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Moving to Bahrain

Expats moving to Bahrain will experience a busy and engaging city life and a blend of modernity with traditional Islamic culture on this archipelago.

Often referred to as "Middle East lite", Bahrain can be considered a starter course set out to introduce foreigners to the characteristics so commonplace in many Persian Gulf nations. The country is considerably more liberal than its neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but is still rooted in an Arab belief system.

There is a sizeable expat community in Bahrain, many of whom are more than willing to provide support to newcomers. However, expats relocating to this Gulf state will still have to contend with elements of culture shock and make some adjustments to their lifestyle. 

Most expats moving to Bahrain do so for improved employment opportunities. The earning potential for expats is high in Bahrain and many report enjoying a higher standard of living than they had experienced in their home country. 

As the financial centre of the Middle East, highly skilled foreigners will find plenty of positions available in the banking and construction sectors. Furthermore, as Bahrain had made efforts to diversify its economy beyond the petroleum industry, jobs in many multinational firms exist as well.

Moving to Bahrain also means bigger houses for many. A huge variety of accommodation designed to suit all budgets and tastes eagerly awaits new tenants. Expats can choose between towering high-rises, standalone villas or even homes enclaved in a secure compound.

While expats with children are unlikely to enrol their little ones in any of Bahrain's public schools, plenty of excellent private and international options exist. Spots disappear quickly, though, so it's important to make registration a priority upon relocation.

As far as Middle Eastern destinations are concerned, Bahrain is increasingly becoming an expat favourite and is a fantastic alternative location for those based in neighbouring countries looking to situate their families in a more liberal environment.


Fast facts

Population: About 1.5 million

Capital city: Manama (also largest city)

Neighbouring countries: Bahrain is a small set of islands in the Persian Gulf. The King Fahd Causeway is a series of bridges to the west of Bahrain, connecting it to its closest neighbour, Saudi Arabia. Across the Gulf, a short distance to the southeast, is Qatar, while Iran is further away on the northeastern side of the Gulf.

Geography: Bahrain is an archipelago, with a primarily flat and arid desert landscape. The smallest country in Asia, the total length of the coastline of the Kingdom's main island is approximately 100 miles (161km).

Political system: Unitary constitutional monarchy

Major religions: Islam with a Christian minority

Main languages: Arabic is Bahrain's official language but English is widely spoken

Money: The Bahraini Dinar (BHD), divided into 1,000 fils. Expats will be able to open a local bank account, but the process is stringent and requires extensive documentation and paperwork. ATMs are widely available in most parts of Bahrain.

Tipping: Restaurants in Bahrain generally include service charges in the bill. Additional tipping is not expected but will nonetheless be appreciated. Ten percent is usually appropriate.

Time: GMT +3

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. UK-style plugs with three flat blades are used.

International dialling code: +973

Emergency contacts: 999 for police, ambulance and fire services

Internet domain: .bh

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Bahrain. Public transport is limited to buses and taxis as there are no rail services available.

Weather in Bahrain

Expats planning on living in Bahrain may find one of the most difficult adjustments they'll have to make is acclimating to the high temperatures. Weather in Bahrain is marked by extreme heat and an uncomfortable humidity present throughout the year.

Summer is from April to October, with temperatures averaging 104°F (40°C). Winter is from November to March. Though milder in comparison, winter temperatures can still be fairly warm with the mercury hovering between 50 and 68°F (10 and 20°C).

The archipelago is incredibly arid with only irregular short, heavy bursts of rainfall throughout winter. This period also brings the shamal –  strong winds that bring damp, humid air into the country and cause sandstorms.

Expats should be forewarned that the weather in Bahrain can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke, especially for those not used to such high temperatures. It's best to stay indoors during the day's hottest hours and sunscreen is advised. Expats should also be sure to stay hydrated.

Embassy Contacts for Bahrain

Bahraini embassies

  • Embassy of Bahrain, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 342 1111

  • Embassy of Bahrain, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7201 9170


Foreign embassies in Bahrain

  • United States Embassy, Manama: +973 1724 2700

  • British Embassy, Manama: +973 1757 4100

  • Canadian Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for Bahrain): +966 11 488 2288

  • Australian Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for Bahrain):  +966 11 250 0900

  • South African Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for Bahrain): +966 11 442 9716

  • Irish Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for Bahrain): +966 11 407 1530

  • New Zealand Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for Bahrain): +966 11 488 7988

Public Holidays in Bahrain

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Eid al-Fitr

13–15 May

3–5 May

Eid al-Adha

20–22 July

10–12 July

Al-Hijrah New Year

10 August

31 July

Ashura

18–19 August

7–8 August

Prophet's Birthday

19 October

9 October

National Day 

16–17 December

16–19 December

*Islamic holidays are subject to the sighting of the moon, and dates can change on the Gregorian calendar.

