Earth : Asia : Middle East : Bahrain
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a Middle Eastern archipelago in the Persian Gulf, tucked into a pocket of the sea flanked by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It's an oasis of social liberalism – or at least Western-friendly moderation – among the Muslim countries of the region. It's popular with travelers for its authentic "Arabness" but without the strict application of Islamic law upon its non-Muslim minority. Although it has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its more relaxed culture has also made it a social and shopping mecca (so to speak), which has helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class not found in neighboring countries with just a rich elite and subsistence-level masses.
Bahrain is the smallest country in GCC, and has often had to walk a diplomatic tightrope in relation to its larger neighbors. The country has few oil reserves, but it has established itself as a hub for refining as well as international banking, while also achieving a socially liberal (by Gulf standards at least) monarchy. Its economy depends to a small extent on Saudis interested in a little entertainment, not available in the strictly Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Officially 220V 50Hz. Most outlets are the British standard BS-1363 type. Generally speaking, U.S., Canadian and Continental European travelers should pack adapters for these outlets if they plan to use their electrical equipment in Bahrain.
Bahrain features a tropical desert climate, but due to land reclamation has very few beaches. Man-made beaches at luxury hotels are nice, but only accessible for a price. Winters in Bahrain are dry and average daytime temperatures in the low 70sF, night time lows in the 50sF. Spring and fall are pleasant, with dry weather and nights cooling off into the 60sF after days of around 85F. Late winter and spring are known for dust storms which, while not as severe as those found elsewhere in the Gulf, are still rather unpleasant. Summertime is very hot and muggy in Bahrain, with daytime temperatures being from 100-120F, and nights cooling down to anywhere from 75-90F. The shallow waters around Bahrain are typically anywhere from 75F in winter to 85F in spring and fall, and usually around 90F+ in summer. Due to the shallowness of the water, it is possible to get heat stroke while swimming.
As of 1 October 2014, 66 countries are able to get a Visa on Arrival (VOA) .
Citizens of GCC do not require a visa to visit Bahrain, and may use National ID Cards to enter the country.
Citizens of all other European Union nations, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China (PRC), Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Hong Kong (SAR passport holders), Iceland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Macau (SAR passport holders) Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Suriname, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela may obtain a visa on arrival or online for stays of up to fourteen days.
Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Pakistan, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Taiwan and Trinidad and Tobago, in addition to persons holding British National (Overseas) passports may obtain an eVisa for stays of up to fourteen days.
All other nations require a visa, and must have a guarantor (Bahraini commercial entity or a Bahraini individual) to obtain a visa. Bahrain is among the few Gulf states that officially accepts Israeli Passports (although you'll need a visa) and passports with evidence of visits to Israel.
You may find that the customs staff will take your passport off you and ask you to sit down in the waiting area (just before customs) while they prepare your visa. Do not worry about this as the process will take around fifteen minutes before the officer comes back and calls you to approach the desk. You will then be asked which visa you require and they will print you off a receipt, stamp your passport and then you're through.
Bahrain International Airport (IATA: BAH), in Muharraq just east of Manama, is the main base for Gulf Air and has excellent connections from the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and North & East Africa, in addition to longer-distance services from Amsterdam, Athens, Bangkok, Frankfurt, London, Manila, Moscow and Paris. The airport has good duty-free shopping for those awaiting flights. Many residents of eastern Saudi Arabia choose to fly out via Bahrain, and Gulf Air offers shuttle services to Khobar and Dammam to cater to this market; inquire when booking.
The Saudi-Bahraini Transport Company (SABTCO) , tel. +973-17252959, runs eight buses daily from the SAPTCO bus station in Dammam via Khobar in Saudi Arabia, across the King Fahd Causeway, to the bus terminal next to the Lulu Centre in central Manama.
The service uses aircon minibuses with a trailer for luggage. Tickets cost SR60 (SR50 when you buy two-way) and can be purchased in advance, although they'll squeeze you in without a reservation if there is space. As crossing the Causeway involves two passport checks and one customs checks, figure on 2 hours for the trip, plus any traffic delays at busy times like Thursday evenings. At congested times, buses may actually be slightly faster than private cars, as they can use separate lanes at immigration and customs.
