The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a charming British film about a group of pensioners retiring to a “luxury” hotel in India. It is beautifully acted, warm-hearted and deserves the international success it’s had this year. Sadly, it is also misleading its target audience. India does not issue retirement or permanent residency visas. In most cases non-nationals will only be allowed to stay in India for a maximum of 180 days then will have to leave the country for a minimum of 2 months. The Marigold Hotel’s vision to “outsource” old age is a fantasy. India does not want you (update – the 2 month rule was removed by the Government of India from 4th Dec 2012. They must have read this!).
Fact and fiction
Strictly speaking the film is not incorrect. We do not see any of the 7 characters going passed the 6 month period. Also the film was based on a book published in 2004 called These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. It was only in 2009 that the Indian government changed the terms of Tourist visa to stop what they saw as an abuse of it. Before they added the 2 month clause it was common for many to do a visa run to Nepal or Sri Lanka.
Jean Ainslie: How can you bear this country? What do you see, that I don’t?
Doug Ainslie: The light, colors, smiles; it teaches me something.
Additionally, a few characters have special circumstances:- Evelyn (played by Judi Dench) took on a job as an advisor in an Indian call centre. To do this legally she would have needed to gain an Employment visa. This may allow her to remain while she has employment, but she would need to keep renewing the visa and there’s no guarantees. Graham (played by Tom Wilkinson) appeared to be born in India so may have been entitled to an Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status. Madge (played by Celia Imrie) is also seen dating a wealthy Indian man in the closing sequence. If this relationship results in marriage she could give up her British nationality or after two years of marriage could apply to become an Overseas Citizenship of India. An OCI would give her something very close to dual citizenship. She just would not be able to take on a government job or own agricultural land.
Cashing in on the “grey pound” and journalism
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was rejected by a number of film studios as “unmarketable”. Now it is heralded as a “surprise” success and evidence of a need to cater for an older demographic (shock news!) The result has been endless misleading articles talking about the film, the romance of India and possibilities outsourcing retirement. One article asked the cast of the movie whether they would consider retiring to India. Saga has used the excitement to sell their Indian holidays and there are already plans for a film sequel.
Much to the amusement of regulars at the British Expats forum a number of journalists headed there hoping to find some happy real life stories. What they found instead was confusion, complex legal issues, and sob stories of rip-offs from those arrogant enough to think they could easily waltz in to someone else’s country.
Evelyn Greenslade: India is an assault on the senses. It’s like a wave; resist and you go under, ride it out and you arrive at the others side.
Enjoy India as a long stay tourist
For a good five to six months of the year most of India are either too hot or too wet (and grey) for most westerners. Smart pensioners come to India to enjoy the best of the weather, the food and the cheap living during the prime tourist season. Don’t be one of the foolish ones who dream of a permanent retirement in India or worse of owning property there. Plenty will take your money.