What makes Bangladesh a unique country to travel to?
Bangladesh is located on the northern edge of the Bay of Bengal, is bordered on three sides by India, and shares a small border with Burma. Approximately 150 million people inhabit Bangladesh, which has a land area of 55,598 square miles, slightly smaller than the size of Iowa. This seventh most populous nation is one of the most crowded countries in the world, ranked fifth in population density.
Bangladesh consists primarily of low-lying deltaic plains. The Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers (known as the Padma and Jamuna in Bangladesh) and countless smaller tributaries criss-cross the country. The capital, Dhaka, is fewer than 25 feet above sea level. During the monsoon season from June to October, between 30% and 70% of the country is under water due to flooding of rivers. Heavy rainfall is characteristic of Bangladesh, with most parts of the country receiving about 200 centimeters (80 inches) of rainfall per year. Annual cyclones can cause extreme flooding and have led to great losses of life and property damage.
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral legislature. The nation remains a developing country with severe infrastructure shortcomings. Tourist facilities are minimal as are capacities to deal with emergency situations.
Though by almost any gauge Bangladesh remains a developing country, the impact of two decades of nearly six percent annual growth is visible throughout the country, in particular in Dhaka. Meanwhile, the partnership between Bangladesh and its development partners has placed the country on track to meet many of its Millennium Development Goals, according to a 2011 Progress Report by the United Nations Development Program. Bangladeshis now can expect to live longer, infant and maternal mortality have been dramatically reduced at a rate with few parallels in human history, and the living standards and opportunities afforded to women and children have noticeably improved. Moreover, both rural and urban incomes have increased and food production satisfies Bangladesh’s domestic needs.
The Department of State rates Dhaka as having a high crime rate; the types of crime are comparable to any other world capital or large city. Always take precautions such as being alert and aware, locking home and vehicle doors, varying routes, and schedules, traveling in groups, never walking alone at night, and parking near entrances or security lamps. Hiring a 24-hour guard is highly recommended due to the possibility of trespassing and break-ins. In general, crime dramatically increases in the hours of darkness; this includes dusk and dawn. Urban crime can be organized or opportunistic, conducted by individuals or groups, and commonly encompasses fraud, theft (larceny, pick-pocketing, and snatch-and-grab), robbery (armed and unarmed), carjacking, rape, assault, and burglary (home and auto). Incidents of crime and levels of violence are higher in low-income residential and congested commercial areas but are seen in wealthier areas as well, including the Diplomatic Enclave in Dhaka. Many of the reported attacks occurred while the victims were riding in rickshaws; other incidents involved the targeting of small groups of foreigners on foot.
To reduce your risk while riding in a rickshaw, keep your bags or valuables under your legs, away from passing vehicle traffic, and ensure that your bag’s carrying straps are not visible. For security reasons, Embassy personnel are prohibited from riding in taxis, buses, rickshaws in Dhaka (outside of Dhaka’s Diplomatic Enclave), and engine-powered rickshaws (also known as CNGs or auto-rickshaws) and recommends that U.S. citizens exercise similar caution. Although U.S. embassy personnel may use trains in Bangladesh, travelers are warned to use extreme caution as trains in Bangladesh are known to be boarded by robbers at all hours of the day on all routes, and larceny commonly occurs. Avoid carrying or displaying large sums of money or wearing expensive jewelry and be aware of your surroundings when you use ATMs. Valuables should be stored in hotel safety deposit boxes and should not be left unattended in hotel rooms.
Taxis, if available at all, are unsafe and unreliable. Long-term visitors typically hire a car and driver; short-term visitors should hire a car through their hotel and arrange in advance with their hotel or another reliable party for pickup by hotel vehicle or similar transportation.
Women should observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding the use of public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions, restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues, and avoiding isolated areas when alone at any time of day. Keep your hotel room number confidential and make sure hotel room doors have chains, deadlocks, and spy holes. Hire only reliable cars and drivers and avoid traveling in vehicles hailed on the street.
Police are generally responsive to reports of crimes against U.S. citizens. However, crimes often go unsolved or unprosecuted.
If you are assaulted, the Embassy recommends that you not fight with your attacker. Flee to a safe area and report the situation to the local authorities. Let go of your purse or backpack rather than fight to retain possession of it. Use hotel safes or lock-boxes for valuables. We encourage all U.S. citizens to carry their mobile phones with them at all times and to travel in pairs or groups. It is also a good idea to travel with a native Bangla speaker if you intend to travel outside urban areas.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only is it illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law too.
