The Middle East has been a popular spot for expats for a while now. Every year, it gains in popularity and, dare I say it, prestige. The business and tourism trade is flourishing, and tens of thousands of foreigners are setting up both shop and house.
Obviously, some destinations are more desirable than others. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) - especially the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai - has been at the top of the list for years. And rightly so. But the island nation of Bahrain has also seen a surge lately. It’s a great spot, and for many of the same reasons as the UAE. So, are you considering making the leap? Looking at the tiny country and thinking, “That could work”? Here’s how to relocate to Bahrain, and a bit of useful information (everything you might want to know), too.
A Bit of Background
Bahrain is a small island nation (only 780 square kilometers) located in the Persian Gulf (and connected by bridge to Saudi Arabia). Its current population is approximately 1,300,000, of which about half are foreign nationals (the expat community is huge). Hot, humid, and dusty, it does also boast delightful winter temperatures, some beautiful beaches, oasis areas, and a friendly citizenry. Although Arabic is the official language, English is widely spoken and understood. Independent since 1971 (and a British Protectorate before that), Bahrain is considered one of the safest countries in the Middle East.
Visas and Immigration
First of all, unless you’re a citizen of the G.C.C. (Gulf Cooperation Council, consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar), you’ll need a visa. They are fairly easy to get, and much of it can be done online. The Bahrain eVisas web portal can assist you in this regard. Depending on WHY you’re going, there are several different types of visa available to foreigners. Tourists from most countries can get a visitor visa on arrival, or through the web portal.
If you’re going for business, though, it’s a whole new set of rules. Generally speaking, you will need a sponsor in order to get your visa processed. If you are planning on living and working in Bahrain, your company or employer should take care of this for you.
You can quickly determine what kind of visas are available to you by entering your basic information here. It will list the type and method of procurement instantly.
Bahrain, being an island nation, has got plenty of upscale neighbourhoods right on or near the beach. And with warm (or scorching hot) temperatures and sunshine year-round, it’s definitely a benefit of Middle Eastern living.
You essentially have two options: apartments, and villas. Villas are generally part of a development area (often gated) that will include amenities like swimming pools, health clubs, retail shops, grocery stores, and so forth. Apartment complexes may also have these, but it’s not guaranteed.
You can conduct a quick Google search and find plenty of sites (like Bahrain Property Rentals) for finding a rental property. There are numerous agencies to assist you as well, such as Century 21 Bahrain. Please be aware that the agency fee (if you go that route) should be paid by the landlord, and not the tenant. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Tenancy agreements tend to be for one year, and include an option to renew.
A great resource for finding property listings (as well as classified ads for used cars, electronics, and even jobs) is Dubizzle. You can get a good sense of what is available, and a price range for what you want. If I was forced to say, I’d put the monthly cost of a decent apartment in the 400-800BHD range ($1060-2100 USD), and 1100-2000BHD for a villa ($2900-5300 USD). Of course, it’s possible to find places outside of those ranges. Location, size, age of the property, and any included amenities/utilities are all going to affect the price, so look around.
If you’re making the big move with children, there are some fantastic international schools in Bahrain. St.Christopher’s School (located in Isa Town) was recently designated one of the top eight British curriculum schools in the world. Indian, Pakistani, American, and British (to name but a few) curriculums are all represented.
I’m not going to lie. It’s hot. Scorching, meltingly hot during the summer months. But air-conditioning is ubiquitous, and the rest of the year is absolutely splendid. Officially an arid, desert climate, Bahrain has only two seasons: the aforementioned hot and humid summer, and a mild winter. The average temperature in January, for example, is roughly 15-20’C, while the mercury routinely hits +40’C plus high humidity during the summer months. So long as you limit your time outside (or spend it in a temperature-controlled pool), it’s manageable.
You’re spoiled for choice. Bahrain offers satellite television, with both American and British channels, high-speed internet, cinemas showing the latest Hollywood blockbusters, imported English magazines and newspapers, massive bookstores, and a slew of other options. Alcohol is available at restaurants, bars, and clubs for non-Muslims. Water and team sports are both popular and plentiful (as both a spectator or player). There’s even a F1 Circuit stop on Bahrain. And don’t forget the beach during the milder months…
Bahrain is one of the more liberal of the Gulf states, but it is still a Muslim country. Certain behaviour and attitudes will not fly, and could land you in trouble. Use your good judgment. Public displays of affection, drunkenness, and revealing clothing are frowned upon (and possibly even illegal).
Watch yourself, be respectful of the host culture, and you’ll be absolutely enthralled with Bahrain and all it has to offer.