Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 07/25/23
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 lived in East Asia and Europe for several years prior to coming to Dhaka.
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 trip from DC is a 22-27 hour affair. It's exhausting and long, typically through Dubai or Doha. Traveling around Asia is easy once you're here, but it is always an ordeal to leave this region.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Diplomatic Mission.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The housing is split between two neighborhoods. One is better for families because it is near the embassy and the international school. The other neighborhood has restaurants and shopping and access to most of the international clubs but it's a little farther from the embassy.
Some buildings are very old and in shambles and some are brand new with some in between. Some have pools and some don't. It feels very random and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised or in a pit of jealousy based on what you end up in. Some employees float in their infinity pool while others desperately attempt to tape the 3 inch gap in their window panes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are few things that I haven't been able to find and ended up having to order on Amazon (which is a lifesaver). If you shop at the grocery store chains in the diplomatic area you will pay higher than US prices for almost everything. You can get very cheap staples and veggies in local markets if you want to put in the effort to do that. Most people have their housekeeper do grocery shopping at local markets to guarantee local prices. It's difficult to find western cheese or heavy cream or some other forms of dairy. I assumed before I came that everything would be very cheap, but it's not.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I wish I had loaded my HHE with cleaning supplies, seasonings, sparkling water cans, toilet paper, etc. Luckily you can get most things on Amazon except for the heavy liquids. I thought everything would be super cheap here, but even clothes hangers at the store are $5 for 5 hangers! I can get 50 hangers on Amazon for $10. It's a stupid example, but I was just really shocked how expensive everything is especially considering the low quality. Everything is cheap plastic from China. I bought a $20 mop here and it's already broken. Just bring anything you think you could possibly need during your time here. Other people just deal with it, spend the money, or make it their housekeeper's problem. You know yourself better than anyone else.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
After that rant I have to say the restaurant food is good here. The diplomatic zones have some very good and very fancy restaurants. Good steaks, sushi, chinese, indian, fast food, pizza, burgers, etc. There are American style places with burgers and milkshakes, some semblance of mexican food, bao buns, a nice variety. Food Panda delivers most food except for the fancy places. I enjoy the local food too, especially the fried stuff.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Endless biological warfare against dengue-ridden mosquitos. The entire winter the air is thick with mosquitos and the entire city turns into a chemical-soaked bug bomb. You will choke on burning coconut husk and deet while swatting your body and crying. In the summer it's mostly better except random blooms of life like when we woke up to thousands of dead crickets all over our apartment.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Amazon is a lifesaver and they might as well rebrand our mailroom to an Amazon Warehouse since it's always filled with packages with people needing a cart to get all of their boxes into their car. It typically takes 1 to 3 weeks for an order to show up, but in my personal experience the mail has arrived ahead of schedule almost every time and really improves your quality of life.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Almost everyone has some kind of help whether a nanny, driver, housekeeper, cook, or a combination. People typically pay between $100 and $300 a month for a full time employee, but often people share an employee part-time or make creative arrangements. Overall it's cheap enough that you might as well go in on it and you're supporting a local family that way. I had never had a housekeeper before, but the housing is so big and it's so dusty that I just didn't want to have to keep up with the mopping and dusting. Also as I mentioned earlier you will probably want a driver or a housekeeper to do your market shopping for you as well. It will improve your life and give work to someone that needs it.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most apartments have a "gym" meaning a shoddy treadmill and a weight bench. The American club and the International school have nicer gyms if that is your thing. I'm not aware of any local gym facilities.
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?
You can use credit cards in the diplomatic zones almost anywhere. but anything on the local market will require cash like when you need a rickshaw or if you have to pay someone off. I withdraw a large amount of cash from the embassy cashier monthly and self-bank that way. I'm primarily cash-based here.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
If you hang around the diplomatic area English is enough. Rickshaw drivers may not be able to chat, but they will understand road numbers if you need to go somewhere. I tried to learn Bangla before I came, but once I got here I stopped putting in the effort because it didn't feel too beneficial. Learn hello and thank you and some numbers and you're good for any situation.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Someone with disabilities would have difficulties in any developing country and it's no different here. Terrible (or nonexistent) sidewalks, insane and chaotic traffic, steep ramps if there even is one, few elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Rickshaws are the baseline of transit here and is usually the only allowable public transit for us. Recently Uber was approved but only with certain conditions. Most people walk, rickshaw, or have a driver. In my experience, when walking, people will beg for money and stare at you, on a rickshaw, people will stare at you (and the driver will overcharge you), in a private car, people will knock on your window and beg for money and stare at you, but you have air conditioning in this case.
