Bahrain Tourist Information and Travel Tips - Manama Guide
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a fascinating country which is rich in culture, history, and is located with ample tourist sports. It is socially liberalized and moderately western-friendly among Muslim countries in the region. Bahrain is popular for its authentic ‘Arabness’, although without strict application of Islamic law on its non-Muslim minority, and hence is popular among travellers. Although its economy is petroleum-based, it has a rather relaxed culture and is considered to be a social and shopping mecca, which has helped it in developing into a cosmopolitan hub.
Bahrain is an island nation, and does not share any land border with any other country. It also has plenty to offer to travellers, including the historical and beautiful Bahraini monument and the fashionable metropolis cities.
Best time to visit Bahrain
There is no specific reason or time of the year which is preferable for visiting Bahrain, due to its stable weather. But, depending on the kind of activities that you would like to participate, you can decide on best time of year to plan your visit. Majority of travellers visit Bahrain during late March or April in time for the Formula 1. Generally speaking, the best time to visit Bahrain may be any time from November to March, avoiding Ramadan and Eid holidays.
Entry / Exit requirements
Ensure that you check the latest entry requirement in Bahrain before your visit, by logging on to the Bahrain Embassy website of your country.
All people who wish to enter Bahrain require a visa except nationals of the GCC. Visas for Bahrain are classified into various categories like purpose of visit, sponsorship requirement, standard visa or eVisa, single or multiple entry visa etc. Visa validity varies depending on purpose of visit, and could range from 24 hours, 72 hours, two week to three months or six months.
Visit visas prohibit employment when staying in Bahrain, and applicants will have to produce proof to indicate that they can support themselves financially during duration of their trip.
Passports should be valid for the entire length of your stay and should be valid six months prior to your arrival in Bahrain. Passports should be valid for at least six months from date of departure, required by all except GCC nationals, holding a valid national ID card.
In Bahrain, you may apply to renew your visa at National Passport and Residence Affairs (NPRA) at the Ministry of Interior. Else, you may apply for residency through LMRA (Labour Market Regulatory Authority).
You need to have legal status in Bahrain when you leave. You will be prevented from leaving Bahrain, If you are subject to travel ban, or involved in any legal proceedings, or have a custody dispute.
Facts about Bahrain
Full Name: Bahrain is domestically called Al Bahrayn.
Capital City: Manama
Time Zone: GMT+3
Languages: Arabic is the official language, while English is also acknowledged. Urdu is also spoken.
Weather: Warm-climate all year round. June to September is very hot with high humidity levels, while December to March has cooler temperatures with occasional showers. April/May and October/November are transitional months with mix of both climates.
Electricity: Officially 220V 50Hz. Majority of outlets are British Standard (BS-1363) type. U.S., Canadian and Continental European travellers need to pack adapters for the outlets if they plan to use their electrical equipment in Bahrain.
Currency: Bahraini dinar. The dinar is pegged to US dollar. There are currency exchange counters everywhere in Manama, although it is lesser in outlying areas.
Banks: The main banks in Bahrain include National Bank of Bahrain, Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait, Gulf international Bank and Al-Ahli Bank. ATMs are also widespread across Bahrain, and all major credit cards are accepted in shopping centers. Banks are open from 7:30 to 14:00 hrs (Sunday to Wednesday), and 7:30 to 13:00hrs on Thursdays.
Customs: Bahraini authorities have strict regulations about temporary import or export of certain items. Special import permit may be required for items such as arms and ammunition, spirits, intoxicating drugs and jewellery. Video cassettes, DVDs may be with-held at the airport. Trafficking of illegal drugs or possession of even small amount of drugs can result in arrest and penalties. Check the embassy website for current customs regulations.
Country code: The country code for Bahrain is 973
Health: Visitors travelling from specific areas infected with yellow fever or cholera will have to produce proof of being vaccinated, and this does not apply to transit passengers or children below one year. Bahrain offers excellent health care, although only nationals are given free health services. There are several hospitals and clinics located in the capital, with Doctors having excellent English language skills. Visitors should however, ensure that they have a comprehensive medical insurance prior to leaving home, as medical bills will have to be paid upfront if you do not carry medical cover.
Bahraini International Hospital emergency response: 17590575.
Religion: Bahraini nationals are very religious and pray at the Mosque five times a day. The multi-cultural mix has helped to liberalize the country, and several other religions too are present and accepted, despite Islam being the official religion. Religious proselytizing is not permitted in Bahrain.
