How to move to
Find A Job
With no income, witholding or capital gains tax, Bahrain is a popular choice for expats seeking employment: it has been ranked as one of the best places in the Middle East for expats. However, it is a competitive working environment and you will also need sponsorship to be able to work in the country.
Usually, expats will be recruited from abroad and will thus be sponsored for both a visa and a work permit by their employer before entering Bahrain. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggests that Employers process necessary documents with the Labour Market Regulatory Authority prior to the arrival of any employees and dependents.
You will need sponsorship before moving – you will need a job offer before you can apply for a work visa. You must supply the following documents:
• visa application form
• passport size photograph
• Sponsorship Letter: a letter of employment indicating your employer’s name/organization, commercial registration number, employee’s capacity, salary, contract duration, employee’s name, birth date and nationality
• copy of your contract
• health record from an authorised clinic
• BD100 (USD$50) fee
Your sponsor is responsible for you throughout your time in Bahrain and will need to complete any paperwork on your behalf, in addition to finding you accommodation.
Note that there have been a number of scams in which expats have been promised jobs that do not exist by agencies which are basically the front for cons (and which charge a fee), so check out any offers of employment as carefully as you can.
The Economic Development Board offers an investor facilitation service to first-time investors who intend to set up a business in Bahrain.
This oil rich nation has recently seen falling oil prices and this has had an impact on employment. Therefore the government is seeking to employ locals rather than overseas nationals in order to cut down unemployment. It has also imposed higher corporate costs on hiring overseas staff.
The Ministries of Labour and Social Affairs can also impose work quotas on companies to limit the number of foreign hires but some companies get round this by putting a different job title on your work visa.
Bahrain has started to focus more on the service and tourism sectors (the service sector comprises around 53% of the country’s GDP). Bahrain is also a major centre of Islamic banking.
The industrial sector still constitutes about 47% of the Bahraini GDP, and employs nearly 80% of people working in the country, however, so if this is your area of expertise, you may find yourself still in demand. Healthcare and education are also sectors which employ foreign personnel.
Working hours vary but are usually between 40 – 48 hours per week, running from around 8.30-9.00 a.m. to 5.30-6 p.m. Since Bahrain is an Islamic country, working hours may be reduced to 6 hours per day during Ramadan, but this may only apply to Islamic staff.
Friday is a traditional day for prayer, so you will find that your ‘weekend’ is either Thursday/Friday or Friday/Saturday (some international companies prefer the latter, since Thursday is a working day in the rest of the world).
You should have a minimum of 30 days of annual leave, as well as 55 days of sick leave (only part of this is paid, however: 20 days of this will be without pay). If you become pregnant, you will be entitled to 60 days of fully paid maternity leave, before and after the birth, although you will need to produce a medical certificate. You may also have allowance for some additional time off to care for the child up until one year of age. Fathers are only entitled to one day’s paternity leave, however.
You will almost certainly have to sign a contract, usually for up to 1-2 years, and this may be in Arabic, so check that you can have a version in your native language. Check, too, whether your company issues an end-of-contract payment. Some countries also have an agreement with Bahrain to limit double taxation, so check if your home nation is signed up to this.
You will be covered under Bahraini Labour Law whether you are full or part time, and whether or not you are an expat.
Your spouse will need a separate work permit. It is not uncommon for spouses to take on part time work, although most employees recruited into the country are full time. Local agencies are well placed to find part time work for your spouse. Bar work, administrative work, nursing, and courier work, to name but a few, provide part time work in the region.
You can make speculative applications to companies in Bahrain, but you are more likely to go through a headhunter or an agency: managerial positions are usually sourced via London or New York, with manual labor agencies being more commonplace in Asia.
There are a number of exhibitions and expos for recruiting in Bahrain, mainly in the country itself, but you might also look for international jobs fairs in the UK or USA. You can also look for jobs directly online on local jobs boards, approach companies directly if you know the sector, or apply through a recruitment agency.
Applying For A Job
A comprehensive resume and covering letter should be acceptable when applying for a job, but you might want to run any headings past an Arabic translator. If you are applying through a recruitment agency, they should be able to advise you.
Employers are legally prevented from discriminating against candidates on the grounds of ethnicity, sex, language, religion and belief.
Women are permitted to work on Bahrain and are found in all sectors, but make sure that you are familiar with local customs with regard to modesty in dress, for example.
Qualifications And Training
Many recruitment agencies for the region specialize in certain sectors (for example, medicine or accounting) and will be able to advise you with regard to any need for qualifications or training. It is advisable to have any diplomas or certificates apostilled and you may need to have a list of your qualifications translated into Arabic.
Apply For A Visa/Permit
All foreign visitors to Bahrain require a visa except nationals from Arab neighbouring states which are part of the Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council. UK citizens do not require a visa providing they are only planning to stay for less than four weeks. Other visitors who are planning to stay for less than 72 hours while they make connections for an onward journey also do not require visas but may have to pay a small fee.
Tourist visas can be applied for at the Bahrain embassy in your home country and those visas which are required for work and residency must be applied for by the sponsor in Bahrain, which is usually the company which has offered the job.