Safety in Bahrain

Safety in Bahrain has been negatively affected by a politically turbulent period since early 2011, with periodic violent protests and demonstrations. The unrest has largely occurred outside of the capital, but protest activity in Manama is occasionally reported. These are dangers that expats should be able to navigate fairly easily as long as they avoid such gatherings.

In terms of crime, Bahrain is relatively safe, but expats should be careful on the road as local drivers can be erratic and unpredicatable.


Protests in Bahrain

Expats are advised to avoid crowded places when protests and demonstrations are taking place. From time to time, when political violence flares up the Bahraini government may enforce a curfew and it is recommended that expats respect these regulations for their own safety.


Crime in Bahrain

The crime rate in Bahrain is low and unlikely to impact expats. Crimes are generally petty in nature and include opportunistic theft, burglary and pickpocketing.

Common-sense precautions, such as avoiding travel at night in lower-income areas and securing valuables, will lower the risk of being targeted.


Terrorism in Bahrain

Bahrain has not been affected by terrorism to the same degree as some of its neighbours in recent years. Nonetheless, the country is occasionally affected by low-level and relatively unsophisticated incendiary attacks. These typically occur during demonstrations or periods of civil unrest and are used against the police services.


Road safety in Bahrain

The standard of driving in Bahrain is poor and the country experiences a high number of road traffic accidents. Aggressive driving, speeding and general disregard for traffic laws are the primary causes.

Expats are advised not to drive, but rather hire a local driver who is more familiar with Bahraini road behaviour. Expats who do opt to drive should do so defensively and with caution, particularly on major highways and at high-risk times. 

Working in Bahrain

Expats working in Bahrain will find the high salaries and no personal taxes an easy incentive for putting in the hours the daily grind demands.

In the past, Bahrain has been regarded as a hotspot among expat professionals and with most reporting a higher percentage of disposable income than they had in their home country. Unsurprisingly, this has drawn expats to Bahrain and by some accounts the majority of the population living in Bahrain are foreigners.

However, recently salaries in Bahrain haven't been keeping up with the pace of global salary trends, which has slowed the flow of expats into the Kingdom.

To legally work in Bahrain, expats need a sponsoring employer who can apply for a work visa on their behalf. The company is required to justify why they were unable to source the particular candidate's skills from the existing Bahraini workforce. 


Job market in Bahrain

Oil was discovered in Bahrain in the 1930s, and while the oil industry is largely responsible for the country's initial rapid modernisation, the Bahraini government has taken large leaps towards diversifying the economy. The archipelago is still a major petroleum producer, but Bahrain is also a banking and financial capital in the region.

As a result of Bahrain's economic growth, many multinational companies have established their regional headquarters in Manama, its capital and commercial centre. 

Besides oil and banking, other sectors that are major employers in Bahrain include tourism and construction.


Finding a job in Bahrain

While it is possible to arrive in Bahrain on a tourist visa and attempt to find work, it is difficult to find a job in the limited amount of time allotted. Furthermore, the opportunities available to an expat depend very much on their network and connections.

Most expats working in Bahrain are hired from abroad by recruitment agencies, head-hunted by individual firms, or transferred from another branch of a multinational corporation.


Work culture in Bahrain

Bahrain is credited with having the most liberal economy in the Middle East, so expat women moving to Bahrain will find that it's common for them to participate in the working world. However, both businessmen and women should dress conservatively for the business environment. 

Expats should have no difficulty in communicating with their Bahraini colleagues as English is the dominant language in the workplace. However, many will notice that the way in which work is conducted can differ from practices in the West. Small talk is common and expats will benefit from getting to know their colleagues on a personal as well as professional level. 

Punctuality is highly valued in Bahraini society so expats should make sure they arrive on time for appointments. Arriving late or being unprepared can easily ruin a reputation.

Doing Business in Bahrain

Expats anticipating doing business in Bahrain will find an environment that's well acquainted with foreign influence, and arguably the most liberal in the Middle East.

