Lifestyle in Bahrain

The Bahraini lifestyle
Updated 2020-02-24 13:15

New expats in Bahrain will find the country to be diverse, relatively liberal, and welcoming of foreign culture, in part owing to the country's long history of expats in the workforce. However, the strong Arabic and Islamic lifestyle may lead to some aspects of living and working in Bahrain being somewhat different than you are used to. As long as new expats are friendly, open-minded, and flexible, they should quickly gain an understanding of the Bahraini way of life.

The Bahraini culture

Although Bahrain is considered to be a liberal country, and very welcoming to expats and different cultures, you will still encounter many Islamic traditions. Many men and women still wear traditional clothing, which is modest. Expats aren't expected to dress in this way but do avoid wearing revealing clothing in public, especially around religious buildings.

If you are invited to someone's house, it is recommended to take a small gift, and do remember that alcohol is not consumed by those of the Islamic faith. Many shops offer gift-wrapped chocolates. Flowers are also appreciated. It is polite to remove your shoes before entering and consider that punctuality is highly valued. Men and women in Bahrain will often socialise separately from one another.

In the Islamic faith, the holy month of Ramadan is the most important event on the calendar, and during the fasting month, food and drinks are not consumed between sunrise and sunset; business and shop hours may change. Expats are not expected to fast, but consumption of food and drinks in public is strictly forbidden, even chewing gum. Cafes will remain closed until sunset. As travellers are not required to fast, hotels can offer food and drink and will often have a discreet area set aside which anyone can use, but do check beforehand.

One phrase you will frequently hear is insh'Allah, which means "god willing". Strictly speaking, it is meant to have a positive meaning and should be a promise to do one's best to get the job done. You will soon learn to recognise the different ways it is spoken, and how the speaker really means the phrase to be interpreted.

Apart from the traffic, things don't often move fast in Bahrain, certainly not as fast as you may be used to at home, but learn to relax and accept that what will be will be, when it is ready. Once that concept is understood, being an expat in Bahrain becomes a laidback experience.

You will almost certainly find things to be more expensive than at home, particularly imported goods and there may be some things that are unobtainable. Despite this, having no income tax makes for a higher disposable income and your standard of living is likely to be higher. Not having your favourite chocolate bar or TV program on hand may seem to be something of a sacrifice. Still, it does make you more appreciative of something when it is temporarily unavailable.

Business culture in Bahrain

Despite the large influx of expat workers, Bahrain is still a country based on Islamic traditions and culture, and as only to be expected, things are done the Bahraini way. Understanding this will make it easier to become acquainted with your new co-workers and associates.

In business settings, your new colleagues are likely to want to get to know you, to build trust, so don't be alarmed if they ask questions that you consider personal. It is polite to ask about their family but not specifically about female members; keep the conversation generic.

In Bahrain, personal relationships hold sway in business dealings, leading to business deals taking longer than they would in your home country. Decisions and contracts are rarely established at the first meeting, so it is important to be patient. Refreshments are part and parcel of meetings, and it is considered rude to refuse them.

Arabic is the official language in Bahrain, although English is widely spoken and frequently used in business. Expats aren't expected to be fluent in Arabic, but learning a few words is appreciated. In terms of gender, men and women are treated equally in Bahraini culture, and women should feel valued and important in all areas of employment. Both men and women dress professionally and modestly in a business environment, despite the heat.

 Good to know:

Generally, the working week runs from Sunday to Thursday. However, some international companies may have differing working weeks. Saturday may also be a workday for some businesses.

Dining and nightlife in Bahrain

Dining out is popular in Bahrain, and there is a wide range of restaurants (see Things to do in Bahrain), offering a variety of cuisines from all over the world.

Several expat and society clubs are on offer, ideal for new expats to join to socialise and network. Many useful nuggets of information can be gleaned from seasoned expats.

Alcohol is forbidden under Islam, yet it can be purchased by those over 18 (21 in some establishments). It is available in licensed restaurants, four and five-star hotels, bars and nightclubs. You will not find alcohol on sale in shops and supermarkets, but there are four retail outlets which you can visit or order online for home delivery. These outlets are extremely busy on Thursday evenings and remain closed on Fridays as well as during Ramadan. Expat clubs also have licensed bars.

Juffair district is considered to be the club capital of the island and is home to many nightclubs, restaurants and bars.

 Good to know:

Membership of one expat club often allows entry at another club on production of your membership card and payment of BHD1

During the year, there are concerts, festivals, and live entertainment performances throughout the country. Middle Eastern, Asian, and Western music, dance, and theatre are featured. Local theatrical productions by expat groups are sometimes staged at the expat clubs. 

 Useful links:

Bahrain tourism
Bars and Clubs in Manama
The British Club
Bahrain Rugby Football Club
Dilmun Club
Bahrain Yacht Club

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.