Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 08/14/11
Personal Experiences from Dhaka, Bangladesh
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is a first expat-living experience, but I have travelled significantly abroad.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Several routes, but from Washington DC via either Hong Kong, Dubai or Doha work best. Two planes involved; total transit with layover time aprox 30 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US embassy spouse
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Nice housing here! Most families are in large houses with yards or apartments (no yards). It is getting harder to keep houses in the housing pool, so most new leases are switching to apartments. It seems the apartments have nicer, more open floor plans, fewer maintenance issues, and are safer anyway. We are a family of 4 (3 when arrived) and have a 5-bedroom, 6-bath apartment.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are mostly obtained through the commissary, which does an ok job, not great. Meat is hard to come by, and there have been avian flu and anthrax scares in meat. We brought about 100 lbs in checked bags from US. Local fruit/veggies/eggs are available and affordable but very seasonal. Bleaching is certainly necessary. We have our gardener grow what he can on the rooftop.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Whatever you can't live without, because you probably won't find it here. Bring good shoes, kids' toys, sunscreen, etc. Pouch saves us a lot by mailing.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Three fast food chains are in the area: KFC, Pizza Hut and A&W. All are mediocre, but are priced like in the US. Lot of local food, but we do not eat it for fear of stomach problems. There is the occasional nice meal out, affordable.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
One organic grocer with a limited supply.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of bugs here, but we haven't had too many in the house (we are on 2nd floor). Large spiders, roaches, centipedes (huge). There are always ants, so just don't leave a food mess lying around.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO- GREAT! I don't even know if there is local mail; have never seen a post office. Mail is delivered by hand from a courier to your gate by the school-bus ayah.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very affordable and very plentiful. We had resumes at our apt before we even arrived. The embassy keeps a list of available workers as well. We have a gardener, a driver and a housekeeper/ayah for under $350 a month. All work 6 days a week from about 8AM to 6PM.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most work out at the American Club or AISD.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
We don't use either, ever. It is a cash-only society. There is an ATM at the embassy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not sure, but I believe there are several Christian services around. There is a Catholic/Italian house also.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Daily Star in english. TV some english, more if satellite.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None if you are in Dhaka, pretty much everyone can speak English or grab someone else who can. In the outlying countryside, though, Bangla would be needed.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Much difficulty. No good sidewalks (very tall steps) and no accommodations for disabilities. There are some elevators, but most of them do not work.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Some use rickshaws, but RSO not fond of them, and crime is steadily increasing on rickshaws with expats. I'd vote against using any local transportation.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
It is left-lane driving, but we have a US car and do fine. Traffic is insane, and it's a free-for-all as far as rules go. Many people have small cars or a small SUV. You will get dinged or in an accident. If you are in love with your car, don't bring it. Roads are of so-so quality. The embassy GSO will do after-hours work reasonably. Parts are here, but they are pricey and hit or miss. Bring what parts you can, like wipers, oil filters, etc. There is no car-jacking that I've ever heard of... traffic doesn't move fast enough to be successful.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Ok service, about $50-$70 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Grameen phone, cheap and easy. We brought an ATT phone with unlocked codes and bought a sim card here. Have only refilled once in a year.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Pet care is good. Household help can take care of and walk the dog. No kennels. A couple of vets.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Several at the embassy and school, also out with NGOs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business at work, some business casual. In public, it is a muslim country, so it's better to be respectful - no cleavage, knees, shoulders, etc. I take a scarf everywhere I go to cover up a bit. No one would say anything if you didn't, but again, be respectful.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are frequent hartals, which are basically local strikes against the government. They do get violent, but not toward foreigners. Expats are quite safe, from what I've seen. Like anywhere, don't be out in bad areas at night. There is little to do then anyway. As a woman, I have felt very safe on my own walking uptown or in the markets.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good at the embassy med clinic. Local hospitals can tend to some common problems, but I wouldn't want to do anything too involved there. I was sent to Singapore for ultrasound and back to US for delivery. Health concerns are principally dengue fever and intestinal issues.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Poor air quality pretty much year 'round, trash burning, and open sewers. The dry season is especially hard, often seeing black stuff in tissues, even when not leaving the house for days.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is monsoon country. Someone once said that it is always dry-underwear season or wet-underwear season. It is always very humid, and temps often are 80-100F. There are a few cooler (60-80) months in the winter (Dec-Feb). Rainy (not all day) from May-October and very dry in the winter. We went from mid-Oct-March with hardly a drop of rain.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an AIS (American Intl School). We have only been in the pre-K program but are pleased with it. We have heard good things from K-12 families. Nice campus, huge diversity. Also French and Grace school have many expats.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I believe AISD can accommodate some special needs with success and care. No first-hand account.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Preschool at AISD ($7000-$8200 per year) or another preschool Jingle Bells (local and unsure of price). There are several others locally, but those these are the main ones. A full-time ayah (nanny) is widely available for about $150-200 a month, 6 days a week.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, via the schools. There is also a Boy Scout troop here. PreK has a ballet class, there is swimming and bollywood dance locally in limited supply.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty large, many NGOs are here. The embassy has about 100 US employees.
2. Morale among expats:
Good, it's currently a nice group of people. Everyone pretty well knows what they've signed up for when they come to Bangladesh.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Mostly at home or others' homes. Some with the school or embassy. You have to make your own fun here. A lot of activities are listed in the weekly embassy newsletter.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families! There is a large group here of all varieties. Families have a lot of time. Couples seem to do fine and travel a lot. Singles may have a bit of a harder time, but still there are many here and they stick together. Dating locally may be minimal, especially for women.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No prejudice locally. There are several gay/lesbian people in the community, and they seem happy, though there is no local dating.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Most people are muslims, but there are hindus, christians and buddhists here, too, in harmony. No prejudice that we see.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Some tours around the country were nice, but after you do it once, it is plenty. We enjoyed it as a jumping-off point to other SE Asia vacations, though it is pricey, and offers only inconvenient times for flights to get out of Dhaka. The household help is nice, and the people are friendly.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not a lot. You have to make your own fun through community events or get-togethers. There is an American Club where most people hang out, play tennis or swim. No malls, no movies, no fast food (hardly). Driving within the country is not really feasible.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wonderful and affordable pearls, beautiful fabrics, and affordable tailoring.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Dhaka is exotic for its color and people. Their is a wonderful family atmosphere, and household help is easy to find. You can save money... if you don't travel (but you will travel).
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't blow it on surrounding country travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, we'd still go. It has been a descent post and a good adventure. It's great for a young family if you can make your own fun. But would we come back a second time? Umm... nope. Once was an adventure, twice is just silly- there are too many other places out there to see.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes (unless you travel to Nepal/China/etc), love for malls/movies/entertainment.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, PATIENCE and favorite foods/toiletries, toys.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Bangladesh is about the size of Wisconsin with aprox 160 million people. The poverty and despair is immense. Prepare yourself to see sad things and impoverished people and many orphans. There is great need in Bangladesh, but it also has many beautiful qualities. Set your expectations realistically, or low, and you can have a nice tour here.