Note that, as of 2011, Bahrain Saudi Transport & Tourism (BASATCO) offers what seems to be similar buses for a slightly lower fare of BD4, although four times a day only.
As of May 2014, the schedule for SABTCO is as follows:
The 26-km King Fahd Causeway connects Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The border post is on an island in the middle of the causeway. The causeway has a toll for entering on each side: 2 BD from Bahrain and 20 SAR from Saudi. There are no tolls leaving the causeway. If you have Saudi residency (Iqama), there is no charge for the Bahrain immigration visa stamp, but if you are a visitor to Saudi (e.g. business visa), then it will cost you 15BD/150SAR, the same as at Bahrain airport.
SABTCO's Bahrain Limo taxis, which seat up to four, can take you across for prices starting from BD30/SR300. Tolls are usually included in taxi and limo fares.
Rental vehicles cannot usually be taken through the border. To cross in a Saudi rental car, you need extra paperwork and insurance from the rental company, Saudi residency (Iqama) and a Saudi driving license (not just a home country license). If the car is booked to a company account, you also need a letter from your company (or standing arrangement with the rental company if it is a regular request).
Unofficial taxis (private cars) can be found hanging around bus stations at both ends, Dammam train station, and on the Saudi side of the causeway border post. The going rate from the Saudi side of the border to Manama is 20 BHD/200 SAR, but you may be able to negotiate this down when there are no queues at the border (i.e. a quick turnaround for the driver). Take the mobile number of the driver to arrange pick-up and shuttle back through the border for your return.
If you don't have the right paperwork for your Saudi car, or rental car, you can drive to the border, park it up for the duration of your visit to Bahrain, then take an unofficial taxi across the border. Parking on the island is free, but there are very few legal spaces, and they are always occupied, so you will probably have to find a safe illegal space and hope you won't get fined or towed. Note that the small car park on the north side of the main road, near the exit from Bahrain, is actually the border guard employee car park, so be very careful if you park there. One hint is to find an unofficial taxi driver before you park (they will often walk up to your car if you are cruising for a space). Then follow the driver, wait for him to move his car, then park in his space. When he brings you back after your trip to Bahrain, he can park back in the same space. Yes, parking spaces are that valuable.
You cannot walk across the border on the King Fahd Causeway, you have to be in a vehicle. So you cannot take a Saudi taxi to the border, walk through, then take a Bahraini taxi from the other side.
Obviously this is a ridiculous situation, as it means (unofficial) taxi drivers have to queue to cross the border in both directions, just to pick up a one-way fare. It would be much more efficient for everyone if they had pick-up and drop-off places on both sides, and let people walk through the immigration and customs facilities already provided for bus passengers, who have to leave the bus and enter the buildings to be processed.
You can take unofficial taxis through the border (see above). For example, from the Saudi side, get any regular taxi to take you to the causeway (you will pay an extra 20 SAR for the toll). Then find an unofficial taxi to take you through the border and on to Bahrain.
The Valfajre-8 ferry to and from Iran has been cancelled.
Bahrain is NOT a good place to be taking taxis due to their very high rates and their general lack of availability. Recommended is to rent a car. Even when taxis use the meter, a 10 minute ride can cost around 20-25 USD. With the sparse availability of taxis, you may need to pay your taxi to wait for you at your destination and then drive you home. This means a $40 dinner may cost you over $100 including the needed taxi service.
The official rates start at ($2.65) BD 1.000 plus 0.200 Fils per kilometer. In practice, though, meters will be "broken", covered, missing or just ignored. Check the meter is working before you start driving. If it is not working, it is recommended to stop, get out and find another taxi. Otherwise you must haggle and agree on a fare.
However, a new agreement have been reached between the government and taxis representatives on August 2008; and a growing majority of taxis now use their meters. Rates vary from 3 to 5 dinars for a ride within Manama / Juffair.
