How To Move To Bahrain - The Definitive Guide
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Apply For A Visa[back to top]
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.
Find A Job[back to top]
According to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, expats rate Bahrain as one of the top five destinations. The high wage growth, career opportunities and good quality of life make this country a desirable place to work.
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 Bahrains 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.
Rent Property[back to top]
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.
Buy Property[back to top]
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.
Register For Healthcare[back to top]
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[back to top]
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.
Learn The Language[back to top]
The HSBC Expat Survey found that Bahrain made it into the survey’s top five countries for expat satisfaction. The ease of communication is one of the important reasons why settling here is highly rated.
There are different ethnic groups native to Bahrain, although the small size of the nation makes the differences in religion and political allegiance more acute than any effect on dialects.
The Khalifah family, who hold the monarchy as well as most government positions, are Sunni Muslims. Most Sunni Muslims have Persian or Arab ancestry, although the Huwala are descended from Iranians and other groups originated from East Africa.
The Baharna community are Arabs who belong to the Shia branch of Islam. The Ajam community are also Shia but descended from the Persians, who ruled the lands until 1783, when the Khalifah family took over. There are also other ethnic Shia groups such as the Hasawis community. Altogether, there are many more Shia Muslims living in Bahrain than Sunnis.
Using English In Bahrain
The official language of Bahrain is Arabic. The most widely spoken dialect is Bahraini Arabic.
However, more than half the country’s population were born outside Bahrain. The majority of these people are from the Middle East, but there are also significant numbers of workers and residents who arrived from South Asian countries. Indian citizens are the largest group of foreign residents in Bahrain, making up almost a third of the population.
As a result, many migrants speak the Persian of Iran or the Indian and Pakistan language Urdu. Other common languages include Nepali, Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi.
Despite all this, the long association between Bahrain and the UK – which began in 1861 – means that English is widely used in the country today. Even driving down a highway, you will see signs directing you in both Arabic and English.
An Islamic Culture
Although you’ll be able to fully enjoy life in Bahrain even if you only speak English, you’ll still have to get accustomed to a different culture. Some 70% of residents in Bahrain are Muslim, and the local population generally has a conservative view of personal behaviour standards.
This means that the way you dress, where you drink and your interaction with members of the opposite sex are all subject to cultural attitudes which disapprove of non-conformist behaviour. It can take some time to adjust to these new expectations, although they are more liberal than in many nearby societies.
Self-Censorship In Bahraini Media Outlets
Bahrain’s government has come under criticism for its alleged disregard of human rights, especially in reaction to huge protests in the wake of the Arab Spring of 2011. The case of the footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi highlights the reaction of the authorities to criticism, which is in great contrast to the free speech most Westerners enjoy. The majority of the population are Shia Muslims, but the country has Sunni rulers, a situation which has been a long-standing source of tension and protests, some of which have been suppressed by troops firing live ammunition at civilians.
If you choose to live in Bahrain knowing about these well-publicized cases and allegations, do not air your views publicly once you live there. Even social media comments about the country’s relationship with Qatar are illegal.
Not surprisingly, self-censorship is widespread as journalists know they risk their careers and freedom by criticising the country’s leaders and government. Newspapers follow a pro-government editorial line. Be aware of this when reviewing locally produced news.
Television And Radio
The government, via the Information Affairs Authority and Bahrain’s radio and television corporation, runs a number of state television and radio channels. Private channels and radio stations also broadcast.
Free satellite platforms are popular in Bahrain. Many households also sign up to paid satellite packages, whose content includes UK and US programmes. Satellite sports channels are often the most convenient way to watch big sporting events in the comfort of your home.
Netflix offers streaming services in Bahrain for those with a good internet connection. The Netflix catalogue can be accessed in Arabic or English. You may find that some titles available via Netflix in the UK or US are not available in Bahrain as films and TV shows are dependent on regionally specific agreements held with film distributors. These restrictions are one of the reasons Netflix has invested so heavily in the creation of new content for inclusion in its catalogues worldwide.
The majority of newspapers printed in Bahrain are in Arabic, although some titles are produced for specific communities in their own languages.
For English speakers, online resources include:
As discussed in the Leaning and Schools section of this country guide, public schools in Bahrain teach in Arabic. However, most children learn English as a second language.
Bahrain has a good selection of US and UK international schools whose curriculum and learning environment are all in English. For many expats seeking a good school with English-speaking teachers for their children, international schools are a popular choice.
Communications If you need to know more about home phone connections, mobile phone networks, broadband access and postal services, head over to the Communications section of this country guide.
Sarah Cole from John Murray Learning wrote a useful article for ExpatFocus on ways to approach the learning of a new language.
Online resources, CDs and books, YouTube videos and language classes are all available according to your chosen method to learn. Individual tuition is more expensive but may give you more confidence in speaking and learning from your mistakes.
Choose A School[back to top]
For families heading abroad with their children, schools are one of the most important factors to consider. Fortunately, Bahrain has a lot of choice on offer.
All children living in Bahrain must receive an education from the age of six until they are 14. In reality, most continue until around the age of 18.
Educating Children Abroad Rebecca Grappo from RNG International Educational Consultants spoke to ExpatFocus in one of our popular podcast episodes.
She gives a fascinating insight into the wide range of educational choices facing expat parents, and the importance of finding the right fit for each individual child.
