night tea was missing. Vasanthi bakery was still there. The 'Kayyeandi Bhavan' where we used to have our dinner most of the times was also missing. We entered the college through the 2nd gate (boys hostel gate). The college looked very colorful. The college playground, and the surrounding trees/bushes looked fresh, as if they were just painted in green. In general, the college campus looked very clean. I went to the CSE department and met Prof. Lakshmi Prabha (HOD) & Prof. Annadurai (Ex. HOD, some regional head now). We had an hour long conversation. Except for the seminar hall (which was upgraded with teleconferencing facilities), the remaining infrastructure looked pretty much the same. Lots of multi-national companies such as Oracle, AIG are visiting the campus these days for recruitment. CS department had 100% placement last year. The folks in the college are very upbeat. I heard that hostels have Internet facilities and most of the students have laptops/computers. We spent another 1 hour going around the campus and taking pictures of Auditorium, Canteen, Class rooms, Stationery store, Hostels, etc., When I left the campus, I was very emotionally moved. (Also read: Infoquest 2010 in GCT, Coimbatore  World Classical Tamil Meet 2010 - Coimbatore)

Life is so wonderful. You never know what is in store for you. Dreams change. Ambitions change. But, you keep moving on. The world is full of unopened doors.  Every time you open a door, you are exposed to new things in life. I'm quite excited about the beauty of this life and its mysteries. We don't have to worry what will happen to us in future. If we can make sure that we do our best in the present, our future will definitely be bright and beautiful. OK! Let me stop right here.

Also read:

Rameswaram Trip Experiences
Tirupati Tirumala Temple Visit - May be the last?
Tiruchendur Temple Visit - Poojari's demanding money
Infoquest 2010 in GCT, Coimbatore 

Friday, November 27, 2009

R2I - List of MNCs in Chennai

Are you planning to R2I and looking for a job in Chennai?  Wondering what are some MNCs/Product companies in Chennai? I've made an attempt to compile the list of MNCs/Product companies in Chennai (includes hardware as well as software companies). Hopefully this will help folks who are planning their R2I to Chennai and looking for a job.

Also read: 10 tips for R2I salary negotiation 
  1. Alcatel (AlcaLu)
  2. Amazon
  3. Adobe (formerly Efficient Frontier - careers section will list Chennai Jobs)
  4. Aruba (now, acquired by HP) 
  5. Ballys Technologies 
  6. Bank of America / BA Continuum (Ascendas Tech Park, Taramani)
  7. Cisco/Scientific Atlanta 
  8. Cavium Networks 
  9. eBay/PayPal (No 334 Futura IT Park Block A, Old Mahabalipuram Road, Sholinganallur, Chennai - 600119) +(91)-(44)-66348001 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +(91)-(44)-66348001      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, 66348000)
  10. Force10 Networks  (now Dell)
  11. GigaMon
  12. Ericsson
  13. Extreme Networks
  14. IBM  
  15. KLA Tencor
  16. Oracle
  17. Qualcomm (formerly Atheros)
  18. The Fabric Startups (for ex., Velocloud & Pensa Networks)
  19. Solar Winds 
  20. Symantec 
  21. Verizon (Olympia Tech Park, Citius, Block B, 3rd Floor, 1, Sidco Industrial Estate Guindy, Chennai, Ph: 044 43945142) - doing OSS/BSS work
  22. ZOHO (formerly AdventNet)
The following are some MNCs in the Engineering / Construction domain:
  1. Caterpillar
  2. DOW Chemicals
  3. Petrofac
  4. Foster Wheeler (acquired by AMEC)
  5. Saipem
Naukri maintains a list of 150 software/IT companies in Chennai. However, most of them are Mom 'n Pop type companies.

(Note: This list is not complete. If you happen to know about other product companies/MNCs, please drop me a note)

Related Posts:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tips to get a good deal on flight, hotel and car


Once you have decided your destination & your trip duration, you are ready to make the travel arrangements. How do you get the best deal when making the travel arrangements for your trip? This blog post summarizes the strategies that I follow to get good deals when booking flights, hotel and car.

Booking flight tickets / car

Most of the times, airfare is your single biggest expense during your trip planning. Search on multiple websites like Hotwire.com, Expedia.com, and Orbitz.com. They would list a number of deals to select from. For example, if the listing shows deals from American Airlines, then go to American Airline's website and check the price. Most of the times, you'll get a better price if you directly book through the airline website. You can also adopt the same strategy for booking a car for your trip. Most of the times, I get good deals when I book directly from Alamo Car Rental.

Booking Hotel

The strategy that I adopt for booking flight tickets/car doesn't work for me when trying to book a hotel. Many times, websites such as Hotwire.com, and Hotels.com, provide good deals for stay. I've had lots of good experiences and pleasant surprises with my Hotwire.com booking. You'll get a 5 star hotel room, for a 3-star price. The only limitation with Hotwire.com is that they have hotels listed only from prominent places & cities. For example, you may not be able to find a good deal for a hotel room near National Parks, through Hotwire. You may have to try Hotels.com, in such situations.

If you want to find a really cheap accommodation, try Motel6.com. The Motel6 hotel rooms are in decent condition and at the same time, their price is also reasonable. Motel6 is for people who just want a place  to sleep for a night. You may have to read reviews carefully before you book a "Motel" for your trip. Most of the times, Motels are occupied by lorry drivers & low income people.