Taxis in Bahrain are not like the U.A.E. where they are regulated and will never rip you off. Sadly you name the scam and you will find 'most' of the taxi drivers you hail from a rank or on the street will try it. The meter will be hidden under a prayer hat, a box of tissues, a towel or cloth. The meters are in all official taxis and mounted on top of the dashboard. There are other taxis which are generally white pickup trucks with 'taxi' stickers on the side but these do not have meters and you will have to negotiate a fare.
There is a surcharge of BD 1.000 if you get a taxi outside a hotel. If you catch a cab from another location, or flag down a taxi while walking, make sure the extra BD 1 fee is not already on the meter (right hand display is the fixed surcharge). For example, if you pick up a taxi at a hotel around the souk area, you will pay BD 1.000 surcharge, but if you go to the taxi rank at the Bab Al Bahrain, you will not. A short walk can save you money. You really need to watch the meter like a hawk, check it starts at zero and no extras are added and watch out for the driver pressing buttons on it whilst distracting you during the ride. Do not accept a BD 1.000 charge for 'waiting at a rank' that is not a hotel one or another BD 1.000 charge for dropping you at a hotel!. You will find stickers in the front on the window advising you of any extras, there is also a further charge if you exceed a certain distance.
The airport gives guidelines as to the official way of calculating taxi fares. Notice that an extra BD 2.000 will be added if you take a taxi waiting at the airport .
On the whole some taxis offer a good service but you do encounter a lot of bandits. Be aware when traveling from the airport to always use the white with red roof or London style taxis. Also there is a rule if the meter is not used there is no charge; hold your ground on this and call the police, and the driver will cooperate very quickly with the correct fare for the trip. A common tactic used by the taxi drivers is to claim they don't have any change or try to give you change in Saudi Riyals. They will insist the Riyals are worth the same as the Bahraini Dinar or the American Dollar when in fact they are closer to .25 American.
Finding a taxi can be difficult, although major hotels and malls usually have a few waiting outside so be careful if you leave Manama center. Some privately owned companies operate in the kingdom and you can download their apps for your smart phones. These are easy to use and you select a pickup and drop off point then you will be notified who your driver is, their car type, registration and then you track them online. When you have been dropped off you will receive a email receipt of your fare including details. The most popular of which are:-
Speedy Motor Service Radio-Meter Taxis SMS Radio-Meter Taxi is the oldest & most popular radio-meter taxi company in the Kingdom, and the most reliable. Advance booking of taxi is possible, and they operate a 24-hour service, 365 days a year. Call Tel: +973-17 682999 or download the app online for your smart phone.
Bahrain Taxi Online  Get meter taxi online within 10 minutes. Tel: +973-36688614. Download the app beforehand and use whenever you can get WiFi.
Bahrain Limo is the newly established Radio Meter Taxi Company in the Kingdom of Bahrain and the sister company of the transport giant "Saudi Bahraini Transport Company" (SABTCO) which provides luxurious bus and limousine services across the King Fahad Causeway.
Uber service is available. Often the Uber driver will show up in a regular taxi and typically costs about 1/3 of the normal taxi rates. Since it's an electronic transaction it can be easier than handling the local currency. Make sure the driver doesn't turn off the Uber Application and try to charge you the higher metered rate.
There are also public buses that run to many parts of the island. Bus fares are low, but understanding the system can be very confusing for visitors, due to difficulties in obtaining bus schedules and maps. Buses are often crowded and without air conditioning. They are often used by day laborers and other migrant workers unable to afford a car.
If planning on visiting several sites, consider renting a car. Prices range from 10-20 dinar per day, but allow you freedom to drive around the island.
If arriving by the bus at the Lulu centre parking, simply turn your back from the centre's entrance, walk out of the parking, and you'll find car rentals in the group of buildings across the road. A map or a GPS is strongly advised, as road signs can be scarce.
Local road signs are based on the standard used in the United Kingdom, and virtually all are bilingual in Arabic and English.
Arabic is the official language. Bahraini Arabic is the most widely spoken dialect of the Arabic language, though this differs slightly from standard Arabic.
English is widely spoken by Bahrainis of all ages, and is a compulsory second language at all schools.
