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?


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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:

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How much money do you need to return back to India