The cost of living in Bahrain is comparable with other Gulf nations, with the exception of UAE - the most expensive of the Middle East countries. The general lack of taxation and high inflation have increasingly raised the price of goods and services in Bahrain so many expats will find the cost of living high compared to some western countries. However, the cost of living is entirely dependent on your lifestyle in Bahrain. The capital Manama is the priciest place to live, although expats transferring to Bahrain with their own companies generally command very high salaries and are able to live comfortably.
Non-nationals are not permitted to purchase property in Bahrain, so renting is the only option for expats. However, Bahrain has an impressive range of rental property, ranging from high-spec villas with pools to modern and spacious apartments. As with other wealthy Arab nations, there is almost continuous building work underway in Bahrain, where luxury apartment blocks seem to spring up at a break-neck speed.
Bahraini landlords are keen to rent to expats because they provide a steady income stream. Rental properties are concentrated in cities and urban areas (you will have great difficulty finding suitable accommodation in desert areas), and rents are higher in the more exclusive areas of Manama. Most foreign nationals tend to rent properties in compounds housing other non-natives, which usually have shared communal facilities such as swimming pools, lawns and gyms. The large presence of a number of multinationals in Bahrain means that most expats move to the region through their employer, who will arrange accommodation using a relocation agent. However, if you wish to go it alone, you can enlist the help of a letting agent such as Bahrain Property Rentals.
An expat living alone can expect to pay around 361BHD (£672) per month in Manama city centre and around 273BHD (£508) per month for a property in the suburbs. These figures can be as much as 25% higher if you require furnished accommodation.
A deposit of two to three month’s rent is usually required on signing a rental agreement in Bahrain. The deposit covers damage to the property and is refunded when the tenant leaves.
A municipal tax or local tax (baladiya) which covers refuse collection and road maintenance is paid by all those in rented property. This tax is usually calculated at around 10% of the annual rent and is either paid to the landlord or directly to the local authority.
Electricity and water is provided by the state-run Electricity and Water Authority (EWA). Monthly bills are usually paid to your landlord who will contact the EWA on your behalf. Houses are not supplied with gas so if you wish to cook with gas you will need to purchase cylinders through your landlord. Tap water is not safe to drink in Bahrain but you can pay to have bottled water delivered to your home.
In terms of internet access, Bahrain is one of the most-connected countries in the Middle East. Bear in mind that internet content is strictly monitored by the government. There is a range of telephone and broadband providers to choose from, such as the state-run Batelco and smaller companies such as Viva. Most expats opt for a satellite television package showing programmes from the UK and America.
The average cost of basic utilities (electricity, water, refuse) for an 85m² apartment in Bahrain is around 19.25 BHD (£35.86) per month. A telephone/broadband connection costs around 15BHD (£27.94) per month.
There is no TV licence fee in Bahrain. The country’s public service broadcaster, Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation (BRTC) is government owned and funded. Satellite and Pay-TV networks are hugely popular and expats will pay a higher price to receive programmes in their native language.
Healthcare and medical costs
Bahrain has a mixed public/private healthcare system offering a high standard of care with almost non-existent waiting times. The Bahraini government are keen for the country’s medical facilities to be on a par with Europe and America and have invested heavily in attracting the best healthcare professionals from overseas. However, many expats and Bahraini citizens look to other Gulf nations or the USA for more specialised treatment. The International Hospital of Bahrain, the Bahrain Specialist Hospital and the American Mission Hospital are considered to be the best hospitals in Bahrain.
Bahrain’s public health service is free or very low cost to both nationals and non-nationals. However, the majority of expats take out a private health insurance policy before moving to Bahrain, which is often provided by their employer.
Bahrain offers a wide choice of shopping, from large air-conditioned malls to the colourful souks (market) where bargain hunters can find artisan crafts and souvenirs, jewellery, clothing, spices, fruit and vegetables. Taking in the sights and smells of Manama’s Bab el-Bahrain Souk District is a must for any visitor to Bahrain, where haggling is expected and welcomed. Duty free items such as perfume, gifts and cigarettes are very cheap, although other imported goods will come with a high price tag in the more exclusive malls.
For those too short on time to visit the souks, there is a number of large chain supermarkets such as Midway, LuLu and Jawad, which stock a wide range of reasonably-priced groceries. Alcohol - which can only be purchased in hotels and certain restaurants - can be prohibitively expensive in Bahrain.
There is no value added tax (VAT) charge in Bahrain except on the sale of fuel (set at 12%). However, fuel is still vastly cheaper (19p per litre) in Bahrain than in Europe, America and Australia. Some goods may also be higher in price due to the import duty paid on them.
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – 361.50 BHD (£643)
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – 273.10 BHD (£508)
- Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – 759.17 BHD (£1,414.29)
- Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – 467.40 BHD (£870.73)
- Loaf of bread – 0.32 BHD (£0.60)
- Milk (1 litre) – 0.53 BHD (£0.99)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – 0.27 BHD (£0.50)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – 1.27 BHD (£2.37)
- Packet of cigarettes – 1.00 BHD (£1.86)
- Petrol (1 litre) – 0.10 BHD (£0.19)
- Cinema ticket – 3.00 BHD (£5.59)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed January 2016)
Budgeting and Savings
Although salaries for qualified expats are high in Bahrain, your disposable income will depend on your lifestyle. Eating out and socialising in some of Bahrain’s hotels and restaurants can be expensive, especially when buying alcohol. So cooking and entertaining at home and shopping at the souks for cut price groceries are great ways to save money while living in Bahrain.