Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 06/17/16
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; cities in South America, Europe, and East Asia.
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?
The U.S. Flights from the East Coast can be done in one connection, generally through Istanbul, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Doha, and take around 20 hours plus layovers. Flights from the West Coast take a little longer and may require two connections, generally through Tokyo, Hong Kong, and/or Bangkok.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Almost everyone is in apartments, which typically have 3-4 bedrooms, and are located in the Baridhara and Gulshan neighborhoods around the Embassy. Commute times depend on traffic -- it can (and has) taken 30 minutes to drive the 0.5 miles home to Baridhara from the Embassy, and it could take up to 1.5 hours to get to Gulshan.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are a few home delivery grocery services, including Direct Fresh and Chaldal, and groceries from there are generally safe and cheap. There are a few local grocery stores with reasonably safe goods that are popular among expats. The Embassy commissary has lots of options, and I've gradually come to do most of my grocery shopping there and online via Amazon.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Most things are available on Amazon. I wish I had shipped some things that are not allowed on air freight: alcohol, certain cleaning supplies, nail polish and nail polish remover, etc. Chocolate should be hand-carried or else it'll melt in the mail (although I've had good luck ordering chocolate online in the winter).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a few high-quality restaurants, although the choices have decreased since the Embassy community is now restricted to a small part of the diplomatic zone. Food Panda, Hungry Naki, and some individual restaurants will deliver.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes, mosquitoes and weevils are everywhere, as well as the occasional huge cockroach or spider. The mosquitoes here carry everything except malaria. Freeze all of your food to avoid weevil infestations. Bringing some liquid ant traps is also a good idea.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via DPO and pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available and very inexpensive. Most expats have a driver and some sort of household help (maid, ayah, and/or cook).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The American Club has a small and basic gym. AISD has larger facilities, including a swimming pool. Both are free to Embassy employees and family members.
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?
More and more places, especially restaurants and shops frequented by the expat community, are beginning to accept credit cards. I've used my credit card many times without incident, although it's a good idea to use cash if you're at all doubtful about the establishment's ability to protect your information. The Embassy ATM is the only one I use.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most people get by without any Bengali.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I'm sure they're very affordable, but they're not safe. RSO has prohibited the Embassy community from using public 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?
Import restrictions allow only cars less than 5 years old. Don't bring a car that you care about, as it will suffer from the Dhaka roads, humidity, and general abuse that the environment here will throw at it. It is best to bring a 20-year old SUV with high road clearance. These are widely available to buy within the diplomatic community.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, my internet is fast enough to stream TV, and costs around $45/month. The installation process requires a lot of patience, as workmen will arrive up to 6 hours late (if they arrive at all), and will need to come back several days in a row to drill holes in the wall/window to run the cables.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM card, which costs around $10-12/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?
Not sure, as I don't have a pet, but I can't imagine that there are good veterinary services here.
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?
It's very difficult for spouses to find work outside of the Embassy. There are limited jobs at AISD and at local NGOs for spouses who qualify. Salary scales on the local economy are very low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There used to be volunteer opportunities with local schools, but I am not sure that they are available anymore, under the current movement restrictions.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual within the Embassy, casual outside. Men and women should avoid wearing shorts, and women should avoid exposing shoulders, legs, and cleavage. Long skirts/maxidresses and a light shawl to cover the shoulders and chest are a good idea for women.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. ISIS and AQIS are active in Bangladesh, despite the current government's claims that the opposition party is to blame for the attacks. There are also domestic terror groups that have been active for some time. Embassy personnel are prohibited from walking, biking, taking rickshaws and public transportation, and moving about in the open; and are also restricted to a small part of the diplomatic zone.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Lots of health concerns. The air is terrible in the winter, when people burn trash for heat, and many people contract a cough that won't go away as a result. Medical care here is not good, and people go to Bangkok or Singapore for any health needs. I've heard that dental care here is decent, although I don't have personal experience with it. The movement restrictions and general unpleasantness of being outside will cause weight gain. Food safety is also a concern. Bring anti-diarrheals, a treadmill, and vitamins.
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?
The Embassy recently installed an air-quality monitor, which has confirmed that the air quality here is terrible. Large particulate pollution in the winter, in particular, causes breathing issues. Don't come here if you have asthma.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Just the mental health issues that result from being under constant terror threat and being required to live under strict movement restrictions.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid, with around 8 weeks of relatively cool and dry weather (which corresponds to terrible air quality). Monsoon weather in the summer.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most Embassy children attend AISD, but I don't have personal experience with the school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium-sized. Morale is not good, although people are trying to do their best in a tough situation.
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?
Lots of entertaining at home and in the expat clubs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It might be good for families with young children, but it is not good for anyone else.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, ISIS and AQIS are targeting LGBT folks. A prominent LGBT activist and USAID LES was hacked to death two months ago.
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?
I've made a lot of friends in the Embassy community, which is rallying in a very difficult situation.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are fewer things to do in Dhaka these days, but it's easy and relatively cheap to fly to Kolkata or Bangkok.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Pearls, artwork, framing, fabrics (especially silk), brass statuary, rickshaws and rickshaw art, custom-made clothing.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The work is interesting and demanding.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The terrorist threat. How difficult it would be to exercise.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?