Nearly 50 percent of Bahrain's population is made up of foreigners. However, the country takes its mandate from Islam, and expats will need to familiarise themselves with appropriate customs and practices.

Bahrain was ranked 43rd out of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business Survey. Bahrain did well in categories like ease of paying taxes (1st) and registering property (17th) but fell short in getting credit (94th).


Fast facts

Business hours

Usually Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 5pm. However, this can vary from company to company, especially when it comes to multinational corporations

Business language

Arabic is Bahrain's official language, but English is commonly spoken and is often used in business.

Dress

Business attire is formal and conservative.

Gifts

Small gifts are acceptable. Gifts aren't opened in the presence of the giver and are typically saved for later.

Gender equality

Men and women are treated equally in business.

Greetings

A handshake is the most common greeting. When a man greets a woman, he should wait for her to extend her hand first.


Business culture in Bahrain

Personal relationships

Business moves slowly in Bahrain, and any attempt to rush it is considered improper. Similar to most Arab countries, business culture in Bahrain is based on personal relationships. A letter of introduction from a mutual acquaintance is a great way to facilitate meetings, as Bahrainis generally prefer doing business with people they know. It follows that initial meetings focus on building a relationship rather than hammering out details.

Business attire

Business attire in Bahrain is strictly formal. No matter how hot the weather, a suit and tie are mandatory. Women should dress modestly, keeping arms and legs covered at all times and wearing closed-toed shoes. Local businessmen may wear Western attire or a thobe, a flowing robe seen at nearly every type of occasion.

Communication

It's important to use formal titles when addressing local businesspeople.

Business language tends to be indirect, and care is taken to save face and avoid disappointing others with flat refusals. It is considered impolite to fast-track discussions or openly contradict another person.


Dos and don’ts of business in Bahrain

  • Do always wear a suit and tie

  • Don't rush into business talk

  • Do arrive on time, though locals may be late

  • Don't use high-pressure sales tactics

  • Do have one side of a business card translated into Arabic

  • Don't schedule meetings for July and August when many businesspeople are out of town

Visas for Bahrain

Visas for Bahrain fall into several different categories. The type of visa required will depend on the purpose of the visit, number of expected visits and the length of an expat's stay in the Kingdom.

Depending on their nationality, many expats will be able to obtain a visa on arrival in Bahrain and will receive a stamp in their passport when entering. Otherwise, expats may be eligible for an eVisa, which is applied for in advance and stored online. In the case that an expat's particular country isn't part of such an agreement, they will need to apply for a tourist visa in person at their local Bahraini embassy.

In most cases, foreigners entering Bahrain will be required to have a Bahraini sponsor to support their visa application. Sponsors can be an individual, a company or an institution. In most cases, it will be the expat's employer.


Tourist visas for Bahrain

Foreigners visiting Bahrain for holiday or those on a short fact-finding trip prior to accepting an expat contract will need to apply for a tourist visa. Some travellers will be entitled to a visa upon arrival at the airport in Bahrain, providing that they are in possession of a valid passport and an onward or return ticket.

Visitors ineligible for a visa on arrival must pre-arrange their visa, either through the eVisa system or by application through a Bahraini embassy. These applications must be supported by a sponsor. Those without a contact in Bahrain may be able to use a travel agency or hotel as their sponsor.

Once the visa has been granted, the foreigner is entitled to visit Bahrain for the duration of the period stated on their visa. However, a tourist visa does not permit the holder to carry out any form of economic activity during their stay, including working and business-related activities.


Business visas for Bahrain

Business visas are issued to those visiting Bahrain for business and representing a company. Those in possession of a business visa are only permitted to carry out official company business while in the Kingdom. They are not entitled to look for alternative employment or take up any form of employment with another company in Bahrain.


Work visas for Bahrain

Most expats moving to Bahrain have been lured to the Kingdom by a lucrative job offer. Anyone who plans on working for either a local or international business in Bahrain will need a work visa to allow them to do so legally. In most cases, expats will find that their employer will take care of arranging the work visa for them.  However, it is worth being aware of the requirements as expats will be required to provide their employer with several important documents.

Once a job offer is solidified, the hiring company will usually completely bear the burden of organising visas and paperwork. In such cases, expats will merely need to help supply the requested documents.

Work permits are valid for a maximum of two years, at which point they need to be renewed. Once an expat arrives in Bahrain with a work permit, they will also need to apply for a residency permit.