Some people make it through without having a bad experience and become very mobile with their emboldened confidence, while other people have a bad experience and end up shut up in their house the rest of their tour. I personally avoid moving about the city as best as I can because it's exhausting dealing with the traffic and the constant attention. Again, you know yourself better how you feel about it.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
I recommend anything that's small. When a road is two lanes wide it will have three or four cars driving side by side. If you have a big car it will delay you while you wait for smaller vehicles to make space for you (and they wont). The road quality in the diplomatic zones is overall very good and flat. I haven't seen any potholes or any reason why you would need a big SUV. Cars on the local market are EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE ($38,000 for a 2003 Honda Civic for example). They're so outrageously expensive that I truly do not understand how traffic is so bad here. How is anyone affording a car? Most people at the embassy buy a car from a coworker, but supply has been short. You can import a car for much cheaper from the US or Japan, but will need to wait for it to arrive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is decent here. I've always been able to download things and stream HD. Sometimes it will go out for a day here and there, but overall the quality is on par with the US and even Comcast back home didn't work all the time. You can get a good internet package for like $30 a month and you can get very responsive installation and repair services if you tip for it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Grameenphone is probably the best one and very cheap. Get a prepaid since I've heard the process of getting a real account is a big ordeal.
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?
Dogs will not enjoy life here. There is practically no green space and wild dogs line the streets so it may not be a great experience trying to walk them. There is a good vet around that people use. A cat would be a fine pet to have 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?
Most either get jobs at the embassy or work remotely online. Some people do contracting gigs with development NGOs.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I'm not aware of anything formal, but if you're creative it would be very easy to start something.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Most people wear ties or dress nicely at work, but some employees wear jeans and flip flops. The vibe is that you're expected to dress in business, but some people ignore it.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I have never felt unsafe here and haven't heard of any incidents. In general be aware of your surroundings if alone. The poverty leads to desperation in some people and if anything that would be the motivation for a petty crime, but I've never seen a culture of crime here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The pollution is very very very very bad. There are also heavy metals in the foods and reports of lead poisoning. In the winter the city sets off bug bombs billowing with poisonous chemicals. If you drink the water you will die. Any medical issue will require a flight 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?
This is by far the hardest part about living here. It will affect every aspect of your life. You will need to change your behavior. You read other posts from other countries and see everyone whines about their air pollution, but when you google the numbers it'll be 4 times better there than here. Those people don't know what bad air pollution is. Often the worst in the world here, but if not, it's top 5 on the planet. It is truly bad and dangerous and worthy of complaint.
On the AQI scale of 0-500 it will reach 500 in the winter. You read a post from Vietnam and they write that their air quality is bad in the winter and you Google it and it was only 150 there. If an AQI of 150 harms you and compels you to write on the internet about it then do not set foot here. If you have ever lived in a country and thought the air is bad there then just do not come here. Often when the plane is landing you can't even see the runway.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Best of luck.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The air quality and movement restrictions require you to be very resilient. Some coworkers fall into a depression or become terrible versions of themselves others are all smiles. You have to be mentally positive and resilient to make it here. This post really highlights people's weaknesses.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very hot and humid most of the year. It can get into the 60s in the winter. It doesn't seem to rain very often, but the sky is gray most of the year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I have only ever heard glowing praise of the schools here. They seem of such high quality that people try to extend their tours so their kids can stay at the school longer. If you have school-aged children this will probably be the best reason to come here.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't know, but probably pretty good about it.
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?
Most people have full-time nannies or do child-swap day groups. I'm not aware of a formal day 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?
Fairly small. In a city of millions of people it's rare that you will see a westerner on the sidewalk. When you see one it's noteworthy and everyone is like "who is that? does anyone know them?" Morale ranges wildly. Some people have never been this unhappy in their lives while some people are all smiles. This place will take whatever your baseline personality trait is and will amplify it time 100. If I had to do a survey I'd surmise that most of the expat community is at a numb flatline just going through the motions.
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?
People's houses, planned events, or the international clubs are really the only options. The clubs are a nice perk but they get old fast. If you crave variety in your life this isn't the place. You will do the same thing every week with the same people. It's groundhog day.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Probably good for single men. Most single men end up spending time with a lady here. I think it's harder for single women since local men typically don't treat women well. It's best for families, but with the pollution you might not want to bring a child here. It's ironic that a place that is set up to be best for children is actually the worst for children healthwise.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I think it's very easy to make local friends here. There are gender and religious issues abound though.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is an LGBT community here that is small. Overall the public view is not tolerant. A gay local employee was murdered here a few years ago. I don't think anything bad would happen to an expat for being gay here, but the disgust is palpable.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Absolute highlight is taking a dinner cruise down the river through the farmland.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
You make your own fun here.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Endless displays of local crafts. Mostly baskets and rugs. Some art and furniture. This is a great place for local stuff, but if you ask me I'm skeptical that most of it is truly handmade or even made in Bangladesh. If you can convince yourself everything you're buying is authentic then you will have a great time buying things here. There is a lot of variety.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
2 hour flight to Bangkok, 1 hour to Kathmandu
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known how isolated I would feel. I was going to say I wish I knew about how bad the pollution was but I can't do anything about that so it wouldn't have made a difference.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I'm not actively miserable here, but I would truly like to never come here again. The thought of coming back here after I leave would give me a panic attack.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
lungs and lifestyle
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I watched an interesting documentary on youtube but I don't remember the name.
6. Do you have any other comments?
I don't want to sound overly dramatic and scare anyone off. I really think this country has a lot of potential and it's what you make of it. I'm not the kind of person that thrives in hardship so it's been harder for me. Many others are living their life to the fullest here. You just have to know yourself and put in the effort to be happy.