This entry should have been written a long time ago but it took two trips to Bahrain, almost a year apart, before I can even wrap my brain around the process of going to the Kingdom of Bahrain from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I needed to experience almost all of the ways you can get in and out of Bahrain from Saudi so I can share them to you in the most comprehensive way as possible (and technically through a long entry, The Pink Tarha style). Obviously, if you’re a pro in going to Bahrain, there’s no need to read this but if you’re a newbie and wondering how to go to Bahrain, then here you go.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a small Arab constitutional monarchy in the Persian Gulf. Its 780 square kilometers area makes it the third smallest nation in Asia after the Maldives and Singapore. It is connected to Saudi Arabia by the 25-km King Fahd Causeway. If you want to know more about Bahrain and its history, culture, tourist spots, etc., head on over to our entries: A Weekend in Bahrain 1, A Weekend in Bahrain 2, and A Weekend in Bahrain 3. We also had an older entry of a quick Bahrain trip in the blog from over 5 years ago: Bahrain Bound. If you noticed, we only featured Bahrain as weekend getaway place because to most Saudi residents, both locals and expats, it is the the easiest, nearest and fastest destination to go to. It only takes a few days to discover most of what the country has to offer. Most of the things you can’t eat, find, and do in Saudi Arabia, you can do in Bahrain.
Now, how to go to Bahrain as an expat resident of Saudi Arabia? There are four ways: by plane, by bus, by private car, and by taxi or limo service. We ticked off all three in the list after we finished our Bahrain trip this weekend. We killed two birds with one stone on our November 1-4 getaway. We took the limo service in going and rode the bus in coming back. We flew to Bahrain last year. And so we only have one option left to try: by private car. Maybe next time then. Anyway, we’ll be tackling all in this entry and hopefully give you insights into how they all work.
When planning your trip to Bahrain, you need the following requirements:
PASSPORT. Your passport that is valid 6 months before the trip. A lot of people often forget to check the validity of their passports and cram at the last minute when they find out it’s nearing its expiration date. For expats in Saudi Arabia, we usually submit our passports to our companies but recent ruling tells us that we can actually get our passport and hold on to them instead of our companies. For us, our workplace is pretty much flexible. We can choose to hold and keep it ourselves or submit it to the Passport Department for safekeeping (we usually choose this option because we easily lose things, haha).
EXIT/RE-ENTRY VISA. Of course ladies and gentlemen, you need to acquire your exit/re-entry visa before leaving Saudi Arabia. Others might mistake Bahrain as part of Saudi Arabia thus the no need of exit/re-entry visa. Ermn, WRONG! They’re two different countries. Whenever you leave Saudi Arabia and go to another country, you always need to have your exit/re-entry visa. Whether you apply it yourself at the website or your company does it for you, get it! In our case, we request our exit/re-entry visa from our workplace. It usually takes 3 days because of the amount of requests they receive but for those who can get it in the website, it only takes a minimum of 15 minutes. We usually have a printed copy but nowadays, the visa is already online and immigration officers can access them directly.
IQAMA. Bring your resident card (iqama). The iqama must be at least 3 months old, and should be valid for at least another 3 months. For example, my trip was last November 1-4, 2017. My iqama was issued on July 2017; that makes it 4 months old already. Criteria of “at least 3 months old” = Check! It will expire on July 2018. That means that from this November, I still have 7 months before my iqama expires. Criteria of “valid for at least another 3 months” = Check! Understood?
BAHRAIN VISA. And here’s where things get confusing: visa to Bahrain. How to get it? Where to get it? What kind of visa to get? Can we get it on arrival? Can we get it prior to arrival? Can we get it online? Okay, here’s the thing: it will depend on how you go to Bahrain. If you fly, you need to get the eVisa online and prior to flying. The Bahrain Visa website shows that we can get visas on arrival as long as we show our resident permit and an onward or return ticket but trust us, you may not have a problem with the Bahrain immigration but the staff at the Saudi airport’s check-in counter will be asking for your visa and if you can’t show it, forget your travel plans. Trust us, they can be very stubborn. We experienced it firsthand; officials in Bahrain were already calling and telling them we have valid visas but they don’t want to budge. Don’t make the same mistake; just be ready. If you use the King Fahd Causeway, you can get it on arrival.
