The mystical Middle East has been an expat magnet for decades, thanks to the earning potential it presents to people from all across the globe. When taking up career opportunities in this region, skilled professionals can demand impressive reimbursement packages and live a life of luxury as they work towards an early retirement fund.Many people refer to Bahrain as “Middle East Lite”, since it gives them the feel of living in an Arab country but at the same time it is a lot more liberal than its neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This nation has a stable economy, high living standards, modern infrastructure, and excellent healthcare. Moreover, about 25% of its population is made up of expatriates from all over the world, including places like the US, UK, South Africa, the Philippines and India, to name a few.
In fact, the influx of outsiders has increased to such an extent that the government has been taking steps to curb the arrival of additional foreigners. The authorities have tightened the visa regulations, making it more difficult for expatriates to get jobs when a local can be hired instead. Fortunately, it is still possible to find employers who are willing to sponsor all the paperwork. Moreover, contrary to common belief, you can also continue to live in this country when you reach retirement age, as long as you meet certain criteria.
As an expat retiree, there are a number of aspects that you should carefully look into before making the decision to live in this kingdom. These include residency permits, pension payouts, healthcare, cost of living, and safety, to name a few.
Many foreigners, including senior citizens, are happy to be residents of this kingdom once they get over the initial culture shock. The officials issue a Self Sponsorship Residence Permit to retirees from overseas. This program is governed by the rules and regulations under national law. The program states that expats who have lived and worked in any of the Gulf Countries for more than 15 years can settle down in Bahrain permanently, even if they don’t have a local sponsor. However, in order to qualify for Self Sponsorship, they should have a minimum of Bahraini Dinar or BD 50,000 (US $ 132,612; £ 101,292; € 115,643) in their bank accounts.
Anyone who meets these two requirements can apply for a 5-year residency permit, which is renewable. At the same time, they also have to fulfill other criteria for the visa to be granted. All elderly applicants should have:
• A good reputation
• Private health insurance
• A certificate of good health
• Rented or owned residence in their name (not living in someone else’s property)
• Complete lack of a criminal record (internationally) and no trouble with the law across the GCC
• Proof that they can support themselves financially, like evidence of a pension
In order to initiate the application procedure, you will be required to submit a number of documents to the relevant authorities. Make sure that you have:
• A completed service request form
• A clear copy of your passport and identification
• A certificate of good conduct
• An attested copy clearly stating the value of the property in your name (shouldn’t be less than BD 50,000)
• A valid health certificate issued by the Kingdom
• A copy of your legal card or legal representative
You also need to show evidence of sufficient income to support yourself and your dependants in the country. This amount is supposed to be a minimum of BD 500 (US $ 1,326; £ 1,012; € 1,156) per person, per month.
It is best to engage the services of a licensed agent, or preferably an attorney, who can guide you through the paperwork and process of the Self Sponsorship application. While the timelines may vary to some extent, the procedure is usually the same:
• Putting in a Self Sponsorship Residency Permit request
• Visiting the Nationality, Passport & Residency Affairs departments with the required documents
• Filling out the application form
• Waiting to be called by the authorities
• Submitting the documents required
• Paying the fees and getting the receipt
If you want to renew the permit, the application has to be made at least 6 months prior to expiry of the existing one. One of the primary required terms to obtain this service is ensuring that you make the application in person, or have your legal representative manage it on your behalf. You can download the electronic form, along with all the terms and conditions, here.
The objective of this program is to encourage senior citizens who can support themselves to settle down in Bahrain. They can help the economy by choosing to invest BD 50,000 in fixed deposits, property, or a local / commercial business. The residents of the Kingdom have had the option to do this for many years now but the scheme has been extended to people in other Gulf States.
While Self Sponsorship allows you to make an investment or even buy and sell shares with the purpose of earning revenue, it does not give you the liberty to take up any kind of job.
The state pension scheme in Bahrain does not include expatriates. You can neither make payments into, nor claim any money from, the local system. If you are entitled to a state pension from your home country, it is imperative that you check with the relevant depart and find out how the money can be transferred to you in Bahrain. Some places do not allow a direct payment into a foreign country. In such instances, the money will have to be paid into an account in your country and then transferred to Bahrain. This procedure applies to private pension schemes too.
