This document is intended to help prepare you for a great tour in Kolkata, India. It is based on personal experiences and is subjective. CLO has terrific information about life in Kolkata and, of course, your sponsor will offer valuable insight. You might also want to contact GSO to get specific information about your housing and shipping (HHE, Consumables, and UAB). Also, be sure you have a copy of the (green) Foreign Service Assignment Notebook “What do I do Now?”- a fabulous source of lists for what to pack and prepare for!


Come Prepared!

Retail in general is going through its boom these days and more variety of goods are available now compared to a year ago. Shopping in Kolkata is an adventure, and often great fun. But when you really NEED something (like pink Jell-O because that is the only thing your toddler wants for her birthday party) then India can be really frustrating – you are half way around the world and oh so far from the comforts of home. The best thing to do is to plan ahead. Local Sources of food include an American Costco-Style store called Metro, local markets (New Market is the biggest one), supermarkets (Spencer’s), ACSA Co-op in New Delhi.

In-season fruits and vegetables are plentiful. Bananas, oranges, apples, and limes are always available. In winter, strawberries, papaya, cauliflower, peas, beets, broccoli, red cabbage, and squash are specialties. The Medical Unit recommends that all fruits and vegetables should be washed and treated with a disinfectant solution (order this in your consumables).

Beef, chicken, and mutton are plentiful in the market. Pork may also be found but it is not popular. Fresh fish is reasonably priced in season. Shrimp, crabs and crayfish are available seasonally at slightly higher prices than the US. Fresh and packaged milk is widely available locally.

American Community Support Association (ACSA) Co-op in New Delhi

The large commissary at the Embassy, New Delhi is a good place to order items you may not find in Kolkata. You can order limited varieties of beer, wine and liquor at pretty good prices from the commissary. It is strongly recommend that you look at the latest Commissary list that the CLO can send to you – this will give you an idea of what is available from the consumable items at the Commissary.

Group orders are made approximately each month from the ACSA Co-op for liquor, dry goods, and frozen food. Orders to New Delhi take about 5-6 weeks. Nonperishable orders are sent by truck, and perishable orders are sent by air, adding the respective transportation charges to the cost. Those stopping in New Delhi on their way to Kolkata should join the Co-op and place an order at that time or you can sign-up through the management office specialist in Kolkata.

Consumables Shipment

In addition to the weight allowance specified in 6 FAM 163.3, personnel assigned to Kolkata on a 2-year or 3-year tour are authorized shipment of 2,500 and 3,750 pounds, respectively, of consumables from Washington, D.C., or from their post of origin.

Keep in mind that the Consumables Shipment is an additional shipment, separate from the regular HHE shipment. It should be packed separately and sent under a separate bill of lading, marked and consigned as follows:

American Consulate General (Employee’s full name) 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani Kolkata 700071, INDIA

Employees are encouraged to use the full allowance, which may be used up to 1 year after the employee’s arrival at post or up to one year before departure for those who extend. Note that Shipment of consumables can not arrive before

Employee arrives at post. Do not pack any of Beef /Poultry products as their imports prohibited in India.

Keeping in mind that the restrictions on import issued by the Indian Government keep changing. Its best practice to get in touch with the shipping /GSO /CLO at before ordering the consumables


Consumables can be ordered from ELSO


ELSO has implemented a program of bringing consumables shipments closer to the customer. The intent is to provide eligible Foreign Service personnel at consumable authorized posts with quality goods – quickly and at a reduced cost to the employee and the government.

Consumables (CNS) shipments consist of grocery, food, and drink items and can include alcoholic beverages, like beer, wine, and liquor as well as tobacco products. As mentioned above, before ordering, please check with shipping if there are any restrictions on the value, the amount, and what can be shipped. Also note that no Beef or poultry products can be included in the consumables.

If you are interested in doing a Consumables shipment via ELSO please visit  ELSO webpage.

ELSO has different sources for different items:

  • Chacalli-DeDecker (CDD), a local Antwerp vendor for wine, spirits, and tobacco orders. Chacalli only accepts VISA, payments in EURO.
  • Ramstein Commissary in Germany for food and grocery items. Ramstein accepts Master Card, American Express, Discover and Visa. Payments in US Dollars.


