While Bahrainis are interested in and open to foreign cultures, they are also very proud of their own identity, history and culture, and they are willing to share their local customs and traditions with those who are keen to learn.
Although Bahrain has a liberal social atmosphere and a large expatriate community, one should remain considerate of local sensitivities. It is considered impolite to accept or give anything with the left hand, engage in public displays of affection, show the soles of one’s feet and eat, drink or smoke in public during the month of Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset. When it comes to giving gifts, good choices usually include imported chocolates, plants or a souvenir or traditional gift from your home country.
For foreign men, suit and tie is the usual attire for meetings and darker colours are preferred. Jackets are not always necessary in all industries. For women, conservative yet stylish is a good choice, and sleeveless attire should be avoided.
Many Bahrainis opt to wear traditional attire such as the dishdash and headscarf, or keffieh, either in white or red and white check patterns. Head attire among women varies, but the abaya, which covers from head to toe, is standard for Bahraini women.
Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, but English is widely spoken and prevalent in the business community. Official and business documents, as well as commercial and public signs, are often in both English and Arabic. Given the large and diverse expatriate community, it is common to hear Farsi, Urdu, Hindi and Filipino, among other languages.
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 shopping malls.
Both public and private sector health care facilities are available and of high quality. Payment is generally expected at the time of treatment. Pharmacies are widely available in cities and are very affordable.
As part of the GCC political and economic bloc, Bahrain does not require visas for residents of other GCC member states. All other nationalities must apply for entry permits, however. Tourist visas are available upon arrival in the kingdom for nationals from 66 countries, while e-visas are available for 102 countries in total. Tourist visas allow for a stay of up to 14 days – and of up to 90 days for UK and Irish nationals – at a cost of BD5 ($13.25). The General Directorate for Nationality, Passports and Residence can assist with obtaining visas electronically, and its website is accessible online at www.evisa.gov.bh.
Government offices are open Sunday to Thursday, 7.00am to 2.00pm. The private sector follows the same workweek and generally operates from 8.00am to 5.00pm with a one-hour break for lunch. Retail establishments are usually open until 10.00pm, although on weekends opening hours are frequently extended until midnight.
Public transportation is limited to a bus network, although buses are infrequent. The car is the most efficient mode of transport, and taxis are available from most hotels, restaurant areas and shopping centres. By law, taxis are required to use their meters, with the minimum charge ranging from BD1.5 ($4) to BD2 ($5.30). Car hire facilities can be found both at the airport and in the city centre. An international driving permit is required to drive in Bahrain and is approved by the Traffic and Licensing Directorate.
Generally a service charge of 15% is common in most restaurants, in addition to a 5% government levy. It is not necessary, although it is customary, to leave an additional 10% as a tip for the waiting staff. It is standard to tip hotel porters, but not taxi drivers.
Bahrain’s country code is +973, followed by the national area code of 17. GSM SIM cards are available through the three local operators: Batelco, Viva and Zain. A passport is required to obtain a SIM card. Data speeds of up to 3G+ are available with unrestricted access to VoIP and instant messaging apps.
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