While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods, engage in sexual conduct with children, or use or disseminate child pornography in a foreign country. If you break local laws in Bangladesh, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
Persons violating Bangladeshi laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. The death penalty exists in Bangladesh. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Bangladesh are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. While the Bangladesh Constitution enshrines a right to a speedy trial, the interpretation of “speedy” is broad by international standards, and protracted judicial proceedings are common in Bangladesh.
Bangla, the official language, is also spoken in India’s West Bengal. People with a university education usually speak English.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
The general level of sanitation and health care in Bangladesh is far below U.S. and European standards. There is limited ambulance service in Bangladesh and attendants seldom are trained to provide the level of care seen in the United States. Traffic congestion and lack of a modern centralized emergency services system (on par with 911 in the U.S.) make patient transport slow and inefficient. Several hospitals in Dhaka (e.g., United, Apollo, and Square Hospitals) have emergency rooms that are equipped at the level of a community hospital, but most expatriates leave the country for all but the simplest medical procedures. Hospitals in the provinces are less well-equipped and supplied. Psychological and psychiatric services are limited throughout Bangladesh. There have been reports of counterfeit medications within the country, but medication from major pharmacies and hospitals is generally reliable. Medical evacuations to Bangkok or Singapore are often necessary for serious conditions or surgical procedures and can cost thousands of dollars. See the Medical Insurance section below for useful information.
Despite government efforts, community sanitation and public health programs are inadequate in Bangladesh. Water supplies in Bangladesh are generally not potable. Typhoid fever, cholera, infectious hepatitis, giardia, cyclospora, and bacillary and amebic dysentery are only a few of the serious diseases transmitted by impure drinking water. Bottled drinking water, especially in major brands, is generally safe for consumption. Fecal-oral contamination is common; improperly prepared meat and improperly cleaned vegetables can lead to food-borne illnesses such as cysticercosis, neurocysticercosis, and campylobacteriosis plus hepatitis A, B, C, and E. Press reports indicate that fish and other raw foods are frequently treated with formalin to slow decomposition, that fruits, particularly bananas, are generally treated with chemicals to speed ripening, that milk products are adulterated with melamine, and vegetables tend to show elevated levels of arsenic due to contaminated groundwater. Washing, soaking, peeling, and thoroughly cooking food are mandatory procedures to minimize chemical, insecticide, bacterial, and parasitic contamination.
Multiple strains of influenza continue to circulate annually in Bangladesh including the H1N1 influenza A pandemic strain. Peak influenza circulation occurs during the rainy season, approximately May through October. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against the most common influenza viruses (seasonal flu). For more information about seasonal influenza, please refer to the CDC’s Seasonal Flu website.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza A virus H5N1 (Bird flu) has been circulating among poultry in the country since 2007 and outbreaks continue to occur nationwide. The most recent outbreak occurred in October 2012. In response to the ongoing circulation of H5N1 in the country, the government has planned to start a pilot H5N1 vaccination program among domestic poultry. There are concerns from a human health perspective about the use of poultry vaccine which minimizes signs of illness in the birds but does not confer sterilizing immunity, as we could have the silent circulation of the virus in the birds, with continued human exposure. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) is reviewing its current surveillance platforms with a plan to increase its monitoring of H5N1 circulation among healthy-looking birds sold in markets. Although avian influenza A viruses usually do not infect humans, rare cases of human infection with avian influenza A viruses have been reported, most often following direct or close contact with infected poultry. As Bangladesh continues to be affected by H5N1, it is recommended to avoid poultry farms, contact with birds in live food markets, and to avoid consumption of poultry products that are not thoroughly cooked. For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
Any questions or concerns about influenza or other illnesses should be directed to a medical professional. Although the Embassy cannot provide medical advice or provide medical services to the public, a list of hospitals and doctors in Dhaka can be found on the Embassy website.
Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness, is prevalent in Dhaka and surrounding areas, in particular from October through March, but can happen at any time of year. Prevention is key, as there is no vaccine or treatment once infected. Malaria is a problem in the surrounding areas outside Dhaka. If you are planning to travel outside Dhaka, consider starting prophylaxis medication prior to travel. Japanese B encephalitis, also a mosquito-borne disease, is a problem throughout Bangladesh, although less so in Dhaka. While there is no specific treatment for Japanese encephalitis, there is a recommended vaccine available. Chikungunya was found in Bangladesh in 2008, and this mosquito-borne illness is slowly making headway throughout the country, including in Dhaka. No vaccine or specific treatment exists for Chikungunya. In all areas, the use of mosquito repellent and bed nets are strongly recommended to help prevent mosquito-borne diseases.
