NATIONAL CHARACTER: Bahrain is regarded as one of the more progressive countries in the Gulf region. Bahrain’s tolerance and religious diversity contribute to the attractiveness of the country to visitors and expatriates alike. Bahrainis pride themselves on their acceptance of other cultures, but they also are devoted to their values and national identity.
DRESS: Bahraini men often elect to wear the dishdasha, and the traditional headscarf, known as a ghutrah or keffiyeh, while Bahraini women generally wear an abaya that covers them from neck to toe. Women’s head attire ranges from a hijab that covers the hair, to a niqab that covers the head and face. Western-style attire is acceptable, but women should adhere to a conservative dress code. Exposure of the arms and legs, as well as tight clothing, should be avoided.
ETIQUETTE: Although foreign influences in Bahrain have contributed to its liberal atmosphere, one should still be careful to show respect for local social convention. When offered a tea or coffee, it can often be viewed as impolite to refuse. Shaking, passing or receiving anything with your left hand is viewed as offensive. It is also advisable to avoid shaking hands with women unless they initiate the gesture.
VISAS: With the exception of GCC citizens, all visitors must obtain a visa to enter Bahrain. Upon arrival, nationals from the UK and Ireland can obtain a three-month visa, while citizens of EU member states, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong can purchase a 14-day visa for BHD5 ($13.20). The General Directorate for Nationality, Passports and Residence can assist with obtaining visas electronically and can be easily accessed at www.evisa.gov.bh.
TRANSPORT: Bus services in the Kingdom are limited. Travelling by car is recommended and can be an excellent way to get around Bahrain. Car hire establishments can be found at the airport and at several other locations throughout the country. Taxis are often found outside malls and hotels. One should be sure to check that taxi drivers use their meters, as required by law.
CURRENCY: The Bahraini dinar, or BD as it is commonly known, is the national currency. Banknotes come in ½, 1, 5, 10 and 20 dinars, while coins are available in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 fils. The currency is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of $1:BD0.376. Most airport exchanges handle foreign currencies, but it is advisable to convert more obscure currencies into dollars or pounds before arrival. Credit cards are widely accepted, but one should keep some cash on hand for taxis.
BUSINESS HOURS: Office hours are between 8.00am and 5.00pm, with the exception of government offices, which operate from 7.00am until 2.00pm. The workweek in Bahrain begins on Sunday and ends on Thursday. During the month of Ramadan, the work day is reduced to six hours for Muslims, who fast during daylight hours.
LANGUAGE: Although Arabic is the country’s official language, foreigners are not expected to speak the language, and English is widely understood. Urdu, Farsi, Hindi, Malayalam and Tagalog are also well represented. Business travellers can feel comfortable knowing that English is commonly used throughout the business community and in documentation, and road signs are labelled in both Arabic and English.
TIPPING: Most restaurants add a service charge of between 10% and 15%, in addition to a 5% government levy. The service charge is often kept by the restaurant owner so it is polite to leave a 10% tip for wait staff should the service warrant it. It is standard to tip hotel porters, while tipping taxi drivers is not required.
COMMUNICATIONS: The country code for Bahrain is +973, followed by the national code 17. GSM SIM cards can be obtained from Batelco, Viva or Zain, but be sure to have a passport on hand to obtain a SIM card.
HEALTH: Both public and private health care facilities in Bahrain are excellent. Visitors should make sure they have comprehensive health coverage prior to travel, as payments are expected upon treatment.
ELECTRICITY: Bahrain uses the British 230-V, 50-HZ, three-pin electrical system. Other plugs will need adaptors that can be easily obtained from most hotels.
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