Expat Guide To Living In Bahrain

Bahrain

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.

Why Move To Bahrain?

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.

Security and community

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.

Finding accommodation in Bahrain

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.

Low living costs

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. 

Visas And Residency For UK Expats In Bahrain

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:

  • At least six months left on your passport.
  • To pay an application fee of around £10.
  • To travel for up to 14 days, you can extend the visa for an additional 14 days.

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.

Work visas for Bahrain

Moving to Bahrain for work is a little different and includes three elements:

  • Residency visa
  • Work visa
  • Identification card (CPR)

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.

Bahrain residency

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.

Citizenship in Bahrain

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.

Questions from Expats Living in Bahrain 

Is Bahrain safe for British expats?

Yes, Bahrain is a safe country, and the penalties for breaking laws are so severe that crime is almost non-existent.
 
The western expat community is usually relatively compact, so it’s easy to meet new friends, and there are many places to socialise, such as the Dilmun Club, Yacht Club, British Club and Rugby Club.

What language is spoken in Bahrain?

Bahraini people are amicable and proud of their culture, so they often try to welcome new expats.
 
Almost everybody speaks English, and while you don’t need to learn Arabic, it doesn’t hurt to try. Wealthier Bahrainis tend to travel to western countries for education, and many have lived in the UK before.
 
Lots of the non-Bahraini population speak Farsi or Urdu, the official languages of Iran and Pakistan.

Can British expats buy property in Bahrain?

To improve foreign investment, the Bahraini government has changed the laws allowing foreign nationals to purchase homes. 
 
However, you are restricted to freehold districts and should work with a local lawyer to ensure any property you’re thinking of buying is open for expat investment. Purchases must be for a residential home.
 
A lawyer will also verify the ownership of the property to make sure the vendor is ‘A Legal Seller’ with appropriate rights.
 
Most foreign nationals live in Bahrain Island, in Manama, Saar, Hamala or Budaiya. 
 
Listings available for foreign purchase are usually built on reclaimed land, and you’ll typically find the homes are in gated communities and populated primarily by expats.

How easy is it to get a Bahraini residence visa?

The Bahrain visa system is simple, and provided you have all your paperwork together, you can get a visa to travel in less than a week. 
 
Expats can also apply for an urgent permit, with a 24-hour turnaround through the Nationality, Passport and Residence Affairs office.

How long does it take to get to Bahrain from the UK?

You can travel to Manama directly from Heathrow. The flight takes around seven hours.

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 – Best for affluent families

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 – Best for socialising and sports

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.

Saar – Best for family accommodation

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 – Best for beachside living

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.

Tala Island – Best for affordable waterfront homes

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.

Riffa Views – Best for golfers and professionals

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.

Cost Of Living In Bahrain

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.

ExpenseAverage Bahrain Cost BHDAverage Bahrain Cost GBPAverage UK Cost GBP
Monthly rent – one-bed central apartment341 BHD£651£750
Monthly rent – three-bed family home457 BHD£873£965
Monthly nursery fees89 BHD£171£931
Monthly international school fees170 BHD£324£1,096
Monthly gym membership27 BHD£52£31
Monthly broadband22 BHD£42£31
Monthly utilities66 BHD£126£154
Litre of fuel0.18 BHD£0.35£1.26
Monthly public transport15 BHD£29£65
Loaf of bread0.47 BHD£0.89£0.98
Pack of 12 eggs0.95 BHD£1.81£1.94
Cup of coffee1.71 BHD£3.26£2.75
Bottle of Water0.13 BHD£0.25£0.97
Meal for two15 BHD£29£50

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.

Getting Around In Bahrain

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.

Finding Work As An Expat In Bahrain

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:

  • Tourism
  • Ship repairs
  • Trading
  • Construction

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:

  • Small talk sessions are ordinary – this is all about politeness and personal interactions as a vital part of business relationships.
  • Punctuality is vital – being late or coming to a meeting unprepared reflects poorly, and is considered rude.
  • Businesses usually work from 7 am to 2 pm, finishing before the hottest part of the day. Some workplaces reopen in the evening.

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:

  • Why a local person could not fulfil the role.
  • How long the contract will run.
  • The rates of pay, including salary and bonuses

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.

Education In Bahrain

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.

Culture And Laws In Bahrain

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:

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