The authorities of this kingdom pride themselves on the quality of their healthcare system, which has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years, according to The World Health Organization. The island has a wide network of hospitals in the public and private sectors, with more doctors and nurses per person than any other country in the Middle East. The waiting lines are therefore short, to the point of being non-existent. You can easily get an appointment with the doctor of your choice within 24 to 48 hours of making a request. Moreover, most of the medical professionals have received all or part of their training in the US or the UK and are therefore fluent in English. Because of the small size of the country, you are never too far from a hospital, even if you live in one of the more remote areas.
As an expat, you are not entitled to free medical attention at state-run facilities. Fortunately, the cost of public healthcare is moderate, in spite of the high standards. However, for more serious conditions, you may have to opt for private healthcare or a facility overseas.
It is mandatory for all expats to have health insurance, especially those who are applying for the Self Sponsorship Program. It is therefore essential that you get a comprehensive cover from a local service provider. Do bear in mind that a private health plan issued in your home country will probably not be valid in Bahrain. Most of the local hospitals and clinics in this country do not accept universal plans. It is best to check with your service provider as well as the medical facility about such policies before you undergo treatment or try to make a claim.
To process your visa application, you will have to submit a health certificate, for which you will need to undergo a medical examination locally. You will be given the names of certain hospitals where this test is conducted and you can choose to visit any one of them. A certificate issued by any other facility may not be recognized by the authorities.
Emergency healthcare is available to everyone, even those who are not residents or citizens of the country. To access these services dial 998 or 999 from any phone. You should have no trouble explaining the problem to the operator as most of them speak fluent English. While the services are quite good, there is room for improvement in their turnaround times.
Pharmacies are easy to find on every street, with many of them being operational 24/7. The laws around the sale of prescription medication are quite strict. You may need a prescription for drugs that you could purchase over the counter in your home country. It is therefore best to get a written note from your doctor back home mentioning the generic names of all the medicines you are supposed to purchase. Make sure that you have a letter that has been signed and stamped by a doctor if you plan to carry any medicines into the kingdom when you arrive.
Cost of living
The prices of most products and services in Bahrain are on par with the western world. However, the lack of taxation may cause things to seem cheaper. The cost of living in Bahrain is higher than most other Arab nations. This is primarily because of the influx of western companies and their workers over the last few decades.
Rent is probably the biggest expense incurred by foreigners as there are several restrictions on the purchase of property. The quality of expat housing is impressive but these options come at a premium. Families generally choose to live in luxury villas, which could cost more than US $ 2,500 per month, depending on the size, location and inclusions.
Most retired expats prefer to lvie in service apartments for about US $ 1,500. Like in most other countries, tenants are required to pay a deposit against any damage, which is refunded when they vacate the premises. Since the government owns most of the utility companies, the costs are subsidized.
If you are in the habit of eating out on a regular basis, your monthly expenses are likely to be much higher. Local food is quite reasonable and of excellent quality. Most supermarkets stock a wide variety of imported items too, which can be quite expensive.
Petrol and transportation are very reasonable across the island, and maintaining a car in Bahrain is a lot cheaper than most other places in the world.
The legal system in Bahrain is quite strict, however this does have its advantages as crime rates across the island are quite low. While petty crimes like bag snatching and pick pocketing do take place occasionally, instances of violence are practically unheard of.
Do keep in mind that this kingdom has laws that you may not be used to. People who break the law are dealt with harshly, even if they do so out of ignorance. As an expat, it is therefore imperative that you familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations as soon as possible.
Retiring in Bahrain is no longer as easy as it used to be, but as long as you fulfill a few requirements, it is possible for you to settle down in this country under the Self Sponsorship Residency Permit. You can put in an application if you have spent at least 15 years in the GCC and have BD 50,000 in your bank account. The procedure may seem a bit complicated and it is therefore best to hire an expert who can guide you at every step.
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