Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 03/13/09
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
One year so far, one year to go.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Embassy employee.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Connecting through Dubai on Emirates from the East Coast. Hong Kong from the West Coast.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
A mix of apartments and houses. All are huge, although we hear the units in the housing pool are going to get smaller in the future, there is no evidence of that yet. Almost all are within 10-15 minutes of the Embassy (walking or driving).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Moderate on the local market. Expensive if you want to eat the way you do back home. The commissary is very good, but costs add up quick. With pouch and APO, we can order almost everything else.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
If you like to BBQ, ship a grill, and anything that is too big for the pouch or APO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a Pizza Hut, but I have never been. Most of the fast food chains here are knock offs. The best legit fast food chain here is Nando's. Many of the local restaurants are quite good and have a variety to choose from - Korean, Japanese, Indian, Thai, even Tex-Mex.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are a problem year round, but the worst in the winter. Malaria is not a problem in Dhaka, which is a relief. However, dengue fever is during monsoon season.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use pouch or APO/DPO. It takes about 2 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful. Cooks/maids, drivers, and ayas are US$100-200/month. It is almost necessary to have a cook/maid for shopping and cleaning your enormous apartment/house.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The American School has a nice gym that is very affordable.
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?
It is dicey. We use the ATM at the Embassy almost exclusively or cash checks at the Embassy bank. Some businesses and the big hotels accept credit cards, but it is mostly a cash economy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think there are two English language churches. I am not aware of any other religious services available in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. Newspapers and cable are cheap and available in English.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. You can get by in English, but Bangla does make things easier.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. There are no public accommodations for people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All public transportation is cheap, but it is not always recommended/authorized by the powers that be. That said, we took the train for a weekend trip and enjoyed it. Taxis, rickshaws, and buses are an adventure I would not recommend, especially not at night.
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?
One that you don't mind getting dinged up, because it will. A rickshaw will hit you at least once while you are here. And probably a car too. Most people either buy cars when they get here or order from Japan.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but it is not really high speed. You are also given a download/upload quota. Prices start at US$20/month, but we pay US$80/month to support our download habit. It is fast enough to do video chat on Skype and iChat (which is much better sound quality than using a land line).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get one. They are cheap and coverage is great.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
If you work in public health or development, you have a good chance of finding something worthwhile. Almost every development organization and international ogranization is represented here. There are some jobs at the Embassy, but they are mainly clerical.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at the Embassy, but it depends on the section. Most men do not wear a suit every day. Women rarely have to wear suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Very unhealthy. Air pollution in the city is horrible and worse in the winter when everyone is burning garbage. Noise pollution is also a huge annoyance.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
The best news - no malaria prophylaxis.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The biggest security hazard is walking or driving on the chaotic streets. We have not felt threatened by crime since we have been here, but we have heard of some incidents of theft targeting expats. Most incidents have occured at night while walking or taking a rickshaw. For the most part, we feel pretty safe.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is a regional medical officer. There are also two decent hospitals for basic care. Everything else requires medivac.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry or hot and wet for 8 months of the year. Mild and pleasant from December to March.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Don't have kids. We hear that the American School is great through middle school, but there are many unhappy high school parents.
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?
People with small children have nannies called ayas. I think their average pay is about US$100-200/month.
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?
Medium. Lots of expats working in the development field and some in the garment sector.
2. Morale among expats:
Varies, but on average I would say good. People generally try to make the best of it.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Entertaining at home is the main form of entertainment. The international clubs host big parties often. There is a long and active ball season that starts in October.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Couples and families with small children seem to have the best experience here. Most singles have a hard time, but some do okay. There is a big expat community from the NGO and garment sectors with a decent single's scene.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. If you are not brining a partner and want to have a dating life, do not come here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Definitely. This is a majority Muslim country with deeply ingrained gender disparity that is both religious and cultural. It can be frustrating to live and work here.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Tennis is very popular and very cheap. Golf is also cheap and accessible. The American Club has a pool and tennis courts and most Embassy people hang out there for at least part of the weekend. If you have a friend with a boat share, short day trips on the river are great. There is not a lot to choose from in the way of weekend trips, but it is possible and there is a good tour company that arranges cultural excursions that are quite good. There is always shopping. And you can't miss the Sunderbauns.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Pearls, rattan and teak furniture, saris, rickshaw art.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, but we haven't saved much. There are tons of places to travel to in the region and it is expensive to get out of Dhaka. There is also a big temptation to fill your huge house with stuff.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It has been a great first tour for us. I don't know if we see ourselves coming back, but you never know...
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, anonymity, new car.
3. But don't forget your:
Mosquito repellent, sense of adventure, patience.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
7. Do you have any other comments?
Dhaka is a hard city to live in and it is easy to feel cooped up. I think more than two years would be difficult.