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Bahrain - Finding Employment
It is illegal to work in Bahrain without obtaining a work permit and permission to stay. The application process for a work permit can only be started by a sponsoring employer, who will have to meet a number of stringent conditions.
You can find out more about this in the Visas section of this country guide.
Networking In Bahrain
No matter where you are, networking is a great way to find the perfect job. However, even though migrants make up more than half of Bahrain's population, the country imposes strict conditions before offering work visas to anyone.
We don’t advise you to arrive in the country hoping to work without a job. Being arrested, imprisoned and fined would be bad enough, but you’ll also be deported with little time to arrange your affairs and without the hope of securing a work visa there in the future.
It’s OK to arrive and start meeting people under a tourist or business visa if you can afford to do so, but do not arrive for your first day at work without a work permit. Some employers may encourage you to break the rules or may threaten to take away the job offer if you insist on securing your permit first, but if you listen to them, you are taking a big risk.
Meeting expats online could help make your networking trips more efficient while also paving the way for a business and social life once you have moved. Joining the Expat Focus Facebook Group for expats in Bahrain is a good way to start making contacts from the comfort of your home.
The Cost Of Living In Bahrain
Salaries in Bahrain are naturally dependent on the role, skills and qualifications required, as well as the experience an individual brings to the negotiating table.
Each year Gulf Business carries out a salary survey. They liaise with the relevant major recruitment companies to establish a list of top 20 salaries, examine the current state of the labour market and spot indications of market movements.
The cost of living in Bahrain is higher than in many neighbouring countries, especially if you are paying for your own accommodation, health insurance and private school fees.
However, this is offset by the tax-friendly environment which means that just one per cent of your gross monthly salary is deducted for the General Organisation for Social Insurance (GOSI) fund, which supports unemployed people. You do have to pay property taxes according to the value of your residence as well as VAT on purchases. But the good is that there’s no personal income, capital gains or inheritance taxes to pay.
This means that many people head to Bahrain to gather savings or send a healthy percentage of their income back home.
Unfortunately, tax affairs can quickly become complicated when moving work and money between countries. The extent to which you are liable for tax back home depends on whether your home country has a double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) with Bahrain, the conditions of your employment and the location of your household and assets. Even delaying a move by a few weeks might save you thousands in tax bills, as explained by Oliver Heslop of Global Expatriate Tax Services (GETS), in one of our podcasts.
Before making any decisions about moving abroad for work, get in touch with a tax expert such as Tom Zachystal. Making thorough preparations should help you to avoid large, unexpected tax bills arriving a year or two later.
If you are going to send your money home, first make sure there are no restrictions preventing you from doing so. You can then try to get the best deal for your foreign exchange money transfer. You can get a free quote from one of the ExpatFocus partners quickly and easily.
English In The Bahraini Workplace
The official language of Bahrain is Arabic, with the spoken dialect being Bahraini Arabic. However, since more than half the population have moved here from other countries, you will hear many different languages spoken on the streets.
Bahrain has a long association with Britain, starting with the Treaty of Friendship, which was signed in 1816. The two nations have worked together through both war and peace. In 2018, Britain opened new £40m facilities at HMS Jufair Naval Base. A base for up to 500 soldiers, sailors and airmen, this creates a permanent presence for the UK navy in the Middle East.
Due to these strong historic ties and the international focus of modern Bahrain, many of the street signs and Highway information in the country are displayed in both Arabic and English. In cafes, restaurants and workplaces, many of the staff have at least a basic knowledge of English.
You can find out more about this in the Speaking the Language section of this country guide.
The Oil Industry
The oil industry brought great wealth to Bahrain and is still central to its economy today, as are the gas and petrochemicals industries. This means there is a huge demand for qualified and experienced workers in these fields.
Engineers will also find strong demand for their services in the desalination plants, power sector and aviation industry.
The Financial Industry
The financial industry is a fairly new but growing part of the Bahraini economy. If you have a great CV, you will be in demand.
MPs recently approved a plan for all government jobs in Bahrain to be filled by local citizens. Some 15% of the government workforce are expats who are now set to lose their jobs over the next four years.
While government positions in education will now be closed to migrants, there is still a demand for highly skilled and experienced staff in the private sector. In particular, international schools are keen to recruit teachers who are familiar with the curriculum, culture and education practices of the founders’ home country.
Given the large numbers of expats in Bahrain, it is not surprising that international schools are thriving there. Many employers even cover school fees as part of the employment package. A long waiting list for international school places is therefore not uncommon.
Most of these schools use reputable agencies to find staff. However, if you are prepared to invest time in a well-constructed CV and application letter, you could make tentative enquiries directly to the school.
You can find out more about the school systems in Bahrain in the Education section of this country guide.
Opportunities for expat medical staff in Bahrain are good. The country has an established, modern and reputable private healthcare system. Private health insurance is widely used across the country. Moreover, many expats prefer to be treated by English speaking staff.
For more information about this sector, head over to the Healthcare section of this country guide.
Legal Advice In Bahrain
If you’ve obtained a work permit and confirmed your financial position with the help of a tax expert, you’ll hopefully never need to seek a good lawyer.
However, unexpected situations can arise. For example, you may need to obtain legal advice over a new venture you’re thinking of setting up. Or you could find yourself in a situation not of your making.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) maintains a list of lawyers with English speaking staff in Bahrain which includes contact details and a summary of each firm’s specialisms.
A Different Culture
Most expats enjoy a good quality of life in Bahrain, whether they are single or bring their family along. Although located in the Persian Gulf, the country is much more liberal than many neighbouring states.
However, don’t let the freedom of alcohol sales to non-Muslim people or the presence of female MPs lull you into thinking that Western liberal values are acceptable. Most of the local communities are conservative and religious in outlook. The current King married his cousin and later acquired three further wives. Most local women cover their hair.
Homosexuality is not deemed acceptable and should be kept private. Women will face barriers to their freedom. Everyone is expected to dress modestly.
Most importantly, keep your political and religious views to yourself. 2011 saw a number of demonstrators gunned down in the street by government forces, and critics of the regime in Bahrain find themselves hounded across the globe. Journalists put their careers and freedom in jeopardy if they don’t follow the government line when reporting news and current affairs. You do not have the freedom of speech in Bahrain to say anything you like, in person or on social media.
You can find out more about the cultural expectations in the workplace by reading our detailed guide What is it Like to Live and Work in Bahrain?
What Can You Do In Your Leisure Time?
Bahrain has plenty of leisure activities to offer expats living there, from discovering the region’s history in a museum or archaeological site, to splashing about in the sunshine at the Middle East’s largest water park. Many expat groups have sprung up so that like-minded people can enjoy sporting activities together, such as at the Bahrain Yacht Club and the Bahrain Rugby Football Club.
You will have plenty of choices when it comes to food and nightlife too, which we explore further in the Food And Drink section of this country guide.
Keep Up To Date With Government Policy
Changes in employment law, visa rules, and economic conditions can happen with little warning. All of these can have a dramatic effect on the opportunities available to expats around the world.
If you want to keep up to date with government announcements about restricting expat work visas or be the first to know about incentives for migrants to settle, you can receive the monthly ExpatFocus International News Update free of charge when you sign up to the free monthly newsletter.
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