General Tips
  • Even if the price given in websites such as Hotwire, matches the one given in airlines/car-rental web site, I would recommend booking through the airline/car-rental website. Booking done through airlines website are cancel-able & hence, you'll get credit, if you happen to cancel your trip in the last minute. Websites such as Hotwire, do not allow you to cancel the booking.
  • When booking a rental car or hotel or airline, do not say that you are a corporate customer. The pricing for corporate customers is typically high. There are handful of chains that provide discounted fare for corporate customers. You have to be cautious about that. (To validate this, try selecting the "Corporate Customer" option and you'll notice that the prices are bumped by 10 - 20%)
  • When you try searching for deals through web portals, the web portals will remember your session information through cookies. If you are wandering in the same portal for a long time, they'll increase the fare after some time. You'll be tempted to book right away (before the fare goes further up). Don't get caught in the trap. Try using the same web portal through a different browser instance (For example, if you have been using Firefox for the search, use IE for booking). You'll notice that the fare is different/lesser, now. This gimmick is not done by popular websites such as Hotwire. However, I've seen this happening in a few websites.
  • Some of the airline websites allow you to book flight tickets + car + hotel (as a single package). In most of the cases, the combined fare would exceed the cost of booking them independently through different websites.
  • Do not try to book tickets from websites whose primary business is not selling travel packages. For example, if you start your booking of tickets from websites like Tripadvisor.com, you'll be charged a premium for their service.
  • Try to book cars from rental facilities in airport. You'll have the flexibility of 'renting' & 'returning' your car any time. Car rental facilities outside the airport are open only during the regular business hours. So, you may not be able to return the car at your convenience. You'll have to hold on to the car until the shop opens, the next day. You'll be unnecessarily paying extra charges for the additional time.
  • Car rental facilities outside airport typically give good deals for weekend rentals (i.e., Fri evening to Monday morning).
  • Some websites offer discounts when you pre-pay for the rental. If you know for sure that you are going to travel on a given day, pre-pay the costs. At times, you would get up to 10% discount on the fare (Alamo.com, offers pre-pay discounts for car rentals).

[* I have not used priceline.com, that much. So, my findings do not include the experiences from priceline.com]

Also read:

Places to see in USA

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to plan a sightseeing trip in US?

How do you plan a sight seeing trip in US? What is the process involved? What are some useful websites to gather information regarding your travel, places to see, hotels to stay, etc., How to get the best deals when booking car, hotel, flights etc.,? Where can you get some useful feedback from 'real people' (as opposed to just marketing blurb)? You'll find answers to all such  questions in this post.

What qualifies me to write this post?! Well, I've visited 32 different states in US and have made at least 15 sight seeing trips in a row with my family (which includes a toddler). I'm more than excited to share the art of planning for a trip, with all of you. (Disclaimer: The more trips you've made in US, the less useful this post will be to you.)
 
In the best interest of my readers' time & to improve the readability of the post, I've decided to make it as a multi-part writeup. The first part will talk about 'Selecting the Destination and Places to See'.

The first thing you should decide when planning a trip, is your travel destination - "Where do you want to go? Do you want your vacation to be relaxing or tightly packed? Are you interested in doing a lot of activities or do you just want to do sight seeing? Do you want to drive to a destination or do you want to fly? Lots of these factors go in, during the decision making process. Also, it depends on your family members, their health/fitness conditions, your interests, etc.,

Once you have identified a set of destinations for your trip, the next thing you have to find out is "Is this a right time to go there?" For example, you should visit places like New Hampshire in Fall, Portland during Spring, & Glen Canyon or Crater Lake during summer. Your timing of the trip is very important and it influences your travel destination.

The third big question is "Will the trip or destination fit my budget?". If you have budgeted just $200, all you can do is a simple road trip to a nearby place. At the same time, if you have $2000 or more, you can do a fun-filled trip to Hawaii or you can take a cruise. So, your budget for the trip is very important in deciding the "destination".

The fourth question that you should ask is "How many days do I want the trip to be?". The number of days of your trip is dependant on your work schedule, the destination, your family members, your budget etc., Most of my trips were about 3 - 5 days long and it worked out well for me.

After finalizing your destination, you have to identify the list of places to see in/around that destination. You need to do a lot of research for this. Here are some tips:

  1. Look at Trip Advisor. This website gives lot of useful tips regarding 'places to see' with real user reviews.  
  2. Visit About.com. They have lots of interesting articles about special destinations (such as New York, Hawaii, etc.,) 
  3. Visit US National Park Service website. This website provides useful information regarding all National Parks in US, monuments & historical sites 
  4. Search Wikipedia. Wikipedia gives information regarding the destination, culture, people, important land marks, etc.,
  5. Look at State/City web sites (or Chamber of Commerce websites). Each state/city in US maintains a web site and those websites have tourist/visitors section listing the 'sight seeing places'. For example, this is the website for the City of Idaho Falls and there is a link for visitors.     
  6. Search through Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers has a travel section and there are so many active participants there. You can get lots of useful tips, suggestions and help from the folks, there
  7. Look at the List of Places to See in USA article 
  8. Do Google Search. A simple "places to see in " would show thousands of entries. Of course, you need to read 100s of articles to gather information
  9. Search Google Maps. Google Maps also provide some information regarding the attractions near to a place/locality. Just type "attractions near " in the search box. You'll see lots of results. 
  10. All modern day GPS devices provide travel details regarding nearby attractions, museums, historical sites, etc.,. They make your trip planning very easy. If you have postponed the job of 'selecting the places to see' till the day of your trip, just buy or rent a GPS. You are all set for the trip. In fact, GPS helped me very much during our road trip. Otherwise, we would've got stranded.
Hopefully, this post gives you enough tips to select your travel destination and the list of places to see in each of those destinations. The next post in this series will give you tips regarding How to get the best deals for airline, car, and hotel booking?.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heavy Rain turned Chennai to Venice

"Rain rain go away... come again another day!". My daughter sang this rhyme passionately for the last several days, standing at our door steps and staring at the rain. The continuous rains, in the last 1 week, turned the whole city upside down.

In the past, I have seen/experienced several such rains in Chennai, as a pedestrian. Several years ago, I was once hit by a motorist & I fell into a pool of stagnating water along the road side.

This is my first rain experience as a motorist, in Chennai. So, the experiences are much more interesting. The following are some after effects of the heavy rains in Chennai:


1) There is water everywhere - along the sides of the road, in subways, inside houses, and at times, filling an entire street. This causes hardships to motorists and pedestrians.

2) The flow of water & the moving vehicular traffic has created pot holes in almost all the roads. For the past few days, my two wheeler drive is really hurting my back, because of the bumpy roads.

3) Rain water gets splashed at you, by vehicles that move along your sides and on to your front. You should definitely wear a rain coat or a jacket, not just to escape from the rains but also to escape from the water splashed by these vehicles. Yesterday morning I saw a shocking incident on the road. A moving car splashed a pool of water on a bicyclist. The bicyclist had a folded umbrella in his hand. He banged the umbrella heavily on the car and created a huge dent. The car didn't stop. First of all, the car driver should've slowed down on seeing a pool of stagnating water. Second of all, the bicyclist shouldn't have got so much anger. I'm sure the bicyclist caused atleast a few thousand rupees damage to the car.

