Moving to Bahrain: The Definitive Guide
Posted by Dannielle Noonan
Connected to Saudi Arabia via the King Fahad Causeway and close to Qatar; Bahrain is currently home to around 12,000 British expatriates. With an overall population of around 1.3 million, of which over half are non-nationals; Eastern and Western culture blend together in the archipelago, making it a veritable paradise for people seeking a new life overseas.
Often hailed as the jewel in the crown of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain has become a lucrative option for expats and foreign companies due to its financial prospects.
At Medibroker we have been working with corporations to find health cover for their workforce in Bahrain for years, and we can now also find cover for individuals in Bahrain. Our expanded ability to get medical cover for individual workers in Bahrain reflects our position at the forefront of international health cover for expatriates in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In addition to providing you with a simple solution to health insurance in Bahrain, we’ve put together a guide for people planning a move to Bahrain.
Moving to Bahrain
People moving to Bahrain will need a Residency visa. If taking your family, one person in the family must be sponsored – usually by your 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.
Your passport must have a minimum of 6 months before it expires and also have a minimum of 3 blank pages for your visa and entry/exit stamps at customs.
On arrival in Bahrain you will be issued with a CPR card. To obtain this, you will usually need to attend the Ministry buildings in Isa Town, which the main visa holder’s HR department will usually arrange.
People arriving in Bahrain for the first time for work will enter into a different queue at the airport, marked as LMRA. Here, the border officer will take your photo, which will be printed onto your CPR and/or driving license and other documents. You will also be given an appointment for your health checks in Bahrain.
In Bahrain you will need to carry your CPR at all times and you are often required to hand it over when you are visiting buildings that have security requirements. Be sure, however, that you only ever hand over your CPR to a legitimate security employee.
Expats in Bahrain can enjoy a stress free commute to work. If you’re going to drive in Bahrain, keep in mind that driving is on the right hand side of the road. EU, US and UK driving licenses can easily be converted to Bahraini on arrival.
Infrastructure in Bahrain is generally good as all of the islands in the archipelago are connected by bridges. However, public transport in Bahrain can be unreliable, so most expats choose to use taxis – but ensure they have a meter.
Renting is generally the best option when it comes to housing in Bahrain, and cost can vary depending on location, size and age of the property. Many expatriates choose to live in compounds where they benefit from security and communal areas like swimming pools and other sports facilities. However, many apartments also offer this, and most of these are situated in Manama. Another popular housing option for expatriates in Bahrain is a villa, which are all over Bahrain and are usually more expensive.
Rent rates in Bahrain usually include utility bills such as electricity, water, gas, internet, telephone and sewerage.
You need a confirmed job offer in order to get a work visa, and you cannot work in Bahrain without one. 88.8% of Bahrain’s expat population are individual workers.
Though once dependent on oil; Bahrain now has a diverse economy thanks to its investment in areas like banking and tourism, meaning a plethora of job opportunities for highly skilled expats.
Bahrain attracts banks from all over the world, creating a strong financial sector in which expatriates can find work. The country's capital, Manama, is home to many large financial institutions, including the Bahrain World Trade Center and the Bahrain Financial Harbour. The construction and ship-repairing industries are also major employers, as are IT and technology. People with sales and marketing experience are also very valuable to Bahrain’s economy.
Most employers will offer packages that include the following in addition to the salary: Medical insurance, accommodation allowance, relocation allowance, car allowance, a flight-ticket home (usually once or twice a year), club / gym membership and schooling. These allowances vary depending on your skill set and your level within the company.
Cost of Living & Quality of Life in Bahrain
The currency is the Bahraini Dinar (BD). Bahrain is an economic free zone, which means residents don’t pay income taxes. In addition, there’s no sales tax on purchases, and Bahrain ranked 17th globally for household income. Food and socialising costs can vary as widely as they do in the UK.