Culture / etiquette: Women are expected to dress covering their legs and arms, and avoid wearing tight clothing and low-cut tops. If you are offered a drink of tea / coffee in Bahrain, it is considered impolite to refuse. The left hand has ‘unclean’ connotations, and hence, it is only acceptable to receive things with your right hand.
Do not take photographs of locals, particularly Muslim women, without their permission. Obtain permission before photographing buildings or individuals.
Taxi and Tipping: Most restaurants include a 10 to 15 percent service charge in their bills, which eliminates the need for diners to leave a tip, unless the service is particularly good. Taxi drivers usually overcharge foreigners, but, tipping is not a must. The Bahrain International Airport offers tax-free shopping.
Every taxi uses a meter, but at times, the taxi drivers give reasons for not using meters. If a taxi driver is honest enough to put the meter on, a 10% tip would be good.
Telephones: Bahrain’s phone system is GSM based, like most of Europe. Bahrain has one of the best telecommunications systems in the world, and virtually any country can be direct-dialled. If you are given a telephone number (eight digits), a prefix of 17 or 77 indicates a landline number and a prefix of 32-39 indicates a mobile line. There are no area codes, and hence, you merely have to prefix +973 to the 8 digit number to call a Bahrain number from outside.
There are now three mobile carriers – Viva, Zain and Batelco. Batelco are the better bet if you wish to use your international phone to roam.
Media: Bahrain has national newspapers like Al-Ayam (leading daily Arabic newspaper), apart from leading daily English newspapers like The Gulf Daily News, Newsweek, Time, The Economist, International Herald Tribune, apart from British, French and German newspapers and magazines.
Radio Bahrain is on the air all 24 hours on several FM and MW frequencies. Bahrain’s English TV is Channel 55, which is on air daily from 5 or 6 to midnight.
Given below are names of some popular newspapers/magazines and websites:
Newspapers and Magazines
- Gulf Daily News (http://www.gulf-daily-news.com)
- Bahrain Tribune (http://www.bahraintribune.com)
- Gulf Weekly (http://www.gulfweeklyworldwide.com)
- Bahrain Confidential (http://www.arabianmagazines.com)
- Bahrain This Month (http://www.bahrainthismonth.com)
- Bahrain Traveler (http://www.bhtraveler.com)
Sports: Among the available sporting activities are sailing, horseback riding, water sports and variety of sports clubs, fully equipped private gymnasiums, squash courts, weight rooms and a range of other sporting activities.
Shopping: Apart from various malls in and around Bahrain, other shopping facilities include Arabian antiques, oriental carpet dealers, supermarkets that cater to foreigners, modern department stores, jewellers, souk – the traditional Arabi market place, which offers everything under the sun.
Restaurants and hotel apartments: Various cuisines are available in Bahrain, including Chinese, Indian, American, French, Italian, Middle Eastern, Thai and Chinese. Tourists have plenty of choice of hotel rooms, while business travellers have all major franchise chains. Families account for more than 90 percent of tourists, and there is growing demand for self-catering accommodation, and numerous apartments are being built to cater to this demand.
Driving: Driving habits differ considerably from those practised in Canada. Drifting sands, roaming animals etc., can pose hazards. In the event of an accident, do not move your vehicle until a report has been filed, although it may impede traffic. Call 999 or if there are injuries, call 199 if there are no injuries.
Off-road driving can be hazardous. Go off-road driving in a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles, with experienced guide. Be well-prepared by equipping yourself with extra gasoline, food, water and cellular phone.
Taxis are generally safe. Use only officially marked taxis, and negotiate fares in advance or insist on use of meter.
Safety / crime: Always keep your passport safe, and carry a photocopy for identification purposes. Cellular phone coverage may be unable in certain parts of the country. Dial 999 for police, ambulance and fire emergencies. When using taxis for travel call one of the reputable taxi companies.
Bahrain has witnessed demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, with protestors demanding political freedom and equality for Shia majority. During demonstrations, roads may get blocked, resulting in diversions. Therefore, travellers need to be aware about alternate routes to area they frequent.
Crime rates are generally low in Bahrain, although petty crimes like pick-pocketing, bag snatchings etc., are not unheard of. But, as there have been attacks in and around Manama, government buildings, public areas, tourist sites it is good if tourists maintain high level of vigilance and personal security awareness always.
