Moving to Bahrain
Relocating can be challenging.
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A comprehensive guide to moving to Bahrain
So you’re moving to Bahrain? While you will certainly face a few challenges, with the right preparation your move will go a lot smoother than you may expect! Our Relocation Guide provides you with lots of useful information on visas, transportation, health and safety in Bahrain, and much more.
Relocating to 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.
- Almost all visitors, whether for tourism or business, will need a visa. Recent improvements to the system mean many nationalities can now apply for an eVisa online.
- Capital city, Manama, is an expat hub, and the country’s largest city. Well connected and home to many multinationals, it’s the financial heart of Bahrain.
- The aftermath of the Arab Spring continues to impact day-to-day life with trials of key protesters ongoing. Expats are advised to exercise caution in public places, follow the news, and adhere to any government security measures.
- Taking prescription medication to Bahrain can be difficult. For sleeping pills or anti-depressant drugs, you’ll need advance permission from the Ministry of Health, and to carry your prescription.
Bahrain once prided itself on being the most liberal country in the Persian Gulf region. While this may be true to some extent, your move to Bahrain will still require you to make some major adjustments. From the culture to the climate, for most expats Bahrain will be a big change from their previous home! If you’re ready to take on the challenge, this is what you need to know.
A History of Expats
The Kingdom of Bahrain, as it has been known since 2002, established itself as the preeminent trading center in the Gulf by the mid-19th century. Booming trade with India brought merchant families and their cultural traditions to the country, and wealthy Persian merchants also played their part in driving forward Bahrain’s socio-economic development.
The discovery of oil in 1932 resulted in growing numbers of foreign investors moving to the country, spurring a rapid modernization process overseen by British colonial advisors. In 1971, Bahrain asserted its independence from both the United Kingdom and Iran with a referendum.
Its history as a trading nation and former British colony means that expats from all corners of the world have been moving to Bahrain for centuries. However, growing youth unemployment combined with a large expat population has led to tougher measures being proposed to limit jobs and increase taxation for expats.
Though the oil industry still drives many expats to Bahrain, limited reserves have encouraged a shift towards petroleum-processing and oil-refining based on crude oil imports. Bahrain has also developed a reputation as one of the financial hubs of the Middle East, having replaced Beirut during the 1970s. While this initially opened up new opportunities in the financial services industries and attracted new business to Bahrain, the country’s commercial reputation has suffered since the Bahraini uprising started in 2011.
Manama: Financial Hub and Home Away from Home
Most expats moving to Bahrain make their home in Manama, the nation’s capital, situated in the north of the main island. According to the 2015 census, it has a population of approximately 157,000 people, making it the country’s largest city. Home to over 200 financial institutions as well as the International Islamic Financial Market and International Islamic Ratings Agency (IIRA), the capital earns its reputation as the Persian Gulf’s financial hub.
Several multinational companies run operations in or from Manama, and are major employers for expats in Bahrain. As the nation’s capital, Manama is not only the home of the national government offices but also accommodates all foreign diplomatic staff stationed in the country. High living standards, a multi-cultural environment, and a good transportation network are among the benefits of living in Manama.
Bahrain: Visa Information
Who Needs a Visa?
Unless you hold a passport from one of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, you will need a visa to enter Bahrain. Visas fall into several different categories depending on the purpose of your visit, sponsorship requirements, place of issue, and the number of planned visits. In some circumstances, an electronic visa or “eVisa” may be issued instead of the traditional passport stamp. You can find out more on the eVisa website.
Depending on the type of visa, a fee of between 5 BHD and 100 BHD is payable upon application. As of May 2012, all visa applicants have to supply additional details about their employment status and purpose of their visit as part of the application process.
Modernizing the Bahraini Tourist Visa System
If you are planning a short fact-finding trip to Bahrain prior to your assignment, a tourist or visit visa should be sufficient. The recently updated visa policy has expanded the number of nationalities who can now apply for an eVisa or visa on arrival. You’ll find the eligible countries listed at www.bahrain.com. A Visit eVisa can also be used for short business trips.