Employment visas are required for foreign nationals to obtain a residency permit. The sponsoring company makes the application for the work permit from the Ministry of Labour and there must also be a certificate of No Objection from the Ministry of Immigration. Most larger companies employ somebody whose sole job it is to deal with the immigration of foreign workers.
Anyone who obtains a work visa can also apply for a family visa so that a wife and children may join their husband/father. This does not entitle the spouse to obtain work while in Bahrain but it will run for as long as the husband’s work visa remains in place.
Supporting documentation that is required for a visa application includes a passport which has at least six months left to run, birth certificate, marriage certificate if applicable and a medical certificate. All workers must be able to prove that they are free from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and AIDS, but all workers must be prepared to undergo tests when they arrive in the country.
When moving to Bahrain for work it is the duty of the sponsoring employer to ensure that all documentation requirements are met and that you are aware of the procedures that you need to follow. Once a visa is granted it is important for foreign nationals to carry identification with them at all times. This is in the form of an ID card or passport copy. Passports are usually held by the sponsoring company so that they are available for instant inspection by the immigration authorities. Inspections are carried out regularly to clamp down on illegal workers.
Those who have any connection with Israel, even those who just have a stamp in their passports will be refused entry to Bahrain.
Get Health Insurance
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer "Moratorium" or is it "Full underwriting" and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Rent Or Buy Property
In spite of being steeped in history and tradition, the Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the most well-developed, advanced and modernised countries in the Persian Gulf. This archipelago is the ideal destination for anyone who wishes to experience the more liberal side of Arabian lifestyle.
Reasons To Rent Property In Bahrain
Expats can only buy property in a few specially designated districts of Bahrain. Therefore, if you can’t afford the cost of a property in those areas and don’t want to stay in a hotel long term or let a room in someone’s home, you’ll have to take out a rental contract for accommodation that fits your budget and lifestyle.
As we discuss in the article How to Apply for the New CPR Card in Bahrain, getting a permanent address can also help when dealing with bureaucracy.
The lucky few will receive accommodation as part of their employment package. Others will be helped by accommodation consultants hired by their employers to get settled somewhere. However, for most expats working in Bahrain, finding and securing a new rental home is a major step.
Review Your Finances Before Moving
Before heading off to a new country, it’s always a good idea to review and plan your financial resources with a qualified financial advisor.
When Bahrain is the destination in question, the low taxes can make your income appear generous. However, you may find that property taxes, rental costs, school fees and the daily cost of living all take a big bite out of your bank balance. A financial advisor can help you establish what your income is likely to be and how much you can comfortably afford to pay on monthly rent.
ExpatFocus partner Tom Zachystal works with many of our American readers. He’s a registered investment advisor, chartered financial analyst and certified financial planner™ who specialises in portfolio management and financial planning services for expats. Tom offers a range of services, and you can contact him for further information through our site.
We’ve also produced a podcast episode with tax tips for digital nomads. If you don’t get your finances in order from the start, it can cost you dearly later on.
Choosing Your Rental Property
The first step is to be aware of your budget. It’s no use getting excited about a beautiful apartment with access to a gym and swimming pool if paying the rent means you can’t afford the electricity bills. The location and facilities on offer make a big difference to the listed price.
Like in any other country, some areas tend to be more expensive than others, especially the neighbourhoods that have a large expat population. Similarly, newly constructed properties (with all the modern amenities such as a gym, pool and playground) are generally a lot costlier than the older buildings
Secondly, think about what you need from your new home. Work out how far you can comfortably travel to work each day and whether you have access to public transport routes. If you have children, the distance between your home and their school will be a critical factor.
If you prefer peace and tranquility, you’ll need to choose somewhere away from noisy, busy venues or popular family streets. Do remember though, that in a country where construction is affecting every neighbourhood, you cannot guarantee that the beautiful vista over an empty plot will exist much longer before a tower block appears. Some construction sites have people working on them 24 hours day, with the accompanying dust and noise.
Living somewhere close to restaurants, shops, ATMs and parks can be an important consideration for some people, while others are happy to travel for these facilities.
Do you need a kitchen with a washing machine and dishwasher already installed, or can you comfortably afford to buy and install them - assuming there is sufficient space to do so?
These factors are all a matter of personal requirements and preferences. The estate agents will work hard to promote particular properties so be aware of what you need before you approach one. Otherwise you may be swayed into a commitment and only later remember that it’s missing something vital.
The Best Residential Areas Of Bahrain
The website for Bahrain Property World is an excellent place to start looking at the cost and facilities on offer in Bahraini rental properties. The photographs, descriptions and clear rental price listings allow you to assess where your budget and requirements could be satisfied.
The company has also produced a useful guide to the best residential areas in Bahrain, with key information about each district.
What’s Included In The Price?
Be clear about what is or is not included in the rental price. Apartments often have service charges for the cleaning of common areas as well as keeping the gardens maintained. Bins need to be collected and streets cleaned, and these costs are charged to the community’s properties. There may also be costs associated with the structural maintenance of the building. These additional items can be expensive, so you need to know if you are responsible for them or if they are included in the monthly rent.
