Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 06/10/19
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've also lived in several European and Middle Eastern cities.
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?
USA. The trip to Dhaka was about 21 hours, and is not very difficult (just looooooong).
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?
My housing was very nice. An oversized luxury apartment, with marble floors, 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a nice kitchen, and servants' quarters that I used for storage.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is good at the farmer's markets. The local fixed-price stores are ok, but more expensive, limited, and sometimes a bit (or a lot) wilted. IMO, fresh milk is good and inexpensive, but I ONLY purchased mine at Gourmet Bazar and sometimes Lavendar, as they both have a closed cold-storage container. I would stay away from Unimart unless they change their milk storage, which is currently an open cold-case, meaning that the milk on top is often close to room temperature. Often, I would find that my milk (processed only a couple days ago) had gone sour. UHT (box) milk is also abundant. Cheese is available, but expensive and limited. Generally speaking, Asian good products are widely available. Beef is available, with Bengal Meats being a good product. Pork is also available, but only at The German Butcher. If you want, they sell primal cuts that you can break down yourself (e.g half-pig).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I shippped mostly Latin food products.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food Panda is great, as is Hungry Naki. You can also find restaurants that deliver.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes. Mosquitos everywhere from Nov-April. Be sure to seal your house as thoroughly as possible; not just for mosquitos, but also for the wicked-bad air pollution during that same time frame. Expanding foam, caulk, and duct tape are your friends. If there is an outside opening, block it.
On occasion, I also saw roaches.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
US Embassy mail system. I don't know of any other facilities.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is inexpensive. You need to give specific directions and guidance, VERY specific sometimes. You may find that they will attempt to borrow money in the form of pay advances (that they generally can't repay). As with any employee, if they aren't serving your needs, then move them along to another opportunity.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
Yes, but be careful. CC fraud is pretty common. ATMs are widely available in Dhaka, and are generally safe.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Local language helps, but is not necessary. There are plenty of language courses available.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, they are. They are also generally packed with people and unsafe. Bus drivers are especially bad in Bangladesh, with little regard for road and passenger safety. I would avoid them if possible. CNGs (Tuk-Tuks in some areas) are tri-wheeled scooters with an enclosed seat area. They are driven by bus drivers who were too unsafe to drive a bus. I'd stay away from them, too. Last, there are abundant rickshaws. Slower and sometimes safer versions of the CNG.
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?
I didn't bring one, as there are plenty of used cars available.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. I got a 50 MBPS fiber-optic for about $200 per month. Faster packages are available. It was on and working when I arrived (thanks to an AWESOME pair of social sponsors).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I had an Embassy-provided phone which was good enough. I also had a personal phone I used when I travelled. voice and data plans are available.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of NGOs around, but I don't know much.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
I enjoy wearing suits, so that's what I normally wore. Dress code at the office ranged from suit/tie to business casual. Local fashion was worn on some days. The diplomatic community had the normal range of formal events (Marine Ball, Burns Supper, etc).
I will make a plug here for the local tailors. They range from VERY good and expensive designers to cheap (but good enough) tailors.
- Zurhem is a fantastic and well-recognized designer who insists on quality and perfection - at a price.
- Dapper Bespoke is an extremely good tailor - high quality fit and materials. A bit less expensive than Zurhem, but well worth it.
- KL Sweden and Ferduz - Ok for an inexpensive daily wear suit that is a slight step up from "off the rack" regarding fit. Medium quality materials. You need something tomorrow? They can probably do it.
With any of the tailors, you can bring your own material in. The quality tailors will only work with high quality fabrics.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, especially for women. Unwanted touching (e.g. "accidental" brushing up, bumping with hands, and straight-up groping) is not uncommon. Rapes and sexual assault are also a common occurrence. Get used to being stared at and approached for dates, rides in cars, coffee, etc. This behavior cuts across all societal spectrums from beggars to Bangladeshi diplomats and senior ranking officials.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air seems like it will straight-up kill you, no joke. It's the worst in the world during the winter time, and the Bangladeshi government is fairly impotent in to resolve it. Bring a high-quality air-filter mask. Bring a high-quality air cleaner. The Embassy issues four Blue Air filters to each residence at the moment. Bring two to three more, not kidding. Also, see above about sealing your house.
The quality of medical care is middling. Will they save you if you are dying? Probably, yes. There is a new clinic that has opened up in Banani called, "Praava." VERY good.
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?
In the Winter, Dhaka's air quality is among the worst in the world. Go back to the last sentence and read it again. Read it several more times. I'm not messing around here.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I have no allergies, so I can't really expound on this.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD is not really an issue here. The constant sensory overload from honking horns, pungent body odor, packed streets, unwanted stares and touching, wrong-way driving can be overwhelming.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter time is cool, and dry, but poor air quality and mosquitos. Summer is hot and humid.
There are a few "sweet spot" days in the fall and spring.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several good ones, but I never interacted with them.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's a fairly robust community, and the adversity brings us together. The morale is ok.
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?
Parties and clubs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Single people, dating life can be challenging. Tinder is .... just don't do it if you're a woman. Men seem to do ok.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not really, no. LGBT are not widely accepted and violence does not seem uncommon.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes. I don't know of any prejudices.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women seem to be marginalized in Bangladesh.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Interesting photographic and shopping opportunities. I wasn't able to travel around much. There are, however, fantastic opportunities for regional travel.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The usual tourist spots are interesting, as is the old river port in Sadarghat, and the surrounding neighborhood, filled with shops.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. Interesing knick-knacks, baskets, prints, art, and soft-goods.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You can practice your resilience techniques on a daily basis
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Nothing, I was pretty well informed and prepared.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Pollution mask and air filter.
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?