The main reason people make the move to teach English in Bahrain is because of the high salaries and low cost of living. Many English teachers report saving around £1,400/$2,000 easily every month. Employers usually provide you with accommodation free of charge and this is of a very high standard, large and modern. If for some reason you did have to pay for your own accommodation, you could expect a comparative place to cost around £700/$1,000 per month. Yearly return flights and comprehensive private health insurance are also provided as part of every TEFL contract so you won’t need to budget for this if you’re teaching English in Bahrain.
Food in general is very reasonable, with a carton of eggs around £1/$1.50. Plus, it’s just as cheap to eat out – visit a traditional Bahraini restaurant, where you can get a meal for £3.30/$5.30. As a Muslim country, whilst alcohol is frowned upon it’s still sold, but is heavily taxed, so expect nights out to make a dent in your wallet, with a beer costing £3.30/$5.30 or a bottle of wine £15/$25.
Bahraini food draws on a number of influences, from Indian and Chinese to even Arab; with fish, rice and yoghurt daily staples. Bahraini curries are extremely flavourful, with generous sprinklings of cinnamon, saffron and lime added into the sauces. Try the traditional dish of Qoozi, a whole lamb grilled and stuffed, served on a bed of rice and eggs: the locals say that this dish reflects their hospitality, by serving the whole lamb so portions are bigger.
Whilst alcohol is illegal to consume in public, it’s freely available in hotels, bars and restaurants; with the local drink of Arak particularly popular. Although it directly translates to ‘sweat’ which doesn’t sound the most appealing, the grape spirit tastes of aniseed and is available in all bars and restaurants in Bahrain!
If you’d prefer a traditional Bahraini non-alcoholic beverage, try Gahwa (Arabic coffee), which you’ll probably end up drinking multiple times a day! The taste is bitter and spicy as ground cardamom is added to it; and it’s drunk in social situations – remember to shake your cup from side-to-side to indicate you’ve had enough, otherwise your mug will keep being refilled!
Bahrain enjoys a hot, tropical climate year-round, so forget packing any jumpers and coats! 20 degrees Celsius is the norm in winter, and it regularly reaches above 40 degrees in the summer months. Although the climate has been described as desert-like, come August the heavens open and it rains a lot!
Accommodation is nearly always provided by your employee; and on the rare occasion that it isn’t, you’ll be given an allowance that will pretty much cover rental costs. Housing here is of a very good standard, and you’ll find that you can get a lot more for your money than you would at home. Accommodation can vary depending on your employer: established names, such as The British Council, are more likely to offer you housing with all the mod-cons, whereas smaller institutions may provide you with more basic accommodation. The accommodation is likely to be in a secure and gated compound.
Demand is moderate year-round, although the peak hiring times are in June and December, so teachers are in place for the new school terms. If you find a job in an international language school, expect to undergo extra training to learn their ‘teaching system’ as they tend to teach the IB (International Baccalaureate) programme to students. The majority of these positions are available in Manama, Riffa and Al Muharraq where there are more schools as the populations are larger.
No matter where you teach in Bahrain, your students will be quite wealthy, although Manama in particular is home to the Bahraini-elite. If you love to shop, Manama is ideal, where you can pick up everything from spices at the souqs, to luxury designer clothing at the Moda Mall, inside the World Trade Centre, boasting 160 international brands.
Riffa is split into the East (the touristy section) and West (the residential area). Here, you can visit the Riffa fort, which used to be the base for all government activities until 1869; and boasts a beautiful waterside view which is particularly impressive at night.
Al Muharraq has an abundance of culture, and you’ll have plenty to explore here! Start off with the Pearl Trail, used by Pearl divers, where you’ll get to see 3 oyster beds in the sea amongst other sights; visit the Shaikh Isa House to see how the Bahraini royals lived in the 19th century, or for some modern culture, take a trip to the Busaad Art Gallery.
Like other Arab countries, the majority of the population drive to their desired destinations, so whilst there is public transportation in place, it’s not the best or most effective! Buses run in most towns and cities, costing 35p/$0.55 for a one-way ticket. However, timetables aren’t particularly frequent, running every 40 minutes on average; and these buses are often viewed as for poor people by the locals, who will usually call a taxi instead if for some reason they can’t use their car.
Taxis in Bahrain are unfortunately unreliable, with drivers usually pretending their meter is broken, or turning it off when driving foreigners around. The best way to avoid this is by agreeing on a fare before the taxi starts moving, otherwise you could end up with a fare of triple the price! A typical price for a 15km journey is £8.60/$14 if you’re not scammed, so it’s really reasonable; and you should definitely call a taxi if you’ve had a drink, as the law is VERY strict on drink driving and you don’t want to get arrested!
Weekly teaching hours in Bahrain are between 20-30 hours, and your weekend will be shifted forward to Thursday and Friday (Friday is the Muslim rest day), so you’ll find you’ll have plenty of spare time to explore all of what Bahrain has to offer. At only 15km long by 18km wide, this tiny country is easy to get around – if you have a car, that is! Trains and buses don’t typically run between the different cities, so hiring a car is the best option to explore the sites – you can rent one for the day for just £15/$25, so it’s very reasonable.
For a longer break from teaching, fly to the neighbouring countries of Riydah, Saudi Arabia for £135/$215 return; or to Dubai in the UAE for just £78/$125. With tax-free teaching salaries, you’ll be able to make these trips a number of times!
For pure craziness, visit Durrat Al Bahrain in the South of the country; a series of 14 artificial islands shaped like horseshoes and fish, with luxury hotels, shopping malls and bars dotting the islands.
The attraction of tax-free salaries and a low cost of living do not come easily, with teaching visas hard to come by. You’ll need to pass a physical test in addition to an HIV test; with criminal background checks standard too. In total, this will take about 3 months, but your employers will help you with this.
The left hand is traditionally used for personal hygiene in Bahrain, so make sure you eat and shake hands with your right hand.