Living in Bahrain?
Bahrain: Housing and Schooling for Expats
Compound or Culture?
Due to the strict regulations limiting what type of property expats can buy, most expats live in rented accommodation, of which there is plenty available in Bahrain’s urban and suburban areas. The country has seen a lot of new development and construction recently, and you will find an interesting mix of modern architecture and traditional Bahraini character.
Local Bahrainis often live in big homes in order to accommodate several different generations of family members. Expats tend to be found in new, purpose-built flats, often in compounds or gated communities. These compounds offer apartments with added benefits such as a reception area, onsite gym, swimming pool, tennis courts, or even restaurants. The downside is, of course, that these compounds don’t offer many opportunities for mixing and mingling with the locals or relishing Bahraini culture.
Urban areas offer a third alternative. Unlike compounds, standard apartment blocks have a less “exclusive” feel to them, and while they lack many of the amenities of high-end compound housing, they can offer a greater mix of people, nationalities, and cultures.
Choosing the right area is not as important as it may be in some other places. Bahrain’s cities are not big enough to worry too much about getting around, and most of the country’s inhabitants use privately owned vehicles.
If you are sent to Bahrain on an expat assignment, chances are that your company or a relocation agent will help you find somewhere to live. A lot of companies even keep a stock of apartments for their expat workforce. However, if your employer has no official process in place, you might still be able to get advice and recommendations from your colleagues. Your sponsor, if different from your employer, may also be able to help you.
Alternatively, you could visit compounds or apartment buildings you’re interested in and talk to the porter or ask at the reception office about upcoming vacancies. English-language newspapers in Bahrain are another helpful resource. The easiest way, of course, is to go through a real estate agent who can use their knowledge of the local market to help you find the perfect place.
Rental apartments can be either furnished or unfurnished — the latter is more common and also cheaper. You can expect them to be high quality and well maintained. A “Lease Law” was introduced in 2014 with the intention of creating a more unified approach to rental properties throughout the country. It sets standards for property maintenance, rent increases, and rights to terminating a lease agreement.
Expat Education Options
Bahrain has invested heavily in its education system in recent years. While the foundations of the modern public school system were laid by the British administration some time ago, schools and higher education institutions have received a lot of government support since Bahrain became independent.
The Bahraini school system is divided into two parts:
- basic education comprised of a primary stage (6–11 years), and an intermediate stage (12–14 years)
- secondary stage for students (15–17 years)
Basic education is compulsory for Bahraini children, and tuition in state schools is free. School attendance rates are high, which is reflected in a literacy rate of over 96% among men and nearly 92% among women. Further reforms are planned to incorporate more vocational options into the school system.
Expat children, however, are rarely found in Bahraini public schools. This is due to several factors such as the language barrier, transient nature of their stay in the country, and sometimes religious issues. While English is taught at all Bahraini schools, the language of tuition is always the local variant of Arabic, which puts non-native speakers at a significant disadvantage.
There are several international schools in Bahrain catering to the expat community and local families with high ambitions for their children. These schools normally teach in English, or if it’s a third-country school, the language spoken in that country. Quite a few of these schools offer the International Baccalaureate as a widely recognized qualification. The first to do so was St Christopher’s, with campuses in Isa Town and Saar. The Bahrain School, a US Department of Defense school that provides a K–12 curriculum, also offers an IB Program.
An internet search for international and private schools in Bahrain will render plenty more results, such as British intermediate schools and also private schools that offer either the IB Diploma Program or United Kingdom's A-Levels. However, there may be long waiting lists for some of them so it pays off to do your research early.
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