  • Wine, spirits and tobacco orders are processed when they are received.
  • Orders to Ramstein are picked up twice monthly – on the 7th and the 24th. Any order received after those dates will not be processed until the next bi-monthly submission.

How to order from ELSO:

Consumables can be ordered via the ELSO Intranet WebPage at

1) Download spreadsheet(s)

2) Fill out (do not alter format!)

3) Submit spreadsheet to ELSO with authorization and full credit card information. If you don’t receive confirmation they did not receive your order! So, please resubmit.

Important Notes:

  • The commissary shopping list is set up as an Excel spreadsheet and employees can download the spreadsheet to make their purchase selections.
  • The Excel file is zipped to reduce the size for e-mail.
  • The spreadsheet should not be changed in any way because the format is required for automatic loading

    When submitting the spreadsheet, the employee should provide:

  • A copy of valid orders authorizing a consumables shipment, especially non-state personnel
  • Full credit card information, i.e. exact name on the card, card type, number and expiration date. Let the bank know a transaction will come in from Germany.
  • If the employee does not receive confirmation within 2 to 3 days thet might not have received the order so the employee has to resubmit it.
  • ELSO prefers to deal with the employee or employee’s husband or wife directly. Involving other people like GSO makes it more complicated and leaves room for miscommunication.
  • When submitting the order, mention from the beginning in whose name the order will be, employee or employee’s husband or wife.

    Things to know for CNS orders via ELSO:

  • Must be a consumables post. (6FAM163 Exhibit 163.3)
  • Employee must have valid authorization for a consumables order.
  • Consumables orders cannot contain perishable items. (6FAM163.3d)
  • Please do not send in your order on Friday when your travel orders expire on Saturday!
  • You can only buy in case lots.
  • An order is filled with stock on-hand on the day of the order: no backorders or substitutions.
  • lGSO) ELSO needs to know any special markings for host country to receive consumables.
  • Once the order is placed no return of goods!Note from the CLO


    A note from the CLO

    Carry all liquid items in your consumables. You can order dry goods through the pouch once you are at the post. Be careful when sending cleaning supplies (such as bleach and detergents) along with food items in your consumables. Sometimes things can leak and spoil many items. Also check with the packer on all products containing bleach.

    You can do your Consumables via ELSO, during your R&R, before your arrival to post or have a family member organize it for you after your arrival. Places like BJs, Sams Club, and Costco can organize your pallets and a designated family member can coordinate the pick-up by the shippers assigned by D.C.

    No alcohol can be shipped in your HHE or UAB.

    Remember to check the expiration dates when you are shopping! Consult the consumables list for more advice on items you should consider shipping. And don’t forget to ask the GSO or your sponsor how much storage is in your apartment.

    The welcome kit will only get you so far! Your UAB should arrive within 2-3 weeks while the HHE can take more than 2 months. You might want to bring your favorite pots and pans and baking tools in your UAB.

    Some things to think about

    □ Household Items – It is hard to find everyday items made of plastic – and when you do find them, they are often (inexplicably) expensive.

    Recommend Household Items:

    Complete set of Tupperware

    Kitchen drain rack (no dishwashers except your staff!)

    Tea Kettle

    Fitted Sheets (check bed sizes with GSO)

    Ice packs (blue ice)

    Sports/water bottles

    Pet food and all pet supplies

    Baking Utensils

    □ Medical Kit

    India is pretty dirty – it is easy to get sick. Do everything you can to keep yourself and your family safe from germs (these aren’t wimpy American germs – these are hard-core-straight from the sewer-laden-river-germs…)

    Lots of hand sanitizer – wipes and lotion

    Pocket tissues and/or travel toilet paper (take with you everywhere – toilet paper is rare in public places!)

    Anti-bacterial wipes



    Hydrogen peroxide

    Sting sticks

    A full medical kit for your vehicle

    Gatoraide/rehydration salts

    Lots of insect spray/lotion (although there are some excellent local brands)



    Cold and fever medicine (especially for kids)

    Sinus Medication

    All OTC medicines (including anti-histamine)

    Motion-sickness medicines are not easily available

    □ Shipping Alcohol

    Contact post BEFORE you pack out to find current regulations on shipping alcohol to India. Individual importation of Consumables including liquor, wine, beer, cigarettes are not permitted. Alcohol cannot be shipped in HHE and UAB.