Residency permits for Bahrain

Those taking up employment in Bahrain will need to apply for a residency permit in addition to their work visa. The residency permit, once granted, will run concurrently with the work visa.

It's important to note that a residency permit alone won't allow the holder to take up employment in Bahrain.

Cost of Living in Bahrain

The cost of living in Bahrain is consistently on the increase due to inflation, as well as the presence of a growing Western expat population prepared to pay more for goods and services.

That said, compared to other regional commercial centres such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Bahrain is still a reasonable destination when it comes to balancing the budget and putting away a little something extra in the bank account.

The 2019 Mercer Cost of Living Survey ranked Manama, the country's capital and largest city, 57th out of 209 cities. However, as in all locations, cost of living can vary tremendously depending on the lifestyle one chooses to lead.

In the past, accommodation and car allowances were common add-ons to expat employment packages in Bahrain. However, in recent years, this tactic has fallen out of favour, so it's vital to make sure one’s base payment plan adequately covers these expenses, and then some.


Cost of accommodation in Bahrain

Accommodation will be the largest expat expense, and costs have risen in recent years; many landlords actively ignore the cap placed on annual increases. Still, there are plenty of different housing options that satisfy nearly every budget.

Property inside expat compounds is by far the most expensive. In contrast, opting for an apartment in town will cost less.


Cost of transport in Bahrain

Despite the island's compact size, public transport options are limited, with the result that most expats will need to budget for a private vehicle. Again, prices vary tremendously based on a number of factors. A pre-owned older make and model will decrease in price accordingly.


Cost of schools in Bahrain

Expat families moving to Bahrain usually send their children to one of the island's private or international schools. This can be a large unforeseen expense, especially for expats coming from countries where school expenses are covered or subsidised by the government. Tuition fees can vary depending on the school age of children and the school selected.

Expats sending their children to an international school may need to budget annually for school fees. Additional expenses may include extra-curricular activities, school uniforms, textbooks and other basic school supplies.


Cost of food in Bahrain

Food costs in Bahrain are generally reasonable, especially if one foregoes the temptation of dining out and opts to eat at home more frequently. That being said, household labels from abroad will be highly priced, whereas fresh produce and local products are extremely affordable.


Cost of living in Bahrain chart

Prices may vary depending on location and service provider. The table below is based on average prices for Manama in March 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

BHD 450 - 900

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

BHD 250 - 650

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

BHD 200 - 500 

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

BHD 150 - 350

Shopping

Milk (1 litre)

BHD 0.60 

Dozen eggs

BHD 1

Chicken breasts (1kg)

BHD 2

Rice (1kg)

BHD 0.90

Loaf of white bread

BHD 0.40 

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

BHD 2.10

Eating out

Big Mac meal

BHD 2.50 

Coca Cola (330ml)

BHD 0.30

Cappuccino 

BHD 1.80 

Bottle of local beer

BHD 4 

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

BHD 15 

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute, mobile to mobile)

BHD 0.05 

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable average per month)

BHD 22

Hourly rate for a domestic cleaner

 BHD 2.80 

Utilities (average per month for standard household)

BHD 75

Transportation

Taxi rate per km

BHD 0.50 

One-way ticket on public transport

BHD 0.30 

Petrol (per litre)

BHD 0.20 

Culture Shock in Bahrain

Despite its small size and extensive exposure to a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities, Bahrain's culture has essentially maintained its Arab roots. Islamic morals govern personal, business, legal and economic life. However, the country is regarded as quite liberal compared to its neighbours.

Bahrainis often speak English and are very friendly towards newcomers. Nevertheless, expats unused to the Arab way of life may experience some level of culture shock in Bahrain.


Dress code in Bahrain

On arrival, expats may be surprised to see just how smartly dressed locals can be. Traditional clothing for men includes a long white garment known as a thobe as well as a linen headwrap called a gutra. Local women wear headscarves and abayas – loose-flowing garments, usually black, sometimes with detailed decoration at the neck or sleeve edges.

Expat women need not dress in the traditional manner. However, shoulders and knees should generally be covered as skimpy tops or shorts can attract harassment. Hair should be covered too to avoid attracting unwanted attention.

Both men and women should dress conservatively for business meetings.


Ramadan in Bahrain

Ramadan can be a period of severe culture shock for expats who have never experienced the holy event in a Muslim country.