An air conditioning system is probably provided in the property, but you’ll be responsible for paying the electricity bills. If you’ve never had one of these before, the running costs can be a shock, so only turn it on when you need it. It’s similar to heating bills in cold climates - you’d never leave the radiators on all day long.
Many properties are available on a furnished basis with higher monthly rental costs. If you’re staying for the long term and your possessions are being shipped to Bahrain, you could save money by finding an unfurnished property.
The Inventory List
Every item to be included in the property should be added to the inventory list. As you move in, walk around the property and take clear photographs, focusing on the condition of the walls, contents and fittings. If anything is missing or broken, this must be raised with the landlord or agent. If they leave promising to fix the faulty item, send a follow-up email within 24 hours so you have evidence that this was discussed.
On departure, repeat the photographic exercise and check that everything on the inventory is in place.
Should the landlord try to withhold your deposit, you will have photographic evidence that you did not cause the damage or removal claimed.
Never Pay In Cash
All around the globe, there are unfortunately people who are prepared to lie and cheat their way into money. Newly arrived expats make an easy target as they haven’t yet got experience of the way things work, meaning they take longer to spot a scam. People without the right papers to stay make particularly easy targets.
If someone asks you to pay in cash, ask yourself why. Legitimate businesses seldom like cash for big transactions. As soon as you hear promises of discounts for your cash or warnings about how you will lose the property to others willing to pay immediately, consider walking away.
If you pay in cash and there is a problem later on with the landlord holding your security deposit, it could be alleged that you did not pay. Even worse, if you hand over your cash to someone who was only pretending to have a connection to the property, you have lost your money without securing a home.
Foreign Exchange Money Transfers
The initial, upfront costs of taking out a new tenancy can take you by surprise. Once the security deposit, first month’s rent in advance and any payments to an estate agent are added up, you are expected to hand over several thousand dollars before you’ve even received the key to the front door.
You might need to use some of your existing savings to cover these costs, involving a transfer of funds from your home country. Both the fees and the exchange rates can take a chunk out of what funds you have available, so it’s worth shopping around to find the best foreign exchange money transfer deal. This is such an important topic we have produced a podcast episode about it.
Is There A Break Clause?
If your tenancy agreement is for 12 months, do you have the opportunity to terminate it earlier? In the event your parent falls seriously ill or your job turns out to be awful, you may want to return home. It would be better to pay three months’ rent as you serve notice rather than carry on paying right until the end of the tenancy.
Conversely, does your agreement specify what will happen at the end of the agreed period? If you’re happy in the property, you may want to stay for several more years. This will depend on price increases and the landlord’s willingness to let you stay.
If you’re staying in Bahrain for the medium to long term, you may wish to transport your household possessions to your new property.
ExpatFocus works with a number of partners to help migrants with the practical aspects of moving. You can obtain a no-obligation quote from up to five international removal companies just by answering a few quick questions online.
Connecting To Utilities And Services
It’s essential to get connected to your water and electricity supplies before you move into your new home. You can find out how to do this in the Utilities section of this country guide to Bahrain.
Meanwhile, the Communications section covers the topics of telephone and internet connections, what you can expect from the postal services and how to receive TV channels.
For those keen to establish new friendships in your area, the Leisure, Entertainment and Sport section will be of interest, as will the list of expat clubs in Bahrain.
Bringing Your Pets To Your New Home
It’s certainly possible to bring most pets into Bahrain, but you must go through the correct official channels.
The Pets section of this country guide explains the vaccinations and paperwork necessary to complete these formalities.
Using A Lawyer
It’s rare for an expat to need the services of a lawyer over an accommodation issue. However, if you do, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) produces a list of lawyers in Bahrain whose staff speak English.
There are many good reasons to move to Bahrain; in fact, more than half of the population living in the country today were born elsewhere.
The country’s low tax regime means that buying property there is a good investment. Capital gains taxes don’t exist, and your estate isn’t taxed when you die. Moreover, the low levels of personal taxation – just one per cent of your salary for a fund to support unemployed people – means that landlords can keep a good portion of their income after business expenses.
However, expats can only buy property in specific areas of Bahrain.
Why Are Options Limited?
Prior to 2001, migrants were forbidden from purchasing any commercial or residential property in Bahrain. The Royal Declaration and subsequent change to the country’s constitution were important, opening up the property market to foreign buyers – albeit on a restricted basis.
When countries change quickly and large numbers of outsiders arrive, tensions can mount. The government of Bahrain has tried to protect the country’s citizens from the worst effects of housing shortages by providing a variety of accommodation units and subsidies to Bahraini families in need. Three out of every five citizens have received government help with their accommodation in some way.
Opening up the property market for international buyers supported the massive building boom which has happened over the past couple of decades. With foreign investment restricted to specific areas, the intention was to disrupt existing communities of Bahrain as far as possible.
Where Can Expats Buy Property In Bahrain?
To quote directly from the Kingdon of Bahrain’s e-government housing page, expats can only purchase property and land in the following areas:
1) Residential and commercial buildings areas (10) floors or more in the city of Manama:
a) The suburb of Ahmed Al-Fateh (Juffair previously).
b) Al-Hoora district.
c) Bogazal area.
d) A suburb north of Manama, including the diplomatic area.
