Expatriate Experience in Beautiful Bahrain

These were the words of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa while receiving the Duke of York Prince Andrew and a group of expatriates at the Sakhir Palace on Saturday.

The King also said: “The sizable expatriate community today continues to play a constructive role in our vibrant and growing economy and works hand-in-hand with their Bahraini friends and colleagues, for the benefit of our shared society.”

I believe these are very powerful words where His Majesty acknowledges and gives formal recognition to the contribution of the expatriate community towards the growth of this kingdom and its economy, and to that fact that we are a ‘shared-society’ now.

Half of the population being expatriates, the active involvement of this community in the growth of Bahrain is an undeniable fact. It is a fact that one cannot ignore or overemphasize.

One of the many reasons, I believe, which makes expatriates feel welcome here, is the warmth of the Bahrainis. Unlike in many countries, the friendly nature of the hosts is itself a very attractive feature.

Even though many expatriates know and feel that they will not end their careers here, they somehow, in some way, develop a strange liking to this place. It simply makes them hold on.

Many expats cease looking for other opportunities once they come here. And if opportunities do come, they evaluate those opportunities against the privileges of staying in this beautiful country.

And usually, ultimately, undoubtedly, Bahrain wins.

I met several expats who said that they came here on a two-year contract, thinking they will stay here for two years. But they ended up staying here for over 30 years.

I am a case in point. Yes. Myself. When I landed here in 1978, I never thought I would stick around in this country, for more than three decades . And that I would one day be writing this column on expats today. But the warmth and the beauty of this country is not something that I am able to let go.

The openness of this country makes it welcoming. The social clubs and religious organisations, which the government allows here, give expats a wonderful way of interacting with their compatriots and fellow-believers.

The smallness of this country makes it endearing. You are bound to bump into someone you know in a shopping mall, or in a car beside yours at a traffic signal!

The friendliness of this country makes it caring. One can greet an absolute stranger in a small elevator, or meet a complete foreigner in a car accident, and still become good friends in a few weeks time.

The efficiency of this country needs a mention too. You can get your work done in telephone companies, traffic departments, electricity and water departments, housing departments, commercial banks, insurance companies and car garages at a significantly higher speed and with more efficiency than in many other countries.

It is no wonder therefore that according to the 2013 Expat Explorer survey by HSBC Holdings, released in October last year, Bahrain expats are well-satisfied.

This survey of 7,000 expats living in nearly 100 countries showed that for best overall expat experience, Thailand ranked first, followed by Bahrain (2), China (3) and the Cayman Islands (4).

Factors such as quality of life and ease of setting up and integrating drove the rankings for best overall experience.

Anyway, for me, just like for many of you, Bahrain being ranked second in the world – on expat experience – was no big surprise.