With a population of just over 1.3 million people, Bahrain may be small, but it is also the fourth most densely populated sovereign state in the world. With Bahraini nationals only accounting for 48% of the population, you’ll find expats from all corners of the world. Workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Egypt make up the largest foreign communities.
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy with King Hamad bin Salman Isa Al-Khalifa acting as chief of state since 1999. The head of government is Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al-Kahlifa, who has been in office since 1971 and is 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, and may have strengthened the influence of Islamist groups.
Islam is the official religion but, due to the high proportion of foreigners, only 70% of the population is Muslim. The second-biggest religious group is the significant Christian minority that makes up 14.5% of the population. Bahrain’s official language is Arabic, although English is widely used. The quality of life in Bahrain was rated among the top 5 in the world by the HSBC expat poll in 2015.
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 tempt you into disregarding local customs or religious practice. Foreigners, especially Western women, should refrain from wearing revealing clothing in public or behaving immodestly in any way.
Similarly conservative rules apply to dating. Though married couples may hold hands, public displays of affection are not allowed, particularly during Ramadan. Outside of marriage, sexual relationships and cohabiting, including in hotels, is illegal, and becoming pregnant may result in imprisonment.
Please note that homosexuality, though technically legal between consenting adults aged twenty-one and above, can nonetheless incur social discrimination, or legal action and punishment under various laws designed to protect "public morality".
Make sure you respect the Islamic perception of alcohol when dealing with Muslim business partners or entertaining friends. Despite several reform proposals, the sale and consumption of alcohol is still legal for non-Muslims in Bahrain. You can buy alcohol in top hotels, licensed venues, and in some stores. However, drinking in public or drunken behavior in general is regarded as a serious offence punishable by a fine, prison, or even deportation.
Authorities also enforce a zero tolerance policy on drunk driving for everyone living in Bahrain, regardless of religion. If you’re caught behind the wheel after having consumed any 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.
Expats living on Bahrain’s main island, especially in Manama, benefit from an excellent road network and good bus connections. 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 peninsula 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 plan to frequently travel by air during your time in Bahrain, keep the following in mind: you may be denied boarding if you show any signs of intoxication, and 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.
In terms of public transportation, Bahrain is far from a world leader. A partnership with UK-based National Express led to an official re-launch of the public transportation system in 2015. The new bus service now covers 32 routes with 141 buses running daily. Fares vary according to distance, with a minimum charge of 200 fils per trip. You can find more information on routes from the Ministry of Transport. Further improvements are in the works with plans to build a monorail.
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