Seven elderly Britons, for a variety of reasons, respond to an online ad and travel to Jaipur, India, where they find run-down hotel with a young, exuberant, and optimistic host. Evelyn, newly widowed, wants low-cost experience, Graham seeks a long-ago love, Douglas and Jean have lost their pension in a family investment, Muriel needs cheap hip surgery, Madge seeks a rich husband, and Norman is chasing women. India affects each in different ways, enchanting Douglas and Evelyn while driving Jean deeper into bitterness. Their host, young Sonny, has dreams but little cash or skill; he also has a girlfriend whom his mother dismisses. Stories cross and discoveries await each one.
Seven British pensioners - five individuals and one married couple - meet on a flight from England to Jaipur, India, where they have all made the decision to live at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a new luxurious but inexpensive seniors facility located on the outskirts of the city and which is geared at their white, English demographic. They each independently saw it advertised, and each has an issue in their life which has prompted them to make this change in scenery. Evelyn is just widowed, and is now emotionally and financially lost as she had for her entire married life depended on her husband for almost everything. Married couple Jean and Douglas lost much of their retirement savings on a bad investment and have had to downgrade their retirement expectations. Muriel, who only trusts white Brits, is reluctantly going to expedite her needed hip replacement, which she can have done immediately in a transfer program with an Indian facility or else endure the several months in pain on the British health care system waiting list. Madge, between husbands, needs to escape her married daughter's home, where she is treated largely as the babysitter, to find the next in a long line of lovers/husbands. Norman is somewhat a less sexually successful male version of Madge, he a lonely man who wants a new collection of unsuspecting women who may not be wise to his old and tired pickup moves. They all look largely to Graham, a just retired judge, as their guide, who grew up close to Jaipur and wants to return to the sweet side of his bittersweet child and young adulthood memories, namely the love of his life who he has not seen since that time, while dealing with the aftermath of the bitter side. Upon their arrival, they find that Sonny, the hotel manager and minority co-owner of the hotel, has misrepresented the luxury and new side of the hotel, that representation which he ultimately wants it to be based on his business plan that western countries, like Britain, will want to "outsource" the needs of their elderly. As the seven adjust their lives to their new reality while dealing with Sonny and their own personal issues, Sonny has to appease: the residents; his two Delhi residing brother majority co-owners whose interests are represented by their hard as nails mother, who does not approve of Sonny's choice of a wife, Sunaina, despite never having met her; and potential investors, whose money he needs to achieve his less than easily achievable business dream, the current new residents which he hopes to use as props to show how successful his plan can be.
A group of British retirees decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self.
British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than advertised, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways.
- Seven English seniors experience life changes that result in their coincidental departure to be the first guests at the enticingly-pitched Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a resort "for the elderly and beautiful" in Jaipur, India: Recently widowed housewife Evelyn (Judi Dench) must sell her home to cover huge debts. Graham (Tom Wilkinson), a High Court judge who lived in India as a boy, abruptly decides to retire and return there. Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Doug (Bill Nighy) seek a retirement they can afford with the money left after investing in their daughter's internet start-up. Muriel (Maggie Smith), a retired housekeeper, needs a hip replacement, which she can get quickly and inexpensively in India. Wealthy Madge (Celia Imrie) hunts another husband. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is an aging lothario, still on the make for one-night stands.
To varying degrees they are each overwhelmed by the unfamiliar environment upon their arrival. Furthermore, despite the enthusiastic attitude of its new manager Sonny (Dev Patel), the Marigold is dilapidated and its meals too spicy for their English palates. Jean mostly stays in the hotel reading, whereas Doug explores sights suggested by Graham, who has found that much has changed since his school years, and disappears on secret outings. Muriel, despite her bigotry, comes to grudgingly appreciate her physician for his skill, and the hotel cleaner (a member of the "untouchable" caste who speaks no English) for her kindness.
Discovering that she cannot even afford the Marigold, Evelyn gets her first job, advising the staff of a marketing call centre how to better interact with their British contacts. Sonny struggles to convince an investor for funds to improve the hotel. Madge joins an exclusive club, where she fails to pass herself off as Princess Margaret, and when asked to be seated next to a rich bachelor it turns out to be Norman, who is having no success romancing the women there.
Muriel's physician takes her to the home of the hotel cleaner, where she is surprised to find the young woman grateful for her "kindness" in simply acknowledging her; Muriel confides about her life in service, managing a family household and raising their children, which ended in abrupt dismissal. At the club, Madge helps Norman meet Carol (Diana Hardcastle), an English lifelong resident of India.
Dropping his routine, Norman admits that he is just old and lonely, and Carol admits the same, beginning a relationship. Graham confides to Evelyn that he is trying to find the boyfriend he regrets abandoning in disgrace when he left India to go to university. Jean is attracted to the retired judge, and makes a rare excursion to follow him, but is humiliated when he explains that he is gay.
Accompanied by Doug and Evelyn, Graham reunites with his former lover, who has lived a generally happy life in an arranged marriage of mutual trust and respect. After confiding his contentment to Norman, Graham dies peacefully of a heart attack.
Evelyn and Doug grow increasingly close, and following Graham's cremation, she tearfully confides the lack of trust in her marriage, witnessed by an increasingly jealous Jean. Doug finally loses his temper at her negativity and lack of respect.
Sonny's more successful brothers each own a third of the Marigold and want it knocked down. His mother (Lillete Dubey) wants him back in Delhi for an arranged marriage, but Sonny is in love with Sunaina (Tina Desai), who works at Evelyn's call centre. Sonny's mother declares the Marigold a financial disaster; the residents are told to relocate.
Norman decides to move in with Carol. Madge and Evelyn prepare to leave. Jean and Doug get their investment back, enabling them to return to England, but a traffic jam stops them from getting to the airport, and Jean leaves him (literally and figuratively) to get there in a one-passenger pedicab, Doug makes his way back to the Marigold. Meanwhile, Muriel sneaks access to Sonny's computer for a look at the accounts, and discovering that the business plan is in fact sound, convinces the reluctant investor to provide the needed funds.
The next morning, Sonny and Sunaina confront his mother, who concedes to his marriage plans when reminded that her husband had similarly stood up to his parents to marry her. Muriel reveals that the hotel simply needs better management, and offers to stay on in that capacity. The other guests agree to stay as well. In the final montage: Madge in her club dines with a wealthy Indian man. Norman washes socks and Carol reads the Kama Sutra in their room. Muriel is behind the front desk welcoming new guests. Sonny and Sunaina ride his motorbike through Jaipur, passing Doug and Evelyn riding a scooter.