The tiny nation of Brunei (ranking 172nd by area) is famous for all the wrong reasons. It most recently made headlines when its ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, announced that the country would be following a Sharia Law criminal code (with punishments including amputations and stoning). The Sultan and Crown Prince are well known for their extravagant tastes, spending billions of dollars on property, cars, and women. But to dismiss the country for the worst of itself wouldn’t be fair. The ruling monarch also makes education free and available to all. It welcomes foreign workers and tourists. And it has some of the most beautiful and untouched jungles and rainforests on the planet. Living and working in Brunei might prove challenging for most, but it could also prove quite fulfilling.
A Bit of Background
Officially called The Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace, it’s located on the island of Borneo in southeast Asia. Despite being one of the smallest countries by area, Brunei is ranked as the fifth richest in the world, thanks to the discovery of massive oil fields in the 1920s. As such, its roughly 410,000 citizens get free education, free healthcare, pensions, and very low interest loans for big ticket items like homes and cars. Brunei was a British protectorate for nearly a hundred years, starting in 1888 and not ending until the country’s independence on January 1, 1984. And while there is a constitution, real power belongs to the ruling monarch. Brunei is a unitary Islamic absolute monarchy, with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at its head. It is illegal to criticize him or the Crown Prince in any way, and they have used the nation as their own private piggy bank at times. Thanks to its relationship with the United Kingdom, English is widely spoken and taught, although the official language is Malay.
Visas and Immigration
Tourist visas are required by all non-nationals entering Brunei, and these are easily available at the nearest embassy, high commission, or consulate. That said, many countries (including Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand among many more) are exempt from the requirement for a set number of days (ranging from 14-90 depending on your country of origin).
Brunei is one of the easiest countries in the world for companies and businesses to recruit and bring in foreign workers. Employment visas can be obtained for you by your employer with virtually no hassle or restriction, providing they have a license to employ foreign workers (which, once again, is apparently very easy to get). The Employment Pass is applied for and issued along with the visa, and they are generally good for 2-3 years, and easily renewed at the end of that term. Your family members will be issued a Dependent Pass once your visa and pass are approved.
Crude oil and natural gas industries employ many foreign workers, and as much as two-thirds of the overall workforce is foreign employees. Worth special note is the fact that Brunei has no income, sales, or export tax. In fact, only corporations are subject to tax, and even then, only under certain conditions.
Utilizing an agent or website to find suitable property to buy or rent are both great choices, and there are many to choose from. Bruhome claims to be the biggest and best, with both purchase and rental listings. Brunei Property is another one with a high number of listings for sale and rent. That said, many sources argue that the websites are out-of-date and infrequently updated. They suggest you call some local real estate companies and ask them to source a few choices for you within your budget. Use Google to get a list of agents once you know where in Brunei you are going to settle, and give them a call. Houses and apartments are readily available, depending on your location and budget.
Education is completely free for citizens in Brunei, from primary all the way through to university. Everything is covered by the government, including tuition costs, housing, food, transportation, and textbooks. Students may even elect to go to university abroad, with the full cost covered by the central government. There are a number of primary, middle, secondary, tertiary (colleges and The University of Brunei), and vocational schools throughout the country. The International School Brunei, located in the capital, teaches an English curriculum, as does the larger Jerudong International School (International Baccalaureate program).
Brunei is officially a tropical equatorial zone, with an annual average temperature clocking in at roughly 25’C. The temperature rarely (if ever) dips below 22’C. The country is located in the lowland rainforests of Borneo, and it sees a great deal of rainfall throughout the year (roughly 290cm, or 115 inches). Expect it to be warm and wet quite frequently.
Truth be told, there is not a lot to do in Brunei, especially once the sun goes down. Nightlife in the traditional sense is basically non-existent. There are restaurants, and cafes, and western fast food places. Alcohol is banned in the country, but non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to import a set amount for personal consumption. There are golf courses, and swimming pools, and various other sporting options available to you. Beyond that, why not explore the rainforests? Roughly 80% of the country is covered by thick jungle and rainforest, many with walking trails or tours. Visit a mosque (but be respectful!) and learn about Islam. Travel to Malaysia or Indonesia. Or countries even further afield (but still pretty close) like China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, or the Philippines. Go to the beach for a barbeque picnic. Many people maintain that a visit to Brunei is incomplete without seeing the water village of Kampong Ayer. Internet is available in the country, but only about 60% of its citizens have access, and it is expensive, restricted, and monitored. Many expat forums suggest that the Chinese areas in the major cities are the place to go if you’re looking for a little adventure, including underground bars and clubs. But tread lightly...you probably don’t want to get caught doing something illegal in a country that has recently adopted Sharia Law.
Bob, What’s On? (local classifieds for housing, cars, used goods, employment)
DinoDirect (online shopping portal located in Hong Kong that will ship to Brunei)
There are definitely some downsides to choosing Brunei as your new home, but the country does make it very easy to find a job and procure the necessary paperwork, and the natural scenery is stunning. Remember that Brunei is an Islamic country, following Sharia Law, and is widely considered to be much more conservative than its Islamic neighbours. Certain behaviour - pre-marital relations, homosexuality, public displays of affection, public drunkenness - can land you in varying degrees of hot water (from lukewarm to scalding). Watch yourself.