A newcomer's guide to Bahrain
What you need to know as a newcomer to the island….
Bahrain is known in the Gulf for being open and tolerant. The country prides itself on being a thriving, multi-cultural hub which welcomes people from all around the world. Many faiths live together in harmony in Bahrain, with churches, temples and synagogues situated across the island. Despite the multi-cultural environment, it remains a cultural and religious taboo for many Muslims to touch or shake the hand of the opposite sex. If you are in doubt, don't make the first move to initiate a handshake. One sign of polite refusal to a handshake is when a person places one hand on the chest accompanied with a soft nod. Do not be offended if this happens, it is normal for practicing Muslims.
It is also unacceptable to consume alcohol in the street or to be overtly drunk in public places, although alcohol is allowed to be consumed in licensed restaurants and bars, and is available for purchase from a few licensed wholesalers on the island.
It is considered extremely disrespectful to play music during the call to prayer. It is also very disrespectful to play music when passing a cemetery.
Although there is no official or legal dress code followed throughout Bahrain, the general rule is to dress modestly in public, and we ask that you carry this through whilst on campus. This usually means sensible length skirts and shoulders covered when in public areas for females, while men should wear clothes that cover their knees when in public. Very tight or transparent clothing is considered inappropriate for both genders.
Arabic is the national language of Bahrain, however, you do not need to learn Arabic to get by, as English is the main business language and is commonly spoken outside the university, in retail stores and services.
Of course, it is helpful to know a few Arabic words:
Alsalam Alaikum - used for greeting. Literally translates to 'peace be upon you'
Shukran - Thank you
A'fwan - You're welcome (in response to thank you)
Mafi mushkila - No problem
Ma' Alsalama- Goodbye
Kam (or cham in Bahraini dialect) - How much?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is a holy month for Muslims. During this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, when they must refrain from all food, drink, gum chewing, any kind of tobacco use and any kind of intimacy. Pregnant women and children, plus the sick and infirm, are excluded from fasting. During this month, most restaurants and food and beverage outlets will be closed during daylight hours, opening for the break of fast (Iftar).
Those not fasting should show respect for those who are by not eating and drinking in front of them or in public - remember that chewing gum constitutes eating. As at other times of the year - but especially during Ramadan - avoid demonstrative acts of affection in public, as you will cause offence. Ramadan is a time for prayer and spiritual reflection. As such, it is important to respect the peace by not playing loud music in your home or car.
During the summer months, stretching from April to October, afternoon temperatures average between 37° and 40°C, often higher in August. In winter, temperatures can range between 10°C and 20°C.
Bahrain operates a three-pin plug system, similar to that of the UK. If you are coming from the US or other areas in Europe, you will need to make sure you have the right adaptors with you for your devices. These can be purchased in any electronics stores or major supermarkets in Bahrain.
In Bahrain, we drive on the right hand side of the road and we advise not driving at busy times until you are used to the roads, as the driving can be erratic especially at weekends, when the roads are busier.
Bahrain does have an improving bus service, connecting various parts of the Kingdom, but getting around Bahrain is easier through taxis. Some of the widely used metered taxi companies are:
- Speedy Motor Service +973 17682999
- London Style Cab +973 177461746
- Bahrain Limo +973 17266266
These companies are safe and reliable but can be a bit pricy. Taxi rates are divided into two tariff periods; one from 6am to 10pm and the other from 10pm to 6am. Some students may opt to rent their own cars but please note that many car rental agencies do not rent cars to those under 25 years of age. For further advice on rental options, contact the Student Services and Events team.
Students who hold a driving license and wish to drive in Bahrain should obtain a Bahraini licence (most Western licenses can be easily converted) through the Bahrain Traffic Directorate (www.bahrain.bh).
The crime rate in Bahrain is low and violent crime is rare. However, you should follow general Health and Safety guidelines:
- Always follow the safety advice you receive from your Embassy.
- Always follow local authority and police instructions or announcements for travelling around the island.
- Go exploring in groups rather than alone. If you do go out alone, advise a friend of your whereabouts and what time you are expected back.
- Do not keep large amounts of money or valuables at home.
- NEVER drink and drive - Bahrain has a ZERO tolerance policy to driving while under the influence of alcohol or any other substances and penalties are severe.
- According to Bahraini law, you must always keep a form of photo ID on you at all times.
- If you are worried about your personal safety or that of a friend, you should immediately inform university security or relevant staff members.
In event of an emergency, please call 999 for ambulance, police or the Civil Defence fire service. If you are involved in a road traffic incident, you should immediately contact the Traffic Directorate's Emergency number 199. If you are experiencing an emergency on campus, please contact Campus Security on +973 16660166.
RCSI Bahrain International and GCC students are granted access to public Health Care Centres where they are provided with primary health care services for a nominal fee. In addition, King Hamad University Hospital (KHUH) is located right next to the university campus and there are a host of other private hospitals around the island. These private hospitals can be expensive and we strongly advise that all students should have their own private medical insurance.
A list of active embassies in Bahrain is available through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website.