Qatar to Bahrain Causeway a Bridge Too Far?

The proposed Qatar to Bahrain causeway may as well stretch from here to the moon instead of the proposed 25 miles or so between the two Persian Gulf states. For the much-vaunted $5 billion project has been delayed – yet again – with the completion date shifted now to 2022, just ahead of the FIFA World Cup competition in Qatar.

Whether expatriates and other visitors to Bahrain will care very much about the continuing delay, or the outcome of a planned review of the whole project, is open to question. Instead, they’ll be getting on with life and savouring the delights and the opportunity this unique and timeless location offers them.

Salaries and savings accounts from HSBC or some other banking institution are far more likely to exercise their thinking than the financial machinations surrounding such an incredibly ambitious project. After all, doesn’t Bahrain already have a causeway? Yes, it does. It’s called the King Fahd Causeway and it links the island to its giant neighbour, Saudi Arabia, some 15 miles distant.

Bahrain has an abundance of natural resources, especially in the form of oil and gas, which generates huge wealth for the country. Hydrocarbons account for about 13% of Bahrain’s GDP while manufacturing makes up around 16% of the economy. But the biggest chunk by far comes from an extremely buoyant financial services sector which contributes about 25% of GDP. In fact, Bahrain is recognised the world over as a centre of Islamic finance.

Overseas companies are encouraged to invest and to set up in the country which is renowned for its transparent and open economy. There are many areas of opportunity in such diverse areas as financial services, education, healthcare, logistics and more. Bahrain’s expatriate communities hail from all corners of the world, particularly from the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. There are also a comparatively small number of US and British nationals living and working in Bahrain.

Although salaries offered are often similar or slightly better than those paid in the West, the big attraction, especially for career-minded executives and professionals, is that there is no personal tax liability in Bahrain. Salary packages, too, often cover a range of additional expenses, from car and housing allowances to medical cover and even air tickets for visits back home. However, it must be stressed employment is usually obtained through sponsorship, with the sponsoring employer also providing the necessary documentation such as an entry visa and work permit.

Bahrain is often perceived in the West as liberal in attitude, which it undoubtedly is, but conservative sensibilities still exist amongst its predominantly Muslim population. Spontaneous and at times violent anti-government demonstrations do occur in some neighbourhoods, particularly at night and on weekends, says the American State Department.

The State Department adds, “There have been no direct attacks on US citizens; however, Westerners and US citizens have been caught in the middle of clashes. Anti-US sentiment has been expressed on the streets and in some local press and US flags have occasionally been burned during demonstrations.

“US citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal safety by knowing the locations of police and fire stations, hospitals, and the US Embassy. The Department of State strongly urges US citizens to avoid all demonstrations as even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse.”

Go here for more advice from the State Department.

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photo by: Josef Grunig

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