In 2009 and 2010, there were multiple outbreaks of anthrax in rural communities in Bangladesh among persons who slaughtered sick animals. Individuals who avoid this activity are not at risk. Though a small risk still exists of consuming anthrax-infected meat, human vaccination against anthrax is not recommended. Rabies is a more serious problem, with several thousand dying yearly in Bangladesh from this endemic disease, generally passed on via bites from infected dogs. Seek prophylactic advice from your healthcare practitioner before coming to Bangladesh, and seek immediate medical attention if bitten by any animal.
According to the World Health Organization, Bangladesh has also seen cases of polio, Nipah virus, and Kala-Azar, (visceral leishmaniasis). Kala-Azar is a deadly disease caused by a parasitic protozoan, leishmaniadonovani, transmitted to humans by the bite of infected female sandflies, phlebotomusargentipes, which lowers immunity, causes persistent fever, anemia, liver and spleen enlargement, loss of body weight and if left untreated, kills.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a major public health problem and is endemic in Bangladesh. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Bangladesh seventh among the world’s 22 high-burden TB countries. The prevalence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is relatively low, but a recent WHO report suggests the rate of MDR-TB is increasing in the country.
Safety and Security
In Bangladesh, a common method for political parties and other organizations to articulate their political demands is by calling for a hartal, or general strike. Hartals, whose purpose is to disrupt or shut down services either locally or throughout the country, can turn violent if the population, or political groups, enforce the shutdown. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable.
Current sources of political and social unrest include displeasure over verdicts from Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, labor disputes, and preparations for national elections scheduled for early 2014. These demonstrations have led to frequent violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and property damage. In various areas of the country, demonstrators have blocked highways and roads to all traffic and have damaged rail tracks and trains. Participants have thrown rocks, debris, and homemade low-yield explosives. Security forces have used tear gas, non-lethal crowd control measures, and firearms against demonstrators. Protests have centered in major metropolitan areas, including Dhaka, Sylhet, and Chittagong, but have also taken place throughout the country, including rural areas.
The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Bangladesh. A foreigner could become caught in the middle of these conflicts. There have been no direct attacks on U.S. citizens or indications of targeting foreigners; however, in isolated instances, Westerners and U.S. citizens have been caught in the middle of clashes and demonstrations or stranded when highways have been blocked. U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security by knowing the locations of police and fire stations, hospitals, and other places to relocate to feel secure. U.S. citizens should also carry identification and, if moving about alone, a cell phone or radio, or other means of communication that work in Bangladesh. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news reports. U.S. citizens in Bangladesh are encouraged to make common-sense plans to deal with security situations and to investigate alternative means of communication in-country, evacuation insurance, and alternative destinations both within and outside the country in case of emergency. If you are concerned for your security you should exercise personal responsibility, remove yourself from the situation and relocate to an area where you feel secure.
While the diplomatic enclave—which includes the areas of Banani, Baridhara, and Gulshan—in Dhaka is generally safe, political violence can take place within this area. U.S. citizens should contact the American Citizens Services section before attempting to come to the U.S. Embassy. Visitors to Bangladesh should check U.S. Embassy Dhaka’s website for updated information on the current political and security situation. During times of nationwide demonstrations and hartals, US Embassy personnel and their family members are restricted to staying in the diplomatic enclave in Dhaka. When traveling outside of Dhaka, they are restricted to staying in their hotel or other safe accommodations.
The U.S. Embassy also recommends that in times of demonstrations, national strikes, or elections, U.S. citizens avoid Roads 79 and 86 in the Gulshan-2 area of Dhaka. One of the major national political party’s headquarters is located on Road 86, while the party leader’s residence is on Road 79. Large unscheduled events occur frequently and usually spill out onto these roads, making them impassable and potentially dangerous.
In addition, Noya Paltan area in Dhaka, Baitul Mukarram Mosque (National Mosque), Muktangan (bordered by Baitul Mukarram Mosque to the east, the General Post Office (GPO) to the south, the Secretariat to the West, and Topkhana Road to the North), and Topkhana-Motijheel Road should be avoided because of numerous political rallies at these locations.
U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to the Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts (collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts) due to kidnappings and other security incidents. Foreigners traveling in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are required to register with local authorities. The U.S. Embassy recommends against traveling to these areas. Additionally, the U.S. Embassy has received reports of incidents of kidnapping, arms, and narcotics smuggling, and clashes between local Bangladeshis and Rohingya refugees in areas near refugee camps in the Teknaf, Kutupalong, and Ukhia areas of the Cox’s Bazaar district. Individuals who choose to visit these districts are urged to exercise extreme caution.
