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Living in Bahrain
The Kingdom of Bahrain, a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf has a storied past, filled with invasions and dynasties. Its strategic location, off the coast of Saudi Arabia, made it very desirable to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Arabs who all established civilizations here. But it was the discovery of oil in 1932 that brought Bahrain's desirability to a whole new level. A great amount of development occurred on the island following the petroleum boom, including the foresight to diversify into banking and other commercial endeavours. It is this diversification that has helped to buoy Bahrain during the ebbs and flows of oil prices and distribution.
The Bahrain of today is a vibrant, modern country that continues to develop and diversify. The Kingdom's decision to grant women the right to vote, institute parliamentary elections and free political prisoners has improved its reputation in the world arena. All of these factors have made Bahrain a very attractive destination for tourism and residency.
For those seeking employment in Bahrain, the latest economic figures bode very well. According to the United Nations Economic Council, Bahrain is the fastest growing economy in the Arab world. Although petroleum still accounts for 60% of the economy, the financial sector is increasing exponentially. Due to its modern communication and transport facilities, Bahrain has become home to a great number of multi-national firms. This has helped to diversify not only the economic base, but the population as well. Tourism, which is replacing oil as the hottest new industry in this region of the Gulf, is an increasingly large employer and promises to continue on that track. The capital city of Manama has most of the major hotels including the Ritz Carlton and Sheraton, and is home to the service industry of Bahrain. A Four Seasons is opening in the near future, which will add many more employment opportunities.
While career opportunities are one large draw to a life in Bahrain, there are many other factors to consider before packing ones bags and moving here. One of the most important elements to confront is the weather. Bahrain is a desert island, surrounded by a shallow, warm sea. Both of these conditions contribute to very hot temperatures, especially during summer months. In July and August it can be particularly warm and humid, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius. Dust storms that blow over from the Saudi Arabian peninsula can also decrease visibility and make life uncomfortable at times. That being said, the winter months are lovely with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine.
The main religion of Bahrain is Islam. The last official census listed the population as being 80% Muslim, 10% Christian and 10% other. Due to an influx of workers and other new residents, the Islamic population has actually decreased percentage-wise in recent years. The Kingdom has a very tolerant view of other religions, and churches, temples and synagogues can be seen along side mosques. This liberal attitude is something that Bahrain is known for and it is considered to be one of the most progressive nations in the Middle East. It is sometimes referred to as "Middle East Lite" due to this laissez faire leaning.
Language is not really much of an issue in Bahrain. Although the official language is Arabic, English is spoken very widely and most signs are displayed using both. Language classes are available and living in Bahrain is a great opportunity to learn Arabic, one of the world's most widely used languages.
Bahrain in its newest incarnation as tourist mecca, has any number of attractions for visitors and residents alike. The Formula One race track known as the Bahrain International Circuit, was built in 2004 and has hosted international races annually. It is Bahrain's most important tourist destination and draws racers and fans from around the world. The Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park in Manama is a great place to escape the heat, and there are a number of museums and mosques for discovering more about the Arab world. For those residents feeling a touch of island fever, the King Fahd Causeway connects Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and is a feat of architectural engineering.
The school systems in Bahrain are diverse and plentiful. There are American and British instituted educational systems, as well as private and public Bahrainian schools. People moving to Bahrain who have school age children would do well to investigate all of the different educational opportunities. Additionally, Bahrain is the ideal place for adults looking to further their education. Several international educational institutions and schools are linked to Bahrain institutions of higher learning, including DePaul University and Bentley College.
The healthcare system in Bahrain is quite efficient and the ratio of hospitals and clinics to people is quite low. However, most residents that require major surgeries usually opt to leave Bahrain for larger, more specialized doctors and facilities. There is national health coverage for Bahrain nationals that can sometimes be extended to expats living here. However, there is an increasing push by the government to have private companies provide coverage to their employees.
Prices in Bahrain are pretty consistent with most other major cities. Some goods, such as electronic goods are not taxed and therefore cheaper. Food prices are definitely priced higher as most foods must be imported. Plan on spending about $500 a month for a single person. Restaurants are plentiful, especially in the main city of Manama and westerners can find food that they are familiar with and also opportunities for eating more traditional dishes from this part of the world. Housing is fairly easy to acquire and modern in appearance and amenities. Apartments rent for about $900 - $1200 a month, depending upon how many bedrooms are required. They are usually unfurnished and some do not include air conditioning, so be sure to inquire. Most apartments do have swimming pools, gym facilities and satellite tv.
Bahrain is a great place to get acquainted with the dynamic Arab world. Its booming economy, sunny climate and welcoming attitude to foreigners make it a very attractive destination for expats, businessmen and retirees alike. Visas are required for visiting or residing here (except for British Nationals), and are fairly easy to obtain.
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