Among the Bahraini and non-Bahraini population, many people also speak Persian or Urdu. Nepali is also widely spoken in the Nepalese workers and Gurkha Soldiers community. Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi are spoken among significant Indian communities.
The Qala'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is located off the northern shore and is a five to ten minute drive away from Manama city, in Karbabad. It is restored and in good condition although it lacks furniture, signage, or exhibits. Admission is free and open daily 8am-6pm.
Next door to the fort is a museum, completed in February 2008, which contains many artifacts ranging from the ancient Dilmun periods through the Islamic era, many of which were found at the fort and additional ruins next door. The museum is a large rectangular and white building with absolutely no signs to indicate that it is a museum. The hours are 8AM-8PM Tues-Sun; admission is 2 dinar.
Bahrain has three other small forts. Abu Mahir Fort is located in Muharraq and is also known as Muharraq Fort. It was built on the foundations of much old fort and was positioned to protect the western approaches.
Also on Muharraq is Arad Fort. Dating from the 16th century, this fort was built by the Arabs - before being captured by the Portuguese in 1559. It was then recaptured by the Omanis in 1635. It has been restored and now hosts cultural events. Open Sun-Wed 7am-2pm, Thurs & Sat 9am-6pm.
The Sheikh Salman bin Ahmad Al Fateh Fort is located in Riffa, overlooking the Hunanaiya Valley in the centre of the island. Open Sun-Wed 8am-2pm, Thur & Sat 9am-6pm, Fri 3pm-6pm.
Museums. Bahrain has a number of musueums - Al Oraifi Museum in Muharraq (Dilmun era artifacts), Beit al Quran in Hoora (rare collection of Islamic manuscripts), Bahrain National Museum on the Al Fateh Corniche, Manama, Currency Museum in the Diplomatic Area (Bahraini coinage) and the Oil Museum in Sakhir (history of the local oil industry). For example, this museum exhibits how to get oil in Bahrain and so on.
Beaches. The year-round warm climate means that the water is very warm, even in wintertime, when cooler temperatures may occur. The water is known for being very calm and clear.
Tree of Life. Although trees grow in Bahrain, this one is special because of its location in the middle of the desert amidst the oil wells and other infrastructure of the petroleum industry. You need a car to reach the tree, as it is far from the main roads and not on any public transportation route.
To reach the tree, take the Zallaq Highway heading east, which becomes the Al-Muaskar Highway. You will eventually see a sign for the Tree of Life indicating a right turn. (Although the sign seems to point you to turn onto a dirt road which actually goes nowhere, do not do so, instead wait until the next intersection which is several metres ahead). There are no signs as you travel down this road, but pay attention to a scrap metal yard on your right. Before you reach a hill which warns you of a steep 10% incline, take a right. As you continue straight down this road (including roundabouts), you will begin to see Tree of Life signs again. The signs will lead you down a road which will then be devoid of these signs, but you will eventually see the tree in the distance on the right (it is large and wide, not to be mistaken for other smaller trees along the way). You turn onto a dirt path at Gas Well #371. You can drive up to just outside of the tree, but make sure you stay on the vehicle-worn path, as turning off of it is likely to get your car stuck in the softer sand.
Although it seems like a chore to reach, the Tree of Life is worth the visit for the oddity of it. The tree is covered in graffiti, although this is not visible until you get up close. Try to make your arrival near sunset for a picturesque view of the tree and the surrounding desert.
[Update 2011] There is also a (new ?) much higher quality road. As of early 2014, construction is underway for a concrete wall and path around the tree. There is some basic background information within the completed sections of the wall.
Bahrain also has a set of remarkable prehistoric burial grounds. These extensive sites, often densely covered by burial mounds, can be found at A'ali (the biggest prehistoric cemetery in the world), Al Hajar, Buri, Hamad Town, Jannusan, Sa'ar, Shakhoora and Tylos.
There are a number of famous houses which can also be visited. Al Jasra House is located in Al Jasra village and was built by the late Amir, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa in 1933. It is an excellent example of Bahraini architecture. Bin Matar House is located on Muharraq island. It was constructed in 1905 by a successful pearl merchant, Salman bin Hussein Matar. It was subsequently used as a majlis. Several famous houses in Muharraq are being included in a recently approved UNESCO world heritage site, the Pearling Trail. The trail appears to be under construction at this point, and no official maps are readily available.