2) Al-Seef district (Buildings Class (10), (5) and (3) floors).
3) The following tourist areas:
a) Durrat Gulf of Bahrain area.
b) Danat Hawar area.
c) Amwaj Islands area.
4) Areas of the Bahrain Financial Harbor Project, Bandar Al Seef and Pearl Island.
As a result of the change in law, property values in these areas have risen significantly and many projects have been rapidly completed. Developers increasingly look to reclaimed land to provide new sites, meaning the building boom shows little sign of ending anytime soon.
Visa Advantages Of Buying Property In Bahrain
In addition to the investment and accommodation benefits of owning a property in Bahrain, it could also be a benefit for your right to visit and stay.
Whilst you won’t be allowed to work in the country, the Self Sponsorship Residence Permit can be obtained from the Ministry of the Interior following completion of the property purchase and correct processing of the visa application.
This not only lasts for five years but can also be extended on request. While the visa remains valid, you will be free to come and go at your pleasure.
Your spouse and children under 18 are also covered by the visa as long as they only live in Bahrain and don’t seek employment there.
If you sell the property at any time, the Self Sponsorship Residence Permit will be cancelled, regardless of the validity period remaining.
Don’t Purchase Property From Photos
When you’re looking at estate agency photos, you’ll see one luxurious and beautiful property after another. It’s easy to get carried away.
Don’t just pick up the phone and agree to buy a property without coming to see it. You cannot appreciate how large or small a room feels in real life, if the layout works well or not, or whether the neighbourhood is noisier than you anticipated.
If you’re already living in Bahrain, you can take your time making sure you find the ideal property for your needs and which will also keep its long-term value. You may be happy to settle into a hotel or guesthouse for a while. Bahrain has a wide spectrum of guest accommodation on offer.
Places To Stay In Bahrain
The Four Seasons Hotel in Bahrain Bay has five pools, two gyms, a luxurious spa, three bars and several chic dining options. Set on its own island just seven kilometres from the airport, it combines peace and tranquility with convenience for international business travel. However, the price tag means it’s seldom an option for anyone other than high-ranking executives.
The Royal Phoenicia Hotel combines affordability with all the facilities you need. Some rooms even have a kitchenette, which could keep your dining costs down.
Booking.com offers a range of serviced apartments in Bahrain for up to 30 nights, which could be a useful base while you wait to buy a property.
Do You Need A Mortgage?
Islamic law forbids the charging of interest. However, banks operating in Bahrain use a workaround which is commonplace in the Middle East.
You choose a property, which the bank buys for you. Over time, you will pay the bank so you may live in the house. At the end of the contractual agreement, if you have made all the payments initially agreed, which is far higher than the initial sale price, you receive full ownership of the property.
What About My Investments?
For those of you who have property already or the funds to buy somewhere, moving to Bahrain can raise a lot of difficult questions.
If you move with the expectation of retiring back in the UK or US twenty years later, chances are that house prices will have risen at a different rate to Bahrain’s property market. Buying stocks and shares could be a better way to invest your funds, but the markets change every minute of the trading day and market falls may coincide with periods of economic decline when you need to sell those assets.
If you have enough savings or loans available, buying a property at home to rent to others can be a good solution. You then know you have a roof over your head when you return. Alternatively, you could investigate another state or country with strong rental demand and high rental yields in the hope your asset wealth will increase further in the long run.
Into the mix of decisions, which all revolve around your own personal circumstances and aspirations, comes the issue of tax. Many countries have double taxation treaties, but you have to check this applies to you before you move to Bahrain. This can make a big difference to your taxes, as discussed on our podcast Tax Tips for Digital Nomads.
In addition, unexpected events could cause a tax headache for you or those around you. If you suddenly died, the Bahraini government won’t charge inheritance tax on your estate – but if you have not organised your affairs correctly, the tax officials in your country of origin may claim their percentage.
All this means that before you make any decisions which could cause financial problems down the line, you should talk to a professional financial advisor with specialist expertise. If you’re a reader from the US, Tom Zachystal could be the expert you are looking for. You can contact him with no obligation for more information.
Find A Good Lawyer
A good lawyer is the key to a successful property purchase. Avoid anyone recommended by someone involved in the process, such as the estate agent or developer, even if a discounted rate is offered. You have no ideas what financial, business or family relationships exist.
Instead, find someone to work solely for your benefit. They are more likely to raise difficult questions and prevent you from making a purchase with an unsound title or in a risky location.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) maintains a list of lawyers in Bahrain whose staff include English-speaking professionals. Make sure you obtain a list of their fees and charges before they start work for you.
The lawyer will plan the contracts and hand over both your 20% deposit at the time the sales agreement is signed and the remainder of the property price at the correct time. New developments may require several instalments, while an existing property will require the last 80% to be paid on the day the deeds are exchanged.
The lawyer will undertake all relevant searches, obtain court-notarised title deeds and register your title of the property at the Survey and Land Registration Bureau.
In addition to the legal fees, you’ll have to pay stamp duty of one per cent, a Registration Fee of one per cent (the seller pays a further one per cent too), and a small notary fee. The estate agent receives their sales commission solely from the seller.
