Bahrain by Sonny Saguil

Bahrain Driving Guide

Bahrain is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.

2023-12-13 · 9min read

Bahrain is often synonymous with oil wealth and financial prowess. But this dynamic Middle Eastern nation offers much more, blending rich cultural and historical roots alongside modern architectural marvels.

However, Bahrain faces challenges with traffic congestion and a reputation for aggressive driving. This can make tourists apprehensive about navigating the roads due to the stark contrasts in driving culture, traffic regulations, and overall driving conditions compared to their home countries.

But, driving in Bahrain is not for the faint-hearted. Traffic on the minor roads is often congested, and village streets can be narrow with poorly parked vehicles. Fast-flowing major highways can come to a halt without warning, and vehicles often change lanes without signaling. Overcome these difficulties, and there is no better way to get around in Bahrain.

Driving in Bahrain, published on Expat's informative website.

Driving in Bahrain may come with its unique set of rules and considerations, but it promises to be a rewarding experience. We crafted this guide to ease your car rental process and to acquaint you with the local driving norms and etiquette.

Let's Take a Closer Look at Bahrain

Before diving deeper into Bahrain's driving culture and etiquette, here are some interesting facts about this Middle Eastern country:

Geographical Overview of Bahrain

Bahrain is a Middle Eastern nation between the Qatari peninsula and Saudi Arabia's northeastern coast. This small archipelago comprises 43 natural and 51 man-made islands around central Bahrain Island. The strategic location of Bahrain, connected to neighboring countries by the King Fahd Causeway, offers unique travel opportunities.

Land and Development

With 780 square kilometers, Bahrain ranks Asia's third smallest nation, following the Maldives and Singapore. Land reclamation has expanded its original area of 665 square kilometers. Key islands include the Hawar Islands, Muharraq, Sitra, Umm an Nasan, and Bahrain Island, with artificial islands contributing significantly to its landmass.

Predominantly desert, Bahrain has limited arable land, focusing its resources on natural gas, oil, and offshore fisheries. The well-planned road systems facilitate easy exploration of tourist spots, making a month-long visit sufficient to experience the country’s highlights.

Linguistic Diversity

While Arabic is the official language, English is widely spoken, reflecting Bahrain's expat-friendly environment. The diverse population also speaks languages like Nepalese, Baloch, Persian, Malayalam, Tamil, Bangla, and Hindi, ensuring a communicative ease for visitors.


Bahrain boasts a rich history, from the ancient Dilmun civilization known for its pearl fisheries to its early Islamic history dating back to 628 CE. It experienced Portuguese rule in 1521, Persian dominance in 1602, and was later governed by the Al Khalifa family from 1783.

Formerly a British protectorate, Bahrain gained independence in 1971 and transitioned to an Islamic constitutional monarchy in 2002. The nation has developed a diverse economy, with the World Bank recognizing it as a high-income economy.


Bahrain became an Islamic constitutional monarchy in 2002 under the rule of the Al-Khalifa royal family. Since 1971, the Prime Minister has headed the government along with the members of the parliament. Bahrain’s parliament is a bicameral legislature where the people elect the Council of Representatives while the Consultative Council is appointed directly by the king.


In the 2010 census, Bahrain had a total population of over 1.25 million, and only 46% were Bahraini citizens, the rest are non-national temporary immigrants. Known as an expat-friendly country, Bahrain attracts many foreigners every year for tourism purposes and residential.

The Indian community is the biggest non-Bahraini community in the country. The government aims to provide a peaceful coexistence between people from different cultures, ethnicities, and religions.

International Driver’s Permit FAQs

An International Driver's Permit (IDP) is vital for foreigners driving in Bahrain. This supplementary document translates your native driver's license into multiple languages and facilitates more accessible communication with local authorities. Here's what you need to know about using an IDP in Bahrain:

Is a Local Driver's License Valid in Bahrain?

Yes. If you possess a valid driver's license from your home country, such as an Indian driving license, it's recognized in Bahrain. However, to ensure smooth interactions with authorities and car rental agencies, carrying your local driver's license along with your IDP is advised.

For those staying in Bahrain for less than a year, your native driver's license and IDP are sufficient. But you must acquire a Bahraini driving license if your stay exceeds a year.