Bahrain has history dating back 5000 years, from the ancient Dilmun period through the Islamic era. The country offers three forts which have been meticulously restored and opened to the public, although a lack of signs and general promotion by the country's tourist industry sometimes makes finding these sites difficult.
Bahrain's biggest yearly event is the Bahrain Grand Prix F1 race, held each April at the Bahrain International Circuit . Plan well in advance, as flights sell out and hotel prices triple.
The high temperatures in Bahrain make sea activities seem extra tempting and water sports are extremely popular in Bahrain, with tourists and locals indulging in their sport of choice all year round in the warm waters of the Arabic Gulf. Sailing and scuba diving are particularly popular.
Although a desert country, Bahrain boasts an international 18-hole grass golf course, which is about 15 minutes outside the capital, Manama. The par 72 championship course features five lakes and is landscaped with hundreds of date palms and desert plains.
Enjoy riding a camel along a highway.
Visit Royal Camel Farm 
Purchase souvenirs and buy some authentic pottery at A'ali Village Pottery.
The currency in Bahrain is the Bahraini dinar (BD), which is divided into 1000 fils. One dinar is worth nearly three US dollars (US$2.65, to be precise, as the exchange rate is not fixed), making this one of the world's strongest currencies, and this can get some getting used to: that seemingly cheap ten-dinar taxi ride is in fact almost $27 and thus an extortionate rip-off!
The dinar is a fully convertible currency, and there are currently no restrictions on its import or export. Denominations for coins are 5 fils, 10 fils, 25 fils, 50 fils and 100 fils. Denominations for banknotes are 500 fils (BD 1/2), BD 1, BD 5, BD 10 and BD 20.
The dinar is pegged to the Saudi riyal at 1:10, and riyals are accepted almost everywhere at that rate, although odds are you'll get your change in dinars and hotels may try to screw you out of a few percent. If coming in from Saudi, there's no reason to change your money, but do try to get rid of any excess dinars before you leave the country, as they're hard to exchange elsewhere, even in Saudi.
Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain is not cheap. With recent rising costs a decent dinner can cost around BD 40, and car rental at BD 10-20/day is reasonable, but hotel prices will put a dent in your budget: a perfectly ordinary room in a "good" hotel can set you back BD 100. However during the annual F1 race at the beginning of April hotels will increase their rates.
There are several malls in Bahrain that offer international and luxury labels shops and boutiques, supermarkets and so forth, as well as food courts, contemporary and traditional cafes, play areas and arcades, cinemas (3D & 2D) and even an in-door water park. I recommend Bahrain city centre and seef mall. You can Moda mall for luxurious brands and restaurants.
A visit to the local souq (sook) is a must. There you can negotiate the price on simple cloths, Bahrain's famous gold, and many other gifts. The souq is also home to many excellent tailors. If you're there for long enough (say a week) then you can take a favorite clothing item in and they will "clone" it precisely in any material you select from the huge range available.
Bahrain has an impressive dining scene, with numerous restaurants to choose from. The main dining area is Adliya. In Adliya, you can take your pick among numerous cafes, with Coco's (very well priced and delicious food) and Lilou's among the most famous. Mirai is an incredible Japanese Fusion restaurant perfect for a special occasion. If the weather is cold from December-February other events are held in Adliya like food festival and Block 338.
Restaurants in Bahrain run the gamut for cheap stalls offering local food to fancy restaurants in fancy hotels. The most famous local fast food is Jasmi's (Must try). American fast food franchises such as Burger King and McDonald's are available. Western (mostly American) style-foods and franchises can be found around the malls and in the city centre, offering food for upper mid-range prices. Common fast food like KFC, McDonald's, Papa johns, Dairy queen, etc. can be found in the streets in every city and town. Beside to other local shawarma, Flafel, Burgers that have its special taste. Some restaurants are located in not in Manama but in other places. Café Italia is an Italian food restaurant in Adliya. Prices of dishes are reasonable, so there are many repeat customers. Lanna Thai is a Thai food restaurant in Budaiya. Fried rice is especially delicious. There are also a Japanese food restaurant called Kei in Diplomat Area.
