Moving to Bahrain Expat Guide
Bahrain is an archipelago of over 30 islands, the main three of which are linked by bridges and causeways. The largest island, Bahrain Island, can be driven across in around half an hour, so this small country is easy to get familiar with quickly.
Bahrain is known to be one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf states. Expat women are advised to dress modestly, but they do not need to cover their heads or wear abayas when out in public. Equally, it’s easy to buy alcohol in Bahrain and many restaurants are licensed - so while this country will undoubtedly still be a culture shock in some ways, it’s an easier introduction to the Middle East than many of its neighbouring countries.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about moving to Bahrain as an expat.
Types of Visas When Moving to Bahrain
|Visa Type||Suitable For||Valid For||Further Information|
|Tourist visa||People visiting for 30 days or less for general tourism, business, work, family etc||30 days||You will need to either apply via the Bahrain eVisa system online or upon arrival. You will need a valid passport and proof of onward travel.|
|Work visa||Expats who are moving to Bahrain and have employment with a company in the country.||Up to two years (then must be renewed)||If you have an offer of employment from a company in Bahrain, your employer will need to organise your work visa on your behalf before you arrive in the country.|
|Residency permit||Required alongside a work visa for anyone living and working in Bahrain||Two years||Discuss the steps you need to take to apply for your residency permit with your employer in Bahrain. You may need to submit your passport, application, employment contract etc to your nearest Bahrain embassy.|
Bahrain Way of Life for Expats
Bahrain is known for being a tolerant, liberal Muslim country where foreigners will feel welcome. Bahrain’s culture is defined by the Islamic faith - the country has strong religious beliefs and these values are expected to be respected by anyone visiting the country, although Bahrain is generally more tolerant to visitors.
Expats should be aware of cultural norms in Bahrain and follow these accordingly. Any disrespect towards the Islamic faith will be seen as highly offensive and could even result in a fine or imprisonment.
Women in Bahrain can drive, vote, and hold political office, so there is less likely to be such a cultural shock to female visitors compared to other countries in the region where laws and restrictions on women, in particular, are much stricter. With that said, however, expat men and women will need to follow a modest dress code when out in public to avoid unwanted attention and any locals taking offence.
Bahrain is in the Middle East, so as you can expect, the climate is largely hot and dry. The country has two main seasons: summer, which runs from April to October with highs of 48oC, and a mild winter.
Bahrain may be a fairly small country, but walking is generally not advisable. The heat in Bahrain can climb to such great heights that it can be dangerous as a pedestrian to be outside exerting yourself for too long - for this reason, pavements rarely exist beyond residential areas/shopping malls etc, so you would struggle to get around regardless.
The main form of public transport in Bahrain are buses. While the bus network is fairly extensive, it can be complex for foreigners to understand and buses are often overcrowded and without air-con. If you want to use public transport to get around, your best option is to hire a taxi or a private driver. Make sure your driver has the meter on from the beginning of your journey.
Many expats find that leasing or buying a car is the most cost-effective way to get around the country while living in Bahrain, leaving you free to explore the country and get around at your own leisure.
Crime and safety
Bahrain has a low crime rate that is unlikely to affect expats. You should follow common-sense precautions as you would in any unfamiliar country, such as:
Avoid protests and demonstrations where conflict is likely
Secure your valuables when out and about to avoid being a target of petty theft
Avoid being out at night in lower-income areas
Cost of Living in Bahrain
It’s important to remember that foreign expats tend to enjoy much higher salaries and therefore a far greater level of disposable income in Bahrain, meaning that most expats enjoy a high standard of living for a low cost compared to their home countries.
The largest portion of your income will likely go towards rent for accommodation, followed by basic utilities, food, transport etc. It’s difficult to generalise the exact costs of these things, however, as it largely depends on your lifestyle.
Expats cannot legally own property in Bahrain, so your only option is to rent - thankfully, there is a wide range of options available. Property rentals in Bahrain can range from apartments to gated compounds, so thinking carefully about your budget before looking around is a good idea.