“I’ve seen some families not take this seriously enough and move their kids from one system to a dramatically different system at a crucial stage of their young person’s education. And I’m not saying that you can never recover from it. Of course, there’s always another chance. But I think it’s something that can be very, very difficult.” Rebecca Grappo, talking to ExpatFocus in 2017
The Public School System In Bahrain
Sending your child to a local state school would help them integrate into Bahrain and quickly become fluent in Arabic. However, the majority of the expat population educate their children privately, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the curriculum in public schools is delivered in Arabic. Only a few lessons are in English, and then just for the specific purpose of teaching it as a foreign language. If your child already knows the basics of Arabic and is a quick learner, they could overcome this without much problem. However, if they are a teenager with important exams coming up and have no familiarity with the language, this is the wrong time to have a ‘sink or swim’ approach.
Secondly, even getting a place in these schools can be a problem. Non-Muslim families have access issues, and all expat families are understandably placed behind the needs of local children for school places.
Finally, public schools teach boys and girls in separate schools. If you are a parent whose young children are a different gender, the school run could become difficult.
For those families who want to seek a place at a public school, contact the Ministry of Education for further information.
Paying For Private Education In Bahrain
Those expats with the highest levels of skills and expertise in the oil, gas, banking and healthcare sectors are in demand. Due to this, some employers offer packages which include private school fees as part of the compensation.
This is far from universal, though, meaning that most expats must be sure they can cover all the costs required before going ahead with this option. These costs the full price of fees at the set deadlines, plus additional costs for items such as uniform and equipment, meals, after-school activities, and school trips. Those can quickly mount up.
If you aren’t sure how much disposable cash you will have available or what to budget for, a specialist financial advisor can be a great help.
If you’re using savings from abroad to cover school fees and other costs, using an attractive rate for the foreign exchange money transfer will help your funds stretch just a little further. You can get an online quote from our partners quickly and without obligation. You can also hear more about this subject in one of our podcast episodes.
Private Schools In Bahrain
Many expat students attend private schools since the methods of teaching are on par with international standards, but the fees are much lower.
Private schools are popular with those expat families who are able to afford the school fees. There are also fewer issues about obtaining a place compared to the difficulties of entry to the public system and international schools.
International Schools In Bahrain
International schools are usually set up with the intention of delivering an overseas curriculum in a well-resourced classroom, using high-quality teaching staff to provide the educational environment familiar to expat children. Some deliver a choice between the International Baccalaureate as well as the exam curriculum of their home country.
International schools are popular with expats looking to mirror the child’s schooling experience, but also attract local families who aspire to give their children an internationally-focused upbringing and the qualifications to access top overseas universities.
The majority of international schools teach in English. There are exceptions, such as French or German schools, for example.
School fees at international schools are often much higher than those charged by local private schools. These reflect the cost of recruiting and retaining international teachers and teaching assistants and the smaller class sizes, as well as the associated fees of delivering a well-resourced foreign curriculum. In addition, international schools often have large and impressive facilities to support both the students’ learning and their sporting and creative pursuits.
Despite the fee levels, the popularity of international schools means long waiting lists for entry. If you have a little notice before moving to Bahrain or haven’t prioritised school choice until later in the relocation process, ensure you investigate a back-up plan.
Bilingual Schools In Bahrain
More than half of Bahrains population have settled in the country from elsewhere. Not surprisingly, a large number of schools have opened to serve the needs of expat families. The list below contains a mixture of private and international schools. Some deliver the curriculum of a particular nation, while others offer Bahraini exams, the International Baccalaureate diploma or a range of options.
• Abdulrahman Kanoo International School, Manama
• Ahlia School, Al Janabia
• Ajyaal Montessori Pre-School, Manama
• Al Fajer Private School, Barbar (US)
• Al Hekma International School, Sanad (US)
• Al Mahd Boarding School, Saar
• Al Mahd Day Boarding School, Manama
• Al Noor International School, Manama (UK, Bahraini & Indian)
• Al Wisam School, Budaiya (UK)
• AMA International School, Budaiya
• Arabian Gulf Pearl International School, Manama
• Bahrain Bayan School, Isa Town (IB)
• Bahrain International School, Manama Town (US)
• Budaiya Pre-school, Manama (UK)
• Children’s Academy Bahrain, Al Janabia (UK)
• Choueifat International School, Anwaj Island
• Dilmun School, Adliya (UK)
• Hawar International School, West Riffa
• IBN Khuldoon National School, Isa Town (US)
• Indian School of Bahrain, Isa Town (India)
• KG Kids Pre-School, Riffa
• Modern Knowledge School, Manama (US)
• Nadeen International School, Manama (UK)
• Naseem International School, Riffa
• Pakistan Urdu School, Isa Town (Pakistan)
• Riffa Views International School, Riffa (US)
• Sacred Heart School, Isa Town (UK)
• Shaikha Hessa Girls International School, West Riffa
• St Christopher’s School, Isa Town (UK)
• Talent International & Infant School, Manama (UK)
The University of Bahrain
Women are given more freedom in Bahrain than in many neighbouring countries, even though these freedoms are limited compared to most Western societies. As a result, women are able to actively participate in Bahrain’s higher education sector.
In 2014, women represented 65% of the student body at the University of Bahrain, as well as 43% of researchers and 40% of faculty staff. At the Royal University for Women, one of the nation’s private Universities, the entire study body is female.
The King Abdulaziz University College of Health Sciences is a specialist college run by the Ministry of Health. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, paramedics and other health professionals are trained here.
When visiting University and college sites, you will notice that most students dress conservatively. The majority of women have their hair covered.
The Bahrain Science Centre
If you’re looking for an educational day out with your children, head over to the Bahrain Science Centre. It was launched in 2013, and the exhibition is targeted towards young people aged between six and 18. This is just one of the many ways you can spend your leisure time in Bahrain.
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