In the 2014 Expat Explorer survey, Bahrain ranks 2nd out of 34 countries in the Expat Experience league tables, scoring particularly well for quality of life and performing better than its Middle Eastern counterparts. In addition, nearly half of people surveyed say they experience a better working culture and environment compared with the regional average of 43% and the global average of 39%. Perhaps most appealingly, more than six in ten expats in Bahrain (62%) say they have a better work / life balance than in their home country.
Bahrain is rated 4th for childcare and 3rd for schools, globally. It comes in at 9th place for raising children in general.
Private education is the only option for expatriates with children in Bahrain, and catchment areas don’t exist so you can choose your school regardless of where you live. Waiting lists can be long, so it’s advisable to register with your chosen school as soon as possible.
British students can study a British curriculum and sit their GCSEs and A Levels in Bahrain schools.
The school week runs from Saturday to Wednesday, so you may need to find childcare if you are working in Bahrain as most international businesses operate from Sunday to Thursday.
Things to do
Most of the large hotels offer a Friday ‘brunch’, which is a big social event for expats in Bahrain. They commonly start at 12.30pm and last all afternoon. For a set price, expats enjoy a buffet, inclusive drinks (sometimes including alcohol) and often children’s entertainment.
Bahrain has many large shopping malls, including: Bahrain City Centre, Seef Mall and Al A’ali Mall, all in the Seef area close to Manama; Bahrain Mall and Dana Mall in the Sanabis area close to Manama; Moda mall close to Financial Harbour; Sitra Mall; Ramli Mall; and Country Mall on the Budaiya Highway, Enma mall, Oasis mall in Riffa.
City Centre Mall and Seef Mall have numerous international stores and brands like Marks and Spencer. They also have large food courts and restaurant areas, along with cinemas and entertainment areas. Most malls open at 10am, and stay open until 10pm or even later.
Expats with barter skills will love the markets, known as souqs, in Bahrain. The largest is Manama souq, located in the small streets and alleys behind Bab al Bahrain, close to the Trade Centre and Financial Harbour. The souq sellers trade in a huge selection of products, including material, traditional dresses, souvenirs, toys, spices, and many fake goods such as handbags and watches.
Bahrainis are extremely friendly, but many expats have little contact directly with locals unless they join a club frequented by them. Expats in Bahrain generally enjoy the family-orientated culture and there are a number of social clubs that bring the expat community together.
While Islam is the main religion, Bahrainis are known for their lenience towards other faiths and lifestyles – perhaps due to the diverse workforce. However, that shouldn't tempt you into disregarding Bahraini cultural values and rules. Foreigners should dress conservatively in public and remember that homosexuality is still illegal in Bahrain. Although the traditional male attire is the thobe which also includes traditional headdresses, Western clothing is common in the country.
Ramadan is observed by all businesses and service companies, which impacts restaurant and shop opening times during the Holy month.
The weekend in Bahrain is Friday and Saturday, with Friday being the religious day. Get used to setting your alarm for work on a Sunday morning! The weekend in Saudi Arabia is Thursday and Friday, and you will find that some people who live in Bahrain but work in Saudi Arabia work the ‘Saudi’ week rather than the ‘Bahraini’ week.
Pork products are generally not available in restaurants and supermarkets, although some of the latter have small, screened off ‘pork rooms’. Alcohol is available in some hotels and a few restaurants, and there are specialist shops for home consumption.
Local delicacies include shawarma (rolled kebab sandwiches); machboos (spiced rice with lamb); mixed grills; and sweet desserts.
Bahrain has mild winters and very hot, humid summers. 92% of Bahrain is desert with periodic droughts and dust storms can cause a problem for expats and Bahrainis. Summer temperatures may reach up to 50 °C (122 °F).
Health Insurance for Expats in Bahrain
Bahrain has complex laws regarding health insurance requirements for expatriates, and the team of experienced medical insurance advisors at Medibroker can help you find the best cover for your needs in Bahrain. Simply fill in this form and one of our experts will get back to you to further discuss your needs. Alternatively, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0) 191 270 3034