Bahrain travel guide
Bahrain means 'Two Seas', a fitting name for an archipelago of 33 islands in the Gulf, which defines itself in relation to the water that surrounds its shallow shores.
Those shallows once harboured a precious trade in pearls, the most important in the world until the 19th century. Now the shoreline is increasingly dominated by ambitious developments, such as the twin 50-floor towers of Bahrain's World Trade Centre and the 2,787,000 sq m (30,000,000 sq ft) horseshoe of man-made islands at the southern tip of the country.
To those not in the know, Bahrain can seem a formidable place in the heart of the Gulf. But despite being situated just off Saudi Arabia's east coast, it is for the most part a welcoming, open country. Manama is an intriguing capital city, if not quite so glamorous is some of the region's other glittering metropolises. You'll find a decent culinary and artistic circuit, partly buoyed by westerners living here. Expect plenty of craft markets and pottery workshops.
For history buffs, Bahrain is the location of ancient Dilmun, home to what was an important semitic civilisation in the Bronze Age; Bahrain was later conquered by Babylonians and Persians. There are a number of ruins, burial mounds and forts to explore.
In the middle of Bahrain, not far from where the Formula 1 racetrack now draws the crowds, is the point where in 1932 the Arab world first struck gold – black gold, that is – and oil has been the mainstay of the country ever since. As visitors travel the modest length of Bahrain, they will run into many reminders of this momentous discovery, not least in the relaxed affluence of Bahrain's multicultural residents. Indeed, there are many signs of Arabian style and influence, along with more cosmopolitan vibes.
Since 2011, when the Arab Spring swept across the region, Bahrain's fate has been an uncertain one. The initial wave of protests by the largely Shia population against the Sunni rulers were put down with the help of Saudi Arabia, but demonstrations and unrest persist. Check the current situation before travelling.
765 sq km (295 sq miles).
1,492,584 (August 2017)
1,867 per sq km
King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa since 1999.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa since 1971.
Last updated: 19 May 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Demonstrations and protests take place regularly and can turn violent. You should be vigilant, avoid large crowds and demonstrations and be alert to local and regional developments.
There is currently an increased security presence in Bahrain. You should follow the advice of the local authorities and if you encounter a large demonstration, protest or any civil disturbances, leave the area immediately. Travel around Bahrain may be affected.
The Bahrain authorities announced the suspension of diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017. All air and sea points of entry between Bahrain and Qatar are currently closed. If you have a query relating to your travel plans you should contact your airline or tour operator. There are further restrictions on travel and residence affecting Bahrain and Qatar nationals. For more information see this Bahrain government announcement
In June 2017, the Bahraini authorities announced that showing sympathy for Qatar on social media or by any other means of communication is an offence. If you commit any such offence you could be imprisoned and subject to a substantial fine.
The government of Bahrain has imposed a curfew on the waterways around Bahrain between 6pm and 4am. You should respect the curfew.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Bahrain.
You must have legal status in Bahrain when you depart.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 999.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Demonstrations and protests take place regularly. These activities may include attempts to disrupt traffic, protests in villages and near economic centres, burning tyres, throwing Molotov cocktails, and the use of improvised explosive devices. As a result there could be clashes between government security forces and protesters. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Anniversary dates of significant events in Bahrain can sometimes experience a higher volume of unauthorised protests.
As a result there could be violent clashes and targeting of security forces. Historic trouble-spots where such incidents have taken place include Sitra, Bani Jamra, Karbabad, Saar, Karzakan, the Budaiya Highway and surrounding villages. These protests could erupt at any time without warning.
While there have been no direct threats or attacks on British nationals to date, you should remain vigilant and be aware of your surroundings wherever you are on the island. Violent protests pose a risk to those who might inadvertently find themselves near to an active demonstration.
If you encounter a large public gathering or demonstration, leave the area immediately. If you see any suspect item, don’t approach or touch it. Move away and call the police on 999 or the Police Hotline 8000 8008.
Travel on the main routes during daylight hours is generally orderly. There are some police checkpoints. In September 2012 the Ministry for the Interior issued a warning about explosive devices on major highways.
During demonstrations, roads can become blocked, resulting in diversions. These may re-route you to areas you are unfamiliar with. You should familiarise yourself with alternative routes.
Developments in Syria, Iraq and on the Middle East Peace Process continue to have an impact on local public opinion in the region. You should be aware of local sensitivities on these issues. Follow news reports and be alert to local and regional developments, which may trigger public disturbances.
The Ministry of Interior has issued a reminder that all residents and visitors must carry photographic ID. Under Bahraini law, it’s an offence not to be able to present photographic ID if asked to do so by a member of the Bahraini authorities, and you may be subject to a fine of up to 300BHD.