Though expats aren't required to fast during this period, they should not consume any food or drink (including water) in public between sunrise and sunset. Working hours and restaurant opening times are adjusted accordingly. However, some companies provide a room where non-Muslim staff can eat during the month of Ramadan.


Customs and etiquette in Bahrain

If invited to a Bahraini home, expats should take a non-alcoholic gift, such as chocolates or flowers.

In Bahraini culture, men greet other men with handshakes and kisses on the cheeks if they know each other. Women shouldn’t expect a man to shake hands with them, but a female friend may welcome her with a hug and a kiss. Men should not touch a Bahraini woman unless the woman offers her hand first.

Bahrainis love to socialise, but be aware that social events may be same-sex only. Make an effort to reciprocate the hospitality if possible. Small talk will always precede a business meeting or a meal.

When visiting someone’s home, check if they’ve removed their shoes and follow suit. Leaving footwear at the door avoids tramping the ubiquitous island dust through the house.


Alcohol in Bahrain

While alcohol is forbidden for Muslims in Bahrain, it's available to non-Muslims at specific outlets. For instance, certain hotels, restaurants and expat social clubs are permitted to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises.

Accommodation in Bahrain

Expats looking for accommodation in Bahrain will almost certainly find bigger, better property options available to them than back home. Regardless of whether expats prefer a modern apartment in a lofty high-rise, an expansive villa outside of the city centre, or a cookie-cutter home in a safe and secure expat compound, there are options to satisfy any taste or budget.

The first factor to consider is the location of a property. Expats will need to decide whether they want to be in the city centre of Manama or farther out in the suburbs. Though the difference is a mere 10- to 30-minute commute, the type of accommodation available differs according to area.

Expats with families who want larger properties are more likely to find these outside the city centre. They will also need to consider proximity to good international schools.


Types of accommodation in Bahrain

Expat compounds are a popular option for foreigners. The insular community, added security, access to amenities and the spirit of camaraderie are all major drawcards for those who choose to live in these compounds.

Furnished, unfurnished and semi-furnished homes are all available in Bahrain. Semi-furnished accommodation generally includes the provision of kitchen appliances, air conditioners and curtains, while unfurnished often means completely bare. Fully furnished accommodation in Bahrain comes comprehensively equipped and, in many cases, stylishly decorated.

There's no shortage of good furniture stores in Bahrain, and artisans and craftsman can also be commissioned to make some truly unique fittings and innovative household goods. As a result, many expats choose the semi-furnished or unfurnished route.


Finding accommodation in Bahrain

Many expats relocating to Bahrain have accommodation arranged through their employer. Those who are left to find a home in Bahrain on their own steam usually enlist the services of a real estate agent. These individuals are incredibly helpful and often go as far as to negotiate the lease once a property has been selected.

Many expats opt to take short-term housing immediately upon arrival while they use an agent to find a more permanent living option. Searching for accommodation online and in local newspapers may also yield results.


Renting property in Bahrain

The process of renting a property in Bahrain is straightforward. In most cases, expats will either receive the support of their employer or an estate agent.

Furnishings

Most properties in Bahrain are furnished or semi-furnished. Villas tend to be semi-furnished. This typically includes large appliances like a fridge, washer and dryer, oven and sometimes curtains. Apartments are generally fully furnished. It is, however, possible to find unfurnished apartments. It's also possible to negotiate with the property owner to remove the furniture when renting long term.

Deposits

Tenants will usually need to pay a security deposit upfront. This deposit typically equates to one month's rent. The amount is fully refundable depending on the state of the property at the end of the contract.

Leases

Rental contracts are available for various lengths of time. Expats need to ensure that they are committed to living in the property for the complete period specified on the rental agreement as getting out of a contract prior to it expiring can be difficult.

Utilities

Expats will find that the rent for a fully furnished accommodation often already includes municipality tax, electricity and water. In some cases, rent can also include luxuries like internet, satellite television and housekeeping. On the other hand, semi-furnished accommodation usually excludes rental tax and utility bills. Expats will need to make sure what their rent includes before signing their lease.

Healthcare in Bahrain

Expats living in Bahrain will find a solid healthcare infrastructure with options for treatment in the public and private sectors. The island supports an assortment of state-sponsored hospitals, private institutions and clinics, and speciality hospitals.

That being said, the healthcare system in Bahrain still faces challenges. The economic boom has inspired a large population influx and the state must now take steps to address the high numbers of expats that have come to set up home in the archipelago.

