Insight: What has made Bahrain the most popular Gulf state with expats?

Despite challenging political and economic times, the island state has been declared the top destination in the Gulf for expats by a new global survey. We asked some regional experts and residents for their insights into what makes the country so popular

Recently, Bahrain was named the top expat destination in the Middle East by the InterNations Expat Insider 2015 survey. Ranked 17th most popular in the world for those seeking employment a new life overseas, it rated above the UAE (19), Oman (24), Kuwait (64), Qatar (54), and Saudi Arabia (61) out of a total of 64 countries analysed.

The InterNations Expat Insider 2015 survey ranks countries by different factors such as the quality of life, personal finance, working abroad and making friends.

Our deputy editor Courtney Trenwith recently did an analysis of the challenges facing the Bahrain economy, but we decided to ask some Bahrain resident and experts why they thought the island state is now rated the biggest draw for expats in the Gulf and what makes is such a great place to live.

To kick things off, we asked Malte Zeeck (above), co-CEO of InterNations, which is based in Munch, Germany, how they compiled the data which led to Bahrain ranking number one in the Gulf for expats: “To compare the rankings of different destinations in the Expat Insider 2015 survey, it is helpful to check how the general methodology works. Respondents rated their personal satisfaction with various factors of life abroad (e.g. transport infrastructure, friendliness of the local population, healthcare) on a scale of one to seven. The average ratings of individual factors were then bundled in various combinations (e.g. transport infrastructure + transport infrastructure = Travel & Transport subcategory). The mean values of these combinations were then used to draw up the topical indices: Travel & Transport, for instance, is one of four subcategories included in the Quality of Life Index. The five topical indices, as well as the response to the question: “how satisfied are you with life abroad in general?”, were once more averaged for the overall country ranking.

“Looking more closely at the rankings in individual indices and subcategories, you can tell where Bahrain outperforms the other countries. For example, the UAE does much better in the Quality of Life Index, with place 21 as compared to Bahrain’s rank 47. However, Bahrain is ahead in the Family Life Index, where it ranks best out of all GCC states (19 out of 41), and especially in the Ease of Settling In Index, where it also comes first among the GCC countries (7 out of 64). It is probably the performance in those two indices that boosted Bahrain’s final result.

“Respondents find it especially easy to get used to the local culture and settle down in Bahrain, to make new friends, and to get by without fluent Arabic language skills. The quality of education for expat children also did quite well. By contrast, the three GCC member states Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia rank far worse than Bahrain, as well as Oman and the UAE. The three destinations all tend to do so badly regarding Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In and Family Life that even average ratings in the Working Abroad and Personal Finance indices cannot make up for this trend.”

Sanjay Modi (above), Managing Director, Monster.com: Looking closer at job prospects, the latest Monster Employment Index (MEI), which is a monthly gauge of online job posting activity in Middle East and based on a rea -time review of tens of thousands of employer job opportunities, found that Bahrain had one of the best performing job markets in the region.

Overall Bahrain has registered a 14 percent growth year-on-year in the number of jobs currently available online.

“The countries which are hiring the most continue to be KSA, and Egypt, with an increase of 32 percent and 38 percent respectively, in online recruitment activity, as compared to April 2014. Bahrain is also one of the top performers for the month of April 2015, with an increase in online job postings of 27 percent year on year, making it the third best performing country in the region,” Modi said.

Year-over-year Growth

Apr

2014

Apr

2015

% Growth Y-o-Y

Egypt

138

190

38%

KSA

113

149

32%

Bahrain

113

143

27%

Qatar

126

149

18%

Oman

102

118

16%

UAE

103

119

16%

Kuwait

144

125

-13%

Source: Monster Employment Index

Turning to the residential market, rents in Bahrain’s capital city increased slightly by 2.2 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, according to Cluttons’ latest property outlook report.

The property consultancy claimed this was mainly driven by the 1.4 percent rent rise recorded during the fourth quarter of 2014 – although it added the weak oil price is likely to negatively impact the residential rental market in 2015.

The submarkets most at risk are those dominated by western expats, Cluttons said, including Amwaj Islands and Reef Island, where the annual increase in rent during 2014 was 2.2 percent and 3.6 percent respectively.