4) Government did a good job of cleaning up the 'coovum' river, a couple of weeks before the rain. However, the tons of garbage taken out of 'coovum' river still lies on the road, in some areas. They haven't disposed/cleaned them up. So, due to the heavy rains, the garbage is again going back to the 'coovum' river.

5) Storm water drains are constructed in several parts of the city. I live in Choolaimedu and the rain water quickly drains in a few minutes. I don't see water stagnated in any of the nearby areas. However, I heard that some places in Velachery are terribly hit by the stagnant water.

Some folks are concerned because the growing real estate industry has converted several small lakes & pools into residential communities. Hence the rain water is entering the city's streets, instead of getting stored in designated locations.

I'm not sure how long it would take for India to build an infrastructure that is comparable to the developed nations. Definitely, miles to go... Until then, Chennai's residents can enjoy their free Venice trip experience.

Also read:

Two Wheeler Service Experience

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Power of Attorney for NRIs - FAQ

Are you in US? Are you thinking of buying properties in India, on your name? Do you want to authorize someone to buy/maintain your property? You can give Power of Attorney to a person you trust (your parents/relatives) and they can do the property related transactions on your behalf.

1) What is Power of Attorney (PoA)?

A Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you give another person legal authority to act for you.

You can find more details from http://www.nrilegalservices.com/

2) Can I give Power of Attorney to anyone?

Yes. But, it is highly recommended to give Power of Attorney only to folks whom you trust.

3) What should be the text in the Power of Attorney?
   Are there any sample Power of Attorney documents?

Please find here the link to a sample PoA document

4) Should I type the Power of Attorney text in a stamp paper?

No. It is not required to print the text in a stamp paper.

Look at the consular website. It gives more details regarding how you should use the stamp paper, if at all you've to use a stamp paper.

5) Can I take a printout of Power of Attorney text in a plain sheet of paper?

Yes. You should take printout of PoA in a plain sheet of paper (A4 is fine)

6) Should I get the Power of Attorney attested by Indian Consulate?

It is not a must that PoA be attested by the Indian consulate. For example, I was able to buy a property/land by just getting the PoA notarized from a local notary.

However, it is recommended that you get the PoA attested by Indian consulate if your transaction is complex (for example, if you are getting loan from a bank, you may be asked to get the PoA attested by Indian consulate)

7) What is the process involved to get the PoA attested by the Indian consulate?

The consular website gives detailed information regarding the process involved to get the PoA attested

8) Can I get the Power of Attorney notarized by a notary?

Yes. In fact, I prepared the PoA on a plain sheet of paper and got it notarized in US and sent it to my dad. My dad registered that PoA in India and he was able to buy property on my name & maintain it on my behalf.

9) Where can I find additional information regarding PoA?

R2I Club Forums has a separate thread talking about PoA. You can find some information there.

Subway experience - How much can you change?!

How much can you change in 6 years? .. a lot!! I got reminded of a dining experience at Subway restaurant, in US.

It was the year 2002. Days after I landed in US for my job. My friend took me for lunch to a nearby Subway restaurant. Hey! It is one of the few places where you can have a stomach full veggie food for less than $5. There was a long queue in the restaurant. After a 5 minutes wait in the queue, my turn came. I had asked my friend about what to order. So, I just started firing "I want a foot long Veggie Patty". The guy in the shop asked "What bread Sir?" Oh my God! I wasn't prepared for this question. I looked at my friend who took me to Subway. My friend asked "Do you want Wheat bread or Italian?". "Wheat" sounded to be healthy. So, I told "Wheat". Now, the guy in the shop asked "Sir! What do you want on it?" Common, not again! I looked at the counter in which they had kept the sandwich ingredients. There are atleast 15 different items that I can choose from. First of all, I don't know "What some of the ingredients" are. Second of all, I don't know the "English" name for some of them. Again, I looked at my friend. He told to the guy in the shop "He eats everything. Put everything on it!". Oh, what a relief!

We moved to the billing counter. The guy in the counter greeted us with a "Namaste!". He asked "Do you want a drink? The combo comes with drink and chips. Do you want a combo Sir?" I decided to have a combo, because I get more for the price. Also, I liked the bubbling fresh drink & hot chips. When I had my first bite of the sandwich, I was disappointed. It was not tasty at all. Moreover, the wheat bread was very hard to chew. I didn't want to "waste" the sandwich. So, I managed to eat it in full. The drink & chips really were necessary for me to complete the foot long sandwich. 

Fast forward, 6 years from then. During my last visit to the same Subway shop, I ordered a Veggie Delite. The guy in the shop asked "What bread Sir?". I told him "Italian". The guy asked "Sir! What do you want on it?" I told him "Onion, Jalapeno, Black olives, tomato, no ranch dressing, no Cheese ...". I exactly told him what I want on it. I moved to the billing counter and skipped the offer for the drink & chips (Well, drink contains carbs & chips contains fat!). I just took a glass of water. I relished my foot long sandwich. It tasted sooo... good (Well, being a Vegan provides you very less options to eat. So, you have to be happy with what you get ! :)).

What difference did my stay in US for 6 years make?
  1. I don't go to Subway because the sandwich is cheap. I go to Subway because it is a healthy choice
  2. I watch for calories & fat in the food that I eat. I'm ready to skip (actually, sacrifice) even my favorite drink & chips
  3. I love cold sandwiches (got used to its taste!)
  4. I now understand what ingredients go into a Sandwich. I can name them in English :)
  5. If someone asks me a tough question like "What do you want", I'm conditioned to ask "What are the options that I have" (instead of just staring at them, spell bound).
This is not just an unique experience that only I went through. I'm sure many of you might have had a similar experience. But, looking back, it feels so good that we've evolved over a period of time & the evolution is for good!

Also read:

Returning to India
Stages of Immigrant Life in USA

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Should I participate in 401k? The answer is YES !

Should I participate in 401k? This is the BIG question that lingered in my mind for several years, before I decided to contribute towards 401k. For many years, I was thinking that 401k is for people who wants to 'settle down' in US. Also, I thought only Green Card holders or US citizens can participate in the 401k program. I didn't realize that even folks working in H1B visa can participate in 401k. Later, I repented that I should've participated in 401k, much earlier. If you are incognizant to the benefits of participating in 401k program, this blog post is for YOU.