Furthermore, although many health workers are in fact foreigners or have been trained overseas and do speak English, there still may be a language barrier to overcome if expats find themselves in an emergency.


Public healthcare in Bahrain

Bahrain has taken steps to provide nationals with free and heavily subsidised healthcare. Expats can also access this service but tend to receive subsidised services requiring a small co-payment.

Although the country is growing rapidly, Bahrain's relatively small population means that long queues or delayed appointment times are a rarity, even in public healthcare facilities.


Private healthcare in Bahrain

Although expats have access to the public system in Bahrain, many opt to take out private medical insurance and to use private facilities instead of public ones. Expats will find that the standard of care is excellent in Bahrain – however, it's important to be aware that specialist treatment centres may be limited and it may be necessary to seek such treatment outside of the country.


Health insurance in Bahrain

Although partially covered by Bahrain's national health insurance scheme, expats can still benefit from comprehensive health insurance, including medical evacuation insurance. Many employers provide their employees with health insurance, but top-up insurance policies may be needed to ensure complete coverage.


Pharmacies and medicines in Bahrain

Pharmacies are easily found in Bahrain, some of which are open 24 hours a day.

Most medications are readily available at pharmacies. If a medicine is not available, the pharmacist should be able to order it in. Expats should be aware, however, that medications available over the counter in their home country may need a prescription in Bahrain, and vice versa.

Any prescription medicines being brought into Bahrain needs to be accompanied by a letter signed and stamped by a registered medical practitioner, stating that the medicine is for the personal use of the traveller or expat. It's also advisable to bring a copy of the original prescription.


Health hazards in Bahrain

Due to the extreme temperatures, heatstroke, sunburn and dehydration are the most common medical ailments affecting expats in Bahrain. In addition, continuous construction, accompanied by sand and dust from the island, can aggravate respiratory problems for expats, especially for those already suffering from conditions such as asthma.


Emergency services in Bahrain

Emergency medical services in Bahrain tend to be well-equipped, but aren't always quick to respond. For this reason, wherever possible, expats are advised to get themselves to the hospital in the case of a medical emergency.

The number to call in the event of a medical emergency is 998.

Education and Schools in Bahrain

Education in Bahrain is of a high standard, and as a result of the ever-growing expat population, there are plenty of schools to choose from.
 
Bahrain championed the Arabian Peninsula's first public education system in 1930. Today, the Kingdom boasts a high standard of education, with a literacy rate of more than 95 percent.


Public schools in Bahrain

Education in Bahrain is compulsory for all children aged six to 14, and tuition at state schools is free. Textbooks, uniforms, lunches and school transport are also provided free of charge.

Despite these perks, expat children living in Bahrain rarely attend Bahraini public schools. This is for a number of reasons, such as the local language barrier, the typically transient nature of expats' stays in Bahrain, and the difficulty in overcoming Islamic cultural norms.
 
While English is taught in Bahraini schools, the main language of instruction is a local dialect of Arabic. This puts non-native speakers at a significant disadvantage.


Private and international schools in Bahrain

Bahrain's private education sector is largely composed of international schools alongside a handful of religious schools. Bahrain's international schools have been established to meet the needs of a growing expat population in Bahrain. There are dozens of schools for expats to choose from, but demand still outweighs supply. As a result, classes fill up quickly, so the application process should be started as soon as possible – even from abroad, prior to relocation.

Expats of a number of nationalities will be able to find an international school following the curriculum of their home country. This provides continuity in the child's education and limits the disruption caused by the move. Expats will find that there are several British and American schools to choose from, but there are also schools offering other curricula, such as those of India, France and Australia. Some schools offer the world-renowned International Baccalaureate programme instead.

Generally speaking, standards at international schools in Bahrain are high, smaller class sizes are the norm and most have modern facilities and healthy extra-curricular programmes.

As is the case globally, tuition fees at international schools in Bahrain can be very high. It is therefore wise for expats to factor this expense into their employment contract when negotiating with their employer. If an employer is reluctant to include an education allowance in the package, the expat's salary must be high enough to adequately cover the costs of schooling.


Homeschooling in Bahrain

It is possible for parents to homeschool their children while living in Bahrain as there is no law against it. Many parents choose to enrol their children in a private school to ensure they're following a structured curriculum while learning at home.