Bringing Your Possessions To Bahrain
Expats often bring their household possessions to their new home, especially if they have arrived with their family. This can help you settle in faster.
ExpatFocus works with a number of international partners. By filling out a quick online form on our site, you can receive free, no-obligation quotes from up to five international removals firms.
We’ve also written a brief Guide to Moving your Household Goods Abroad which sets out some of the issues to be considered.
Did you know you can also bring your pets along too? However, you must complete all the steps required by law, otherwise you risk the health of all other Bahraini pets. You can find more information about this in the Taking Your Pets section of this country guide. We also made a special podcast on the issue as it’s important for so many animal-loving homes.
Move Your Belongings
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: Bahrain health insurance
As we discuss in the Visas section of this country guide, all applicants for a residency or work visa for Bahrain, plus their dependents, have to undergo a medical examination in their home country. Amongst the checks required is a test for HIV and AIDS. Once you arrive in Bahrain, you have to attend a second mandatory medical check-up.
The CPR Card
The Bahraini government is expanding and integrating many of the country’s e-services provisions. Access to these and many other permits and services is through the Central Population Registry (CPR) card, which allocates a unique number to each individual. The card is soon to be replaced by smart cards, and different online services will be combined into one CPR-accessed hub.
If you’re living in Bahrain legally, you can and do need to obtain one of these cards. Read more about the application process in the article How to Apply for the New CPR Card in Bahrain.
Bahrain Medical Services Are Excellent
Over the past few years, the healthcare industry in Bahrain has transformed into a modern, sophisticated sector, staffed by highly trained and qualified individuals. Both the private and state health sectors are held in high regard.
The Bahraini authorities pride themselves on the progress they have made in the healthcare sector over the last few decades. The island has more doctors and nurses for each resident than any other nation in the Gulf. The wide network of hospitals ensures that you are never too far away from a facility, regardless of your location.
Of course, some expats prefer to return home for serious or specialist treatments, but with the services on offer in Bahrain today, this is unlikely to be necessary.
English Speaking Medical Services
Many of the medical personnel working in Bahrain have trained or worked in English speaking countries. In a country where more than half the population are expats, you’ll find many of those migrants working in the health industry.
When the Internations.org survey found that Manama is the easiest place in the world to settle, 92% of respondents cited their ability to live there without any Arabic language skills as a key benefit.
You can find out more about this in the Speaking the Language section of this country guide, but you can be assured that language will not be a barrier to accessing medical treatment in Bahrain.
Healthcare For Bahraini Employees
As an employee in Bahrain, you’ll have pension deductions made from your regular paycheck to build up a pension entitlement.
You’ll also get entitlement to the state healthcare system for a nominal fee. However, many expats also seek private healthcare insurance to increase access to English-speaking specialists or overseas treatment in the event of serious illness or accident.
Whilst Bahraini citizens have access to a good social security system, it is funded centrally, meaning migrants workers cannot pay to join the scheme. However, if you have a work-related accident, you will receive some compensation, regardless of your nationality.
Remember that if you moved to Bahrain to work, being unable to carry out your job will affect your legal right to be in the country. If an accident or illness will prevent you from working for a lengthy or indefinite period, you must sort out your visa status or immediately plan to move back home.
The Cost of Private Healthcare In Bahrain
Whilst there are basic services available and many employers offer private health insurance as part of the employment package, it’s not uncommon for individuals to be left covering their own care costs.
Luckily, medical bills are cheaper in Bahrain than the US, but you can’t foresee expensive, long-term treatment, and costs quickly mount up. For example, a heart operation could cost you a year’s salary. Providing an incubator and round-the-clock care for a premature baby will easily surpass six figures. It’s always best to insure against these costs, especially as they may be incurred at the same time that you are at risk of losing your earnings, and possibly the right to stay in Bahrain.
When choosing which is the right policy for you, consider your circumstances and declare any pre-existing conditions. You don’t want to find out later that you are denied a specific treatment because you bought a cheaper policy with a limited range of cover, or that the insurer has cancelled your policy for non-disclosure. There are good policies out there at a reasonable cost for the cover needed.
Expat Focus works with a number of insurance partners and obtaining a quick, free quote is easy to do.
Accessing Healthcare Services In Bahrain
ExpatFocus have published an Expat Guide to Healthcare in Bahrain which takes a comprehensive look at the services on offer, including public and private healthcare, plus a list of local hospitals.
Furthermore, a detailed review of the healthcare system is included in the article What is it Like to Live and Work in Bahrain? Subjects covered include vaccinations, dentists, opticians and medicines.
The Climate Of Bahrain Can Damage Your Health
As discussed in the Climate and Weather section of this country guide, there are two important risks to human health posed by the local climate.
Firstly, take care to avoid sunburn, sunstroke and dehydration. You can walk out of a refreshing air-conditioned apartment without preparing for the 40-degree wall of heat you’ll be travelling through. Sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and bottled water should always be picked up on your way out.
Secondly, dust and sand in the air cause problems for people who suffer from asthma and respiratory problems. You may have to curtail trips outside home on certain days.