    Talk to your sponsor and the CLO to get up-to-date guidance! In general, alcohol is inexpensive when it is ordered through the commissary list. But the commissary list is short and items are not always available. Locally, you can get Indian beers such as Kingfisher, Tuborg, and Carlsberg. You can find Budwiser & Carona but they are very expensive.

    List of Commonly Imported Items

    Kolkata is a fantastic posting for discovering new and fresh foods. The most popular types of styles include: Northern Indian, Bengali, Southern Indian, Indo-Chinese, Thai, and Western-Continental. The number and quality of restaurants and grocery stores has grown tremendously over the last 3 to 5 years as has the number of imported items if one spends time searching.

    Most Kolkatans enjoy fresh foods from a variety of markets around the city which include, seasonal fruits and vegetables, seafood, poultry, and beef (from Muslim markets). Seasonal fruits and vegetables are of good quality, including the fresh peas, carrots, potatoes, onions and bananas. Fresh Western-style bread can be found at a handful of locations around town, but the most common forms of bread are the Indian flat breads.

    The commissary in New Delhi is also a great source for hard to find or expensive products. It is also a good source for imported wine and liquors. Please contact CLO or the Management Office for information on joining ASCA and the latest listings of available products.

    Non-perishable foods

    The following are difficult to find in Kolkata

    American Brand Cereals like Cheerios

    Beef and vegetable broth

    Granola Bars/Energy Bars

    Baking Soda/Powder


    Canned pumpkin

    Chocolate chips

    Cream of Tartar

    Cookie Mixes

    Cake Mixes

    Diced Tomatoes

    Decaffeinated coffee

    Dutch Cocoa Powder

    Coffee beans

    Corn syrup

    Cranberry sauce


    Grated parmesan cheese

    Maple syrup



    Pie fillings


    Powdered sugar


    Rye flour


    Stuffing mixes

    Sun-dried tomatoes

    Tortilla chips

    Bread Flour


    The following are found in Kolkata but are more expensive than in the U.S.

    American Candy like M&Ms or Reece’s Pieces

    Apple sauce

    Balsamic vinegar

    Cocoa Powder

    Canned peaches

    Cheeses, Western-style

    Mexican foods

    Olive oil




    Peanut butter

    Tahini Paste

    Tomato sauce and paste

    Vanilla extract, quality – low quality versions are widely available

    Tuna fish

    The following are found in Kolkata markets but are different in quality from U.S. brands

    Baking chocolate

    Baking Powder

    Baking Soda

    Brown sugar

    Candies, American brands (there are European brands)


    Chocolate Cake Mixes

    Canned condensed milk, evaporated milk, yogurt

    Dry yeast

    Jam (most have preservatives, sugar, coloring and come in limited flavors)



    Soya sauce

    Household Items

    The following are difficult to find in Kolkata

    Cling wrap/Saran wrap

    Spray starch

    Wax paper, parchment paper



    Good quality party paper plates, cups and napkins

    The following are found in Kolkata but are more expensive than in the U.S.

    Toilet paper, U.S. quality

    Candles, large and scented (small votive are easy to find)

    The following are found in Kolkata markets but are different in quality from U.S. brands

    Aluminum foil

    Ziplock bags

    Holiday decorations and ornaments

    Christmas trees

    Household cleaners, such as Lysol, Windex and toilet bowl cleaners

    Laundry detergent, liquid and fabric softeners

    Paper napkins and plates

    Paper Towels



    Shampoo and conditioner

    Mosquito repellant


    Pet food

    If your pet has any sensitivities bring U.S. supply.

    Sometimes the pouch does not, inexplicably, allow pet food or cat litter shipments.

    In Kolkata you will mostly get the Pedigree food brand for pets.


    Baby Items

    The following are difficult to find/cannot find in Kolkata

    Baby food,

    pre-packaged U.S. quality strained foods (cereals are plentiful in Kolkata)

    Baby formula, American brands (there are Indian brands made by Nestle)

    The following are found in Kolkata but are more expensive than in the U.S.

    Children’s toys

    activity-based games

    Plush animals and books are in large supply

    The following are found in Kolkata markets but are different in quality from U.S. brands

    Children’s medications



    Lunch boxes and bottles (Unsure of the plastic products here)

    Please contact the Kolkata CLO if you have specific questions. In general ,if there is a U.S. brand you are very found of consider bringing it!