The fire department is accessible by dialing 199 if in Dhaka and (88) (02) 199 if outside of Dhaka. The fire department can also be reached by mobile phone from anywhere in Bangladesh by dialing (88) 01713-038181, (88) 01713-038182, or (88) 01730-336699. Improper storage of chemical accelerants, improperly installed electrical systems, lack of fire escapes, burglar bars on windows preventing escape, and hours-long fire department response make fires common in Bangladesh and extremely dangerous. One fire in June 2010 in Dhaka led to the deaths of over 120 individuals. In case of fire leave the area immediately.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Bangladesh is provided for general reference only, and may not apply to every location. Conditions differ around the country.
The current political situation in Bangladesh has affected road travel. The media reports political activists putting logs, large rocks, debris, and burned tires on various roads in the country to block the roads for vehicle travel. The media have reported that tourists and business travelers were stranded in Cox’s Bazar as a result of one such blockage on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway.
Traffic in Bangladesh moves on the left, the opposite of U.S. traffic. Roads are extremely crowded, particularly in the cities, with bicycles, rickshaws, three-wheeled mini-taxis (CNGs), cars, overloaded buses, and trucks all vying for road space and right of way. Drivers are often unlicensed, aggressive, risk-taking, and poorly trained. Many vehicles, particularly large trucks and buses, are badly maintained and driven by inexperienced young men who recently arrived from rural Bangladesh seeking quick employment. Exercise extreme caution when crossing streets, even in areas frequented by pedestrians. When in vehicles, use seatbelts if available, though seatbelts are not common in taxis. Helmets should always be worn on motorcycles and bicycles. Roads, including most major highways, are poorly maintained and often lack safe shoulders and have numerous potholes, sharp drop-offs, and barriers that are not sign-posted. Speed limits and other traffic laws are not commonly posted and are rarely observed by motorists in any case. Drivers should exercise extreme caution when traveling at night by road, as many vehicles do not have proper illumination and most roads are inadequately lighted or signed. Rickshaws rarely have any lighting on them at all. Traveling by road without an experienced local driver or guide is not recommended.
On Bangladeshi roads, the safest driving policy is to always assume that other drivers will not respond to a traffic situation in the same way you would in the United States. On Bangladeshi roads, large vehicles generally take the right-of-way. Cars, buses, and trucks often run red lights and merge directly into traffic at yield points and traffic circles without stopping. Rickshaws, bicycles, and pedestrians behave only slightly more cautiously. The practice of frequently using one’s car horn or flashing high-beam headlights to announce one’s presence is the norm in all areas of Bangladesh at all times of day or night.
Road accidents, including fatal head-on collisions, are common in Bangladesh. If a serious accident occurs, or if a driver hits a pedestrian or a cow, crowds quickly gather and the behavior of the crowd is often unpredictable. In these cases, some members of the crowd may try to assist injured parties, while other individuals may seek to impose their own sense of justice on responsible parties. The vehicle and its occupants may be at risk of being attacked in such circumstances depending on who the crowd believes is at fault and what damage occurred. Such attacks may pose a significant risk of injury or death to the vehicle's occupants or at least incineration of the vehicle. It is unsafe to remain at the scene of an accident of this nature, and drivers may instead wish to seek out the nearest police station.
Travelers are strongly urged not to use public transportation, including buses, rickshaws, and CNGs due to their high accident rate and crime issues. An alternative to consider is a rental car and driver, riding a bicycle if experienced with urban cycling, or walking.
Banditry and carjacking, particularly along inter-city highways, have been known to occur but are unusual. Those using these roads should exercise particular vigilance.
Protestors and street demonstrators, especially during times of local and national elections, often use road blockage as a means of publicizing their grievances, causing severe inconvenience to travelers. Visitors should monitor local news reports for any reports of road disturbances.
RAIL: The Bangladesh passenger rail system is antiquated and overburdened by high demand, but has been generally safe to use. Some political activists have targeted the rail lines during recent civil unrest by hurling Molotov cocktails and removing rail ties from the tracks on some lines, making the trips unusually dangerous and several scheduled trips had to be canceled. Even in calm times, foreigners are often the center of attention at many train stations because of the relatively atypical presence of foreign travelers on the rail in the country. The major urban centers of Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, and many other cities are connected by rail. Prices for trips are low compared to air travel. Accommodations range from clean air-conditioned first-class cabins to crowded, non-AC, uncomfortable second-class.