Your guide to expat life in Bahrain

Living in Bahrain

Bahrain ranked ninth overall in our 2016 Expat Explorer Survey. Particular highlights include high disposable income, an excellent work-life balance and the ease of integration into their new community.

Bahrain also scored highly as a place to raise children – 73% of expat parents believe their children have a better quality of life than in their home country and 52% said that Bahrain offered better health and wellbeing options for their offspring.

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Accommodation

From modern high-rise apartments in a city centre or suburb to large villas in expat compounds, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to housing. Most expats in Bahrain rent as there are restrictions on buying property. Popular expat areas are Juffair and Adliya in Manama, along with the smaller cities of Riffa and Saar.

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Expat compounds

With facilities such as a gym, clubhouse, swimming pool and shops, expat compounds are popular with families who also like the sense of security and kinship they provide. One drawback is their insular nature as they tend to limit interaction with local people.

Renting property

Rentals are fairly easy to negotiate and are usually done with the help of your employer. Rental periods are flexible, from one month to a year, but once leases are signed it’s not easy to get out of them early. You may pay more rent than you would back home and utilities are rarely included in the cost.

Furnished/unfurnished

Although fully furnished options are available, most expats prefer semi-furnished or unfurnished accommodation so they can buy reasonably priced, unique furniture to take back home one day.

Culture changes

While Bahrain retains its Islamic roots, the country is hospitable towards its burgeoning expat population. As long as you’re aware of and respect local customs, you should adapt fairly quickly. Bahrain is a patriarchal society and it’s not unusual to see women in abayas – a long-sleeved, floor-length black garment that covers the face. Although expat women aren’t expected to follow suit, dressing (and behaving) modestly is advisable.

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Gender relations

Women in Bahrain have greater freedom than those living in the region’s more conservative Islamic states, but men and women still don’t mingle much. For female expats, it’s best to keep a respectful distance from male counterparts.

Dress

Bahrainis dress to impress and scruffiness isn’t appreciated – so make an effort with your appearance. Outside the home, women should avoid wearing tight or revealing clothing. For men, long sleeves are preferable and Speedo-style swimming costumes are a no-no.

Alcohol

Alcohol is forbidden for Muslims, but it can be bought (at a price) in hotels, expat clubs and restaurants.

Same-sex relationships

Homosexuality is considered immoral in Bahrain and public displays are punishable by law.

Ramadan

Ramadan is an important time in the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. Show empathy by not eating, drinking, smoking or showing affection in public and try to keep noise levels down. Some companies provide space where non-Muslims can eat and drink during working hours.

Etiquette

When you visit Bahrainis, remember to take off your shoes – the same applies when you enter a mosque. Showing the soles of your shoes is considered rude, as is turning down refreshments when they’re offered to you.

Safety

Bahrain hasn’t been affected by terrorism to the same degree as some of its neighbours, but travel alerts have been issued by various Western governments following a few isolated incidents in mid-2016. Protests take place often – avoid getting to close to a demonstration in case it turns violent. The impact on expats has to date been low.

Education

Bahrainis value education and have invested heavily in schooling in recent years. There’s a variety of schools to choose from, as well as a number of world-class universities. School is compulsory for children aged 6 to 14, although most stay until they’re 17 or 18.

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Public schools

With one of the oldest public education systems in the Gulf region, Bahrain continues to provide free tuition to all students. Expat children rarely attend public schools because of language and cultural barriers. Instead they usually go to one of the country’s many international schools.

Private schools

There are quite a few private schools across Bahrain that aren’t bound by the government’s educational requirements. Some follow a religious curriculum, such as Catholic schools.

International schools

Bahrain’s international schools have high standards and excellent facilities. The International Baccalaureate and British national curriculum are popular choices. American, Australian, French and Indian curricula are also available, with Arabic and Islamic studies usually incorporated into teaching plans. Fees are high and waiting lists are long – so register early and try to negotiate an education allowance with your employer.

Enjoy the friendliness and hospitality of the Bahraini people!

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for Bahrain

Keeping in touch

Mobile

Bahrain has a sophisticated telecommunications industry and the key players in the mobile market are Batelco, Zain and Viva. To take out a mobile contract you need to be a registered resident with ID and a fixed address. Pay-as-you-go options are also available.

Internet

It’s worth shopping around for packages that include Internet and mobile phone services. Internet speed is good, but there’s a degree of media censorship with sensitive content monitored by the government. This has increased since the 2011 Arab Spring protests. That said, you can still access Skype and most social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter.

Postal service

Bahrain Post is the country’s main provider. Most mail is delivered to private boxes at larger post offices.

Newspapers

You can buy both local and international newspapers in Bahrain. Some local papers are published in English, including the Daily Tribune and the Gulf News Daily.

Healthcare

Bahrain has one of best healthcare systems in the Gulf region, with many foreign-trained doctors. The country has a small selection of private and state-run hospitals as well as a range of clinics and maternity hospitals.

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Public healthcare

Bahrain’s public healthcare system can be used by expats with a Population Registration Card. While healthcare for Bahrainis is free, expats have to pay for emergency services and specialist procedures.

Private healthcare

Most expats opt for private healthcare – so try to get medical insurance included in your relocation package. The standard of care at private hospitals is excellent and most doctors are fluent in English. But specialist treatment can be limited and you may have to travel outside the country for uncommon procedures.

Pharmacies

Pharmacies are plentiful and well stocked, but you may struggle to get hold of sleeping pills and antidepressants, even with a doctor’s certificate.

Emergency services

Bahrain is well equipped for emergencies, with services that include ambulances, boats and helicopters. These can be slow to arrive though – so it may be better to make your own way to a hospital. The general number for police, fire and ambulance services in Bahrain is 999.

Getting around

Most expats in Bahrain have private cars. Although public transport is improving, it’s less sophisticated than in other Gulf states, not to mention uncomfortable in the stifling heat. It’s a compact country, which makes commuting manageable, but there can be congestion at noon when workers take their lunch breaks.

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Driving

Local drivers can be erratic and the accident rate is high – so be alert, especially when the roads are wet. Because smaller roads are often poorly signposted, it’s worth getting directions before you set out. The country has a zero-tolerance policy on drunk driving.

Taxis

Taxis are plentiful, reliable and not too expensive. They’re particularly convenient if you’re heading to the airport where parking spaces are limited.

Regional Travel

A major causeway connects Bahrain to the Saudi Arabian mainland, making it an excellent base from which to explore other Gulf states.

Air Travel

Gulf Air is the national carrier, with excellent links to regional and international destinations.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.