Having been an expat destination for centuries, Bahrain is a true melting pot with expats outnumbering the locals!
Living in Bahrain puts you at the center of the Persian Gulf, the region’s financial hub and cultural heart. The Kingdom of Bahrain is a fascinating country which is rich in culture, history and is located with ample tourist sports. It is socially liberalized and moderately western-friendly among Muslim countries in the region.
Bahrain is popular for its authentic ‘Arabness’, although without strict application of Islamic law on its non-Muslim minority, and hence is popular among travellers. Although its economy is petroleum-based, it has a rather relaxed culture and is considered to be a social and shopping Mecca which has helped it in developing into a cosmopolitan hub.
Here are a few things you should consider before moving to Bahrain.
Cost of Living
Manama is the centre point of Bahraini economy with several multinationals, offices and facilities located in and around Manama. The economic base for Manama is its financial services, as there are more than 200 financial institutions and banks that have their base in the Central Business District and the Diplomatic Area.
The overall cost of living in Bahrain is similar to that in most European countries if you’re living in the style of the average western expatriate.
But the general lack of taxation has a significant impact on the cost of certain items, e.g. cars. On the other hand the cost of accommodation is sometimes high, as is that of certain food items particularly imported foods. If you buy internationally recognised branded foods and household goods, you might pay higher prices than in your home country, but there are usually plenty of cheaper locally and regionally produced alternatives that are of excellent quality. Clothing can also be expensive if you favour designer labels – this isn’t peculiar to Bahrain – although there’s little need for winter clothing.
The price of wines and spirits, where these are permitted is slightly lower than in the UK but higher than average European prices. Electronic goods such as televisions, hi-fis, DVD players, photographic equipment and computer hardware and software are generally less expensive than in Europe mainly because of lower import duties.
Utilities such as electricity, water and gas are subsidised to some extent by the region’s governments which own the services (except for bottled gas supplies) in order to provide inexpensive electricity and water, mainly for the benefit of the local population. Utilities are therefore cheaper than in most European countries. However, at the height of summer air-conditioning costs will escalate rather as the cost of heating increases in winter in colder climates. Newcomers sometimes make the expensive mistake of keeping their air-conditioning on even when they’re out, but this is unnecessary, as air-conditioning systems reduce the temperature in your accommodation quickly when activated on your return home.
Manama has been ranked 8th as most expensive place in the GCC region for expatriate living.
However, compared to other regional commercial centres including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Bahrain is still a reasonable destination when it comes to saving a little something extra in the bank.
Accommodation in Bahrain is available in many shapes and sizes with all possible variations in financial requirements. This is because the complicated and diversified national culture of Bahrain causes the locals to offer different treatments to people within Bahrain and to people who come from the rest of the world - depending on where they are coming from.
Organizations and individuals who provide accommodation in Bahrain have realized that the ever increasing competition means that they had better listen to even the most trivial of demands made by their customers. The upshot of all this is that the hospitality industry in Bahrain has made it a specific goal to offer the highest level of comfort that is possible. It is becoming an increasingly popular trend among hotels and other accommodation providers to profile their customers to determine exactly what they need so that service is not just quick and pleasant but also feels personalized.
The recent shift of focus of the economy to business and tourism services has also had a tremendous impact on accommodation in Bahrain. More and more people are traveling to Bahrain every year either as tourists or as business travelers and the hotels are doing a booming business through these visitors. More and more hotels in Bahrain are shifting their focus from being simply staying-places to providing business facilities like conference rooms, internet connectivity, and so on. The second area of focus is unparalleled comfort for the business class travelers who are kept away from the mundane issues so that they are free from all distractions that would take their concentration away from the task at hand. This includes not only making certain that their stay is comfortable but also to provide a visitor from any part of the world with the best quality food of their choice.
Finding accommodation in Bahrain is very easy nowadays because most of the reputed real estate agents have websites and online presence for easy access. This is further made easy by the presence of the large number of expatriates in Bahrain that are quite active in the message forums and can provide you with excellent first hand advice as well as references to the local professionals who can further assist you.
The transport facilities in Bahrain are well developed with numerous multinational firms having businesses in Gulf with Manama as base. Petroleum continues to be the main-stay of the economy. Transport costs for public transport, vehicle costs, vehicle insurance, vehicle fuel and vehicle maintenance including hire, purchase, lease of vehicle, petrol/diesel, public transport service maintenance, vehicle insurance, tyres, and vehicle purchase are less expensive in comparison to other cities of the world.
