Bahrain at a Glance
Living in BahrainiStockphoto
While Islam is the main religion, Bahrain is tolerant of other faiths.
With a population of just over 1.2 million people, Bahrain may be a fairly small country, but it is also the fourth most densely populated sovereign state in the world. According to 2012 estimates, 235,000 of Bahrain’s inhabitants were non-nationals. While workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka make up the biggest foreign communities living in Bahrain, the international workforce in skilled occupations you’ll meet during your life in Bahrain is pretty diverse, coming from all corners of the world.
Some General Aspects of Life in Bahrain
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy, with King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa acting as chief of state since acceding to the throne in 1999. The head of government is Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al-Kahlifa, who has been in office since 1971 and is thus the longest-serving prime minister in the world. The legal system is a mixture of Islamic law and English common law.
Recent political and economic reforms instigated by the King have made working and living in Bahrain a more lucrative and attractive option for foreign companies and expats. Bahraini women have had the right to vote and stand in elections since 2002. However, critical voices say that political liberalization has not gone far enough. It also seems to have strengthened the influence of Islamist groups in some respects.
Islam is the official religion, but due to the high proportion of foreigners, only 70% of the population is of Islamic faith. The second biggest religious group is made up by the significant native Christian minority living in Bahrain (9% of the population). Bahrain’s official language is Arabic, although English is widely used. According to the Bahrain Economic Development Board, the quality of life in Bahrain was rated among the top 5 in the world by the HSBC expat poll in 2009.
The People Living in Bahrain
Although Bahrain is a liberal state, large parts of the population are rather conservative. Don’t let the atmosphere of religious tolerance in everyday life in Bahrain tempt you into disregarding local customs or religious practice. Foreigners, especially Western women living in Bahrain, should refrain from wearing revealing clothing in public or behaving immodestly in any way. Please note that homosexuality is against Bahraini law and can incur legal action and punishment.
While the selling and consumption of alcohol is not prohibited per se for people living in Bahrain, a proposed ban on alcohol is in place for Muslims. Make sure you respect this when dealing with Muslim business partners or when entertaining friends. Authorities enforce a zero tolerance policy on drunk driving for everyone living in Bahrain, Muslim or not. If you’re caught behind the wheel after having consumed alcohol, you will be arrested and face a night in prison before being subjected to a hefty fine and a driving ban during your entire stay in Bahrain.
Bahrain: Travel and Transport
Expats living on Bahrain’s main island benefit from an excellent road network and good bus connections, especially in the capital Manama. All the main islands are connected by bridges, and there is a causeway linking Bahrain with the Saudi Arabian mainland via the island of Umm an-Nasan. However, some of the smaller islands can only be reached by boat.
Bahrain International Airport is a major air traffic hub in the Middle East with frequent connections to regional and international destinations. It is located on a small peninsular off the northwestern tip of the main island, right opposite Manama and within easy reach of the capital via two causeways. With Gulf Air, Bahrain has one of the most prominent airlines in the region. If you will frequently travel by airplane during your expat life in Bahrain, keep the following in mind: You may be denied boarding if you show any signs of intoxication, and you may be prevented from leaving the country if you are involved in any legal proceedings, have outstanding debts or have been living in Bahrain illegally.