Around 8,000 to 10,000 British nationals live in Bahrain, and thousands more visit each year. Most visits are trouble free. Female visitors should take care when travelling alone at night. You should use one of the reputable taxi companies.
You can drive in Bahrain with a valid UK driving licence for up to 3 months. If you’re staying longer, you will need to get either a local licence or an IDP. If you are using an IDP, please ensure that you visit the Traffic Authority upon arrival to have it certified.
From 28 March 2019, the IDP you will need in Bahrain is a 1968 International Driving Permit (IDP). 1926 IDPs previously issued by the UK may no longer be accepted for use in Bahrain after this date. From 1 February 2019, you can only get IDPs over the counter from 2,500 UK Post Offices. You will not be able to buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel.
Bahrain operates a zero tolerance to drink-driving. If you are caught you will be arrested and put in the drivers’ prison. Your case will not be heard until the next working day. First time offenders will have to pay a minimum £900 fine and could be banned from driving in Bahrain. British visitors from Saudi Arabia will be subject to the same punishment but with the addition of a driving ban there also. For repeat offenders the fine and ban will be more serious.
You may face lengthy security checks on arrival at Bahrain airport.
Although alcohol is available at Bahrain airport, security officers and airline staff deal firmly with passengers believed to be drunk - even those who are in transit through the airport. You may be denied boarding, detained and fined.
Take care when travelling by Dhow. The safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected, and there have been occasional arrests. Make careful enquiries before entering these waters or visiting ports.
Regional tensions may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Bahrain. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region. These include references to attacks on western interests, including residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping centres and mosques. You should maintain a high level of security awareness and vigilance, including around significant high profile occasions and events, particularly in such public places and report anything suspicious to the local authorities.
Incidents involving explosive devices have killed and injured a number of individuals. These explosions occurred in public places.
There is a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Bahrain is a socially liberal state, but many Bahrainis are conservative.
Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan and Shia religious festivals. Bahrainis observe some religious anniversaries that may not be celebrated in neighbouring Gulf countries.
In 2019, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 6 May and finish on 4 June. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware that there may be legal penalties associated with non-compliance during the month of Ramadan.
Dress conservatively in public places, especially religious sites.
Don’t bring video cassettes or DVDs into the country. They may be withheld on arrival at the airport.
Bahraini law doesn’t criminalise same sex-activity between consenting adults who are at least 21 years of age, although sodomy is illegal. Bahrain is a liberal country compared with most others in the region, but many Bahrainis hold conservative social views. There are some reported cases of individuals punished for same-sexual activity, but in practice arrests for homosexual behaviour are relatively rare. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
All residents and visitors must carry photographic ID. Under Bahraini law, it’s an offence not to be able to present photographic ID if you’re asked to do so by a member of the Bahraini authorities, and you may be subject to a fine of up to 300BHD.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Make sure you check the latest entry requirements with the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain before you travel.
On arrival in Bahrain, visitors can be issued visas for 24 hours, 72 hours, 2 weeks or 3 months, depending on their need and at the discretion of the Immigration Officer. You may be asked to provide evidence of onward or return travel. If you enter as a visitor you must not take up employment.
In Bahrain you can apply to renew your visa at Nationality Passport and Residence Affairs (NPRA) at the Ministry of Interior. You can apply for residency through the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA).
Business visitors should bring a letter of invitation Journalists or representatives of NGOs visiting Bahrain should get a visa before travelling.
If you’re currently a resident of Qatar you require a visa to enter the Kingdom of Bahrain. Visas can be applied for online. You should attach a copy of your Qatari residency card to the application. Failure to obtain a visa in advance will result in a refusal of entry into Bahrain.
If you’re planning to travel to Saudi Arabia via the causeway from Bahrain you should check the terms of your Saudi visa before travelling. If you’re planning to apply for a visa, you should seek advice (eg from your visa agent, the Saudi Embassy or your employer) about the visa options available to you. Saudi visas may only allow for entry into the country by air and may prevent you from entering across a land border including via the causeway from Bahrain.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Bahrain.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Bahrain. However, ETDs are accepted for airside transit and exit from Bahrain.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
You must have legal status in Bahrain when you leave. You may be prevented from leaving Bahrain if you are subject to a travel ban, involved in legal proceedings, have unpaid debt, or are a child subject to a custody dispute. You can be fined if you overstay or fail to extend your legal residency.
Previous travel to Israel
Evidence of a previous visit to Israel like an Israeli entry/exit stamp in your passport doesn’t normally cause any difficulties when entering Bahrain. It is, however, for the Bahraini authorities to determine the right of entry into the country. If you have any concerns, you should contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain in London.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You will be charged for emergency medical treatment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.