What to expect when you move to Bahrain

Here's our handy guide to everything you need to know about living in the Kingdom

What to expect when you move to Bahrain

Moving to Bahrain can feel overwhelming, particularly if this is the first time you’ve visited the Middle East.

The food is different, the culture is different, and the language is different too.

But rest assured, you’ll feel at home in no time - the Kingdom is regularly voted one of the best countries in the world for expats, and there’s thousands of people in exactly the same position as you.

Read on for our handy guide about what to expect and how to avoid faux pas in your first few weeks in the Kingdom.

Island life
To state the obvious, Bahrain is very small. It’s the smallest of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, and in the smallest 25 countries in the world.

If you’re used to a big city, you might get quite the culture shock when you move here. For comparison, Bahrain’s about half the size of London, a third of Moscow and an eighth of Shanghai.

But this is in no way a negative – you will learn to embrace the more leisurely pace of life and enjoy really getting to know a place like the back of your hand, rather than spending half your life on the metro or on buses moving from one area to the next.

Everyone uses cash
Depending on where you live, there's a high chance you you contactless or Apple Pay frequently. Although debit and credit cards are used in Bahrain, most people stick with cold hard cash, and plenty of places will only accept dinars. These come in denominations of 1/2, 1, 5, 10 and 20.

Sunday start
The official rest days are Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being the start of the working week. Friday is the Islamic Holy Day, with Muslims spending their time at Friday payers, with loved ones at parks and beaches and at home.

Up until 2006, the weekend was Thursday-Friday, but the government moved it to align working days more with other countries.

Many museums and attractions will either not open on a Friday, or have shortened hours, so bear this in mind before you head out.

Islam plays a leading role in Bahraini society and before long you will become accustomed to the sound of the call to prayer being broadcast from loudspeakers attached to mosques.

Muslims pray five times each day, facing Mecca, and you might see stickers or signs in hotel rooms specifying in which direction the Holy City lies.

It’s not uncommon to see people praying in office corridors or by the side of the road, although there are prayer rooms for Muslims at most shopping centres and at the airport.

Respect for religion is key, so avoid walking in front of anyone praying, and don’t stare. There are many different days each year commemorating aspects of Islam, and most will mean a public holiday.

These include Eid al-Fitr, Eid Al Adha, Muharram (Islamic New Year), Ashura and the Prophet Mohammad's Birthday (PBUH).

The mosque
Non-Muslims are generally not allowed to enter mosques, but visitors keen to immerse themselves in the new culture can visit Al Fateh Grand Mosque for free between 9am and 4pm every day except Fridays and public holidays.

If you want to learn more about the beautiful building and some of its history, you can take a tour in English or Arabic.

You must wear modest clothing (no shorts) and women will be given an abaya and shayla (head scarf) to wear during the tour. All visitors will be asked to remove their shoes before entering the mosque.

What to wear
Sunbathing in swimwear is perfectly acceptable on the beach, but you must put more substantial clothes over your outfit before you step off the sand.

When in public places such as streets, shopping malls and restaurants, shorts and skirts must be of appropriate length, covering the knee. It is also advisable to steer clear of clothes that are low-cut, transparent, or that display obscene or potentially offensive pictures.

Language barriers are less of an issue for newcomers than in most countries. Bahrain is effectively bilingual, with road signs, maps and daily newspapers in English and most Bahrainis speaking the language fluently.

Some public sector staff and other officials may not have the same level of fluency and as a result may come across sounding quite brusque.

However, this usually has more to do with the imprecise art of translating Arabic into English than a desire to be rude. (Quite the opposite, the Middle East is famed for its hospitality.)

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