Is an International Driver’s Permit Required in Bahrain?

While not strictly required by law, having an IDP in Bahrain is strongly recommended, particularly if your native license is in a language other than Arabic or English. An IDP eases the rental process and helps avoid misunderstandings while driving in Bahrain.

How Do I Get an International Driving Permit in Bahrain?

You can quickly apply for an IDP through the International Driver’s Association (IDA). The process involves an online application and photo upload. IDA can provide a digital copy of your IDP in as little as 20 minutes, with physical copies shipped worldwide within 30 days.

How Long is an International Driver’s Permit Valid in Bahrain?

An IDP from the IDA is valid for one to three years, depending on the selected duration. However, in Bahrain, an IDP is recognized for only one year. If you plan a longer stay, consider obtaining a Bahraini driving license.

Does an IDP Replace a Native Driver’s License?

An IDP doesn't replace your native driver's license but is a crucial tool for translation. It translates your license into 12 major languages, aiding comprehension by Bahraini officials and authorities. Always carry both your IDP and native license when driving in Bahrain.

Having an IDP in Bahrain enhances your driving experience, ensuring compliance with local regulations and facilitating smoother interactions during your stay.

Renting a Car in Bahrain

With its excellent road infrastructure, Bahrain is a haven for tourists who prefer the convenience of driving. Renting a car in Bahrain is a popular choice for travelers seeking to explore the country at their own pace. Here's a guide to help you understand the process of renting a car in Bahrain:

Selection of Car Rental Services

You'll find a range of car rental companies in Bahrain, including reputable names like Europcar and Sixt. These companies offer a variety of vehicles, from standard models to luxury cars. Sixt is known for its nearly new fleet, while Europcar is recognized for its commitment to sustainable practices. When renting a car, you can expect options like GPS and child seats, making the process tailored to your needs.

Essential Documents for Car Rental

To rent a car in Bahrain, you’ll need:

  • A valid local driver's license
  • An International Driving Permit (IDP)
  • A government-issued ID, such as your passport
  • A credit or debit card for payment

Note: Drivers from countries not part of the IDP treaty must provide an official license translation.

Types of Vehicles Available

Car rental agencies in Bahrain cater to various preferences, offering everything from economy cars to luxury vehicles. Younger drivers, typically under 25, can access suitable cars, including SUVs and minivans. Companies like Sixt offer high-end German models for those seeking a more upscale experience.

Costs Associated with Car Rental

Renting a car in Bahrain can be pricier than in other regions. The total cost will depend on various factors, including selected extras, insurance, and seasonal demand. To secure the best deal, comparing prices across different companies is wise. Consider additional fees like airport surcharges and look for special deals or offers.

Age Requirements

The minimum age to rent a car in Bahrain is generally 21 years, with at least one year of driving experience. Some companies, like Sixt, may allow 18-year-olds to rent from their full range of vehicles but may impose an underage driving fee.

Car Insurance Inclusions

Car rental rates typically include essential insurance like Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Protection. You can also opt for additional insurance coverage for extra security.

Car Insurance Policies

Renting an insured car is crucial in Bahrain. While most rental companies include insurance in their rates, some might require separate insurance purchases. Insurance can apply to short- and long-term rentals, but it's important to remember that the insurance is valid only for the driver listed on the contract.

Renting a car in Bahrain can significantly enhance your travel experience, allowing you to explore the country at your leisure. Be sure to understand the terms and conditions of your rental agreement and drive safely to enjoy your journey in Bahrain.

Understanding Bahrain’s Road Rules

Driving in Bahrain requires adherence to specific road rules and regulations, which is essential for locals and tourists. Here's an overview of key road rules in Bahrain:

Key Traffic Laws

Being aware of Bahrain's unique traffic laws helps avoid unnecessary issues:

  • Legal Driving Age: You must be at least 18 and have a valid driving license in Bahrain. Underage drivers, even with a valid license from their home country, are not permitted to drive or rent a car.
  • Driving on the Right Side: Bahrain follows right-hand traffic, which may require adjustment for those from left-driving countries. This change was implemented 52 years ago to align with neighboring countries and improve accessibility.
  • Use of Turn Signals: It’s mandatory to use turn signals for lane changes and turns. Understanding specific signals like headlight flashing is crucial for smooth driving interactions.