Under Bahraini law, any sign of having consumed alcohol may be taken as prima facie evidence of driving under the influence, which can lead to imprisonment and/or fines of up to BD 1,000.
Mostly public schools, but enough private schools to serve majority of overseas. The British School of Bahrain and St Christopher's School  educates to British GCSE and A-level qualifications and has a very diverse base, with students from many ethnic backgrounds, although most British expats working in Bahrain send their children there. There is also a school mostly frequented by the children of Indian expats.
Also many private universities and the University of Bahrain  is in Sukheer next to Bahrain International Circuit.
The majority of the population in Bahrain are expatriates (they make up 51% of the population). A minority of expats work in the financial sector however the majority are engaged as laborers, policemen, drivers and lower class lowly paid artisans. Conditions for many of these people are poor and there are regular allegations of human rights abuses and 'Modern Day Slavery'.
There are two types of expats in Bahrain- those who work extremely low paying jobs dependent on their employer who holds their visa and the middle/upper middle class expats who are employed in finance, foreign military, oil/gas industries. Low paying jobs are often held by Indian, Pakistani and Filipino workers who are essentially trafficked into the country. In former times it was the tradition that employers provided benefits to expat employees including;
However, this is widely no longer true with 'Lump sum' self sufficiency 'local hire'contracts now becoming the norm.
At present, there is a 1% charge on salary (gosi tax) which goes to subsidize the unemployed, but a lot of employers are giving their employees an additional bonus by paying it themselves instead of deducting it from the salary.
Some executive positions used to have their children's education sponsored however this is now dwindling.
Working hours differ across different industries. Government offices work from 7:30 to 2:00 and the private sector now tends to be 7-30 to 1800 or much longer for Asian expatriates. Friday and Saturday is the official weekend for all public sector establishments as well as government schools and universities.
One of the major difficulties for expatriates in Bahrain is debt. The economy is in many ways structured to encourage expats to live right on the edge of their earnings and it is virtually impossible for most people to save money. There are legal processes which result in a global travel ban being placed on expatriates in a matter of minutes if they are unfortunate enough to get into debt. An effect of the travel ban is that the work permit is automatically suspended thus meaning that the expatriate can not work to pay off the debt, nor can he/she leave the country. Many expats have been stuck in Bahrain for years caught in this dilemma and a significant number have died in the country unable to travel for treatment or afford medical bills .
The ordinary social crime rate in Bahrain is low and violent crime is rare. However, burglary, petty theft, and robberies do occur. Most hotels have discos frequented by some unsavory characters. Though the hotels have proper security systems including cameras installed, there are instances of tourists having their rooms burgled.
Drink plenty of water. April through August can be very hot (up to 50 ºC) and humid. Use an umbrella to protect you from the harsh sun. It is important to stay hydrated, especially if you are outdoors during the day. Bottled water is sold practically everywhere in the city from "Cold Stores" and small restaurants at very reasonable prices. In the souk, walking vendors offer small chilled bottles but you may end up paying more than the bottle is really worth. If you are living in Bahrain for an extended period of time, you can set up an arrangement for a neighborhood Cold Store to deliver bottled water to your flat, or sign up for water delivery through several companies on the island. Water on the island is barely potable, but not recommended for drinking due to amount of bacteria and heavy mineral content.
Bahrain is a fairly gracious host nation but it is imperative to demonstrate respect and courtesy in reference to their particular cultural practices and religion at all times. When out in places where local Arabs can be found it is advisable to wear long trousers, or shorts, and women shouldn't wear a see-through dress. However, in beach clubs and hotels, swimsuits, bikinis and shorts are okay to wear. Do not show signs of affection to members of the opposite sex in public. People of the opposite sex have been arrested for kissing in public and it is just not socially accepted. Always avoid any confrontation and never become involved in an argument, especially with a local.