Written by Vicky Dixon
Posted Jul 22, 2021 8:50
Updated Aug 9, 2021 6:25
The lifestyle in Bahrain is a heady mix of traditional Islamic values, heritage architecture, unique culture, and a drive for innovation and prosperity.
Expats considering living in Bahrain face the prospect of higher wages, an exceptional work/life balance, and friendly communities that welcome expats.
With the coldest winter nights only dipping to 16 °C, the climate in Bahrain is hot and humid, with the hottest temperatures in June and July soaring as high as 48 °C.
The year-round sunshine, warmth and lack of rain are in stark contrast for expats looking for respite from grey summers and frozen winters of Britain and Northern Europe.
However, there are some drawbacks, essentially in that many expats find life in a traditional Islamic nation something of a culture shock.
Expats living here dress conservatively and follow strict rules that govern their conduct, even though Bahrain is much more relaxed about religion than neighbouring Gulf nations.
Over 50 per cent of the 1.5 million population are expats, most relocating to Bahrain to enjoy some great career opportunities and a new luxury lifestyle with their families.
This guide explains what life is like in Bahrain, from the cost of living, to driving, finding work and the cost of groceries.
Bahrain is a prime destination for professional expats. The country welcomes skilled workers in several key industries, such as banking and construction.
Salaries are high, allowing many expats to accumulate enough wealth to act as an early retirement fund.
That said, you can enjoy living in Bahrain long-term, with low costs, high standards, and an emphasis on family living.
Here are some of the top reasons many skilled expats choose Bahrain.
The 12,000 or so British expats in Bahrain coexist harmoniously alongside people of various faiths and cultures. The country is safe, peaceful, and diverse.
The weather is mild, people are welcoming, with endless things to see and do, including world-class museums, art galleries and cultural centres.
Restaurants serve every kind of cuisine from all corners of the world, ranging from Arabic, European, American to Asian dishes.
The capital Manama and other cities offer multiple housing options, with rents among the lowest prices of any Gulf state.
Foreign investors can buy properties in freehold areas, including Juffair, Seef, the Amwaj Islands and Durrat Al Bahrain Islands.
Compared to other Gulf nations, Bahrain is one of the most affordable places in the Middle East.
The Bahraini government subsidises commodities like broadband, electricity, and water, making services readily available and low cost.
Bahrain has no income tax, although working residents contribute one per cent of their gross salary to support local unemployment programmes.
The economy is stable, expats have the freedom to buy homes, and there are other investment opportunities in a growingly diversified economy.
If you’re travelling to Bahrain to visit, you can apply for an e-visa online through the Ministry of Interior website. You’ll need:
Provided you have a return or onward travel ticket, applying for a Bahraini tourist visa is straightforward. You can also pick one up when you arrive if you haven’t organised it online.
Moving to Bahrain for work is a little different and includes three elements:
Applicants need a job offer before they can apply for a work visa. Your application needs to include the letter of sponsorship from your new employer, contract details such as your pay rate, and the role you are taking.
Like many Middle Eastern work permit programs, the employer acts as a sponsor and will usually help manage most of the visa application process.
UK expats looking to work in Bahrain need a healthcare check and a medical assessment from an approved clinic before a visa is granted.
It’s worth noting that while you will need a job lined up, it isn’t complicated to get a work permit in Bahrain, and the cost is only about £215.
The Economic Development Board aims to help new businesses or entrepreneurs set up shop, and the government is keen to promote foreign investment.
A residence permit is a different document, and you’ll need similar reports showing your health, income and financial independence.
A residency permit application costs around £47.
Identification cards, or CPR cards, are a mandatory requirement for all Bahraini residents.
The card costs around £2 per applicant.
While residency and work permits are easy to come by, Bahraini citizenship is another story.
Unless you were born in the country or have a link through family or marriage, you only qualify for citizenship if you have lived there for 20 years, speak reasonable Arabic and have no criminal record.
For Bahrain citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, take a look at the Tier 1 Investor Visa.
If you have a job offer, you might have a limited area to search for a property.
If not, we’ve listed here a snapshot of some popular expat destinations, with a brief guide to the advantages of each.
Hamala is close to The British School of Bahrain and the Saudi Causeway. The neighbourhood is an excellent place for families looking for a distinguished international school and easy transport links.
Homes here are in new compounds, with lots of trees, manicured gardens and facilities similar to a holiday resort.
Villas tend to offer between three and five bedrooms, and the Hamala Hills Mall is close by, including a supermarket and several decent restaurants.
However, properties in Hamala are hard to come by and command a premium price tag.
Janabiya is one of the popular destinations for expats, with several social clubs, family events, the Rugby Club and Dilmun Club.
The latter has tennis, squash and a riding school, and there are countless social activities and sporting events to attend, watch or join.
Apartments in Janabiya are reasonably affordable, and you can shop at the Atrium Mall or El Mercado Mall nearby.
If you’re looking for premium villas, Saar might be your best bet, with stables and riding schools alongside kids play areas, tennis courts, swimming pools and plenty of community facilities.
Nearby you’ll fund shopping outlets, nurseries and some of the top international schools, including St Christopher’s Junior School.
Amwaj is a little different and centres around the beautiful beaches and variety of water sports on offer. The neighbourhood has lots of luxury residences, high-end recreational facilities and no end to outdoor activities.
