The Kingdom of Bahrain is a small island archipelago, 92% desert and originally consisting of 33 islands just off the western shore of the Persian Gulf. Bahrain Island itself is the largest, 55km long and 18km wide. Nowadays there are more than 80 islands, thanks to a series of enormous land reclamation and development projects.
About living in Bahrain
- The country’s summers are exceptionally hot and dry and the shallow seas heat up, making it very humid too, especially after dark. Summer highs can easily hit 50 °C and there’s minimal rainfall in winter. Summer runs from April to October.
- Islam is Bahrain’s official religion and 70% of the country is Muslim when you factor in non-nationals. Take non-nationals out of the equation and the population is 99.8% Muslim. Most expats come from South Asia and other Arab countries.
- Oil was found in Bahrain in 1932 but the country has invested heavily in tourism and banking since the late 1900s and, unusually in the region, doesn’t rely on oil for its wealth. The World Bank recognises it as a ‘high income economy’ with most of the population living in the two biggest cities, Manama and Al Muharraq.
- The nation’s transport and communications networks are excellent.
According to Wikipedia, non-nationals make up 50% of Bahrain’s population and the country’s powerful financial services sector means it’s a popular destination for expats, with its ‘tax free’ lifestyle. In fact it’s so popular that it won fifth place in a 2009 HSBC poll of the top countries to live in, with the fifth best quality of life. So what’s it actually like living in Bahrain?
About working in Bahrain
Bahrain is well known as the region’s most liberal business environment, with the lowest taxes, lowest operating costs and a ‘refreshing lack of red tape’. The country offers a highly progressive and fast-growing financial centre plus a skilled, highly educated workforce. If you want to set up a business in the country, their Economic Development Board provides investor facilitation services, which act as the first point of contact for investors and help set up networks. In other words, they are dedicated to making it happen… good to know if you’re an entrepreneur with an interest in setting up shop there.
Bahrain has a large population of expatriate workers, and talented expats are still in demand. The country’s expat work force covers the entire economy, including banking and finance. Construction is also a popular expat industry.
Want to find jobs in Bahrain? It’s up to you to negotiate salaries and benefits, which can vary considerably. Holiday entitlements tend to be four weeks a year, and if you’re s senior worker you might be given housing and car allowances. If you’re very fortunate you might also be given schooling for your children, included in your employment package. But it isn’t wise to go to the country to find work. Most expats are recruited through specialist job agencies, which focus on career opportunities in the Middle East.
Education in Bahrain
Bahrain has an excellent education system but expat children rarely attend local schools, mainly because of the language barrier and religious issues. English is taught in every Bahraini school, but they teach in Arabic. There are a few very good international schools where they teach in English, and plenty offer the International Baccalaureate qualification. There are also some British intermediate and private schools offering the IB Diploma Programme or UK A-Levels, but because the waiting lists can be long, it’s a good idea to sort out schooling early.
Living and working in Bahrain – Areas to live
There are strict limits about who can buy property in Bahrain, so most expats rent. There’s lots of rental property available, much of it brand new and built in a fascinating mix of styles. The main towns are Manama, Riffa, Sanad and Isa Town. Here’s some information about residential areas that are particularly popular with expats:
- Manama – The capital and the largest city in the kingdom, Manama is home to a variety of new suburban developments.
- Adliya – Bustling and multicultural, bohemian and packed with culture.
- Juffair – A busy area of Manama with familiar retail faces like MacDonalds, Nando’s and Starbucks, home to the Bahrain School and Modern Knowledge School.
- Saar – Saar is a suburb in the north west of Bahrain island itself, affluent, quiet and smart.
- Amwaj Islands – A group of man-made islands with purpose-built gated communities and fabulous sea views, where some expats buy homes with 100% freehold land ownership. There’s a private school, hospital, petrol station, gym and lagoon-side entertainment.
- Riffa – A fast-growing town divided into east and west. East Riffa features newly developed residential areas and football stadium plus an international school and the famous Royal Golf Club. West Riffa is mostly residential, where the Royal family and politicians live, and also has its own football club.
- Sanad – Popular with locals, with a small expat community, the town is divided into four areas and has excellent transport connections with Isa Town and Riffa.
- Isa Town – A middle class districtwith one of the biggest concentrations of private schools in the country, including the University of Bahrain. Famous for its traditional market, it’s a hot spot for tourists and home to frankincense, spices and beautiful traditional craftsmanship. The Bahrain National Stadium is there, as is the Ministry of Education and the country’s major media HQ
If you are sent to Bahrain on an assignment your employer, their agent or your sponsor will be able to help you find accommodation. If not, you can ask your colleagues or quiz the expat community in advance.
The cost of living in Bahrain
The Numbeo website contains a host of fascinating and useful information about the cost of living in Bahrain, measured against an index. And the Expatistan website compares Bahrain’s cost of living with other countries, which is really useful. The data is updated regularly. Just for interest, as we write, the cost of living in Manama is:
- 19% less than Dubai
- 18% more than Kuala Lumpur
- 28% cheaper than Manchester
- 45% less than Singapore
- 344% more than Karachi
Living in Bahrain – The dress code
Bahrain is one of the region’s most tolerant countries as regards dress codes but there are a few key things to bear in mind to avoid causing offence. The cover-up culture applies to men as well as women.
- When outdoors, cover everything from your shoulders to your knees
- No sleeveless tops or mini skirts
- Avoid tight and see-through clothes and never, ever let your undies show
- Cover up at public beaches and pools. No bikinis or revealing shorts. You can wear your swimming gear at private beaches and pools, for example hotel pools. Speedos are not acceptable but for men, but shorts are fine
- You cannot go topless… anywhere
- Look smart and clean – it’s a respect thing
- At home, in private, you can wear what you like
Moving to Bahrain – Social clubs
In Bahrain there’s a social club for more or less everything, a great place to make new friends. The Expat Woman website has collated a list of popular Bahrain sports and social clubs, something for everyone.
Places to go in Bahrain
What about entertainment and places to visit? There are plenty of remarkable places to see, including:
- Beit Al Quran Islamic Arts complex
- King Fahd Causeway
- Amwaj Islands
- Adhari Amusement Park
- Bab Al Bahrain, a stunning historical building
- The National Museum
- The Qal’at al-Bahrain, or Bahrain Fort
- The Al-Fateh Mosque, one of the world’s biggest mosques
- The Khamis Mosque, the first mosque built in the country
- Barbar temple
- Arad and Riffa forts
There’s also excellent international shopping in the capital and bigger cities, sophisticated and vibrant, packed with designer goods. And amazing traditional markets to explore.
Food in Bahrain
Bahrain cuisine incorporates Indian, Thai, Chinese, Continental and Pakistani food as well as traditional Arabic dishes. Look out for Qoozi, fragrant grilled lamb with rice, boiled eggs,onions, spices and mixed nuts.Or Muhammar, a tasty dish of sweet rice with fried Safi (also called ‘rabbit fish’) or mackerel. Try Gahwa, a lovely drink rich in cardamom and saffron, or Halwa, a fabulous dessert with cardamom and pistachio. The bigger cities also offer international cuisine and fast food.
Three top Bahraini news websites
Want to find out more before you decide to move to Bahrain? Here are three excellent news media websites to help you become familiar with every aspect of the country before making a decision:
Last but not least, here’s a lovely photo essay about living in Bahrain. Inspired? Don’t forget your international health insurance…