Driving in Bahrain

Driving in Bahrain
Updated 2020-02-24 12:11

Expats love the freedom and convenience of driving, and many choose to purchase or rent their own car. But, driving in Bahrain is not for the faint-hearted. Traffic on the minor roads is often congested, and village streets can be narrow with poorly parked vehicles. Fast-flowing major highways can come to a halt without warning, and vehicles often change lanes without signalling. Overcome these difficulties, and there is no better way to get around in Bahrain.

Obtaining a licence in Bahrain

If you are only in Bahrain for a very short stay, as a visitor or tourist, you do not need a Bahraini licence. You can drive on an International Driving Permit, or for some countries, your home country's licence will be sufficient. International Permits can easily be obtained in your home country before travelling.

Expats in Bahrain who stay more than twelve months will need to obtain a Bahraini licence. If you have a valid driving licence from your home country, you may be able to exchange it for a local one by visiting Traffic Services. A list of countries for which a licence is issued without test is available from the Traffic Directorate. To obtain the Bahraini licence, it is necessary to take an eyesight test, which is done at the Traffic Office. You will have to complete the required paperwork, and take along two passport photos, proof of residency, passport, and licence from your home country. If accepted, you will then be granted a Bahraini licence.

If you do not have a licence from your home country, or you are from a country whose licence is not recognised, you will need to pass all standard driving, educational, and medical tests.

Driving conditions in Bahrain

Roads in Bahrain are generally maintained to a high standard. You will find everything from multi-lane highways to smaller roads in less populated areas. Road signs are posted in both English and Arabic - a great advantage for expat drivers - and fuel stations are found throughout the country. They are often set back from the main road, so keep an eye out for a small sign with a petrol pump symbol. Fuel prices are fixed in Bahrain, so there is no need to shop around. 

Although the roads themselves are usually of high quality, expats often report frustration with other drivers. Aggressive and erratic driving is common throughout Bahrain. Queue jumping is a regular occurrence, as is using the safety lane to pass slow-moving traffic on the highways. It is important to drive defensively. Never give a rude gesture to another driver. This is a serious offence and has strict penalties.

Traffic congestion is a significant problem, especially in the morning and early evening rush hours, around school drop-off and pick-up times, and midday when many workers go home for lunch. Traffic is considerably lighter when the schools are on holiday, particularly in the summer break when many people leave the island for their annual holiday.

Road rules in Bahrain

Make sure to familiarise yourself with the rules of the road, as they may be different than your home country. 

  • In Bahrain, the minimum driving age is 18, and driving is done on the right-hand side of the road. 
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol is strictly forbidden; all drivers must have a 0.00mg/ml blood alcohol level to drive. If caught, you will be arrested and detained until the next court is convened. Bear in mind if this occurs on a Thursday evening, the next court sitting will be on Sunday at the earliest. Strict penalties apply, with a minimum fine of BHD500 and/or imprisonment from 1 month to 1 year, and possibly a lengthy ban.
  • Mobile phones can only be used while driving if they are hands-free, although you will see many people on their phones, talking or texting.
  • Smoking, eating, and drinking are not allowed while driving.
  • Children under the age of 10 must sit in the rear seats, not the front. Do not be surprised to see most children are carried unrestrained in the car.
  • Overtaking on both sides is permitted on the highways when one lane is moving slower. This is interpreted to mean at any time the driver deems it necessary.
  • Generally, speed limits are 50-70 km/h in urban areas, 80-100 km/h in rural areas, and 100-120 km/h on the highways. They are often ignored, except for around speed cameras.
  • Many traffic lights have smart cameras which not only detect red light infringements but speeding too. These cameras are also found at regular intervals on the highways.
  • Fines can be issued for a wide range of offences, including careless driving, driving without headlights, riding a motorbike without a helmet, or for having inappropriate displays or bumper stickers on the car.
  • Be aware that military convoys often ignore red lights.

Traffic police in Bahrain

Bahrain has a national traffic police unit; the vehicles are red and white. Other police you may see on the road are Ministry of Interior Police, driving blue and white vehicles and Military Police driving red vehicles. Ministry of Interior police rarely stop traffic for offences unless of a serious nature but will assist in the event of a breakdown or accident. Directions of any police officer must be obeyed.

Traffic Police can be contacted by dialling 199, for minor road accidents. Dial emergency services on 999 for more serious accidents or emergencies.

Owning a car in Bahrain

Purchasing a car in Bahrain is a relatively straightforward procedure. Cars can be purchased directly from a previous owner, a dealer or a used car sales centre. 

Private sales

When buying a car from an individual, ensure the vehicle ownership card does not show an outstanding loan on the vehicle. Once a price is agreed, transfer of ownership is made at the Traffic Office, where any outstanding traffic fines are settled, the appropriate fee is paid, and a new owner card is issued. Insurance remains with the vehicle, but you must transfer it to your name with the insurance company. Insurance is usually for any driver, with higher excesses payable for driver under a certain age.

Dealer sales

The process is similar; however, it is usual for the dealer to take care of the whole process and present the new owner with the updated documents. 

Ongoing requirements in Bahrain

Vehicles are re-registered every 12 months. Insurance must be renewed, and payment of outstanding traffic fines made before the registration can be renewed. Payment of fines and registration renewal can be made online. Some insurance companies also have this facility, otherwise, you must go in person to the insurance office. 

Vehicles over five years old must also have an annual test prior to registration renewal. This is done at the vehicle testing centre and can be carried out up to 3 months in advance of the due date. Long queues often form at the centre, particularly at the end of the month when people have been paid their wages.

Car rental in Bahrain

There are many car rental companies in Bahrain, both local and internationally recognised names. Prices vary considerably but watch out for high insurance excesses in the event of damage to the vehicle. 

Unlike private car insurance, the vehicle is only insured for drivers named on the rental agreement. 

Short and long-term rentals can be made, and many expats rent to avoid the extra burden of maintenance, insurance, and testing that ownership brings.

 Useful links:

Driving Licence Renewal
General Directorate of Traffic Services
Driving School Services
Traffic Laws
Ministry of Interior Traffic Information (in Arabic only)

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.