Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 04/11/17
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. I have served in many cities throughout the developing world: Latin America, Africa and South 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?
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartment in Baridhara, very close to the US Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are generally available, including a wide variety of imported goods, although imported items can be rather expensive sometimes. Unfortunately, US embassy staff are allowed to visit only one grocery store, so most grocery shopping has to be done vicariously, with variable results.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Bring everything you think you will need or want. Since US embassy personnel are not allowed to visit any local retail venues, it is difficult or impossible to obtain most household items locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
While many good restaurants can be found throughout the diplomatic enclave, including some excellent Thai, Chinese and other venues, Embassy staff are allowed to visit only one local restaurant. Food delivery services are available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Cockroaches, termites, weevils, spiders, geckos, rats, bats...and mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are ubiquitous and omnipresent...you will simply never escape them, constantly buzzing around you at home, at the Club, even in the embassy.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The US embassy provides mail through the DPO and pouch. Local mail service is very cheap and surprisingly reliable, but only use Registered Mail or the Express Mail Service, which provide tracking numbers.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household staff is widely available and quite affordable. Most expatriates here have at least a part-time cook or driver. Staff used to have "ayahs" to help with the kids, but since families are no longer allowed at post, they are no longer necessary.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The American Club and American School have gym facilities that can be accessed through membership in the American Club. The facilities are not great. The fee is $300 per 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?
Visa cards can be used locally at most of the upscale venues in the diplomatic enclave. However, Embassy staff are not allowed to visit any local retail establishments, so you will never really have an opportunity to use a credit card locally. There are reliable ATM machines in the Enclave, but US embassy staff are only allowed to use the ATM on the embassy grounds.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Local Protestant and Catholic churches offer services in English. There are also local Muslim, Bahai, Hindu and Buddhist communities that readily welcome foreigners, but they don't offer services in English. As it is, US embassy staff are prohibited from visiting any local religious establishments, except for the Vatican Nunciature next door to the US embassy, which offers Mass in English. There is also an informal group of US embassy staff who conduct Protestant services at homes every weekend.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Given the security restrictions, US embassy staff have almost no opportunity or need to use Bangla for daily living. Quite honestly, most embassy staff will never even meet any Bangladeshis except for their household staff and the local staff at the embassy, and they all speak English. While Bangla is an interesting language, there is really no point in bothering to learn it. One simply won't have the opportunity to ever use it since the embassy staff are completely isolated from the local population and have virtually no opportunity to meet or interact socially.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be nearly impossible for someone with physical disabilities to live and work in this city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local transportation is very cheap, widely available and completely off limits to Embassy staff. As it is, local transportation can be rather dangerous, so even in the best of times, embassy staff were limited to taking rickshaws around the Diplomatic Enclave. People also used to travel by train and river boat, but embassy staff are no longer allowed to travel for recreational purposes anywhere in Bangladesh, by any means.
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?
There is really no need to bring a car to post. Embassy staff are only allowed to drive within a one-mail radius...there really isn't anywhere to go, except to the office, the Club, and back. Many people share cars for this reason.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is generally available, not too expensive, and pretty reliable. The providers can install it very quickly, in just a day or two.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I did use a local provider but don't any longer. Since we cannot visit any local retail establishments, it would be impossible to sign up for a local provider nowadays. Since the Embassy provides mobile phones to all staff, there isn't any need, anyway.
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?
There are some local veterinarians, and some even make house calls.
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?
US mission spouses are only allowed at post if they are employed at the US embassy or the American School. A variety of jobs are available with local NGOs.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Given the security restrictions, the only volunteer opportunity is with a group that teaches English to the embassy local staff (local guards, custodial staff, etc.). Otherwise, embassy staff are restricted to a one-square mile area surrounding the embassy, and prohibited from visiting any local venue, for any purpose. Volunteering in this circumstances is virtually impossible.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work. Formal dress is rarely required. US embassy staff are not allowed to visit any public places, for any reason.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, there is an ongoing terrorist threat that will place US embassy staff under virtual house arrest throughout the duration of your tour.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue, chikungunya, flu, chronic respiratory problems, allergies, Nipa, Zika, H1N1, leprosy, tuberculosis, cholera and just about every other gastro-intestinal malady possible are rampant in Dhaka. In all truth, Dhaka is a fetid, densely populated petri dish, cultivating drug-resistant varieties of bugs as yet unknown to science.