I went from India to work for a start up company in US. They didn't have any 401k plan at all. After a few years, they introduced 401k plan - however, there was no employer contribution. So, I didn't pay much attention to 401k, when it was introduced in my startup. It was during my 5th year, I realized that 401k is WEALTH, irrespective of whether you're carrying that to your retirement or have to close in-between, due to your Return to India (R2I). The company that I joined during my 5th year had an 'employer match' for the 401k contributions. So, it was highly irresistable and I started making contributions.

The contributions that you make to 401k are tax exempted. If your employer matches your 401k contributions, you should definitely consider participating in the plan. Even if you have to close your 401k account in between due to your R2I, you'll still have made decent money/profit.

For example, let us assume that you are contributing $100 to 401k, every month. If your employer matches your 401k contributions, then the deposit to your 401k account every month would be $200 ($100 from you + $100 from the employer). In 2 years, you would've got at least $4800 (24 * $200). 401k contributions are typically re-invested in stocks, mutual funds, bonds etc., So, the performance of the stock/bond market will have an influence on your account balance.

When you decide to R2I, you have the option of keeping your 401k account active (without any contributions to it) till your retirement age. However, if you decide to close your 401k during your R2I, there will be a 10% penalty + XX % tax (based on your tax bracket). Let us make two assumptions - (1) Your investment's value hasn't increased or decreased due to fluctuations in stock market (2) You fall into the 33% tax bracket. So, your account balance will be $4800. The NET amount you've to lose due to 33% tax + 10% penalty would be $2064 (i.e., $4800 * (33 + 10)/100). You would get $2736 in hand during your R2I, if you had participated in 401k.

Let us assume that you haven't contributed to the 401k, at all. Your $100 (that you might have potentially contributed to 401k), will be tax deducted and deposited into your bank account as part of your salary every month. Assuming that you fall in 33% tax bracket, every month, you'll get an additional deposit of $67 (i.e., $100 * (100 - 33)/100). At the end of two years, you would've got only $1608 (i.e., 24 * $67), if you are not participating in 401k.

Do you know how much additional money you could've got by participating in 401k? $1128 !!! (i.e., $2736 - $1608). Also, there is a high potential for you to earn additional money through the appreciation of stocks, mutual funds, bonds, etc., Imagine how much additional wealth you can accumulate by participating in 401k plan. I personally felt that my short 401k participation was very handy when I decided to R2I. It took care of all the initial settling costs.

Should you participate in 401k? The answer is YES! YES! YES!

Also read:

US to India Money Transfer Strategies

Many of us go to US to earn money. The USD -> INR exchange rates make it lucrative for more and more people to go to US, to work. If we keep the hard earned dollars as dollars in US, we won't be able to appreciate the value of it. The real value of a dollar is seen, only when you transfer that to India and spend it in India. This blog post helps you to find the best strategy, to transfer money from US to India. Also, I've presented the findings of the survey that I conducted on this subject.

Aren't you curious to learn about the strategies adopted by people to transfer money to India? 

Regular Monthly Transfers - You can request your bank in India to automatically withdraw a fixed amount from your US Bank account, every month or at regular intervals. This technique is similar to Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA). Throughout my stay in US, I followed this approach & it proved to be very rewarding. I never have to "time the market" and didn't have to worry about the "conversion rates".

Timed Transfers
- Some folks keep accumulating the money in their US bank accounts and do transfers to India only when the exchange rates are at their peak levels. However, the challenge with this approach is - it is difficult to "time the market". At the least, you cannot be RIGHT, all the times. For example,

    in 2006, 1 USD = 46 INR
    in 2007, 1 USD = 39 INR,
    in 2008, 1 USD went from 41 to 49 in just few months.

Looking back, you can say we could have gotten the best conversion rates by transferring all the money during 2008. But, how do you know 'what is the real peak' & 'what is the real bottom'? When 1 USD was 39 INR in 2007, people were speculating that it may go all the way down to 36 INR. When 1 USD was 41 INR in early 2008, who knew that it would go all the way to 52 INR in 2009? This is no way different from "Timing the Stock Market". But, similar to trading stocks, if you are disciplined enough to have your own self-targets for the exchange rates (& not become greedy), you'll be able to make some good money by taking advantage of the exchange rates.

Need based Transfers
- There are a few folks who transfer the money only when there is a real need. They keep their investments in US Stocks, Bonds, Houses & at times, the money just sleeps in their US checking account. They transfer it to India only when there is a need such as buying a property, wedding, medical expenses etc., With the US FDIC providing insurance for only up to $200,000, you have to be a bit cautious if you are maintaining huge chunks of balance in your checking account.

Random Transfers - There are folks who don't transfer money to India, regularly. But they do the transfers only when they feel like moving some money to their Indian bank account. The disadvantage of this approach is, you may not be getting the best of "DCA" & also the "Timed Transfers".

I did a survey with my friends to find out

  1.     Which bank/service they use for transferring money to India?
  2.     How long does it take to transfer money from US to India?
  3.     How often the folks transfer money from US to India?
  4.     What is their money transfer strategy?
  5.     Do they like their money transfer service/bank?


(click on the image to enlarge)

The findings of the survey are given below:
  •  ICICI service is predominantly used for money transfers. Other services being used are SBIOnline, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Central Bank of India, and Fedwire.
  •  It takes anywhere from 4 hours - 10 days to do the transfer. (Fedwire can do it in 4 hours. ICICI can do it in 3 days. SBI takes 5 days)
  •  Most folks do the money transfers at regular intervals. They take advantage of DCA.
  •  12% of the surveyed folks hated ICICI's service

(click on the image to enlarge)


Additional info found during the survey: SBI Online provides one of the best exchange rates. Citi gives the best exchange rates if you are looking out to transfer more than 25K USD.

