Expat Bahrain Guide – Making a new Life in the Middle East
April 8, 2019Gabriela Ioan
Bahrain is a small island state located on the Eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. When I first moved to Bahrain 11 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. It was the first time that I was an expat in an Arab country, and, although I had done some research online about Expatriates Bahrain and I had read some guides written by other expats on the island, I still had a culture shock once I reached Bahrain.
The island (which – fun fact – is actually a kingdom) stretches over an area of 765.3 square kilometers (around 293 square miles), and has around 1.64 million inhabitants (according to the June 2019 data). It has been determined in the latest census, that almost half of the population of Bahrain is made up of expats, with Indians being the largest expat group on the island.
This says a lot about Bahrain and its culture. If you plan to go there, prepare to find a land where Islamic traditions and local history mingle with Western and Asian religious and cultural influences. Expect to hear the calls for prayer five times a day, and to see Christians going to the church on Sunday. Know that your Muslim friends will be more than happy to join the Christmas or Eastern table, and that some of them will even buy you gifts.
Don’t be surprised to find out that there are clubs and lounges on the island where alcohol is being served. And try to get used to the idea that, although Bahrain is a liberal country that allows a lot of freedom of expression to all of its expat inhabitants, you still need to show sensitivity towards local traditions and conform to certain religious customs.
How to get to Bahrain
Being an island, the best way to get to Bahrain is by air. Bahrain International Airport (where expansion works are currently underway) receives hundreds of flights from all over the world every day, and the national carrier, Gulf Air, flies to more than 50 destinations worldwide.
The only highway that connects Bahrain with the mainland passes through Saudi Arabia, so coming to Bahrain by car could prove a little bit problematic, especially if you are a woman. If you are a family with Bahrain residency permit, driving through Saudi Arabia is a good option, provided you enjoy long rides and endless views of the desert. Oh, and you’ll need to have a very efficient car AC too…
Over the last few years, Bahrain has seen an increase in the number of cruise ships that choose to dock here, so that’s a good option for you if all you want is just to drop by for a short visit.
Cost of Living for Expatriates Bahrain
One thing you must avoid doing in Bahrain at all costs: never compare the prices you find here with those in your home country… As you may know, most of the Middle Eastern currencies are quite strong. As I am writing this article, 1 Bahrain Dinar is the equivalent of 2.37 Euros, 2.66 US dollars and 2.10 UK Pounds. So expect prices to measure up to the value of the local money…
Living in Bahrain is not cheap, that’s for sure. Especially for expats… Why? Let’s just say that prices tend to be higher in the areas where expats live. Of course, many expats have highly paid jobs and choose to spend their money on a lifestyle that could be considered a little bit more luxurious (nice villa, fine dining, boat rides, and so on). However, you can always find ways to scale down your spendings (you can try cooking your own meals, for instance).
Best areas for Expatriates Bahrain to be Based
There are certain areas in Bahrain that are known to have a high density of expat population. These areas are usually preferred by foreigners because of the westernized lifestyle and because of the proximity to certain points of interest like the mall, the seaside, or certain office buildings.
The three areas that immediately come to mind when it comes to high expat density are: Al Juffair (where the US Navy Base is located), Amwaj Islands (a slightly more pretentious residential area that is favored especially by those who love water and water sports), and Seef District (where a lot of malls, banks and businesses are located).
If you are an expat family looking for an area that is a little more quiet, and has a nice community feel, you will probably opt in to live in Adliya or Mahooz.
And let us not forget all those expats who have jobs in Saudi Arabia but chose to live in Bahrain. These people will usually live in areas like Saar, Janabiya and Hamala, three residential areas located close to the border with Saudi Arabia, where you will find mostly villas and family oriented compounds.
Working in Bahrain as an Expat
Due to the purchasing power of the Bahrain Dinar, there are a lot of expats who choose to come to Bahrain for work. Most jobs will give you benefits like shared accommodation or living allowance, medical insurance, and transportation to and from your workplace. Depending on the type of your job, your position and your rank, you can expect all kinds of other added benefits.
Local customs to be aware of for Expatriates Bahrain
Bahrain is quite liberal when it comes to cultural diversity, but expats are still expected to respect certain rules of conduct. These are some behavioral guidelines to consider for expatriates Bahrain:
- drinking alcohol is not allowed in public places
- displays of affection like touching and kissing in public places are frowned upon
- you’ll be expected to wear a decent attire in all public areas and especially in Governmental buildings
- drinking, eating and smoking in public areas is forbidden during the whole month of Ramadan
Expatriates Bahrain – Overall Verdict
Overall, living in Bahrain is quite pleasant for most expats. The island offers a relaxed, peaceful lifestyle, where the main activities are shopping, fishing, enjoying a nice drink in a cafe or a bar, going to parties with friends and lazing by the pool or on the beach. If you enjoy all these, Bahrain will soon become your personal heaven.
Staying in the Middle East? You might also like to read about 10 things to do in Downtown Dubai.