Look, I won’t sugarcoat it for you: it’s hard to live in Mumbai. It’s super dirty, super crowded, super chaotic, but, and you knew this was coming, it’s also SUPER NICE. People are great; it has an awesome vibe, which I think all great thriving metropolises in the world have; it’s a city where passions are flamed, and dreams come true. Song, dance, work, play, the cycle moves fast here. It is intense. And if you live here, I guarantee you’d have explored the extreme ranges of your emotions. For that alone, it’s worth it. Mumbai is a city of significant contrasts. Your cost of living in Mumbai will depend on where you live and how you live. I know you are thinking, isn’t it true for all cities in the world? Not so. The contrasts here are notable with the swing in expenses coming largely from your choice of accommodation.
How Much Money Does It Cost Per Month To Live in Mumbai?
Based on my rough calculations, if you want to live well, it would cost around $3-4k a month, and if you don’t mind a few hardships here and there and a modest accommodation, you can make do with $1-1.5k a month in living expenses.
Monthly Cost of Housing in Mumbai
You know how the British start their conversations by talking about the weather? We begin our conversations by asking each other about our current housing situations. How much are you paying for your apartment; if you know a good real estate broker I could talk to; is it cheaper to buy or rent; who’s your house-help; is she available to work at my place, and that’s how it goes.
Apartment rentals and average hotel cost in the city centre of Mumbai are higher than the other cities in India. The sizes are abysmally small too, for the price we pay, as is the malaise of any big, overcrowded city. Let’s start with hotels. A standard 3-star hotel would charge upwards of $100 a night; the more upscale ones will charge upwards of $300 per night. A 250 square feet (23 square meters) B&B or apartment for a month will cost $700-$1000 depending on where it is located. If you were staying in Bandra or Colaba, where most expats and a lot of the nouveau riche working class live, the dial would swing hard to the higher end.
I live in Bandra and pay $700 for a 1 BHK (1 Bedroom-House-Kitchen, the nomenclature we commonly use to denote houses in Mumbai), but it’s an old apartment complex, barely maintained and quite modest.
Monthly cost for modest accommodation in Mumbai: $700-1000/ month
Transportation Costs in Mumbai
Traffic and road quality troubles abound in Mumbai, but getting around on public transport is really easy and cheap. There are several modes of conveyances, and they are all (mostly) swindle and hassle-free. Radio cabs such as Uber and Ola operate in most parts of the city and are fairly cheap. In the suburbs (Bandra onwards) you can take auto rickshaws or tuk-tuks. They are very cheap and readily available. For a distance of 1.5 km, an auto charges around 25 cents. Insist on going only by meter, although, they make little hassle. On the city side, autos do not ply, it is kaali peeli instead, i.e. the black and yellow cabs. These are non-AC but comfortable, and charge about 21 cents/km.
A cheaper alternative is to get a monthly pass for the train or take buses if you have the courage for it. The crowds can get stifling though. You will be surrounded by sweaty armpits and crushing bodies through the length of your journey. It’s quite an experience. Try it and survive to tell others about it. I’ve long since abandoned trains but use it once in a while just for the thrill of it. And when road traffic is really bad.
Cost: $100 – $300/ per month depending on how far and how often you travel
What Does It Cost To Eat in Mumbai
Prices in restaurants and cafes are more than other cities in India, and while the range of food is varied, it can get expensive to eat all three meals outside. A good cup of coffee costs $3 onwards, and a meal can set you back by $10-15/ p.p. So, if you land up having all three meals outside, and then some more, it could easily cost $50/ p.p. per day to eat.
The good news? Street food, if your stomach agrees with it. A vada pav (deep fried potato dumpling inside a bread bun) or chutney sandwich in a street-side stall costs less than $1. A glass of chai costs 20 cents. I find them yum-yum and indulge in them often. Other delicacies are bun maska (bun and butter), sev puri (deep fried gram flour noodles), and assorted kebabs and rolls. Takeout services such as Swiggy and Ubereats operate in most parts of the city and are cheaper options for eating out.
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A better alternative to eating out or ordering in is to hire a cook, which is what I do. Cooking for one costs about $50/ month (2 meals, made together at one time in a day). I buy vegetables and fruits from the local markets, which are cheap, though occasionally, you will need to haggle. Monthly food staples (unless you buy expensive organic stuff) will cost around $15-20/ p.p. per month.
What Does Drinking in Mumbai Cost?
It’s expensive to drink in Mumbai. Local brews and wine cost $3-$7 a glass, depending on the place and the brand. A single shot of imported whiskey can cost $5 – $8. Cocktails can cost upwards of $8. So, yes, it’s more expensive than it costs to drink in the US or Europe. We prefer buying our liquor and drinking at home.
There are some interesting local microbreweries doing craft beers, and I’ll encourage you to try them. Doolally, The White Owl, and Brewbot are Mumbai’s own. And my favourites.
Cost: $500-700/month (~10 days drinking and eating out and hiring a cook at home)
What Does Entertainment in Mumbai Cost?
Mumbai is the land of Bollywood, i.e. Indian Cinema. Walk through the roads of Bandra or Versova, and it’d be unusual if you don’t see a wannabe actor strutting his six pack abs or an aspiring enchantress twirling her always-done-curls about. Thus, entertainment options are many and revolve mainly around the latest movie releases and star-studded shows. A movie ticket costs $5 upward. A well-timed movie show or a single screen movie ticket costs around $2.
The theatre scene in Mumbai is thriving. Mostly Hindi (and some English) plays are performed in the famous theatres of Prithvi in Juhu, NCPA at Nariman point, and St. Andrews at Bandra. Tickets cost $8 upward.
Try a drop-in yoga or dance class? Monthly yoga classes in Bandra cost $60 upwards. A walk-in costs $10/ class.
Shopping is dirt-cheap too. There are expensive designer stores and malls where you can indulge yourself, but you can find trendy rip-offs on Hill Street and Linking Road in Bandra, where a pair of jeans can cost as less as $1.
Cost: $80-100 per month
Miscellaneous Costs of Living in Mumbai
Phone plans are cheap, although data quality sucks. A monthly plan can cost as low as $5 and as high as $30—which is what it costs me. Broadband costs range from $30-$50.
Monthly electricity costs along with an air conditioner, which you will definitely need in a hot city like Mumbai, is around $17-20/ month.
Tap water is not potable. So I get bottled water every month. A 20-litre Bisleri container costs $1.5.
The cost of living index may be higher than other cities in India, but there’s so much to do in Mumbai, such a lovely confluence of people from all over India, so much history, passion, and tears, it will leave you astounded. No two days are the same. If you want to experience India in terms of its young, the hard-working, the ambitious populace, come to Mumbai. Dreams are built and lived here, for cheap enough.
About: Smita Bhattacharya is a management consultant and author based in Mumbai. She has lived in the city for nearly 13 years and calls it home. Occasionally, she escapes its heat to travel to other grand cities in the world. You can read her colourful travel and life stories at www.smitabhattacharya.com. She also hangs on Twitter and Instagram.