NATIONAL CHARACTER: Compared to other Gulf states, Bahrain is considered one of the more liberal and progressive societies in the region. Its culture embraces a unique fusion of Arab tradition and modernity. Although highly receptive to international cultures, as evident by the substantial population of expatriates from around the world, Bahrainis maintain a strong national pride and identity.
LANGUAGE: Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, although English is widely spoken and used for business purposes. The majority of street signs and official documents include English as well as Arabic, and English is a compulsory secondary language in schools. Due to the significant expatriate population from South Asia, languages such as Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam and Tagalog are also quite common.
ETIQUETTE: While Bahrain has a liberal atmosphere, there are some cultural taboos that foreigners should keep in mind when visiting. Examples of things to avoid include giving or receiving an item with the left hand, showing the soles of one’s feet, eating or drinking in public during the holy month of Ramadan, or partaking in public displays of affection.
DRESS: Bahraini women typically don the abaya, which covers them from neck to toe. It is not uncommon to see women wearing head attire that ranges from a hijab, which covers only the hair, to a niqab that covers both the hair and face. Bahraini men often wear the dishdasha, a long white robe, as well as a headscarf known as a ghutrah or keffiyeh.
VISAS: Residents of member states of the GCC are not required to present a visa upon entry to Bahrain. All other nationalities must obtain a visa ahead of time, although citizens of EU countries, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong are able to obtain a tourist visa on arrival in the kingdom. Visas can be received electronically. For assistance on visa matters, visit the webpage for the Bahraini General Directorate for Nationality, Passports and Residence, which is available online at www.evisa.gov.bh.
CURRENCY: The national currency is the Bahraini dinar, commonly referred to as BD. The BD is pegged to the dollar at a rate of 1BD:$2.65. Banknotes are available in denominations of 0.5, 1, 5, 10 and 20 BD. Regional currencies, especially Saudi Arabian riyals and UAE dirhams, are also widely accepted. Obscure currencies should be converted to dollars or pounds before arriving at the airport.
TRANSPORT: The public bus system in Bahrain is limited. Car transport is the most efficient option for travel and one can opt for either taxi or car hire. Taxis are generally available outside of the malls, hotels and the airport, while car hire establishments are mostly located at the airport.
TIPPING: There is generally a service charge of 15% at most restaurants, in addition to a 5% government levy. It is still customary to leave an additional 10% as a tip for the wait staff, as the restaurant owner often collects the service charge. It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers, but it is standard to tip hotel porters.
BUSINESS HOURS: Private sector offices follow a Sunday-Thursday workweek and generally operate between 8.00am and 5.00pm. Public sector offices have the same workweek, although office hours run between 7.00am and 2.00pm.
COMMUNICATIONS: Bahrain’s country code is +973, followed by the national area code 17. GSM SIM cards are available through the three local operators: Batelco, Viva and Zain. It is necessary to have a passport on hand to obtain a SIM card.
ELECTRICITY: Bahrain uses the British 230-V, 50-Hz, three-pin electrical system. Adapters are necessary for international plugs and can be easily obtained from most hotels or malls.
HEALTH: Medical services in Bahrain are generally of a high standard. Private walk-in consultations are available at the American Mission Hospital, Awali Hospital, International Hospital and Bahrain Specialist Hospital. Payment is typically accepted at the time of visit. Pharmacies are widely available in Manama.
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