Tips for first-time travellers to the Sultanate

Brunei Darussalam is a welcoming and tolerant country, and Bruneians are well accustomed to interacting with foreigners in both business and informal settings. However, certain rules of cultural etiquette should be observed. The Sultanate is an Islamic state, so public displays of affection between sexes should be avoided and the consumption and sale of alcohol is strictly forbidden. Showing the soles of the feet is considered rude, and pointing is done with an extended thumb rather than forefinger. In business settings it is recommended to refer to people by their honorific titles such as dato, pehin and pengiran.

Language

Bahasa Melayu is the official language of Brunei Darussalam, but English is widely spoken and understood. The Sultanate has a large Chinese community and it is not uncommon to hear Chinese dialects such as Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese.

Communications

Brunei Darussalam has a well-developed telecommunications sector served by a large number of mobile phone shops. Pay-as-you-go SIM cards and top-up credit for the two domestic brands, DST and Progresif Cellular, are widely available. Foreigners should bring their passport or photo identification when purchasing a SIM card. Texting is a popular means of communication for both business and social use. Most hotels are equipped with Wi-Fi and there are several internet cafes in Bandar Seri Begawan. The national calling code for Brunei Darussalam is +673.

Currency

The local currency, the Brunei dollar, has been pegged to the Singapore dollar for more than 40 years and the two currencies can be used interchangeably. At the time of print, BN$1 was equal to £0.49 or $0.80. ATMs are widely available across Brunei Darussalam’s urban centres and credit cards are usually accepted. Outward bound travellers are advised to chance their currency before leaving, as money changers abroad may not accept the currency.

Electricity

The standard British 220/240-V, three-pin plug is in use in Brunei Darussalam. Equipment with a 110-V plug will require an adapter to use locally.

Business Hours

Government offices are open from 7.45am to 12.15pm and 1.30pm to 4.30pm Monday to Thursday, as well as on Saturday. The private sector generally works Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, with businesses closed between 12pm and 2pm on Fridays to accommodate prayers. Visitors should bear in mind that shorter working hours are observed during the month of Ramadan. Smaller shops close at 6pm, while bigger stores, shopping malls and restaurants stay open until around 10pm.

Dress

Visitors to Brunei Darussalam should be prepared for a hot and humid climate with occasional showers throughout the year. However, most offices are heavily air conditioned so warm layers are advisable when indoors. Both sexes, but especially women, are recommended to dress modestly. For men Western dress is common, especially in business settings, while local women tend to wear traditional batik dresses covering the arms and legs, and usually a headscarf.

Visas

EU passport holders and US citizens receive a 90-day visa. Visas can easily be renewed by road trips across the border to Sabah or Sarawak. Both are no more than 45 minutes from Bandar Seri Begawan. Passports must be valid for at least six months upon arrival.

Transport

Most Bruneians own their own cars and there is very little public transport in the country. The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, has a bus service, but it has very limited connections. Taxis can be found, but are expensive. Taxi fares are arranged at a fixed rate, so it is best to agree on a price beforehand. A 50% surcharge is in place after 11pm. Visitors to the Sultanate are advised to hire a car on arrival. Fees for car hire start at around BN$700 ($549) per month. Holders of foreign licences are permitted to drive for a maximum of 90 days. For longer stays, a foreign licence must be changed to a local driver’s licence, which can be done at Land Transport Department offices.

Hotels can arrange transport to and from Sabah. Ferry services are available to the Temburong District and to Labuan and Kota Kinabalu in neighbouring Sabah.

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