Related Posts:

The need for more money never ends
How much money do you need to return back to India 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting two wheeler driving license in India - My Experience


What does it take to get a two-wheeler driving license? How much fees do we have to pay? How long does it take to get a two-wheeler driving license? What should you practice to clear the driving test? The thought of even going to an RTO office would make people nervous - Hours of waiting under hot sun, inefficient processes, lousy work flow, lethargic employees, and the driving inspectors who think they are GOD. Each one of us, holding an Indian driving license, would definitely have a story to share. Here is mine. I'm going to share with you, my experience at the RTO office in Virugambakkam, Chennai.

I went to a nearby driving school (Anish Driving School) to apply for my two wheeler driving license. They charged me Rs.850. They asked me to show up on a Tuesday at the RTO office to get a Learners License Registration permit (also called as LLR). You need to show your identity/address proof to get the learners license. I spent nearly 3+ hours at the RTO office to just get an LLR.

I got my new Honda Aviator in August (3 months after I got my LLR). I started to learn driving with that. I have been using my scooter mostly for my daily commute to work. I wouldn't consider myself as an expert driver - but, I drive decent enough to maneuver through the Indian roads. I decided to take the driving test before my LLR expires. So, I scheduled my driving test for this week. I was asked to show up at the driving school by 8.45 am.

I went to the driving school, sharp by 8.45 am. However, the folks at the driving school were busy processing some last minute application forms. So, we left the driving school to the RTO office only by 9.30 am. I had to wait nearly for an hour outside the RTO office, under the hot sun. There is no shelter or place to sit outside the RTO office in Virugambakkam, Chennai. It is such a busy area with lots of shops & the road was crowded. Around 10.30 am, the driving school master came out of the RTO office, with a bunch of application forms, after paying the fees. He then asked us to assemble behind the Koyambedu Market for the driving test.

Two wheeler driving is typically self-learned. No body teaches for you. For the first time ever, my driving school master told us the rules of the driving test & asked us to go and practice for a while. We all rushed to the place behind the Koyambedu market, where the driving test was supposed to happen. Folks were lining up for their practice session, with lots of excitement & nervousness. It had rained in the morning. So, the area was exorbitantly sticky with vegetable wastes from the market. Some of the scooters even skidded, when the students were practicing there. All of us were seriously practicing to do an "8", with the two wheeler. It was like doing last minute preparations outside the exam hall. I had spent some significant time practicing over the weekend and today morning. So, I was confident enough.

The RTO inspector came to the spot at about 11.30 am. All of us parked our vehicles and watched him seriously. I have heard horror stories about RTO inspectors. They normally shout at people and some of them even throw the application forms on to your face. But the RTO inspector who came to the spot today treated us with some respect. He was patiently explaining the rules. Surprisingly, I didn't have much nervousness and there was no adrenaline rush. I did my "8" without any issues and I couldn't believe that I've CLEARED the driving test. I had to wait till all the other 20 folks completed their "8"s and some 10 folks to complete their car driving test. At 12.15 pm, we were asked to go back to the RTO office, for the photo shoot. We waited there for nearly an hour. Our driving school master came up with the application forms and asked us to stand in line for the photo shoot. All of us took photo shots and waited for another 30 minutes. We got our driving license (without lamination) and we had to stand in another queue to submit the same after verification. By the time the whole process was over, it was 1.45 pm.

We spent nearly 5 hours to get the driving license - though our presence was ACTUALLY needed only for 5 minutes (2 minutes to take the driving test + 2 minutes to appear for the photo shoot + 1 minute to verify the license). It looks like none of the processes/work flow has been automated. There is lots of places to fill/sign in the application.They collected nearly 5 passport size photos (3 during the LLR & 2 before the driving test). There is still bodies with ledgers, behind the counters. I saw computers only in the room where they took photo shots.

On an average, I believe at least 100 folks visit the RTO office in a given day. If each of them have to spend 5 hours (instead of 5 minutes), we are nearly wasting 20 man days everyday in a RTO office. If there are 10 such offices in Chennai, then we are wasting nearly 200 man days, everyday in just Chennai alone. Imagine how much time is wasted in waiting in RTO offices throughout India on a given day. Moreover, waiting in the RTO office really creates frustration. Since visiting RTO office is not an everyday affair, people & the government are not caring about it much. However, in countries like USA, the whole process will be completed in just 30 minutes. Getting a driving license in India isn't painful, but waiting in the queues really is. I wish government does something to minimize the waiting time in RTO offices. [Also read: Corruption free Chennai West RTO office]

I had taken some videos of the driving tests from my mobile. This should give an idea of what is expected from people during a two-wheeler driving test. 


Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to reduce the impact of climate change & global warming?

Global warming, climate changes and their impact are talked about in lengths, in all forms of media - TV, Radio, Newspapers & Internet. "Going Green" is the new buzz word. What should we do, to reduce the impact of climate change and global warming? Do we have to go back to the ancient world and live in forests, eating just fruits and vegetables? Do we have to sacrifice the pleasures of modern day life, to save this earth? How can we preserve the world we know, for our grand kids and our grand kids' grand kids?

(Also read: A Journey from Non-Vegetarian to Raw-Vegetarian)

A friend of mine forwarded me a "Youtube" video which prompted me to write this blog. This is the video of a young girl who addressed a UN meeting on the issue of environment.


What are some simple changes that you can bring in your life to reduce the impact of climate change & global warming? Here are 5 things you can do to reduce the impact of climate change & global warming.

1) Planting trees around your home or in some of the empty lands that you own. Think about the number of trees that we have to bring down during our life time. Just look around ... identify the number of wooden items around you - house/office structures, tables, chairs, cabinets, papers/books/notepads, paper towels, all the way to tiny little match sticks. All these things are made out of wood. So, how many trees have we planted since we were born to compensate for this?

2) Saying NO to paper/plastic bags during shopping. Carrying "cloth bags" to shops (and re-using plastic bags several times) reduces the carbon foot print. Since some forms of plastic cannot be recylced easily, the use of plastic creates a huge problem. Moreover, the cost involved to recycle a plastic bag is more than the cost involved to manufacture one. So, the manufacturers don't show interest in recycling plastic bags. A weekly shopping trip results in at least 10 - 15 plastic bags. In a year, we would've used nearly 800 bags. Imagine how much plastic use we can reduce if we just start to carry "cloth bags" to shop.

3) Wisely using water - Not wasting water and properly using it (during our showers, mouth wash, hand wash, watering lawns etc.,). Even a state like California declared drought last year because of the lack of rains. Water saved is water produced.