Let’s talk about eVisas first. This is needed when you fly to Bahrain, meaning you will use any of the Saudi airports in going and arriving at the Bahrain International Airport (BIA) using any airlines that service KSA and Bahrain and vice-versa. Alien residents of GCC countries like Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and UAE (expats) are eligible for an electronic Visa (eVisa) for 1 month if travelling through the BIA. The eVisa can be obtained on this website: https://www.evisa.gov.bh/VISA/visaInput?nav=A0S&A0S=a (or go to this site and click on Apply for eVisa). There is no need for a visa stamped in your passport. You just have to print the eVisa. The fee for the eVisa is Bahrain Dinar (BD) 25 and the processing fee is BD 4. Total is BD 29 (approximately SR 290). That’s the simplest information we can give you. If you want to delve into the kinds of visas, you may want to check the link we mentioned. You can also apply for visa from the Bahrain Embassy. But why still go there when you can get it online? The online option was made for convenience; use it.
Visas on arrival are available in the King Fahd Causeway for Saudi residents. However, if your profession in your iqama shows that you are a laborer, carpenter, plumber, driver, etc. (most manual labor jobs), you cannot get a visa-on-arrival in Bahrain. You have to get a visa from the Bahrain Embassy in Riyadh.
TRANSPORTATION. There are two ways on how to enter Bahrain: by air or by land.
BY AIR. The flight from Riyadh to Bahrain takes one hour and 10 minutes. There are a lot of airlines servicing the KSA-Bahrain-KSA route direct like Saudi Airlines, Gulf Air, and Fly Nas. We’ve experienced flying with the latter. It was a generally okay experience. Flight costs start at SR 800 roundtrip. Be on the lookout for seat sales too and prices can go down as low as SR 500.
BY LAND. There are different ways on how to go to Bahrain by land. Ultimately, you will end up using the King Fahd Causeway, a bridge that connects KSA and Bahrain.
a. By Private Car. You can use your own car to travel to Bahrain. If you own the car (and the car is under your name), then they might need the documents for it like istimara, insurance, etc. If you have not yet finished paying for the car, you may need a letter from the car company, bank, or insurance and stamped at the police station. We haven’t really used our own car in traveling to Bahrain so we don’t have any specific ideas on how to do this. If you do, please feel free to comment down below. If you run into trouble driving your own car to Bahrain, you can rent a car from the agencies in Dammam or Al-Khobar. They usually give documents to allow you to drive their car to be shown at the Causeway. At a fee of course. The advantage of using your own car or a rented car which you can drive is that your time is yours. You can leave whenever you want. The disadvantage is the driving itself. It can get boring and tiring.
The good thing about traveling by private car or rented car or limo car is that you can stop any time along the way, especially when nature is calling. I haven’t traveled to the Eastern Province for a long time. When there’s an invite to go I always have an excuse. It’s too hot (even though we’re traveling in an air-conditioned vehicle), it’s too long (it’s just 4-5 hours), and last but not the least, there’s no friggin’ good pit stops along the way! I had been traumatized by my last experience in using the loo in one of the old gas stations. Haha! Nowadays, they have good gas station stops like those we have in the NLEX and SLEX in the Philippines. The stops are bigger and filled with small restaurants with glowing neon lights. We stopped at a SASCO Palm which is leading the way for great gas stops. It has a great selection of food (McDo counts yeah? haha) and clean restrooms.
b. By Limo Service. This is what we availed for on our trip from Riyadh to Bahrain. It took two cars: one from Riyadh to Al-Khobar (near the bridge) and another one from Al-Khobar to Bahrain. We have a limo driver from Anfal Limo Services that we have known for a long time. He’s been driving for us since 2009 and while he’s been busy with a lot of customers already, we usually get him for long trips because we trust him. We asked him to drive us on a Wednesday night to Al-Khobar and he was the one who arranged his fellow driver to drive us from Al-Khobar to Bahrain. His car was a Toyota Prado: very comfy and clean. He drove within the 120 km/hr limit all throughout. Did you know that there are 36 cameras installed in the road between Riyadh and Dammam? You better not get too fast and furious out there. After almost five hours of traveling (including a pit stop at McDonald’s for 30 minutes), we arrived at a gas station before the Causeway bridge. His friend with a bigger car was waiting for us already. We transferred to his car and he was the one who drove us on to Bahrain. We paid SR 600 for the Riyadh-Al-Khobar and SR 300 for the Al-Khobar to Bahrain. Total of SR 900. We were just three persons traveling. So if you’re many, as long as you fit in the car, then the cost will be lower if SR 900 is divided within your lot.