However, as rental prices have fallen slightly, there is high demand for villas and apartments, so finding a vacant property isn’t always easy.
A slightly cheaper option within Amwaj is Tala Island, a gated community with townhouses, villas and apartments. Luxury homes with waterfront views and a short walk from the beach are affordable.
The communal pools overlook a stunning lagoon, and you can stroll along the boardwalk to reach the shops, restaurants, children’s play areas and tennis courts.
Take a look at Riffa Views, home to Bahrain’s only 18-hole championship standard golf course.
There are conference rooms, a golf academy and a country club; making it a popular place for professionals.
Bahrain isn’t the cheapest Middle Eastern country, but it’s reasonably affordable compared to UK averages. However, it depends where you shop and what you buy.
Generally, groceries in Britain are 26 per cent more expensive, but imported products in the big supermarkets are more expensive.
Wages in Bahrain are tax-free and highly qualified professionals can command impressive salaries.
Still, the national average is only 578 BHD a month (£1,104) – compared to £1,954 in the UK. The below shows a few of the standard living costs and the averages in both nations.
Restaurant prices in Bahrain are about 48 per cent lower than the UK.
Travel is cheap, with petrol costing next to nothing.
Overall rent prices are just around 10 per cent lower – depending on whether you’re living in an ultra-modern apartment in a slick city centre development or a traditional family villa.
People don’t walk anywhere in Bahrain. It’s scorching most of the time, and there are hardly any pavements away from the shopping and residential districts.
In terms of public transport, most people opt for a taxi or hire a driver – which is surprisingly affordable.
Bus services exist, but the vehicles are old, erratic, and generally avoided by western expats unless they have a taste for adventure.
Most schools offer a private bus service, though, which is far safer and reliable, although at an additional cost on top of your tuition fees.
You can drive in Bahrain, and we’ve established, petrol is very cheap, but you must have your wits about you at all times.
Dealerships in Bahrain sell new and used cars, and expats typically opt for a rugged 4×4 to cope with the sand – they’re cheap to fill up, after all. You can also hire vehicles on relatively short hire contracts.
The driving issue is that the standards here are rather shocking. It isn’t uncommon to see drivers hurtling along at over 120 KPH with children handing out the windows.
People don’t wear seat belts, accidents are common, and nobody seems to follow any laws, so only drive if you’re very confident you have the skills to navigate the chaotic road systems.
As throughout the Gulf, oil is a big deal. Oil was first drilled in 1932 in Bahrain, and much of the economy relies on these natural resources.
However, while Bahrain is still a significant player in the petroleum industry, the government is trying to diversify. It has invested heavily in banking, becoming a vital financial hub in this part of the world.
You’ll find several well-known multinational employers in Manama, and jobs in:
Another positive is that the working culture in Bahrain is the most liberal in the Middle East, and women can easily find jobs.
You need to dress conservatively at work, and many of the largest businesses will trade primarily in English. However, there are some differences:
Several international job sites and vacancy boards are online:
Work permits require a confirmed offer of employment and contract, and most companies looking for foreign nationals will hire expats from overseas and then assist with their relocation.
It would help if you had a sponsoring employer to be granted a work permit, and they need to report to the authorities:
Another quirk is that if you work in Bahrain on a contract, you get an indemnity payment when the contract ends. However, this payment isn’t insurance but a type of end of contract bonus and a legal obligation.
Family life in Bahrain is considered very good, and the culture is child-friendly, so there are always lots of things to do. Even ‘adult’ events such as the Grand Prix have facilities designed for families.
The weather is outstanding, so most expats spend much of the year outside school days by the pool or beach.
Education in Bahrain is highly valued, and there are several exceptional schools, world-class universities and a range of private and public options.
School here is compulsory from age six to fourteen, although most children stay at college until 18.
Bahrain has one of the oldest public education systems in the Gulf, and all children receive free tuition.
However, expat kids usually attend an international school, as it’s hard to learn or make new friends given that all lessons are in Arabic.
Given the relaxed laws in Bahrain, you can find Catholic and religious schools. Curriculums range from the British curriculum and International Baccalaureate to the French curriculum, so schools cater to expat children of all nationalities.
Bear in mind that waiting lists can be lengthy and fees high, so it’s best to register as early as you can.
Employers in Bahrain sometimes provide an education allowance, which can go a long way to making the school fees more affordable.
Average private school fees start at 1,300 BHD up to 1,700 BHD a term (£2,497 – £3,265) – with costs increasing with the child’s age and the school’s popularity.
While Bahrain is relatively liberal compared to its neighbours, it’s still very conservative for expats familiar with Western lifestyles.
Bahrain is tolerant and provided you respect the religious customs; you can live pretty freely. One rule you shouldn’t ignore is the need to dress modestly and avoid public displays of affection with the opposite gender.
Homosexuality is legal here, which is highly unusual in an Islamic country, but there is still discrimination and prosecutions under public morality laws.
Muslims don’t drink alcohol, but you can buy and drink alcohol through licensed venues. Most of these are hotels, but you can purchase alcoholic drinks in some stores.
While alcohol isn’t banned, it is illegal to be drunk in public, and drink driving has serious consequences.
Below are links to other country specific expat guides:
Cross Border Financial News
Money International is one of the world’s leading resources for cross border financial news, information, reviews and guides.
© 2021 Money International