Find a reputable estate agent who is a native English speaker to assist you with your search - you could also drive around and look out for ‘to let’ signs in neighbourhoods you particularly like the look of. Prices start from as low as $400 per month for a studio apartment, although you should expect to pay closer to $2,500 per month for a luxury villa.
The healthcare system in Bahrain is good quality, but the costs for treatment can quickly add up for foreigners, who are entitled to access public healthcare services but will need to pay a fee for this. In addition, there can be long wait times for public medical services in Bahrain.
Expats are advised to take out private health insurance and will need two medical examinations for your paperwork to be processed (one in your home country and one in Bahrain to certify you are in good health with no infectious diseases).
two medical examinations for their paperwork to be processed. One will take place in your home country and one in Bahrain. Both tests are to certify you are in good health and do not carry any infectious diseases. The first test will be more detailed and both are compulsory.
Education is compulsory for all children in Bahrain aged six to 14, and tuition at public schools is free. Despite education in Bahrain being of high quality, expat children living in Bahrain will rarely attend public school here - with the local language barrier and difficulty for foreign children to overcome the country’s cultural belief system while in school being the most common reasons why most expats will opt to put their children in an international school.
The majority of Bahrain’s private schools are also international schools, established to meet the needs of the growing expat population within the country. There are a number of international schools following both the British and American curriculums, while expats will also be able to find schools offering French, Australian, and Indian curriculums, as well as the International Baccalaureate programme which is accepted in further education institutions worldwide
The tuition fees for an international school in Bahrain can be very high. If you are moving to Bahrain for an employer, it may be a good idea to factor these fees into your contract, as your salary will need to be high enough to cover the education costs for your child/children.
The majority of expats move to Bahrain for employment purposes. Skilled workers can benefit from high salaries with a greater amount of disposable income than their home country, with the low cost of living for a high standard of living is a big appeal for many families, too.
There are many job opportunities for expats in Bahrain, particularly for highly skilled workers. Expats with skills to offer the oil, banking, and construction industries, in particular, can find good job opportunities with high salaries - with many families’s opting to move to Bahrain and build up an early retirement fund.
To be able to legally work in Bahrain, you will need to be sponsored by an employer who can apply for a work visa on your behalf. The company hiring you will also need to demonstrate why they were unable to source an appropriate candidate from the existing Bahraini workforce in order for your visa application to be approved.
Banking in Bahrain
Due to the large international population in Bahrain, setting up a bank account as an expat should be an easy process that you can easily find assistance with. There are a number of local and international banks in Bahrain, with some of the best banks for expats including:
National Bank of Bahrain
Ahli United Bank
State Bank of India
Each bank will offer accounts for expats with different features, so take your time to do some research and decide which is most suitable for you. Once you’ve decided which bank to opt for, you’ll need to visit your local branch to set up your account.
You’ll need to provide:
A 'no objection letter or certificate' from your employer stating that they will pay your salary into this account each month and how much.
Proof of residency
Proof of address
As well as being necessary for receiving your salary when working Bahrain, your account will give you a debit card to make fee-free ATM withdrawals and transactions. In Bahrain, the preferred method of payment is often cash followed by card payments, so there are many ATMs available to withdraw money.
Saving money with international money transfers
When living in a foreign country, there is bound to be a time when you need to either transfer funds from your home country to your account in Bahrain, or to send funds back home. In either case, you should take your time to find the best money transfer operator for your needs and avoid excessive transfer fees and high exchange rate margins.
Our comparison tool will help you find the best money transfer operator for sending money abroad based on fees, exchange rates, speed, and more.
Popular Places to Live in Bahrain
Located on the eastern side of Bahrain, Adliya is a multicultural location increasingly popular with expat families. You’ll find plenty of rental properties available here and a great mix of galleries, shops, restaurants, and cafes to keep you busy.
Juffair is the home of the US military base, and so is a very popular destination for US expat families to settle down. The area has a number of good international schools to choose from, as well as a selection of international restaurants, cafes, and shopping malls. Juffair is also home to the largest mosque in the Kingdom, Al Fateh Mosque.
This man-made island is one of the most luxurious places you could live in Bahrain, with modern apartments and villas on offer, as well as shops, restaurants, leisure areas and a theme park to keep everyone plenty entertained.