Stopping at Traffic Lights

Always stop your vehicle behind the white line at traffic lights, as many roads have sensors to detect cars for signal changes.

Pedestrian Crossings and Speed

Slow down at pedestrian crossings and in crowded areas. Use your horn to alert pedestrians when you're approaching the crossing.

Respecting Lane Boundaries

Stay within your lane and keep safe from other vehicles, especially at “Give Way” points. Yield to emergency vehicles like ambulances and police cars.

Seatbelt Use

Wearing seatbelts is compulsory in Bahrain, with fines for non-compliance. Children under 10 should sit in the back with appropriate restraints.

No Drinking and Driving

The legal blood alcohol level is 0%. The minimum fine is 500 Bahraini Dinar (BHD500) or a month to a year imprisonment.

No Mobile Phone Usage

Using a handheld phone while driving is prohibited. Violations can result in significant fines or imprisonment.

Speed Measurement: KpH or MpH?

Bahrain uses kilometers per hour (KpH) for speed measurement, aligning with most countries worldwide.

Speed Limits

Adhere to the speed limits: 60 KpH in cities, 80 KpH on rural roads, and 120 KpH on expressways. Exceeding speed limits can lead to hefty fines or imprisonment.

Driving Directions

Key highways like Shaikh Isa Bin Salman Highway and King Samad Highway are vital for navigating Bahrain. Pay attention to lane direction indicators.

Traffic Road Signs

Familiarize yourself with Bahrain's traffic signs, which are in both Arabic and English.

Right of Way

Understand roundabout rules: vehicles inside the roundabout have priority. Use the correct lane based on your intended direction.

Overtaking Laws

Overtake safely and only where visibility is clear. Do not increase speed when being overtaken, and return to the right lane after overtaking. Avoid overtaking in potentially hazardous situations like on narrow roads, near junctions, or pedestrian crossings.

Driving Etiquette in Bahrain

Understanding local driving etiquette in Bahrain is essential for a smooth and safe driving experience. Here’s how to handle various situations you might encounter on Bahraini roads.

Dealing with a Car Breakdown

If your car breaks down, try to move it off the road, considering the traffic around you. Use hazard warning signs to alert other drivers. As a precaution, place a reflecting triangle at least 50 meters behind your vehicle.

At night, avoid standing behind the car to keep rear lamps visible. Stay off the road and contact your rental company or local towing services for assistance.

Interactions with Traffic Police

Bahrain's traffic police are identifiable by their white uniforms and white-red stripe vehicles. If you’re pulled over, do so promptly and stay calm. Be prepared to present your International Driving License and passport. Understand the reason for being stopped and follow the officer's instructions.

Asking for Directions

Bahrainis are generally hospitable and helpful. When asking for directions, be courteous and use simple phrases like "uz ran" (excuse me) and "shuk ran" (thank you). If you miss a turn, continue driving until you see a safe spot to ask for directions.

At official checkpoints, remain calm and polite, and follow the officers' instructions. Keep your documents handy, and never attempt to bypass a checkpoint. For unofficial checkpoints, keep doors and windows locked and contact authorities immediately.

Driving During Ramadan

During Ramadan, respect the fasting period by not playing loud music during daylight hours. Expect less traffic, but avoid speeding. Also, be patient during Iftar (evening meal after the Ramadan fast), as roads can get congested.

Handling Aggressive Drivers

If a driver cuts you off, remain calm and don’t react aggressively. Avoid honking excessively or making rude gestures, which can escalate the situation.

Although the roads themselves are usually of high quality, expats often report frustration with other drivers. Aggressive and erratic driving is common throughout Bahrain. Queue jumping is a regular occurrence, as is using the safety lane to pass slow-moving traffic on the highways. It is important to drive defensively. Never give a rude gesture to another driver. This is a serious offense and has strict penalties.

Driving in Bahrain, published on Expat's informative website.

Night Driving Tips

Avoid driving after 10 PM on weekdays if possible. Use headlights appropriately and watch for cars without lights. Don’t overuse high beams; abide by speed limits to prevent accidents.

Changing Lanes Safely

Signal your intentions clearly when changing lanes and checking mirrors and blind spots. Avoid changing lanes too close to other vehicles, and watch out for motorcyclists and pedestrians.