Cholera In Bahrain
Cholera outbreaks are rare in Bahrain, but with so many visitors and workers arriving each day from countries with restricted or poor health infrastructure, they do occur from time to time. In 2015, for example, the disease quickly spread from west of Baghdad in Iraq to a number of nearby countries, including Bahrain.
There are a number of ways you can minimise the risk of catching cholera even in the midst of an outbreak:
• Use only clean water sources for drinking and food preparation,
• Keep your hands clean and avoid contact with eyes and mouth,
• Only order hot, cooked food without salad or fruit,
• Don’t put ice cubes in your drinks.
In the unlikely event that you fall ill with cholera, dehydration and kidney failure are the main risks, so medical attention is required.
Open A Bank Account
The official currency of Bahrain is the Bahraini Dinar. It is divided into 1,000 Fils. You may see the Bahraini Dinar referred to in the shorthand BHD or BD, or in Arabic as د.ب
When you’re handling cash in a country where more than half the population have settled from abroad, it’s important to recognise notes quickly. Otherwise, you run the risk of being handed foreign currency, forgeries or old notes which are no longer legal.
The Central Bank of Bahrain has a very useful picture gallery showing the current valid notes in circulation.
Cashpoints are easily found in urban areas, with many operating 24 hours day. The ATM network is operated by BENEFIT (Bahrain Electronic Network for Financial Transactions). If you have a bank card from a local bank account, you can withdraw your cash for free.
Retail Banks In Bahrain
Bahrain has a thriving banking sector. If you are looking for a bank offering current and savings accounts, online banking services and English-speaking staff, you’ll have plenty of choice on offer.
The major local banks in Bahrain include the National Bank of Bahrain, the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait as well as the Al Ahli United Bank. If you already have accounts at Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, BNP Paribas or any of the other international banks operating in Bahrain, you may find it easier to ask them to set you up with the appropriate account.
There may be some delay in transferring funds between bank accounts, so if getting paid quickly is your priority, try to open your account with the bank your employer uses.
Bank Branch Opening Hours
From Sunday to Thursday, bank branches in Bahrain open at 7.30 or 8am. They close at lunchtime, typically from 1pm until 4pm, although they sometimes stay open until 2.30pm. Banks then open again in the late afternoon, completing all customer transactions by 6 or 6.30pm. All branches close for the entire day on Friday.
Some branches in less populated areas may have shorter opening hours. You can usually find this information listed in both English and Arabic for each branch on the bank’s website.
Opening A Bank Account
Even if you start your account application online, you’ll have to be interviewed and have your original documents inspected in person to complete the process. Take care to bring every piece of evidence required, otherwise the process will be delayed.
You must present your passport to prove your identity. You will also need to provide two passport-style colour photos for the bank’s use, along with a photocopy of the passport pages. The bank must check you have the legal right to live in Bahrain as well as a valid work permit if you are employed. You may be asked for copies of these documents.
Your tenancy agreement will be inspected to confirm you have a valid address in Bahrain.
The bank needs to check you are financially sound and your income is from legal, legitimate sources. If you are working, you must provide the ‘no objection certificate’ from your employer, which states your salary and the amount expected to be paid into your bank account each month. If you are retiring in Bahrain, you should provide official proof of the amount and source of all regular deposits.
You may be asked to show your three most recent bank statements in your home country, so take these just in case. If you use online banking rather than receiving paper statements, print them yourself, but be prepared for additional questions.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be asked for a reference from your previous bank. Ask your bank manager for this before you set off to Bahrain.
If your spouse or accompanying child wants to set up a bank account in their own name, they will have to undergo a similar process. In addition, you will have to provide permission for them to do this.
You may have to transfer money from overseas into a local Bahraini account or, more likely, transfer monies you have earned in Bahrain to family back home. Either way, shopping around for the best foreign exchange money transfer rates can help keep costs down.
Will Hewitson, Senior Partnerships Manager at FC Exchange, has been interviewed for one of the Expat Focus podcasts. It’s well worth your time listening to his advice, as he explains the ways to get a great rate on currency transfers as well as how to move your money abroad with confidence.
You can get a foreign exchange money transfer quote with ExpatFocus – quickly and for free – thanks to our work with a number of international partners.
The Cost Of Living In Bahrain
Most people living and working in Bahrain maintain that they earn a larger disposable income and have a higher standard of living that they did in their home countries.
The cost of living in Bahrain has risen in recent years and is higher than in many of the neighbouring countries. In particular, rental costs in desirable areas can be expensive, and many goods have to be imported into the country. The costs of medical insurance and private education can also be high.
However, the low tax regime means Western expats may see a significant rise in their take-home earnings. The job security, opportunities for wage growth and career progression, work-life balance and disposable income generally experienced in Bahrain mean the country was listed in the top five destinations of the HSBC Global Expat Survey. It’s a location that many people work in now to accumulate savings for the future.
Taxation In Bahrain
Bahrain is noted for its low rates of personal taxation as well as the absence of capital gains or inheritance taxes. For those expats also receiving free or subsidised accommodation as part of their employment package, working in Bahrain can be financially rewarding.