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 abysmal, ranging from "unhealthy" to "hazardous" throughout the year. During the winter months, the air is heavily laden with dust and fine particulates. Most staff develop chronic coughs or bronchitis during this time. Anyone who has ever experienced asthma will most definitely suffer a relapse while in Dhaka. Air quality absolutely impacts health, and certainly not in a good way.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Such people should know not to come here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
In my opinion, a typical tour in Dhaka will entail perpetual affective disorder, depression and social isolation. In my experience, a tour in Dhaka is equivalent to forced confinement in house arrest. While the CLO and others try very hard to do what they can for morale, this is quite honestly the most difficult post I have ever served in throughout a 20+ year career.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is generally hot and humid, and the sky overcast. During the monsoon, it will rain frequently and become even more humid. The temperature is quite pleasant during the short winter season. However, the weather doesn't really matter since most embassy staff will never have any significant opportunity to be outdoors due to the security restrictions.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American School is very good, but children are no longer allowed at post, so it really doesn't matter.
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?
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 expatriate community is relatively small. Given the movement restrictions that apply to embassy staff, there are, however, few opportunities to visit or socialize with other expatriates outside the US embassy community. Morale among the US embassy staff is uniformly poor, in my opinion. People try to stay positive, but even experienced staff will say that Dhaka is probably the most difficult post they've ever served at.
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?
US embassy staff are prohibited from walking, using local transportation, or visiting any local commercial establishments, except for the American School, the American Club and few other diplomatic clubs. The expat community is fairly small, even smaller for most embassy staff since they will have few opportunities to meet or interact with expatriates from other countries.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Dhaka is a great post for single people who wish to stay single. Opportunities to date are virtually nonexistent. (For that matter, opportunities to socialize are virtually nonexistent.) Couples seem to do OK. Families are not allowed at post in view of the security restrictions.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
While there is a vibrant local LGBT community, most embassy staff will not have the opportunity to experience or interact with this community due to the security restrictions. Additionally, ISIS and AQIS have been targeting LGBT activists and brutally murdered an LGBT USAID staffer last year. I would not recommend Dhaka for LGBT expatriates.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes...minorities of any sort have been targeted for assassination by terrorists. Women face many, many issues in Bangladesh. Gender-based violence is rampant. Discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and the local tribal minorities is widespread.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The best part of a tour in Dhaka is the end of that tour, and the best thing about Bangladesh these days is leaving. Honestly, Bangladesh is a beautiful country with wonderful, warm, welcoming people, beautiful scenery and many interesting things to see and do. However, given the security restrictions, most embassy staff will never have the opportunity to do any of that. Most people fly to Kathmandu, Kolkata, Yangon or Bangkok to get away from the dreary, daily drudge at any opportunity.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Given the security restrictions, embassy staff are prohibited from doing pretty much anything that might qualify as fun or interesting.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are interesting handicrafts, antiques and artwork, but the only opportunity for shopping are the vendors that the CLO brings into the Embassy each week. Selection and quality are very, very limited. Most embassy staff nowadays will simply never have the opportunity to find or purchase the high-quality items.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known about the draconian movement restrictions.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
...sense of curiosity about the local culture...you'll never experience the local culture, and you'll never get to know the local people.
4. But don't forget your:
...whatever it takes to keep you occupied during the endless, dreary evenings you will spend alone in your apartment.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
My personal take: avoid a tour in Dhaka. While the differentials are high, they simply aren't high enough to justify losing two years of your life. You'll never get the time back, your service here won't be rewarded with anything special, and there are so many other, more interesting places to work. If you want high differentials, go to Pakistan. The quality of life there is infinitely better, you'll have far more freedom, and you'll make more money on top of that!