Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 04/11/13
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?
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?
Washington, DC It takes 2 days (22 hours) through Doha, Qatar or Bangkok + Narita.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Dhaka for almost two years, a third expat experience.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly apartments, either near the American Club (Gulshan 2) or the US Embassy (Baridhara). I'm single and I have a 3-bedroom apartment (or 2 bedrooms and an office). Many buildings have rooftop space (mine does). It is a 20-25 minute walk to work, an 8-minute rickshaw ride, or a 5 to 10 minute car ride (depending on traffic). It's either hot and dusty or hot and muddy all the time, so it's a little tricky to walk to work in the morning. Walking is okay in the cooler month(s) but then you have to beware of the swarms of mosquitoes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Less than in the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None. Maybe a bread machine.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC; CP Chicken (from Thailand); Pizza Hut.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are very bad from December through March. They are manageable the rest of the year. A bug net is essential (indoors with closed windows) during the height of mosquito season. Ants are also a problem, but they can be controlled with bug spray.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch and DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very cheap and readily available at less than $100/month for a housekeeper who works 5 days a week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The American Club has a small gym for members, as does the American School. Neither is state of the art, but both are okay (treadmills, some weight machines and free weights).
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?
Easy at the embassy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think so.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, available for free online.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I speak Bengali at a 2/2 level. That makes living here easy. Not sure what it would be like if I didn't speak the language.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Getting around in general could be difficult. The roads are uneven. Sidewalks are rare. It rains constantly for 3-4 months of the year.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No, use the motorpool. Trains are okay. Rickshaws are also okay.
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?
Buy a car here --- it will get beat up in traffic.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about $40/month for wireless internet.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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)?
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Relatively modest. Business and business-casual at work.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Sort of -- street protests that close down roads for the day, and some small explosions; but we've always been able to make it to work at the embassy. Protests can restrict mobility for embassy employees and their families to just the diplomatic enclave.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Our embassy RMO is very good. Otherwise, medevacs to Singapore.
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?
Very unhealthy. I keep two air filters running in my bedroom at all times and still suffer from allergies. Bring extra eye drops and allergy meds (they are inexpensive on the local market).
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid. It is chilly in December/January (60s during the days; 50s at night).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No personal experience with them (well, I sometimes use the gym and pool at the American School), but I hear good things from parents.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
No personal experience, but people seem to have no trouble finding inexpensive nannies (live in our out).
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The U.S. Embassy has about 130 American direct hires (I think).
2. Morale among expats:
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?
Much of it is socializing in private homes.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Have you read the UK Telegraph report? Dhaka was just rated the worst city to live in. I don't think the rating is entirely fair, but I wouldn't say it is a "good city" for any of the groups. It is a good city for anyone who likes to live in an interesting place and can appreciate the challenges of a hot, crowded, relatively poor mega-city. It is a good city for someone who likes living in a city that is definitely not in the Unites States or Switzerland or New Zealand -- and who approaches traffic jams with a sense of adventure.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
The sense of personal space in Dhaka is not like in the United States -- it's okay to be very close to other people of the same sex. Throughout Bangladesh, straight (and gay, I suppose) men hold hands in public. Two men holding hands would not seem strange to the locals. Culturally (and because of religion), homosexuality is frowned upon, but practically speaking, no one seems to notice.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. In some neighborhoods, religious minorities (Hindus and Buddhists) are persecuted. With respect to foreigners, all are stared at, but mostly people are just curious. It's frowned upon for women to walk around in shorts or short skirts. Everyone stares anyway -- so you can always take your chances. I've never had anyone say anything really offensive to me or physically threaten me.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Meeting my partner. Making friends inside and outside the embassy. Riding in rickshaws. My wonderful housekeeper. Going to weddings. Wearing saris. Going to inexpensive nail salons (I'm not much of a salon person, but I like them here). Watching street cricket matches (and playing pick up). Taking photographs (people are almost always willing to have their photo taken, and the city is visually interesting). Dhaka hipsters (yes, they exist). Using electronic mosquito-killing racquets.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Swimming and sitting by the pool at the ARA. Running the hash. Going sari shopping.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Saving money. Weather (it's always warm). The low cost of entertaining (sound systems, lights, DJ, food for 100 people runs about $150). Inexpensive china/porcelain. Custom tailoring, nice saris. The friendliness and sense of humor of most Bangladeshis (they recognize that this is a challenging place to live but make the best of it).
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
sense of adventure!
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?
I am departing in two months and will really miss this place. The charm far outweighs the challenges. It's probably a place I would never otherwise have visited. But I'm so glad I had a chance to live here. I've made some lifelong friends in Dhaka.