Local laws and Bahrain customs
It is mandatory to carry photograph ID at all times, and not being able to present the photographic ID when asked to by the Bahraini authorities, will be considered an offence.
Homosexual behaviour is illegal here. Living together is not recognized. Physical contact, such as holding hands in public, is not accepted.
Alcohol is available for purchase at special stores. However, restrictions should be observed concerning alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol in public is illegal, and there are also off-licenses which sell to non-Muslims.
If involved in any court proceedings in Bahrain, due to labour disagreement or indebtedness, or other legal dispute, you may be prevented from leaving Bahrain until your case is resolved.
Child custody decisions are based on Islamic law. It is difficult for a Canadian woman, even if she is a Muslim, to obtain custody of her children through Bahraini court decision. Irrespective of the marital status of their parents, minor children of a Bahraini father are not allowed to leave Bahrain, without their father’s permission.
Dual nationality is not legally recognized here, and consular services cannot be provided in such cases.
Despite being socially liberal, Bahrainis are also conservative. Local customs and traditions, laws and religion should be respected, and do not offend anyone especially during Holy month of Ramadan and Shia festivals. Dress conservatively in public places, especially religious sites. Women should wear dresses that cover their arms and legs, while men are not allowed to wear shorts in public.
As for social gestures, always use right hand for hand shake. It is generally against Muslim religion to shake hands with ladies, although some women may do so in a business environment. However, the best would be not to try and initiate it. But, accept if offered. Beware of placing soles of your feet in the direction of someone when sitting.
Traditional food in Bahrain consist of lamb, fish, shrimp, chicken served on a bed of rice in a large plate. The plate is shared between several members of a family/party. If you are served traditional Arabic coffee, receive the cup with right hand. If sweets/dates are served prior to or with coffee, it is advisable to eat the sweets/dates before drinking coffee.
General Travel tips
- It is best to plan your trip in advance, to enjoy a stress-free holiday in Bahrain.
- Keep handful of dinars with you, as it may come handy at the airport. Carry your CPR card at all times.
- It is better to keep a mobile phone, as there are only few public phones in residential areas.
- For single women travellers, it is best to dress conservatively. Avoid being friendly with strangers, and focus on your own work. Women can carry a shawl or scarf, as it may be of help anytime.
- It is best to avoid isolated places at late hours. The Bahrain government has imposed a curfew on waterways around Bahrain between 6pm and 4am, and you should respect this curfew too.
- Ensure that you take comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travel. Contact your GP few weeks prior to trip, and check if you need to take any preventive measures or vaccinations.
- Book your flight, hotel and may be a rental car if required.
- Most importantly, check the validity of your passport and visa. Keep any form of identity card with you, in case you lose your passport.
- Keep flight ticket showing onward journey.
- Keep your national and international driving license with you.
- Ensure that you have credit card, travellers’ cheques, cash, photocopies of all your papers, list of important telephone numbers etc.
- Just before visiting Bahrain, register your travel and contact particulars on-line, or at your local embassy or consulate, when you arrive in Bahrain, so they can get in touch with you during emergency.
- Leave a copy of your trip itinerary with a friend or relative at home, and maintain regular contact with family and friends while in Bahrain.
- In case of emergency medical need during your trip, dial 999 and seek for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance / medical assistance company if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
- It is best to know precisely what your holiday insurance insures, as they are not limitless. It may not necessarily protect you for cancellation or alteration to travel plans.
- Check out if the insurance policy is sufficient for any costs in Bahrain. Ensure that you mention any kind of pre-existing health conditions you may have.
- Protection for baggage and personal possessions is limited, and costly products, for instance, laptops, cameras and/or jewellery may have a per-item limit.
- International calling cards can save you money, when calling home from Bahrain.
- Choosing the best credit or debit card to use during a holiday, can make a huge difference.
Emergency / Informational Phone Numbers
Police / Ambulance: 999
Traffic Police: 191 / 199
Emergency – Casualty 990
Emergency – Crime (CID) 992
Coastal Guard 17-700-000 / 994
Phone Directory 181
Airline Services 17-339-339
Direct Line 17-530-096
Weather Services 17-235-235
Fire accidents 997
Hotline for all queries 17872287
Main Switchboard 17872222
Household emergencies 80001810
Violence against women 17870302
Bahrain International Airport 17321997