In Case of an Accident

In minor accidents, visit the nearest police station with the other party involved. For major accidents, don’t move your vehicle and wait for the police. If someone is injured, call for an ambulance and provide first aid if possible. Be honest and cooperative during police questioning.

Bahrain's Driving Conditions

Before embarking on a road trip in Bahrain, you must acquaint yourself with the local driving conditions:

Road Accident Statistics

Bahrain's road accident statistics, according to 2018 WHO data, indicate that road accidents contribute to 3.88% of total deaths, placing Bahrain at 129th globally for road accident deaths. In 2019, there was a 50% reduction in fatal traffic incidents despite an increase in vehicle numbers over the past five years. Rush hour and weekend driving in Bahrain tend to be aggressive, so practicing defensive driving and maintaining etiquette is essential.

Vehicle Preferences

Bahrain, a country with a significant middle-class population, predominantly features SUVs, economy cars, and minivans on its roads. Luxurious vehicles are also common, especially in financial districts. Motorcycles and trucks are part of the usual traffic as well.

Toll Roads and the King Fahd Causeway

The King Fahd Causeway is the primary toll road, a 24 km link between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. However, rental cars are restricted from entering Saudi Arabia via this causeway. The causeway is a busy conduit, especially during peak travel times.

Road Infrastructure

Bahrain's appeal lies in its advanced road infrastructure. The country boasts well-maintained roads, smart traffic management systems, and English-Arabic signage. While major highways offer multiple lanes, village streets and minor roads can be narrower and more congested but well-kept.

Driving Culture and Women Drivers

Gone were the days when women were not allowed to get behind the wheel. The driving culture in Bahrain has evolved, with women now actively participating in the road.

While the driving environment can be challenging due to some aggressive drivers, particularly during rush hours and on Thursdays, Bahrainis generally show tolerance towards foreign drivers.

Dress Code for Drivers

Adapting to local norms by avoiding overly tight or revealing clothing can enhance your driving experience in Bahrain. While Bahrain gradually embraces modern attire, wearing outfits that cover arms and legs is advisable to respect local sensibilities.

Driving in Bahrain can be straightforward and enjoyable once you're accustomed to the local driving behaviors and traffic patterns. Planning your travel times to avoid peak hours can make your journey smoother and more pleasant.

Discover Bahrain's Must-Visit Attractions

Bahrain, a blend of historical richness and modern marvels, is a must-visit destination offering a variety of attractions:

Bahrain International Circuit

A paradise for motorsport enthusiasts, the Bahrain International Circuit, inaugurated in 2004, draws numerous visitors annually. Famous for hosting the exhilarating Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, the circuit also provides exciting rides in the non-racing season, making it a thrilling destination for speed lovers.

Bahrain National Museum

Since its establishment in 1988, the Bahrain National Museum has been a beacon of the nation's 6000-year history, showcasing artifacts from the ancient Dilmun civilization and various cultural exhibits. This iconic museum is not just known for its historical treasures but also for its striking architecture, including a spacious patio overlooking Muharraq Island.


As the capital and largest city of Bahrain, Manama stands as a bustling metropolis that seamlessly blends modernity with rich cultural heritage. The city is adorned with architectural marvels such as the Bahrain World Trade Center, showcasing cutting-edge design.

Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve

Escape the urban hustle to explore the serene beauty of the Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve, a conservation area in southern Bahrain. Home to indigenous flora and fauna, including the endangered Arabian oryx, this expansive reserve offers a unique opportunity to witness Bahrain's natural biodiversity.

Historical Villages and Structures

Bahrain's Islamic heritage is evident in its ancient mosques and historical infrastructures, offering a deep dive into the country's cultural and religious roots. The nation's old villages and cities are treasure troves of history.

Visitors can purchase unique handicrafts, admire the detailed Kufic calligraphy on mosque walls, and marvel at the legendary Tree of Life. A visit to Al Jasra House is a journey back in time, highlighting traditional wind towers that once defined Bahrain’s skyline.

Get an IDP to Explore Bahrain

If you're planning a Middle Eastern adventure, Bahrain should definitely be part of your itinerary. Arm yourself with an International Driving Permit and discover the country's rich tapestry of museums, mosques, and shopping centers, where tradition meets modernity.

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