These eVisas are valid for two weeks, but can be extended on application. You can also get a longer three-month visa by applying on arrival in Bahrain. The Visit eVisa costs 29 BHD (ca. 77 USD), and takes three to five working days to process. It’s important to note that these visas have an expiry date, and must be used within 30 days of approval.
Finding a Sponsor
Those planning to work in Bahrain or tourists from countries not included in the eVisa list will need to secure a sponsor for the visa process. This can be an individual, a company, or an institution. In most cases, your employer will act as your sponsor.
If you don’t have a local employer, you can find a list of registered sponsors on the eVisa website or contact your country’s chamber of commerce in Bahrain. They may either be able to sponsor you, or provide you with contact details of trustworthy individuals or companies in your field of employment who may be willing to act as your sponsor.
Ready to Work in Bahrain?
If you plan on working in Bahrain, your employer will need to arrange a valid Work Visa prior to your arrival. This means they need to get a Non-Objection Certificate from the Bahrain Immigration Bureau. To do so, you will need to provide them with the following documents:
- passport-sized photograph
- sponsorship letter including employer’s name/organization, commercial registration number, employee’s capacity, salary, contract duration, employee’s name, birth date, and nationality
- copy of the contract
- health record from an authorized clinic
Work Visas are issued by the Labor Market Regulatory Authority, and cost 100 BHD.
Permits, Safety, and Health in Bahrain
Permits for the Whole Family
Family members and dependents of expat employees can apply for a residence permit, or “Family Visa”. It allows them to stay in Bahrain for the duration of the assignment, but does not give them the right to work. Applications must be submitted to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority, while the visa itself will be issued by the General Directorate for Nationality, Passports and Residence. In addition to the documents needed for a Work Visa (as detailed in the previous page), the following will be required:
- one completed application form per applicant
- a copy of every applicant’s passport
- a family health record from an authorized doctor or hospital
- a fee of 22 BHD per applicant
Once in Bahrain, every family member will also need their own CPR Card, a form of identification for foreigners. Applications should be sent to the Central Informatics Organization and include the applicant’s passport, the employee’s sponsorship letter stating the names of all dependents, marriage certificate where applicable, birth certificate(s) for children, and a fee of 1 BHD per applicant.
The Aftermath of the Arab Spring
The Arab Spring continues to affect Bahrain with tensions remaining high between the Sunni government and its mostly Shia citizens. Failed peace talks in 2014 led to further protests in 2015, and the trials of key protest leaders are still ongoing.
Demonstrations and protests are still a regular occurrence and can be violent. Foreign nationals are advised to stay vigilant and exercise caution on roads or in public places. Follow the local news (English-language newspapers are widely available) to find out whether any curfews or other restrictions are in place, and always adhere to security measures imposed by the government.
Feeling the Heat
Expats from cooler climates may find the heat difficult to deal with when they first arrive in Bahrain. Winters are mild, but summers are very hot with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius or more. It’s not unusual for foreigners to feel a bit under the weather for the first couple of weeks while they adjust.
There are no major health risks associated with moving to Bahrain, however, make sure to see your doctor well in advance before your departure for a general check-up. As well as making sure you’re up to date on all routine vaccinations, hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations are recommended for travel to Bahrain. Depending on your travel plans, hepatitis B and rabies vaccinations may also be recommended. If you are coming from a country with risk of yellow fever virus transmission, you may be asked to present proof of vaccination.
In general, importing prescription drugs is subject to approval by the Health Ministry. If you need to bring certain medications, make sure they’re for your personal use only and that you carry the original prescription stamped and signed by your healthcare provider that includes your personal information and details of your medical condition.
Psychotropic medicines, including many sleeping pills and anti-depressants, require approval from the Ministry of Health before arrival and can be difficult to get hold of in Bahrain. Obtaining any other medicine shouldn’t be a problem, although you may need to get a prescription from a Bahraini doctor as pharmacies are usually not authorized to accept foreign prescriptions.