Doing business

Current business situation

Bahrain has diversified its economy away from oil dependency more rapidly than any other gulf state, after being the first to discover it. Recent political instability has overshadowed a track record of economic growth and liberalisation.

Bahrain’s economy has grown in the past number of years. Though oil revenues continue to provide the largest portion of gross domestic product (GDP), the country is diversifying its economy, seeking to be a key regional and global hub for business, trade and finance.

Individuals should take sensible precautions, dress and behave conservatively, strictly observe Islamic customs and ensure that travel documentation, for themselves and their dependents are valid and up-to-date.

Business culture

Business tips

For men, the standard business attire is a suit and tie. For evening functions such as receptions and dinners, a dark business suit is usually worn and for casual wear slacks and short-sleeve shirts are suitable. Shorts should not be worn in public.

Women are also expected to dress conservatively e.g. long skirts should be worn and a head scarf is optional.

When making business appointments, it is important to make it clear if the visitor is female.

‘Small talk’ is vital for the establishment of trust and must not be hurried or dispensed with. In introductory business conversations, talk often centres on the health and well-being of the other person, but never about his wife and female relatives.

Coffee, tea, or soft drinks will probably be offered (except during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when it would be impolite to expose Omani counterparts to open food), and should be accepted. It is customary to drink more than one cup of coffee or tea, but not more than your host or others present.

It is not unusual for a Bahraini businessman to receive several visitors at once. It is a Bahraini custom of having a number of people in an office all discussing various matters at once. When invited into an office, you will be given a seat, refreshments and begin introductory conversation, after which your host may break off conversation with you and deal with one of his other visitors before returning to you.

The exchange of gifts is common practice, but items are usually limited to small corporate items such as pens and brochures.

Social etiquette

Do not use your left hand when passing or receiving items as it is considered unclean.

Bahrainis' show respect for seniority, so visitors should also observe this e.g. ensure that an older or more senior person walks through the door first. Similarly, if walking together, the guest or senior person should be on the right of the group as a mark of respect.

It is considered offensive to sit with the soles of your shoes or feet facing the other members of your group.

Bahraini men are usually addressed by their first given name. For example, Mr Khalid Bin Abdullah Al-Jasem has the given name of Khalid, is the son of Abdullah and his tribe or family grouping is Al-Jasem. He would therefore be called Mr Khalid.

If invited to dinner, it can generally be assumed that only males will attend the function, women frequently have separate functions.

If you invite a Bahraini to dine with you, do not include his wife in the invitation unless you have prior indication that she may accept.

Setting up in Bahrain

Australian companies are advised to spend time investigating the market, obtain professional advice where appropriate and thoroughly investigate the issues in entering the market and establishing business relationships.

Australian firms wishing to operate in this country should commit to the highest level of corporate behaviour and familiarise themselves with Australia's law and penalties pertaining to bribery of foreign officials.

Banking and finance

Bahrain is renowned for its well established financial sector, along with Malaysia it is an international centre for Islamic banking. The regulatory function and exchange controls of the Central Bank (CBB), have allowed for a stable currency and low inflation. A full range of commercial services are available from local and international banks.

Links and resources

Government, business and trade

Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Australia Gulf Council

News and media

Arab News
Gulf News
Trade Arabia

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.