Special needs education in Bahrain

The Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the first Middle Eastern countries to embrace inclusive education. The ministry of education's mission is to enable all learners with special needs to enrol in education in public and private schools. They follow a continuous and comprehensive approach to ensure the students' requirements and individual needs are met.

Parents who prefer to send their children to special needs schools will be happy to hear that Bahrain has a number of excellent options for their children. One such option is The Children's Academy which is a private special needs school that teaches children between the ages of three and nine. The language of education is English and a large number of the students are expats. The school caters for a number of needs including Autism, Down's Syndrome, ADHD, etc.

International Schools in Bahrain

The majority of expats living in Bahrain find that public schools in the country aren't suitable for foreign children because of the language barrier and different cultural norms. Therefore, expats tend to opt for international schools instead.

While there's plenty of choice in terms of international schools in Bahrain, securing a place at the desired school can be tough. It's therefore advisable that parents begin investigating schooling options for their child as soon as possible – ideally before the move. In some cases, expat parents end up having to homeschool their children while waiting for a space to become available at their chosen school. 

Below is a list of recommended international schools in Bahrain.


International schools in Bahrain

AMA International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 3 to 18
Websitewww.amais.edu.bh

Al Noor International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Bahraini, British and Indian
Ages: 3 to 18
Websitewww.alnischool.com

British School of Bahrain

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: British
Ages: 3 to 18
Websitewww.britishschoolbahrain.com

Naseem International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: IB
Ages: 3 to 18
Websitewww.nisbah.com

Sacred Heart School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: IGCSE
Ages: 4 to 18
Websitewww.shsbahrain.com

St Christopher’s School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: GCSE, IB and A-levels
Ages: 3 to 18
Websitewww.st-chris.net

Transport and Driving in Bahrain

Expats should be aware that it will likely take some time to get used to transport and driving in Bahrain. However, the island's diminutive size means that this adjustment is somewhat less dramatic than in larger countries.

As public transport options are limited to bus services only, most expats will find that driving is the easiest and most convenient way to get around in Bahrain.


Public transport in Bahrain

Buses

The primary mode of public transport in Bahrain is buses. Though buses are plentiful and cover just about anywhere one would need to go on the island, they don't have air conditioning and are often crowded. The bus system is complex to navigate and route maps aren't easy to understand, so if wanting to take a bus, it is best to speak to a member of staff at the bus station for assistance.


Taxis in Bahrain

Taxis are reliable and plentiful in Bahrain's main city centres. Bahrain taxi fares are more expensive than taxi fares in the UAE and some expats find prices to be exorbitant. If using a taxi, expats should make sure that taxi drivers have their meters on at all times.


Driving in Bahrain

Most expats living in Bahrain have a car. In the heat of the summer, air-conditioned transport is essential even to drive to the local shop.

Driving in Bahrain is on the right-hand side of the road and traffic is commonly regulated by roundabouts. Road signs are usually in both Arabic and English.

Driving standards in Bahrain are poor and local driving behaviour can be erratic. Speeding, lane switching without signalling and the use of mobile phones while driving are common so expats should drive defensively and always wear a seatbelt.


Cycling in Bahrain

Although there is a lack of cycling infrastructure in Bahrain, the island is home to a handful of cycling groups. Bahrain's small size should make commuting by bicycle easy, but the roads are filled with unpredictable and dangerous driving, making this a far from ideal form of commute.

Shipping and Removals in Bahrain

With a long history of sea-trade, expats shipping to Bahrain have plenty of service providers to choose from. Bahrain's main port is Khalifa Bin Salman Port. In addition to shipping by sea, expats also have the option to ship their possessions via air freight; this method is generally more expensive but considerably quicker. Shipping companies will often provide quotes for free, so expats should take the time to consult a number of different organisations and find out which can offer the best price and the best service.

Expats will also want to think carefully when deciding on the household goods they'd like to bring across. Shipping can quickly become expensive, and Bahrain has an assortment of furniture shops. Expats should also consider the fact that it's perfectly possible to find stylishly furnished accommodation in the country.

Generally speaking, no customs duty is imposed on those bringing personal goods into Bahrain as long as they have been in use for three months or more and are brought into the Kingdom within six months of the expat's move.


Shipping pets to Bahrain

Expats who wish to bring their furry friends across the border to Bahrain will need to apply for an import permit. Pets must be microchipped, vaccinated and must have a recent health certificate from a licensed vet.