4) Avoiding/Minimizing the consumption of animal food. It takes more resources (land/water/fodder etc.,) to produce animal food than what is required to produce grains/vegetables. "There's nothing so pervasively damaging to our environment - and to world hunger - than eating animal products". This article gives you lots of facts regarding how animal food impacts the environment.

A friend of mine asked me "If everyone becomes a vegetarian, what happens to the ecosystem? Who'll maintain the food pyramid/chain?". My response to him was simple. "Today, do you think humans are letting these poor creatures to breed at their normal pace? We (humans) are growing thousands & thousands of cattle/birds (& forcing them to breed in an abnormal way) just to satisfy our appetite. If we let them to breed on their 'normal pace', then I believe the 'layers' underneath humans in the food pyramid/chain, will help to ensure the balance in the ecosystem".

Also read: Sunday - a day of mass murders in India,   Why am I a Vegan?

5) Drive your motor vehicle only when it is absolutely required. This is easier said than done. However, we can bring small changes to our lifestyle such as combining multiple trips into one, taking a walk to nearby places, using public transportation, car pooling, and biking.

Start to educate the people you know about climate change/global warming and their impact. You might have heard this several times during your life - "You'll learn a lot only when you start to teach". When you begin to teach others about global warming/climate change, you tend to learn more about it. This will motivate you to strictly adhere to your 'environmental friendly' life style.

Many a times, we don't realize the seriousness of the climate change. We may not see the end of the world during our life time. However, think of our grand kids or our grand kids' grand kids. They are going to live in a world that is completely torn apart by the global warming. Some of the small islands like Maldives will vanish out of the map because of increasing sea levels (due to the melting of glaciers).

Changing our life style to be 'environmental friendly' is definitely tough. But, if we are conscious about the impacts of environmental change/global warming, we can easily bring small changes into our life style. We all know that 'small droplets can form an ocean'. Why not make our small contribution towards making this world greener? 

Let us preserve the world we love/live for our grand kids & our grand kids' grand kids. 

Diwali without sparks, but doesn't miss the mark


It is nearly 7 years since I celebrated my last Diwali at "home". Running down the memory lane, Diwali always has been very special. Getting up very early in the morning, taking an oil bath, wearing brand new dresses, day full of delicious food, special occasion sweets/savories, oh... how can I forget the smell and sound of crackers. In fact, on the day of Diwali, most of us are woken up only by the sound of the crackers. As a kid, I never had a proper sleep on the day before Diwali. Primarily because of the curiosity/excitement and partly because people start to fire high sounding crackers very early in the morning. I'm sure this is not a one-off experience. Many of you would've had a similar experience during your childhood.

Things have changed drastically over the last several years. Today, I was waiting for the cracker noise to wake me up. But, I didn't hear any cracker sound until 7 am in the morning. So, I was very disappointed. Later, I learned that there is a rule not to fire crackers between 10 pm - 6 am. My mom/wife have been literally living in the kitchen for the last 2 days, preparing lots of delicious food, non-stop.

Chennai is now very different from the Madras that I saw, growing up. There are not THAT many shops selling crackers. People (at least the educated), are more aware of the impacts of bursting crackers. Hearing repeatedly about global warming & climate changes in TV/Radio & News, people to some extent, have minimized the bursting of crackers. Moreover, TV channels are competing with each other to glue their audience to the couch by broadcasting 'highly tempting' programs. People don't even mind the non-stop advertisements. Almost all the TV channels are broadcasting 'thiraiikku vandhu sila madhangaleay aana" kind movies (i.e., very recent movies). In another 20 years or so, I believe people will almost drop the habit of bursting crackers on the Diwali day.

Diwali is still comparable to Christmas celebrations in US. Diwali creates a busy shopping season. Shops are offering deep discounts to attract buyers during the tough times. People spend a lot of money on dresses, house hold items, gold etc., There are new movies released during Diwali (Aadhavan from Suriya & Peranmai from Jeyam Ravi).

Overall, it is wonderful to celebrate Diwali in India. It gives an opportunity to call friends/relatives, whom we haven't touch based for a long time. It gives an opportunity for us to exchange sweets with neighbors. It also, brings lots of excitement to kids. In simple words, Diwali is fun ... fun... nothing but fun.

Also read:

Ganesh Chathurthi in India

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Two wheeler service - Can't escape from those long lines and hours of waiting

I spent nearly 2+ hours this week to get my new Honda Aviator serviced (Note: This is just the drop-off & pick-up time. Doesn't include the time taken to service the vehicle). I've read from forums that Honda Service in India, is pretty bad. I went through that experience for the first time. Here is how the story goes.

This week, my Honda Aviator said it is ready for its first service. I called JSP Honda on Saturday and they recommended me to bring the vehicle on a week day. I decided to take my vehicle on Monday morning right when they open, so that, I can avoid a long queue. I reached the service station sharp at 7.30 am. To my surprise, there were about 30 other folks, waiting with their 2 wheelers, already. Also, the place in which the customers were asked to line up with their vehicles was very untidy and unhygienic. There were broken bottles, piles of trash including worn out sleeping mats, and some smell of urine. I don't know why nobody whined about the pathetic condition of that place.

The service engineers(?), came with their notepads at about 7.45 am. They started taking down details related to the vehicle and the service requirements, from the waiting customers. By the time my turn came, it was about 8.15 am. I finished the formalities and handed over my vehicle key to the service engineer. I wanted to complain regarding the untidy state of the location in which the customers have to wait, to handover their vehicles. Unfortunately, none of the administrative staff were available that early in the morning. So, I came out and took a share auto to work. I spent about 1 hour to just leave my vehicle for service.

In the evening, I got a call from a lady rep saying that my vehicle was ready for pick-up. I went to the service center by 5.30 pm. I was told that my 'paper work' is not ready and I was asked to wait. While I was waiting, I met the Service Center Manager and complained to him regarding the unhygienic condition of the location where the vehicles are 'received' from the customer. I also filled a formal 'complaint' form and handed it over to him. He appreciated the feedback and told that necessary action will be taken. I'm hoping that the facility will be clean when I go for my next service. It took another 30 minutes for my paper work to be available. I was charged Rs.150 for the first service (though it is technically free, but they charge for oil and other things). I had reported about 3 issues in the morning. I asked the person in the counter regarding the status of the 3 issues that I reported. The response was "most likely the issues would've been fixed, Sir! Otherwise, they would've made a note in the report". It took me an hour to get my vehicle and leave.