The budget for a private vehicle varies tremendously depending on several factors. A decent mid-level vehicle like Toyota Camry can cost around BD150 per month. A good ballpark estimate for monthly lease payment on a high-end SUV is BD350 plus BD40 a month for petrol and BD 20 for car wash once a week. The monthly rental for a small car could be BD150 to BD200. The cost for a second-hand small car could be BD1500 to BD2500. However, petrol is comparatively cheap, Middle East being the location, after all. As for renting a cab, the fare from city centre to airport for instance could be around BD4.
Bahrain is very serious with regards to the health care of its Nationals and Residents. The Bahraini government provides free healthcare to all Bahraini nationals and it has one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the Gulf region.
In Bahrain, healthcare is available through public and private providers. It is free only for nationals. And, therefore, with the exception of emergency care in government hospitals expats must pay for health services and medications. Employers in Bahrain are not obliged to provide medical cover to expat employees. The majority of expats in Bahrain voluntarily takes out private health insurance and use private medical facilities. There are a few private medical insurers in Bahrain and their policies vary according to each person. There is also family cover as well as individual cover.
Residency Permit (Family Visa)
In order to stay in Bahrain for any length of time, you will need to obtain a Residency visa. This requires one person in the family to be ‘sponsored’. This is almost always the main person who is employed in the family and they will be sponsored by their employer. Other family members will then obtain residency on a ‘family’ visa. Residency visas are arranged via the HR department of the main visa holder’s employer.
Once residency has been granted, each person will have their residency visa added to their passport and they will also be issued with a CPR card. Once you have a CPR, you will need to have this on you at all times as proof of your identity and that you have permission to be in Bahrain. It is also common for you to be asked to hand over your CPR when you are visiting buildings that have security requirements - you will be issued with some sort of other ID card by security staff in exchange for your CPR and then your CPR will be handed back when you leave. Be sure, however, that you only ever hand over your CPR to a legitimate security employee.
The contract can be terminated by either party with one month notice or pay one month wage in lieu of serving notice or act in conformity with Bahrain Labour Law. The employer also has the right to terminate a contract for any other reasons such as serious misconduct or disobedience on the part of employee, habitual neglect of duties, insubordination, absenteeism, disclosing any secrets of the company, in cases of violation of laws, customs and traditions. In such cases the employee will have to bear the cost of repatriation.
On the other hand, if the contract is termination unilaterally by the employer prior to its expiry date and if there is no major violations on the part of employee then the employer will have to indemnify the employee for remaining part of contract period and the employer will have to bear the repatriation expenses.
The contract can also be terminated by the employee on certain grounds such as serious insult, unbearable treatment, inhumane treatment, violation of contract by the employer, sub-human working and living conditions, failure on the part of employer or his representative, sub-human working and living conditions, failure on the part of employer to pay salary of the employee, or an attempt on the life of employee by the employer. In such cases, the employer will have to bear repatriation expenses of the employer.
All other terms and conditions of employment are governed by the provisions of Bahrain Labour Law for the private sector, 1976. The contract is usually done in duplicate in English with each party holding one copy.
Local laws and Bahrain customs
It is mandatory to carry photograph ID at all times and not being able to present the photographic ID when asked to by the Bahraini authorities will be considered an offence. Homosexual behaviour is illegal here. Living together is not recognized. Physical contact such as holding hands in public is not accepted.
Alcohol is available for purchase at special stores. However, restrictions should be observed concerning alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol in public is illegal and there are also off-licenses which sell to non-Muslims.
If involved in any court proceedings in Bahrain, due to labour disagreement or indebtedness or other legal dispute, you may be prevented from leaving Bahrain until your case is resolved.
Child custody decisions are based on Islamic law. It is difficult for a expat woman even if she is a Muslim to obtain custody of her children through Bahraini court decision. Irrespective of the marital status of their parents, minor children of a Bahraini father are not allowed to leave Bahrain without their father’s permission. Dual nationality is not legally recognized here and consular services cannot be provided in such cases.
Despite being socially liberal, Bahrainis are also conservative. Local customs and traditions, laws and religion should be respected and do not offend anyone especially during Holy month of Ramadan and Shia festivals. Dress conservatively in public places especially religious sites. Women should wear dresses that cover their arms and legs while men are not allowed to wear shorts in public.
As for social gestures always use right hand for hand shake. It is generally against Muslim religion to shake hands with ladies, although some women may do so in a business environment. However, the best would be not to try and initiate it. But, accept if offered. Beware of placing soles of your feet in the direction of someone when sitting.