Depending on the incidence of rabies in the pet's country of origin, they may also need to be tested and certified as free of rabies. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Bahrain

Expats moving to Bahrain are bound to have many queries and concerns about their soon-to-be home. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about moving to Bahrain.

Is there an expat community in Bahrain?

Absolutely. Bahrain is one of the most popular expat destinations in the Middle East, with a significant portion of the population being expats.

Do I need a car in Bahrain?

Expats will certainly need a car in Bahrain. Public transportation isn't very reliable and private taxis can make getting from point A to point B expensive. Even if you live in the city centre, summer temperatures skyrocket and intense humidity can make for damp clothes and discomfort.

There are plenty of opportunities to either lease or buy a car in Bahrain. Petrol is inexpensive and the vehicles themselves are generally reasonably priced. In many cases, expats are able to afford cars that they would never dream of driving in their home country.

Do woman in Bahrain need to cover up?

Though Bahrain is a Muslim nation, modernity and liberalism have been much more integrated into society than in neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Expat women dress in Western clothes in public spaces, and generally speaking, what is appropriate in Western countries is probably appropriate in Bahrain. That said, it's generally best not to wear anything too skintight or skimpy in order to avoid attracting attention.

Will I have to partake in Ramadan?

Expats experiencing Ramadan for the first time can suffer from some culture shock. Expats don't have to partake, however, eating or drinking in public is not allowed during Ramadan. It is also considered disrespectful to eat or drink in front of Muslim colleagues or friends who are fasting. Many workplaces, particularly multinational companies that employ lots of expats, will have a dedicated room for non-Muslim expats to eat and drink during Ramadan.

Expats should also be aware that businesses, restaurants and grocery stores may adjust their opening hours to better fit the daily meal times during Ramadan, staying shut during daylight hours.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Bahrain

Bahrain's economy, though strong, is heavily reliant on petroleum and aluminium production, and its growth has slowed down somewhat in recent years. However, Bahrain remains one of the most important centres for Islamic banking in the Middle East, and expats relocating there can look forward to dealing with banking services that are efficient and reliable.


Money in Bahrain

The currency used in Bahrain is the Bahraini Dinar (BHD), which is divided into 1,000 fils.

  • Notes: ½ BHD, 1 BHD, 5 BHD, 10 BHD and 20 BHD

  • Coins: 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 fils, and ½ BHD


Banking in Bahrain

With a strong and sophisticated banking industry, there are a number of good options for expats looking for a local bank in Bahrain. For those who prefer to bank internationally, there are also a host of foreign and multinational banks with branches in Bahrain.

Opening hours for banks in Bahrain conform to Islamic culture and are generally between 7.30am and 2.30pm, from Sunday to Thursday.

Opening a bank account in Bahrain

Expats are likely to find that opening a bank account in Bahrain is a bit more of a hassle than in other Gulf countries, as the process is stringently administered and requires a lot of paperwork.

Expats looking to open a bank account in Bahrain must appear at the prospective bank in person, and in possession of a number of documents. The exact requirements vary from bank to bank, but a passport, work and/or residence permit, and proof of residence (such as a utility bill or rental agreement) will usually be required.

ATMs and credit cards in Bahrain

There are plenty of ATMs in Bahrain and expats won't need to look too hard to find one. The majority of ATMs offer 24-hour service, and customers withdrawing cash using a bank card issued by any Bahraini bank will incur no charges at the machines.

Bahraini society is very much cash-based, with very few people using credit or debit cards for small purchases. 


Taxes in Bahrain

One of the great incentives for expats moving to Bahrain is that there is either very little personal or income tax levied against their salary each month, or none at all.

However, before getting too excited, expats are strongly advised to research whether a double-taxation avoidance agreement exists between Bahrain and their country of origin. If not, expats will have to pay tax in their country of origin on the money they earn in Bahrain.

Expat Experiences in Bahrain

When considering a move to a new city, there's nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories from other expats living and working in the region. Contact us if you live or have lived in Bahrain and would like to share your experience.


John is an Australian expat living in Bahrain. He works as a safety consultant for an oil company. He and his partner have adjusted well to the slower, relaxed pace of the island and enjoy socialising with other expats in Manama. Read about his expat life in Bahrain.

Interview with John - An Australian expat living in Bahrain
With the kids long grown-up and gone from home, Susie H retired from her job and headed with her husband to Bahrain in early 2010. She takes a moment to tell Expat Arrivals just what life in Bahrain is all about – and honestly, it sounds delightful.