However, if your home country has no double taxation avoidance agreement in place with Bahrain, you may be liable to pay taxes on your earnings in Bahrain back home. There are a number of factors that come into play to determine your liability, and the services of a tax specialist will help enormously.
Oliver Heslop, the owner of GETS, is based in the UK and regularly contributes to the ExpatFocus podcasts on tax affairs. Digital nomads may be interested to hear his advice about the tax implications of working abroad.
Oliver suggests that the tax advantages for workers in the Middle East are sometimes offset by the social cost that women endure through restricted freedoms. Luckily, women in Bahrain are not oppressed to the extent that many of the surrounding societies demand.
If you’re interested in learning about the taxation regime in Bahrain, including VAT, property taxes and the implications of sending large or regular sums of money home, you can find out more in the Taxation section of this country guide.
Retirement In Bahrain
The authorities in Bahrain actively encourage applications for long term residency from wealthy people living on investments and pensions. In return, a low tax regime, year-round sunshine and good quality of life are on offer.
You can find out more about this topic in the Retiring and Pensions section of this country guide, and in the detailed article How to Live in Bahrain after youve Retired.
Social Security And Welfare
As a migrant worker in Bahrain, you’ll pay very few taxes beyond the one per cent of your salary for General Organisation for Social Insurance (GOSI) payments to support unemployed people, plus property taxes based on the value of your residence. However, in return, you’ll have very little access to the country’s social security and welfare systems. These are essentially funded by corporate taxes, meaning they are tightly restricted.
Even before you receive a visa to move to Bahrain, you will have to prove that you can and will be financially independent of the state throughout your residency. Should you have a serious accident or illness and suddenly find yourself unable to work, or if something happens to your retirement funds and you no longer have an adequate income to support yourself, you will be expected to return to your home country.
Getting Financial Advice Before You Go
Moving to the unfamiliar tax regime of a new country can be daunting. If you are leaving behind a home, savings and family, it quickly becomes a complicated situation in which it can be easy to make a costly mistake. Everything from double taxation treaties, inheritance tax rules and even working out if you have a good enough cash flow to see you through an emergency all take time to investigate and prepare for.
We strongly recommend you seek specialist financial advice before heading abroad so you know all your affairs are in order and avoid receiving a huge tax bill you can’t pay.
US citizens may be interested to know that ExpatFocus works with Tom Zachystal, a Chartered Financial Analyst and Certified Financial Planner. With more than 10 years’ expat portfolio management and financial planning experience, Tom has clients on four continents in over a dozen countries.
His services include, but are not limited to, US or offshore investment accounts, IRAs, 401ks, portfolio/investment management, UK SIPPs, retirement planning and other financial planning services for US citizens living abroad or residents of any nationality living in the US.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them "on demand" whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic - your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up - ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution - many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine - but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent - many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money - such as the proceeds of a property - a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
Save On Money Transfers
Compare quotes from leading foreign exchange currency brokers
Learn The Language
Situated off the coast of Saudi Arabia, the island of Bahrain and its satellite islands (many artificial) form an independent Kingdom in the Arabian Gulf. The capital, Manama, is also the largest city. The island nation is connected to Saudi Arabia via the 16-mile-long King Fahd Causeway.
The population of Bahrain is roughly 1.5 million, and there is a huge, well-established multi-national expat group, which has voted Bahrain the best country in the world to live in as an expat.
Bahrain’s hydrocarbon production is tiny, and therefore the economy is largely dependent on providing banking facilities for oil revenues throughout the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, and on tourism, again substantially from the surrounding Arab states, but increasingly from around the world, as part of the King’s drive to diversify the economy before the oil runs out.
The official language in Bahrain is Arabic. The Bahrani Arabic dialect – the most widely spoken in the Kingdom, differs substantially from other Arabic dialects. English is also officially recognized, officially promoted, and very widely spoken in business. Road signs are bilingual in English and Arabic, as are many institutions.
Other languages which can be heard in Bahrain would include Farsi, spoken by the large Persian population, and also Urdu, as many workers are from Pakistan.
Bahrainis are generally educated to a very high standard, and there are several universities, including one exclusively for women, and an advanced medical school. The standard of English teaching in Bahrain is excellent at all levels, and bilingualism is greatly encouraged by the ruling royal family.
It is thus perfectly possible to function in most workplaces in Bahrain using just English, and many companies do not insist on any Arabic knowledge, but learning or improving your Arabic will naturally help you to communicate and settle better, and gain a measure of acceptance.
You may need to consider taking an online Arabic course, or attending an international school. This is especially important if you need occupation-specific proficiency, for example in banking, finance, or medical English.
There are many courses in Arabic available on the internet catering for all levels. Some will be free to a certain level. There are also several international language schools in Bahrain with a wide variety of courses in Arabic to help you when you arrive.
All daily commerce and general conversation on the street will mainly be in Arabic, but then these daily interactions will improve your level of proficiency fairly quickly, as you will essentially be immersed in the language and culture. You may also be able to find locals willing to coach you or encourage you by engaging in conversation over a coffee, or haggling in the souks, although many locals are proud of their linguistic abilities, and they will naturally want to practice their English, so you may have to be persistent!