Traveling by limo to Bahrain is pretty much straightforward. The driver that took us from Khobar to Bahrain already knows what he’s doing. There were two stops: one in the Saudi immigration and another in the Bahrain immigration. The good thing in riding a car is passengers don’t have to go down to have passports stamped. We stayed in the car all the time except when we braved the traffic of the Causeway to go to the restroom located at the other side of the road. The only thing we, or rather our driver, paid is the SR 25 toll fee in using the Causeway. We didn’t pay for the Bahrain visa.
c. By Bus. We traveled by bus on our way back to Riyadh. The Saudi Arabia Public Transport Company has buses plying the Riyadh-Bahrain-Riyadh route. They have their regular buses that travel the Riyadh to Manama route at 1 to 2 hours interval each day. They have a total of 15 trips that start at 2:00 AM. The travel time these standard buses takes is a staggering 10 hours (and that’s the minimum). There’s a transit time or waiting time in Dammam before boarding the next bus to Manama. Obviously, we did not get this bus trip because our bodies can no longer travel that long (uugod-ugod na ang mga titas of Riyadh lol). And our patience would have been tried if we travel 10 hours when we know we could’ve traveled at a shorter time. Standard one-way rate is SR 125 per person but you can avail of the discounted rate of SR 100 per person for a non-refundable and non-transferable ticket. Most of the seats in front of the bus are allotted for ladies and families while the ones at the back are for men.
They have a VIP bus that travels non-stop to select destinations. The VIP Bus to Bahrain leaves every Thursday, 3:00 PM from the Al Hayat Towers in Olaya and arrives in Bahrain around 8:00 PM in their SAPTCO Bus Station near the Lulu Centre in Manama. That’s around 5 hours of travel depending on the traffic in the Causeway. The return bus from Bahrain to Riyadh is on Saturday, 4:00 PM. It arrives Riyadh by 9:00 PM. A roundtrip ticket costs SR 290 per person. But if you only buy a one-way ticket, that will be SR 180 per person. Since we booked a one-way ticket only, we paid SR 180 each through the SAPTCO website. The VIP Bus of SAPTCO is actually comfortable. It’s clean. It has a wide leg room and it even has a table! Space-wise, it’s better than a seat in an airplane. Haha. It has a bathroom inside the bus that can be scary if you palpitate over tight spaces; it stinks after a while too but the odor stays inside the bathroom. Thankfully, it doesn’t waft inside the bus. Also, the door can be quite tricky to open (just ask Reina and our friend Jou, haha). They also provide a box of snacks with a bottle of water, a bottle of juice, two packs of croissants, and tissue. A supply of cold water and coffee and tea is also at hand. All in all, my first SAPTCO VIP bus experience was good.
We left the SAPTCO Bus Terminal at around 4:10 PM. And it took us EIGHT EFFIN’ HOURS to arrive in Riyadh! Three hours were spent in the Causeway waiting. Yup! There are three stops where bus passengers needed to go down the bus:
1. Bahrain Immigration. We went down the bus and entered an office where we had to wait for 15 minutes for officers at the Bahrain immigration to stamp our passports. After that, we got back in the bus to wait for traffic to move. It was the end of the weekend so it was expected to be really busy in the Causeway. Mukha lang hopeless yung dami ng sasakyan pero makakaraos din, haha!
2. Saudi Immigration. The bus inched forward and we had to go down again and enter another office where the Saudi immigration officer awaits. We gave him our passport and iqama then he returned our iqama. They returned our passports in the bus. Then there was a waiting time again as we passed through the toll gate.
3. Saudi Customs. We had to go down again for the Saudi customs to check our luggage and bus. We had to bring our luggage and bags down with us while we waited for a dog to sniff our luggage. Then we had to wait for more minutes for another officer to inspect our things. There was no opening of luggage involved; just waiting for them to come over and do their thing. We suggest to avoid sneaking in illegal stuff to Saudi Arabia: pork, alcohol, and drugs. PLEASE LANG! Wag na pasaway!
Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO)
Head Quarter: Sulaymaniyah District, Riyadh
Prince AbdulAziz bin Mosaid bin Jalawi Street
P.O Box: 10667 Riyadh 11443
Phone: +966 112884400
Fax: +966 112884411
Customer Service: 920000877
Complaints & Feedback: 8001249999
From Outside Saudi Arabia:+966112614716
SAPTCO Bus Terminal in RIYADH:
SAPTCO VIP Bus Terminal – Al Hayat Tower (RIYADH):
SAPTCO Bus Terminal in BAHRAIN:
*** By Train. There is no direct train trip to Bahrain but you can take the train from Riyadh to Dammam and take a taxi or limo service to Bahrain.
There are plenty of hotel options in Bahrain that fit your budget. Of course, having stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Juffair and at the ART Rotana in Amwaj Islands, we recommend these for the perfect family vacation. Residence Inn by Marriott is perfect if it’s your first time in Bahrain and want to be in the center of the country so you can easily visit the tourist spots and interesting places. The ART Rotana in Amwaj is perfect if it’s your second time in Bahrain and just wants to unwind with your family in a hotel resort. They have everything in their resort already that you don’t have to go out anymore! Hopefully, we’ll be back in Bahrain soon and we’ll definitely update you. For now, start planning and start traveling!