Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 12/26/21
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. Ho Chi Minh City, Shenyang, Taipei, and Yilan.
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?
East Lansing, MI. The easiest (hah!) route is through Chicago to Dubai, then to Dhaka. Plan for 24+ hours in the air.
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, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most people live in apartments, due to the instability of construction in this earthquake-prone zone. I was assigned to one of the two remaining free-standing houses in the pool. It was HUGE: three big bedrooms, four bathrooms, enormous laundry room. And a yard/mosquito breeding zone. I could walk to the Embassy in seven minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Average. Most grocery items are available, pending availability of shipments. There are a few specialty grocery stores that sell chips, sauces, cheese, etc. Embassy commissary has a nice supply of two-year-old bacon (I wish I were kidding) and frozen cheese. Local vegetables are OK, but need a lot of treatment (washing, pruning) before they are edible. Pork is unavailable on the local market (Muslim country), as is alcohol (thank God for the commissary). This isn't a consumables post, but it could/should be. Between the commissary, local grocery stores, and Amazon, you can get everything you need.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The lack of good, international restaurants is a real disadvantage to Dhaka. Even before the plague shut everything down, this was a tough place for foodies. The international clubs (American club, British club, Nordic club) are the main hangouts for foreigners. Food Panda is the go-to for food delivery.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are terrible during the dry season, which runs from about October until about May. Yes, that's most of the year. You will get bit. A lot. Accept it. DEET is your friend, as are those electric tennis rackets, and mosquito netting.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Packages from Amazon used to take 10-14 days. During the plague, it was anyone's guess. I think two months was the typical wait time. Don't use the local post service.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
This is a bright spot. We hit the jackpot with our housekeeper. We paid her about $350 per month for full-time help. That's on the high side of the spectrum, but she was worth it. She cleaned the house, did laundry and shopping, and cooked dinner for us. Also the odd errands like dry cleaning and shopping for specialty items on the local market. We also hired a gardener who came with the house. We paid him about $120/month, which, in my opinion, was on the high side.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The American club has a small gym. Pre-plague, you could buy a membership to the American School's 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?
I used a credit card in the Unimart, a western-style grocery store. In smaller shops, it's all cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The Vatican embassy, next-door to the US Embassy, has a regular mass.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I didn't get Bangla before coming to post, and it wasn't hard to operate on a basic level in Dhaka. Anyone who is educated has working-level English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes and no. Most people have drivers. Sidewalks are nowhere up to Western standards of barrier-free.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. Either get your own car (with or without a driver), or use the Embassy motorpool.
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?
Former British colony, so they drive on the "wrong" side of the road. Most people buy a car from a departing diplomat. The newsletter has regular advertisements.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is OK, I paid about $30/month for the fastest connection I could get. Adequate for streaming Netflix. There are three or four companies that provide service, they provide pretty good service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I brought an unlocked phone, got a post-paid SIM from the telecom folks in the Embassy, then used recharge.com to fill it up. I would up paying $5-10 a month for my data.
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?
I hear it's okay.
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?
Lots of Embassy jobs. Local salary standards are very low.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual mostly in the Embassy, business dress for outside meetings. Formal for Marine ball. Expectations are that women will dress modestly. Local women may cover their heads or not, it's a personal decision. Western women will get stared at (or worse) if wearing low-cut or sleeveless tops, or short dresses.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Google "Holey Bakery". It happened several years ago, but post is still recovering. The Embassy's Security stance is conservative. Extremist and terrorist groups exist in Bangladesh, but the actual threat that they pose is unknown. The local government seems to use it as an excuse for oppressive security policies.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Mosquito-born diseases, except malaria. Food-born disease. Medical care is OK. The health unit can handle minor aches and pains. There are some adequate hospitals. MedEvac is to Singapore or Bangkok.
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?
Bad air in the winter. Very bad. Use the air filters. Wear N95 masks.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The air is very humid. Mold is everywhere. Use your dehumidifiers, keep them running 24/7.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
You get three R&Rs for a reason. Take them.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Always hot. Rainy season lasts about 4 months. Get high boots if you want to walk to work, or walk anywhere. It never gets cold, it's never snowed in recorded history of the country.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The local school has a very good reputation.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small expat community. Morale varies. During the plague, it was low. Most people who are here, want to be here.
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?
The international clubs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for families. Single people would have difficulties. The mores of Muslim culture dominate. Dating isn't a thing, most marriages are arranged.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Plenty of prejudices, which stem from ignorance rather than malice. I was pleasantly surprised at how open-minded our local employees are.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. LGBT rights are not recognized. Google "Xulhaz Mannan".
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian minorities are discriminated against. It's still a male-dominated society. Single women are vulnerable, second-class citizens.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
In-country personal travel isn't allowed. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to travel outside the city at all, and the plague hit just when I was planning to do regional travel. In theory, Bhutan is a one-hour, direct flight away. India is nearby as well. Many people go to Bangkok for a getaway. The Maldives is also accessible.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There's some folk art.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Low cost of living. You can save money, since there isn't much to do, and not much to buy.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Romantic views of poverty.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you have any other comments?
Before coming to Dhaka, I honestly believed that I could be happy anywhere. Not anymore. Bangladesh will test your optimism and challenge your faith in humanity. I cried more times in my two years in Dhaka than I have in any two-year time period since infancy. If you can see past the full dose of human misery that you will encounter every day, you might realize that this is one of those places where the work that you do matters. You literally can make a positive difference in someone's life every day. I can't say that I enjoyed my time in Dhaka, but I also think that I'm a better person for having had the experience.