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Basic Laws and Regulations in Bahrain

Bahrain has an oasis of social liberalism, and is considered moderately western-friendly, among the other Muslim countries in the region. Bahrain is popular among travellers for its authentic “Arab” touch, but, without a strict application of Islamic law upon its non-Muslim minority.

Despite being a petroleum-dependent economy, it has a more relaxed culture. It is a social and shopping Mecca, which has helped it in developing into a fairly cosmopolitan middle class, not found in neighbouring countries.

As an expatriate, you are bound by the laws of the country you are in. Ignorance of the law is not considered as an excuse before the law. Hence it is better to acquaint yourself with the laws of the country that you choose to live in.

General Laws

When living in Bahrain, you are subject to local laws. The usual working week is from Sunday to Thursday.

Penalties for possession, use of trafficking of illegal drugs are stringent and include death penalty. Convicted offenders will be subjected to long-term imprisonment and/or heavy fines. The possession of even a small amount of drugs can lead to arrest and if convicted, it will lead to a four-year imprisonment.

Alcohol is available for purchase by non-Muslims at special stores, although, there is restriction concerning the consumption of alcohol. However, there is zero-tolerance policy adopted towards drinking and driving. Even drinking while in transit through Bahrain airport could lead to detention and fines.

As for photography, obtaining permission prior to photographing buildings or individuals is a ‘must’. In case you are subject to Bahraini court orders arising out of indebtedness, or other legal disputes, you may be prevented from departing Bahrain until your cases are resolved.

Religion / sex

Religious proselytizing is not permitted. Homosexuality is an offence under Bahraini law, liable to imprisonment and deportation. Common-law relationships are not tolerated, but, not recognized. Physical contacts such as holding hands should be avoided in public.

Dress and behaviour

The customs, laws and regulations of Bahrain adhere closely to Islamic practices and beliefs. Therefore, it is best to dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities. Heavy fines may be levied if showing disrespect toward officials by making verbal insults and obscene gestures.

Women are expected to dress modestly, and avoid strapless and skimpy tops, revealing clothing and shorts. Women are expected to wear long sleeved clothing and trousers or a longer skirt. Clothing should not be tight and if visiting a mosque, having heads covered with a scarf is a must.

Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, and therefore, it limits the ability of officials to provide consular services.

Entry/Exit requirements

It is the sole prerogative of each country or religion to determine who is allowed to enter the country. The requirements for entry/exit in Bahrain may change from time to time. Therefore, it is important to check with Embassy of Kingdom of Bahrain for latest information.

Nationals of all countries are required to present a passport to visit Bahrain, which should hold a validity of at least six months beyond the expected date of departure from the country. All nationals are required to be in possession of a visa to visit Bahrain. Nationals of countries, who are eligible for visa-on-arrival facility in Bahrain, can obtain visas at the airport, subject to additional verification of personal data. Violation of entry or exit permits will be taken seriously.

Bahraini customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import or export of certain items such as firearms, ammunition and other weapons, pornography, or seditious literature, or habit-forming or hallucinatory drugs.

Terrorism/Crime

There is constant and high terrorist threat throughout the region, with reports having emerged about terrorists planning to attack specific locations in one of these countries from time to time. Possible targets include government buildings, tourist sites, public areas and areas of tourist interest. Although there have been hardly few attacks since 2011, Manama and its surrounding areas have experienced high tensions in the recent past. Increased security measures are now in place and may be reinforced upon short notice.

Therefore, it is necessary to maintain high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times. Monitor local developments and follow the advice of local authorities. It is better to avoid political gatherings, crowds and demonstrations and stay away from areas where they can occur.

Petty crime such as pick-pocketing and purse-snatching occurs. Violent crime is rare. Exercise caution in old market areas such as village areas, souks, and poorer districts, particularly after dark. It is better not to show signs of affluence and ensure that your personal belongings are safe at all times.

Islamic Law (Sharia)

The Islamic system of law is known as Sharia, and is mainly derived from ‘The Holy Koran’, which is the principal source. In Sharia Law, as in other legal systems a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The plantiff and defendant are equal in the eye of law. The Sharia law involves producing two or four eyewitnesses, depending on seriousness of crime.

There are systems of appeal, which can be used in cases of serious crime. According to ancient Islamic law, the payment of ‘blood money’ (diya) for injury or death can be requested by the victim’s family as compensation. The amount of blood money required varies between the states, and according to circumstances of the death and to the extent of hardship that death will cause.

Under Islamic law, the crimes that carry defined penalties are murder, apostasy, adultery, homosexuality, fornication and theft. Interpretations of the law vary from one state to another. Lesser offences may include debt, alcohol and drug abuse, usury and use of pornography.

Non-Muslim expatriates sometimes regard Sharia law as unbending and overly punitive in comparison to western standards. Expatriates are largely expendable commodities and if you are involved in a criminal activity, you may be departed to your home country after punishment.

Transportation

An international driving permit is recommended when driving a vehicle. In the event of an accident, or if there are injuries, do not attempt to move the vehicle until a report has been filed, although it may impede traffic. In case of injuries, call 999 or if no injuries, call 199.

Off-road driving can be hazardous and should be undertaken in a convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles.

In Bahrain, driving is on the right hand side of the road. Seatbelts are compulsory. Road signs are both in Arabic and English and so, easy to follow. The speed limit on inner city roads should be in the range 50kph and 80kph, and 80 to 100 kph on highways. Over-speeding or crossing a red light can lead to court cases or fines. Drinking and driving is a serious offence that could lead to imprisonment or fine.

For minor accidents and non-injury cases, drivers need not wait for police to arrive at the scene, but should call 17688888 where they will be directed to a centre to file a report.

Women's Safety

There have been instances of physical or verbal harassment towards women in Bahrain. There are no specific laws to protect women against domestic violence and there are issues such as low-paid migrant workers being lured into Bahrain on a promise of high wages, and having ended up working in the prostitution trade. Such cases particularly happen when accepting jobs such as waitressing, bar work and jobs in entertainment arena. Women should also be cautious about offers such as ‘free visas’ and ‘visa waivers’, as they may not be as they seem to be. Lone female travellers could find themselves being the subject of curiosity, as travelling alone is not culturally acceptable here. In any case, it is best to be conservatively dressed in Bahrain. Ensure that you carry identification documents with you at all times.

For any emergency services in Bahrain, dial 999 for police, or ambulance, or fire emergencies.