Linguistic experts recommend an immersive learning experience as the quickest and most reliable method to acquire or consolidate a new language. If you wish to improve your Arabic, this can be achieved by going about and engaging with the local population, reading Arabic books or newspapers, and watching Arabic-language TV or films without subtitles.
For conversation or practice, rely on your own knowledge and a good phrasebook rather than digital translation: although Bahrain has excellent internet access, wifi cannot always be relied upon, and you may not be able to access your phone at all times.
There are some excellent employment opportunities for expats in Bahrain, in the specialist oil, construction, banking and securities sectors, and many others, including education at all levels in a very wide range of subjects. Good qualifications are generally expected. The use of English may be widespread in general commerce, but a few words of Arabic go a long way towards acceptance in the workplace.
Teaching English in Bahrain is another possibility. There are a good number of jobs available in local schools and in international schools, with hundreds of jobs advertised on the internet. These teaching jobs would generally be available to anyone with a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. Please note that it is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Most language teaching jobs would be in the capital, Manama. Rates of pay vary considerably, and if you are intending to stay long-term you need to factor in the cost of living, and your own desired lifestyle.
If you intend to teach English in Bahrain it is preferable to have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality or medical English.
Choose A School
With around 300,000 pupils to cater for, education in Bahrain is well funded and well developed, but state provision concentrates on Arabic and religious tuition for locals and Arabic-speaking immigrants, albeit that bilingual education Arabic/English is the norm in state schools.
Education is provided by the state for all children living in Bahrain free of charge, to both national and foreign students, and that provision includes all textbooks. The system is administered by the Ministry of Education. Segregation of sexes is the norm in state schools up to high school graduation. Private schools can offer a choice of segregation or co-educational. Universities are co-educational.
Bahraini literacy rates are amongst the highest in the world, at around 97%. Bahrain spends 2.5% of GDP on education, and were very early adopters of the concept of remote or electronic learning, due to a program instigated by his Majesty King Hamad in 2004.
However, the most important issue expats face when coming to Bahrain is that Bahraini law prohibits expats from attending the public schools, so looking closely at the private sector is your only realistic option for the education of your children, unless your spouse is native and your children are fluent in Arabic.
Private schools must adhere to Ministry of Education regulations, and are closely scrutinized. For example, Bahrain assesses British international schools through the system of OFSTED inspection, in addition to any international accreditation / affiliation the school may already have obtained.
School hours are 08:30 – 12:00 or up to 15:00 for older children. The school year starts in September and ends in July. Private schools will be expected to close for all of the many national and religious holidays, some of which are famously dependent on the sighting of the new moon, so can be called at very short notice!
New schools are being built rapidly, but demand is currently outstripping supply, so competition for places is severe - thus early contact with your chosen school is vital.
British system international schools include St Christopher’s, which also offers a full International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), and the British School of Bahrain. Fees need to be established with the school, but they are not cheap.
The island also hosts the Bahrain School, a long-standing United States Department of Defence school with a K-12 curriculum again including the IBDP. Fees are quite high for non-military children, but there are some limited boarding facilities.
Uniforms and hats are generally compulsory, especially in the summer when temperatures increase. No-hat-no-sports is a sensible mantra when the daytime temperature exceeds 40 degrees, sometimes for months on end.
Extracurricular activities vary from school to school, but inter-school sports opportunities are limited. Many expats enrol sporty children in local sports clubs.
Travel to the schools can be arranged via a local bus company, but may mean your child will need to be ready for an 06:00 – 07:00 start.
Day care for infants, and pre-school kindergarten (ages 3 - 6), needs to be arranged locally. There are a good number of facilities in Manama and some in other locations, and the larger international schools all have nursery facilities. A few to consider might include the British School of Bahrain (infants), the British preparatory school, the Children’s House Montessori, and Nadeen, but there are plenty more to choose from.
Unusually, there is also a private special needs school on the island. The Children’s Academy is said to be very well funded and well organized, and provides support and education for children from 3 – 9 years of age. It is set up to handle children with ADHD, Downs syndrome, autism, and DCD (developmental coordination disorder). Furthermore, it has an outreach program for older children with ongoing special needs.
Homeschooling is nominally a legal option in Bahrain, but some expats have had poor experiences with trying to homeschool their children, with restrictions, red tape and problems at the end of the period. Even if your child takes A-Levels, you may find that they are not then accredited or recognised by the state. This approach therefore cannot be recommended unless you are prepared to do thorough research and to accept the consequences of a resistant system.
Leaving aside the University of Bahrain and other facilities specifically for Arab students, there are over a dozen international private colleges and universities, including two very recent additions.
The British University of Bahrain, which is attached to Salford University in the UK, offers a varied program of British bachelor degrees in several fields including business, engineering, and IT.
The American University of Bahrain offers a broadly similar range of degrees through its affiliation with a Californian university, in addition to which there are programs in architecture and design and computer engineering.
These are both rapidly establishing a good reputation, and over time will expand in range and quality.
It is likely that many university age expat children will look elsewhere in the world for their further education, but attendance at the private schools available in Bahrain should enable them to compete wherever they wish to go in the world.