However, rental levels are expected to stabilise over the coming 12 months as a result, with less marked increases putting Bahrain on a par with other Gulf markets such as Dubai.   

Cluttons’ report notes that certain government policies are likely to contribute to flatter rental levels in 2015 and 2016, in particular new rules to limit rental uplifts to every two years as part of wider requirements to formally register all tenancy agreements across the commercial and residential sectors.

Landlords are expected to be restricted on imposing any rent increases on the agreed rate for two years from the start date of the tenancy, or the date of the last increase.

Investors will have to plan ahead, but the new rules will reduce volatility in the market, Cluttons said.

Katy Gillett (above), Group Editor at TimeOut Bahrain gives her verdict on what makes the country so attractive: “After growing up in Bahrain and spending plenty of time in the other GCC countries, it doesn’t surprise me that the island clinched the top spot among Gulf countries on the InterNations Expat Insider 2015 survey. It may be tiny and there may be less going on than in say the UAE – we haven’t had a One Direction concert just yet – but the sense of community among expats, warm Bahraini hospitality and laidback island lifestyle provides a haven for travellers looking for a respite from a more hectic and transient city lifestyle where no one knows your name. Bahrain has long been known as a business-friendly country and, despite obstacles over recent years, the country is gradually regaining its reputation as such.

“Job prospects have been increasing over the past 18 months – oil slump aside – and property prices for expats both to own and rent are fair. On top of that, the schools offer high quality education, the local restaurant scene is blossoming, and the island has a bohemian grassroots arts scene like no other. Most importantly, for a home away from home, the expats and locals actually mingle here. From talented creative types to ambitious CEOs to young families – for people from across the rest of the world – Bahrain has a lot to offer.”

We also asked a snapshot of residents for their insights...

Zahra Ahmed, 29, Syrian: "Wages are lower than other neighbouring countries but so is the cost of living. I have lived in other GCC countries and loved my time in Dubai but decided to come back to Bahrain after I started a family as it’s much easier here. Dubai is more fun to be there when you are single, but expensive to live in. Bahraini people make a big difference in terms of how friendly they are and making you feel welcomed. Bahrain definitely need more good private schools to cope with the growing expat community."

Amrita C Said, 35, advertising executive: "Financially, Bahrain is Tax Free and not as expensive as neighbouring countries, which helps us to save money. The people of Bahrain are extremely friendly, warm and welcoming. Bahrain also provides impressive educational, healthcare and recreational facilities which makes it a great environment to raise a child. Bahrain is rich in culture, and the community is conservative which keeps most of the youth away from drugs and heavy alcohol drinking which in my opinion creates a good blend of the east and the west."

Jack, 28, financial sector: "What I love about Bahrain is the distance culture that is still intact, yet it still encompasses a sense of modernity. In terms of people, I find the community friendly and accepting, plus there is an effort to create spaces for those who are newcomers to meet others and also ease the transition. The work culture is pretty easy going, and I found a balance I couldn't find outside specifically the USA. That was healthy for me, and my family. The health facilities and services are less complicated, and easily accessible. That was the most crucial in terms of all I've mentioned. I've also found myself adapting to the local scene like for example when Ramadan starts, I look forward to the activities surrounding that. I have created my own group here of expats and we venture together. Every day is a new day here and we look forward to all the changes happening."

Amanda Varghese, 26, Indian, administrator in the financial sector: "They say “Home is where the heart is”. Living in the Kingdom of Bahrain definitely has its own unique ups & downs, but to me and a large population of expats, it will always be “Home”. The lifestyle is pretty laid back and the costs of living against the high standards of living is relatively low. However, when it comes to leisure, the Kingdom of Bahrain could encourage and implement more social activities and entertainment to break the cultural and generation gap of its residents. Being a small island, does not necessarily mean the entertainment venues should be limited, it would be great to have international performances, cultural festivals and so on throughout the whole year which would draw more visitors to the island as well as keeping the nationals and residents of the country content. Crime rate is relatively low and security is stable. Overall it’s a great place to live."

Dima Nimri, 30, Lebanese French, IT Specialist: "The kingdom of Bahrain provides easy and inexpensive standards of living. It’s culturally open-minded and the people are extremely polite and friendly."

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