Bangladesh is all-too-often assumed to be nothing but an offshoot of India or Pakistan, but to do that is to sell the country well short. It has much in common with both places, to be sure, but it also has enough of its own identity to make Bangladesh a unique and distinct experience. The garment and textile industries have experienced a boom in recent years, resulting in jobs for citizens (although often in poor and unsafe factories) and “Made in Bangladesh” tags on clothing found around the world. In fact, textiles and garments account for 80% of Bangladesh’s annual export. International manufacturing companies have set up shop in the country in order to keep expenses down, but often at the expense of employee safety and health. It’s a situation that the Bangledesh government has pledged to fix.
A Bit of Background
The history of Bangladesh stretches back thousands of years, and it was under the dominion of both the Mughal Empire and Maratha Empire at various times in the past few centuries. This lasted up until the Britain East India Company assumed control of the area in 1757, and didn’t really relinquish power until their exit from the subcontinent in 1947. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh - it’s current incarnation - came into being on March 26, 1971, when it declared independence from Pakistan. The country is now a unitary parliamentary republic, with centralized power and control under a president and Prime Minister. Its seven administrative divisions have only the power delegated to them by the elected government. The population of nearly 150 million is the 8th largest in the world, but only 94th largest by land area. Bangladesh is crowded! While the official language is Bengali (or Bangla), English is also used and present, thanks to its connection with Britain for so many years. The capital of Dhaka has a population just over seven million. Over 90% of the population is Muslim, with much smaller minorities of Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians.
Visas and Immigration
Getting the appropriate permits and visas can be achieved by a visit to the nearest embassy, consulate, or high commission. Anyone traveling to Bangladesh requires a visa to enter, whether for tourism, business, or employment.
Travel to Bangladesh for business, in addition to the visa application, requires an official letter from your company or employer, clearly explaining your credentials and the purpose of your trip. You may also be required to provide a letter from the Bangladesh business or company you will be meeting with once in the country.
Living and working in Bangladesh requires a work visa. You need to supply a letter from the Bangladesh company you will work for, in addition to a letter of approval from the appropriate Bangladesh ministry or agency. Your employer should take care of that for you.
- High Commission for Bangladesh in London
- Bangladesh High Commission Canberra
- Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington
- High Commission for Bangladesh in Ottawa
Housing in Bangladesh will almost certainly be an apartment or condo. Because of the limited available land in the country, the government actively encourages the development of flats over houses and villas.
There are several websites to assist in your search, although going through your Bangladeshi employer is recommended. Corruption is widespread, and negotiating a lease could be wrought with pitfalls. Be sure that the property you chose is well maintained and up to current safety standards. If you do some looking on your own, check out Serviced Apartments, or My Rent Bangladesh to get an idea of cost and what’s out there.
Buying property is rather difficult, but if you’re set on it, consider reading the Global Property Guide section on Bangladesh.
Education in Bangladesh is heavily subsidized. There are three tiers of public education - primary, secondary, and higher secondary. Despite great leaps forward and commitment from the government, Bangladesh still has a relatively low literacy rate among the citizens (60% for males, 50% for females), but the situation is getting better.
Because of the volume of international companies and factories in the country, there is a long list of schools in Bangladesh, including public, private, and international. Some of the better known and reputed English-instruction choices include International School Dhaka, the Canadian International School Bangladesh, American International School Dhaka, and Australian International School.
Bangladesh has a tropical climate with mild winters (no record of it ever hitting below zero) and hot humid summers. The average temperature in Dhaka is roughly 20’C in January and 30’C in July. Temperatures can obviously hit above and below that range, but it rarely goes below 8’C or above 35’C. There is a monsoon season from June to October, with plenty of rain and wind. Bangladesh, unfortunately, is subject to frequent floods (most of the country is less than 12 meters above sea-level), cyclones, and tornadoes.
There is a vibrant film industry in Bangladesh, referred to as Dhallywood. It produces 100+ movies per year. Hindi films are also quite popular. Both cricket and football enjoy huge support and popularity in the country, as well as kadabbi, which is a team wrestling game and national sport of Bangladesh. There is plenty of opportunity to travel and see the country, or to get out and enjoy the city where you live. Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist celebrations are national holidays (as is Christmas). Take in the festivities when you can. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. Likewise for trying the local cuisine, which shares some characteristics with India, but has its own flair as well. There is some English programming available on local television, but not much, and the internet, while available in the cities and increasingly in smaller markets, tends to be slower and less reliable than you’re used to...although that is improving.
There is much to like about Bangladesh, but also much to improve. The working conditions for employees in foreign factories is often shameful, and should be a source of embarrassment for those companies involved. That aside, it’s a wonderfully diverse and fascinating destination.