Becoming an expat for the first time: moving from the UK to Bahrain

It’s February in the U.K. and I’m on my way home from work, knowing that I’m going home to a husband who is feeling rock bottom after being made redundant six months previously.

Apparently he is over-qualified for all the jobs he has applied for; maybe he should become a rocket scientist!

I pull up in the drive and wander into our house, ready for a night of job searching and discussions – just like every night. I shake off my coat, kick the snow off my boots and walk through to the kitchen. My husband, who is in the process of cooking dinner, greets me with the following statement: “We need to talk.”

“Sit down” he says, “I’ve been offered a job.” There’s a strange expression on his face.

“OK”, I respond, “Where is it? Is it permanent?“

“Umm, it’s in Saudi Arabia, but I would be living in Bahrain and it’s for six months only”.

“Oh. O.K, are you taking it?”

“I have no choice, we need the money, I leave in two weeks’ time.”


Before I know it, we’re on our way  to the airport, I’m wishing him well and he is on his way. Scary times ahead. Six months alone!  After a couple of months I go to visit and fall in love with Bahrain, but knowing that my husband is due home in a few months’ it becomes a nice holiday in my memory.

A few weeks later, over Skype, everything changes.  He tells me he’s been offered a permanent position and asks how I feel about it? A million thoughts run through my mind: the kids, schools, job, cats and friends. What are we to do?

A chat with my two sons and it’s decided that myself and my youngest will move to Bahrain and take the cats with us. Our eldest will stay in our home in the U.K. to ensure we have a home to come back to.

First things first: our son’s education.  My husband starts doing the rounds of the international schools after a few days’ online searching narrows down our choices. Exam papers are emailed to my son’s current school which he takes in the head teacher’s office, under supervision. He passes and is accepted into St Christopher’s school - the last child to be accepted into his year group. The school has been full ever since – our proactive approach definitely paid off.

And now the pressure’s really on: we need to find somewhere to live and that is very difficult with us still being in the UK. It means that every spare moment my husband has after work he spends viewing properties. Then, late at night, he sends us photos which we discuss on Skype. Eventually, we find a villa on a small compound that all of us like the look of - and everything’s agreed.

We decide to move to Bahrain in mid-August, giving us time to settle in before the new school term starts. This turns out to be a good idea as walking off the plane into 50 degrees of heat is quite a shock, and we realize that it’s going to take us some time to acclimatize to our new surroundings.  The cats follow us a month later, after a series of Tri cat and rabies injections. It’s a terrifying day for us, knowing that they are in the hold of an airplane for eight hours, but they are well-cared for and don’t seem to suffer any ill-effects.  In fact it takes them less time than us to make themselves at home.

After a few weeks of transforming a house into a home I start to realize that I have numerous questions that I need answers to – I don’t know anybody in Bahrain, I’m lonely and I have too much spare time on my hands. I boot up my laptop, turn to Google and up comes - a question and answer forum used by expats all over the world.

Tentatively to begin with, I ask my questions - and am thrilled to receive answers within seconds. So positive is my experience that in due course I decide to throw the very first expat blog party in Bahrain. It takes a month of organizing, but over 60 people turn up; I now have lots of friends and acquaintances thanks to that one meeting.  We also decide to join our local expat club - another great decision, as through it we meet lots of people in similar situations to our own.

There are many different nationalities in Bahrain, but the majority of people speak English and we don’t encounter any language barriers. In fact, the biggest surprise to us about Bahrain is the stray animals – over 20,000 stray cats and 10,000 stray dogs. There are only two animal shelters, both of which are full and receive no government funding.  But this is one of the few downsides to a country that has welcomed us with open arms.

Three years later, after a few promotions, our whole family (including the cats) is settled and content in Bahrain and we love our new life. I thought I was going to seriously miss all my family and friends in the U.K, but along the way I’ve learned the following:

  1. Friendships are made very quickly in Bahrain as it is so small and friendly
  2. Friends from the U.K. are happy to jump on a plane to come and visit their friend who lives in the sunshine
  3. I see more of my family that are in the U.K. than when I lived an hour’s drive from them.

Come with an open mind, be open to new experiences and making new friends – and you will be as happy here as we are.

Written by Joanna Murphy – Crown Relocation Consultant, Bahrain