Bangladesh - A Guide to Local Laws for the Traveler

Bangladesh has many of its own unique laws and customs that should be respected by visitors. Here are our tips to stay safe within the law.

Suffering from political instability and areas of extreme poverty, the country has remained all but forgotten by tourists. But despite its negative image, Bangladesh has some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable.

Intrepid travellers delight in the rugged natural environment and unmatched culture they find here while others make the journey to this far-away land for family reasons rather than recreation. Either way, it's important to understand the local laws and customs before you go.

You'll find once you're there that illicit drugs are quite easily accessible in Bangladesh, particularly anywhere that teenagers and young adults hang out. Drug use is illegal and law enforcement takes it seriously, commonly raiding locales that they think are suspicious. Some bars and cafes provide "hukka pipes" for smoking.

Keep in mind that these pipes are often spiked with drugs so they should be avoided.

Homosexuality is considered illegal in Bangladesh and carries hefty penalties, including jail time.

If you're caught breaking the law you may find yourself in a Bangladeshi prison, or you may have to suffer an alternative punishment such as caning or whipping. The death penalty can be and often is imposed for heinous crimes such as murder, human trafficking, abduction, rape causing death, espionage and hijacking of an aircraft.

Keep in mind that the conditions of Bangladesh jails are less than ideal.

Additionally, long delays and lack of a quality judicial system may result in long detentions until court hearings can finally take place. If you are arrested and imprisoned, it won't be a pleasant stay and don't expect to get out anytime soon.

Carry a photocopy of your passport and visa at all times, as well as copies of other important travel documents, so that you will have proof of identity readily available if questioned by local officials.

Female travellers should keep their shoulders covered and wear trousers or long skirts to cover their legs. Always dress modestly to avoid offending the locals. Women travelling alone (or without men) may find it challenging to hire a rickshaw to pick them up. Conversely, men should avoid attempting to shake hands with or touch Bangladeshi women in greeting, as this is highly offensive. Instead, place your hand over your heart and bow slightly.

Because Bangladesh is seldom visited by tourists, foreigners are often considered somewhat of a novelty to locals, especially children. Don't be surprised if you are stared at or followed around, as it's typically harmless curiosity. If the staring becomes a bit too much for you, simply say "Amar dike takaben na", which means "please stop staring at me". Be kind, and use this sparingly, however, because the attention is not meant to offend. Some people may see you as an opportunity to practice their English and will chatter incessantly to you. Try to be polite and considerate of their interactions with you.

As with many other countries in the region, in Bangladesh the left hand is considered unclean. As such, it is the hand that should be used for bathroom duties, removing shoes and any other "dirty" activity. "Lefties" may find this custom particularly challenging, but make sure you only use your right hand for eating or to receive or offer something otherwise you will offend.

The local Mosques are quite beautiful but are typically off-limits to non-Muslims.

Additionally, certain areas within them are also off-limits to women, Muslim or not.

Before visiting or entering a Mosque, be sure to inquire with a local to determine if you are allowed. Likewise, always ask before taking a picture of any religious building or structure. If you are granted access, be sure your head, arms and legs are covered and remove your shoes before entering.

Finally, when exchanging money into the Bangladeshi Taka, make certain that you receive a receipt from the money changer. Without this, it is impossible to exchange the Taka back into another currency when leaving and you'll be stuck with money you can't use anywhere else.

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