Bahrain at a Glance
Working in Bahrain
- Known for its oil industry, falling prices have seen Bahrain re-focus on the service and tourism sectors, and take steps to limit the number of expats in an attempt to curb local youth unemployment.
- No personal income or capital gains tax means Bahrain is considered a financial haven for expats. However, low oil prices are putting pressure on government budgets and may see an expat tax introduced.
- Though foreigners are not part of the social security system, they still qualify for low-cost medical care. Be prepared to take a taxi to the hospital in case of emergencies though as the ambulance service is in its infancy!
- You will need a work visa to get a job in Bahrain, but can’t apply for one without a job offer! Don’t fear, you can still visit the country to build your network with a tourist visa.
- Hospitality and trust are at the heart of doing business in Bahrain. Don’t try to rush the business process, and be sure to heed local customs such as accepting refreshments, and small talk about personal life.
With its strategic location in the North Persian Gulf, a good infrastructure, and a highly educated and skilled workforce, Bahrain has a successful history of doing business. The government has devised several strategies to make investing in Bahrain attractive to foreigners. Not only does it offer a liberal environment and low operational costs, but it also ranks in the top 5 globally for quality of life. Prospective expats planning to move to Bahrain should definitely check out Manama, the country’s capital.
An Oil-Based Economy
For a long time, Bahrain’s economy depended purely on oil. While oil is still a major economic driver, there have been increasing efforts to reduce dependency, and today Bahrain has one of the most diverse economies in the region.
However, the industrial sector still accounts for about 47% of the Bahraini GDP, employing nearly 80% of those working in Bahrain. Declining oil reserves have shifted the emphasis towards petroleum-processing and oil-refining based on crude oil imports, with the production and export of aluminum following close behind. Natural gas is an important feedstock to support the expanding petrochemical and aluminum industries. The construction and ship-repairing industries are also major employers.
While the agricultural sector is virtually non-existent, the services sector has started to play an important role. It accounts for the remaining 53% of the GDP, and has established Bahrain as the center for Islamic banking.
Numerous companies offering business and professional services have operations in Bahrain, particularly in Manama. A rise in regional and international tourism in particular is providing employment for locals as well as foreigners, and accounts for 10.3% of job opportunities in the country.
However, the economy experienced some setbacks as a result of the Bahraini uprising which started in February 2011 and still continues today. Bahrain may be in danger of losing its reputation as the financial hub of the Gulf to other regional centers, such as Dubai, Qatar, or Malaysia.
Cracking Down on Expat Opportunities
Bahrain is home to numerous multinational corporations doing business in the Gulf Region, who in turn account for the large numbers of expats. However, foreigners interested in working in Bahrain are likely to face more difficulties now than in the past. As well as social unrest, the main reason for this is continuing high local unemployment rates, especially among Bahrain’s youth. In 2007, Bahrain was the first Arab country to introduce a formal system of unemployment benefits.
As a result, the government has introduced measures to discourage expats, mainly by reducing sponsorship opportunities and increasing the corporate costs of hiring expat staff. A levy on the employment of foreign laborers has been re-introduced and further measures such as cutting water, fuel, and electricity subsidies only for the expat community have been implemented as a way of offsetting tumbling oil prices.
With these challenges in mind, sectors most likely to offer employment opportunities for expats in Bahrain include:
- business services
- financial services
- education & skills
Getting a Job in Bahrain
You can’t get a job in Bahrain without a valid work visa, and you need a confirmed offer in order to get a work visa. It is almost impossible to escape this circle, although expats interested in working in Bahrain can visit the country on a tourist visa to explore opportunities and establish contacts.
However, most expats working in Bahrain have either been recruited outside the country, normally by a headhunter or via an agency, or have been transferred by their company. Nearly all expatriates working in Bahrain are on a fixed-term contract. Casual or temporary work is not easy to find, but local recruitment agencies may be able to help spouses of expats already working in Bahrain.
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