I hadn't owned any vehicle previously, in India. So, I was quite surprised with the amount of time someone has to spend in the service center just to drop the vehicle & pick it up from service. Hopefully, somebody will minimize the waiting time in the service centers with a magic wand.

Also read:

Got the two wheeler driving license - after hours of waiting

Saturday, October 10, 2009

R2I - How can I get my Social Security benefits/money?

Are you planning to Return to India (R2I)? Are you wondering whether you'll be eligible for the Social Security Benefits when you retire? This blog post is aimed at answering some of your concerns/questions regarding Social Security benefits/account. I've compiled it like a FAQ for easy reading.
  • Can I get my Social Security contributions when I return back to India?
          No
  • Will I be eligible for Social Security benefits when I reach the retirement age?
          It depends. You should've got atleast 40 credits for you to be eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • How do I earn a Social Security Credit?
          According to SSA website "When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn up to a maximum of four credits for each year" For more details look at Social Security website.
  • How long would it take for me to earn 40 credits?
          It would approximately take 10 years for you to earn 40 credits.

          "The amount of earnings it takes to earn a credit changes each year. In the year 2009, you must earn $1,090 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $4,360 to get the maximum four credits for the year". Refer to Social Security website for up to date information.
  • How do I notify Social Security Administration (SSA) about my change in address?
          SSA doesn't maintain your address records if you are not getting benefits currently (i.e., until you reach your retirement age). SSA gets the information from IRS (Internal Revenue Service). So, keep the IRS informed about your change of address. You can notify IRS regarding the address change by using Form 8822.
  • Will I get my SSA benefits when I reach the retirement age?
          Yes, according to the SSA website - if you have earned 40 credits.
  • Will I get my SSA benefits even if I'm not in US during my retirement?
          Yes (You can read the "Your Payments while you are outside US" question in SSA website)
  • Will I get my SSA benefits, even if I am NOT a US Citizen? (added later based on readers' feedback)
          Yes. You'll get your SSA benefits, even if you are NOT a US citizen, during your retirement.

          Assuming that you are going to Return to India (with or without US Citizenship, doesn't matter), you  *ARE* eligible for SSA benefits if you have 40 credits. You can find more details here at SSA website

          India is one of the countries listed under "You are a citizen of one of the countries listed below, and the worker on whose record your benefits are based lived in the United States for at least 10 years or earned at least 40 credits under the U.S. Social Security system. If you are receiving benefits as a dependent or survivor ..."

  • Will I have to lose my Social Security savings, if I don't live in US for 10 years?
          Unfortunately, yes! You have to lose your SS savings, if you don't live in US for 10 years. India is still working with the US government for Indian citizens to 'transfer' the credit to Indian pension plan. But, this is definitely going to take a lot of time.
  • How do I apply for SSA benefits when I reach my retirement age?
          Contact your nearest US embassy/consulate. They'll assist you with the process.
  • How can I lock my SSN?
          Read the blog post How to apply for Credit Freeze during R2I?
  • Where can I find more information regarding Social Security Questions?
          http://www.ssa.gov/

Note: The information included in this blog post is subject to change. Please read the FAQs in SSA website to get the up-to-date information

Related Posts:


R2I Checklist - 25 things to do
How to apply for Credit Freeze during R2I?

Swimming pool in Brownstone Apartments - Highly Recommended

 It is nearly 6 months since I returned from US. Since the day I landed in Chennai, my daughter has been asking me to take out for swimming. Swimming pools are very common in US. Almost, every other apartment/community in US, has a swimming pool. However, swimming pools are not very common yet, in India. Only a very few residential communities have swimming pools. I used to take my daughter to a pool at least once a month before. However, since landing in Chennai, I've deprived her from that experience. I learned about the wonderful swimming pool run by V.V. International School of Swimming, in Brownstone apartments, in Mahalingapuram (near to Loyola College). I called them today morning to find out some details.

We went to Brownstone Apartments at about noon. They charged Rs.70 each, for my daughter & me, for a 1 hour swimming session (It looks like the yearly membership costs Rs.5,500. They also conduct swimming lessons). The swimming pool was maintained well. The water was clean and there were not any dirt or debris, floating. There were at least 2 administrative folks to help the visitors. We went there by Saturday noon and the pool wasn't crowded at all. My daughter was initially hesitant (actually, scared!) to enter the pool. But, later she started liking the experience. I made her sit on an air-filled tube and she enjoyed the floating experience. We had a wonderful time there. It was very refreshing. We spent the full hour in the pool and came back extremely relaxed.

If you are in the Nungambakkam/Choolaimedu area and looking for a swimming pool/class, you should definitely consider V.V International School of Swimming, in Brownstone apartments.

Also read:

Smell of fresh air - rejuvenating
Chennai Marina Beach - Free Recreation

Metro water in Chennai - breeding red worms

Are you living in Chennai? Do you see Red Worms in drinking water? You aren't alone. Here is my side of the story.

My wife have been complaining about worms in the Metro water, for a while. I was ignoring her claims initially. But, when I looked at our overhead tank, it was full of worms. A single mug of water had nearly 10 - 15 worms. They were small, thin and in red color - glittering in the sun light. We had cleaned our water tank only a month back - paying someone Rs.400. I was surprised to see, so many worms in the tank. I decided to clean the water tank, myself. I spent nearly 2 hours cleaning the tank, with proper chemicals. In the next 2 days, we again saw worms in the water.

All along, I have been thinking that Metro Water would be of good quality. So, I didn't suspect that the Metro Water would have worms. Coincidentally, I saw a news article in "Thinathanthi" paper which talked about "Red Worms in Metro Water". The article said that the Metro Water authorities know about this issue and it is due to 'low chlorine levels in the drinking water'. The article also said that these "Worms are harmless" & if we just filter/heat the water it can be used for drinking and cooking purposes. I started doing some research on the Internet. I saw several outdated (3 years ago) articles that talked about worms in Metro Water. I didn't see any recent news articles. However, there were some user forums where people complained about "Red Worms in drinking water".

