Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 07/28/14
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?
No - Beijing, Paris.
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?
26 hours from Washington, DC.
3. How long have you lived here?
8 months and counting.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
All embassy housing is within 3km of the Embassy. Large apartments, weird layouts but plenty of space. Not many houses left, as they're torn down and apartments are built. Nothing is seismically safe despite being an earthquake zone. This place will put Haiti to shame some day.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very good commissary; 3 local grocery stores have large selection of imported goods; Direct Fresh BD delivers imported and local goods to your home. Selection varies, people tend to hoard when they find something they like. Costs are similar to the U.S., higher for some products and lower for others. The more you can shop local, the more money you'll save.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Favorite toiletry brands; dehumidifiers; every painting I ever loved (framing is CHEAP and good quality here).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pizza Hut, A&W, KFC, Pizza Roma, Nandos, BBQ (Korean chain), Gloria Jeans (Austalian chain), lots of local restaurants deliver an hour after you call to order. Prices are about half what you'd pay in the U.S., except at U.S. chains, where price is equivalent. Rumor has it Burger King is coming.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Roaches, ants, wasps, spiders are common everywhere. Mosquitos are a real problem especially during dengue season. Malaria is not present in the city, supposedly.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available; pay depends on hours and experience, but roughly US$150-250/month for a full time servant, nanny, driver, or cook. Locals pay their staff less and work them harder, inhumane by western standards, so it's easy to find good help if you know where to look, because expats are the preferred employers.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Small gym at the Club; better gym at AIS/D if you have kids or are willing to pay US$200/year.
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?
Don't. Just don't. There's an ATM on compound that's safe, but every other ATM is like playing russian roulette with your personal information. Bring LOTS of checks - you will use them to get cash from the bank, to pay at the commissary, to load money onto your club account, etc. several checks each month.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
American Club has a non denominational church on Fridays (Sunday-Thursday work week).
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, unless you want to go rural or really native.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Think dirt or stone roads without sidewalks, crumbling staircases, etc. The only culturally acceptable occupation for those with disabilities is begging. Maybe they could use a good positive role model.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. CNGs are metal death traps on three wheels. Rickshaws are the most common place to get pick pocketed. Buses are held together with spit and tape, imported after they are decommissioned in other countries, like China, and usually over crowded including the roof. Most of it's prohibited, so plan to buy a car. Regional trains are 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?
Left hand drive is preferred but not required; nothing too low (lots of potholes and flooding), nothing too big (narrow streets and crazy traffic), nothing older than 5 years from manufacture can be imported by diplomats; try importing from Japan, as the dip plate market is very small with more buyers than sellers. Only one car per household, lot of restrictions. Your car WILL get banged up, scratched, dinged, hit here, so be ready to accept it. Most people install extra external bumpers.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, expensive and inconsistent speeds; plans starting from US$50/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you don't have a blackberry, bring an unlocked phone. Good data and a lot of talk/texting will run you about 1,000tk (US$12.50)/month
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?
No quarantine, but it's expensive and complicated to import and export. There's a vet who will come to your house (no clinic) and neuter your cat on your kitchen table. You get to clean up afterward.
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?
Mostly NGO work or local salary levels.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Mostly working with slum kids.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative. Local women wear the shalwar kameez, which is designed to hide the fact that a woman actually has a body underneath all that fabric. Many local women also wear head scarves. Foreign women should avoid exposed knees, shoulders or cleavage in professional settings and expect to be followed around if exposing the same in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Mobs, traffic incidents are common; political instability and rioting around recent elections but that's calmed down and was never focused toward foreigners; pick pocketing (especially on rickshaws) and the occasional expat targeted mugging; rabies from the stray dogs.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care here is abysmal. Most expats go to the icddrb which works with CDC; diplomats have Embassy doctors, or go to Singapore. Even the locals go to Singapore when they're really sick.
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?
Air quality is some of the worst in the world - estimated to be worse than Delhi or Beijing; gastrointestinal illness is extremely common; water quality is terrible including presence of arsenic; much of the local produce and meat are laden with formalin and hard metals (expats spend a fortune buying imported); stray dogs all over the streets; locals tend to be lazy; huge (disturbing) beggar population which mutilates their own children as it is a generational family "business" and the disfiguration "helps" them "earn" more money; nothing to do in town.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot. November-February is in the 70s F. March-June is humid but no rain, hot and muggy, temps in the 100s F with heat index in the 130s-140s F. Monsoon season follows; it is much more bearable and the cleanest time of year as the brick factories shut down when the rice paddies flood. It rains for just an hour or two on most days - beautiful lightning storms.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
AIS/D is where most kids go. There's also a French school, and a Christian school I think?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
AIS/D is supposed to be good for "middle of the road" kids - too smart or too many special needs and they won't do well there. Don't expect your kid to get an IEP.
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?
Expensive. Parents complain a lot.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Through school only, I believe. There is Scouts though.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large; a little crazy. A lot of rich Bangladeshis have dual citizenship and mingle with the expats. Expats have a mix of reactions to this. Most of the community revolves around the clubs and the numerous annual balls, or around school for families.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Expat clubs. No one else has alcohol - Bangladesh is "Super Muslim" (as the t-shirt we all love says). Some of the bigger hotels host parties. Dinner parties. Board Games.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families like it here. Singles either get into the club scene or go slowly crazy. Everyone travels as much as they can.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
The expat community is great; Bangladesh is extremely conservative in this area, unfortunately.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Goats, monkeys, mongoose sightings daily; elephants stopping cars for bribes; strong expat community, including the clubs; regional travel.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
American Club pool and bar; Nordic Club spa; lots of board games. Jamuna Future Park now has a movie theater and bowling alley, in addition to the world's shadiest roller coasters and the hilarious food court. Lots of foreign restaurants in the Dip Enclave.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lungis. Pearls. Bone china. Bronze cast statutes.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Saving money; cheap spa services; good Indian food; cheap household help (including live-in); cheap framing for art; bone china (1/10th to 1/4th the cost of the U.S.).
10. Can you save money?
Yes. A thousand times yes. There is almost nothing to spend it on.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The pollution is rotten in the winter, but it gets better during monsoon season. Monsoon season really is the best. Don't drink the water in the shower or brush your teeth with it. The rules to cricket.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I think so. Even though life here sucks sometimes, the community is really good, and the culture is interesting. And it's just two years. I wouldn't move here indefinitely.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Short skirts, rain coats (too hot!), high heels, weapons.
4. But don't forget your:
Umbrella, easy to wash sandals, costumes (so many costume balls and parties for expats), maxi dresses, light scarves.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Michael C. Hall recently did a series on Dhaka I think.