I thought this issue is 'confined' to very few areas in Chennai. But, in the recent days, I see many areas affected these Red Worms. There is also a speculation that drinking water is getting mixed with sewage due to leaks. However, Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) authorities have been denying the existence of these worms.

Worms crawl out of taps in Saligramam - Chennai

Water with worms in Anna Nagar west 

Metro water is supposed to be used only for drinking/cooking purposes. But people store the water in sumps and start to use it for everything except for drinking (Yes! Many folks buy bottled/can water for drinking. Several other folks have costly water filtering systems in place). I'm not surprised why Metro Water authorities aren't taking a quick action. But, the folks who get affected the most are the poor folks who cannot afford to buy bottled/can water or costly water filters. If you are affected with the red worms, you should file a complaint now. You can do it online at Metro Water website. Hope Metro Water authorities solve this problem once for all - if not for the folks who 'misuse' the drinking water, but for the folks who really use the Metro Water for drinking/cooking only.

Note:  Metro Water website gives a lot of tips regarding the usage of water and maintenance of tanks/sumps. The wesbite also has lots of other useful information such as rainwater harvesting, online complaints, cash counters etc.,

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Lavish birthday party's cost = A poor child's education cost for 12 years

All of us love our kids, so much. In fact, they are our world. We would do anything for them. Our kids' birthdays are very special to us. Birthdays are definitely important milestones to celebrate. First of all, we want the birthday to be very memorable for our kids. Second of all, it is the right time for us to pat ourselves for our excellent work of managing them, another year.

Parents spend a lot of money to celebrate their kid's birthdays. We invite friends/relatives for an evening get together. We order food, cake & mementos. An average birthday party costs anywhere from $600 - $1000 (in US) & at least Rs.25,000 (in India). We all rejoice that evening. The kids definitely have lots of fun. They feel so special. Now, fast forward 25 years. Will our kid remember the 'grand birthday party' that we organized, 25 years ago (without us showing him/her the birthday photographs?). Will our friends/relatives remember all the birthday parties they attended?

So, what is my point, here? Am, I asking you NOT to celebrate birthdays? Am I asking you NOT to throw birthday parties? Am I trying to say that the money spent on birthday parties is a WASTE?

No... No... No...

As I said earlier, birthday celebrations are very important for kids. Some kids do remember whether you celebrated their birthdays or not. But, what they DON'T REMEMBER or what they DON'T CARE is 'How grand the celebration was'.

Do you know what difference you can make in the life of some people, if you are able to scale-down the magnitude of such birthday parties? With $600 you can sponsor a child's education up to +2 level (i.e., 14 years of education). With Rs.10,000 you can take care of all the expenses of a child for 1 year (including education). Imagine the difference you can make on the life of these kids. Your friends may forget the birthday parties in a year or so. But, these kids who are receiving your sponsorship will remember you forever. If you start to sponsor a child's education, up to +2, every year, by the time your kid turns 20, you would've changed the life of 20 kids. Imagine the satisfaction that you'll get by performing such a noble deed.


You may think, "Why should I cut-down on my kid's birthday party spending? I'll organize a big birthday bash & I'll also donate some money to support poor kids". The "conservative" in me, still feels that the money spent on the big birthday bash can help another poor kid. But, if you can help support a kid every year, that itself is wonderful. You'll be remembered very much for that noble deed. The famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, "You can have everything you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want!”

If you are interested, you can donate to Udavum Karangal. Donating to Udavum Karangal is very easy. You can do it from their web site, with your credit card. You'll get regular progress reports for the child you are sponsoring. 

(Note: I'm not associated with Udavum Karangal. But, I have been to their facilities in the past. They really do a good job of taking care of the kids & needy people. They really put your hard earned money to good use)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

How much money do you need to Return to India (R2I)?

Many of us decide to go to US to earn money. However, after being in US for a few years, we find it difficult to decide "How much money is enough to settle in India?". Yes! the cost of living in India has gone up significantly in the last decade.  So, you may be wondering "How much money should I have to Return to India (R2I)?" The right answer is "It depends".

I've made an attempt to capture the cost of living in Chennai (as of 2009). The expenses have of course, sky rocketed. Given below are the approximate expenses for a 5 members family (Husband, wife, kid, grand parents), leading a comfortable (but, not luxurious) life.

Settling costs (Rs. 60 Lakhs - Rs. 1.15 Crore)

Own House         - Rs. 50 lakhs - 1 crore 
                    (depending upon the location. These days, you can find great deals on real estates and rental properties in online websites such as Magic Bricks & MyDeals India)
Car               - Rs. 7 - 13 lakhs
Furnishing        - Rs. 3 lakh 

                    (bed, TV, refrigerator, A/C etc.,)

Monthly Expenses (~ Rs.27K per month)

Groceries                - Rs.8K
Vegetables/Fruits        - Rs.3K
Electricity              - Rs.1K
Gas Cylinders            - Rs.1K
Petrol/Diesel            - Rs.2K
Doctor Visits/Medicine   - Rs.1K
TV/Phone/Mobile/Internet - Rs.3K
Dining out               - Rs.3K
Recreation/Entertainment - Rs.3K
 
Wedding/Other Gifts/Toys - Rs.2K
       
Yearly Expenses (~ Rs. 80K per year)

Dresses for the family   - Rs.20K
Travel/Sightseeing       - Rs.25K
School expenses          - Rs.35K - 50K, per kid
                          


Note

- The above expenses do not include insurance payments, service/maintenance of items (car, A/C, refrigerator, washer etc.,). I'll update them when I get more details.
- In case you've decided to rent a house - renting a 3BHK house costs anywhere from 15K - 25K depending on the locality/facilities etc.,
- Some schools charge up to Rs.1 Lakh donation during the initial admission (Also read: Getting KG admission for a kid in school - the math behind it)

The money that you may need to settle in India is very subjective. It depends on your family size, life style, spending pattern, city in which you want to live etc., If you have spent 6 - 10 years in US and invested your savings wisely, you should be able to settle in India, very comfortably. At the end of the day, there is no end to the need for more money.

Related posts:


R2I Checklist
R2I - List of things to pack/bring from US
US to India Money Transfer Strategies
Cost to Company (CTC) - Peeling the Onion