Trouble at Customs in Bahrain?

decided to spend a night in Bahrain on my way from Abu Dhabi to Cairo, as it did not cost me any extra money for the layover; and I thought I would add another country under my belt — despite not there being much to do there, according to my research.

Little did I know that I would have what seemed to be trouble at customs in Bahrain.

Upon exiting the airplane once at the gate after my first flight as a passenger aboard an airplane operated by Gulf Air, I wanted to get to the customs area as soon as possible so that I may have as much time as possible during my overnight stay in Bahrain.

Fortunately, there were not all that many passengers aboard the airplane; so I did not expect to wait in line very long at customs — if at all. Still, I had no idea if passengers from other flights would converge into the customs area; so after a walk of approximately five minutes or so, I arrived at the customs area and picked up a blank declaration form to complete while I stood in line. The memory of completing the form at the customs area at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates and then waiting in line for a long time — even though the line itself was not all that long — was still fresh in my mind; so I was simply attempting to be more efficient.

Of course, there was a short line which was quick enough that by the time it was my turn, I had not yet finished completing my declaration form.

“I apologize,” I said as I was waved on to be processed next. “I had not finished completing my form yet.”

“Come on,” said the customs agent in a friendly manner as he waved me in — as though it was not a problem. There was nobody in line behind me anyway, so I proceeded as per his direction.

The customs agent checked my passport and incomplete declaration form before saying “Wait right here…” and left his booth.

He returned a few minutes later with a colleague who was larger in size. My passport was nowhere to be seen.

He paused for a moment before gesturing to me to pull me aside.

“Come this way.”

I followed him past his booth and towards an enclosed office with a window overlooking the customs area, which was not all that large when compared to the customs areas of other international airports.

“Wait here.”

This was highly unusual in that this has never happened to me before. Did I say or do something wrong?

Five minutes had elapsed in what I thought would be a momentary wait. The last passenger had passed through and exited the customs area. I sat on the bench in front of the window of the enclosed office.

Ten minutes passed by. Some of the lights which illuminated the customs area were turned off after the remaining customs agents left the area. I looked in the window and saw no one in the enclosed office.

The large customs agent then appeared.

“What kind of writer are you?” the colleague asked.

“I write a blog”, I replied. Concerned about what was happening, I asked, “Is there a problem?”

“No”, he casually replied before he disappeared again.

Fifteen minutes have now gone since I was asked to step aside and wait. There was no sign of the customs agent who took my passport; and there was still no one in the office. The airplane had landed at the airport in Bahrain at approximately 12:15 in the afternoon; so I wondered: perhaps it was lunch time for the customs agents? Could that be why there was such a delay processing my immigration into Bahrain and the lights turned off?

Twenty minutes passed. A couple of customs agents enter and exit the enclosed office. A bearded man with long hair suddenly appears and waits outside the enclosed office near its doorway. I could tell he was not American by his accent — which was thick, as I could not ascertain what was his native language.

Twenty-five minutes elapsed. The bearded man was handed his passport — which was not the royal blue color of an American passport — by a customs agent, allowing him to leave.

It was thirty minutes since I last saw my passport. There was finally someone in the enclosed office. Without me asking a question, the person informs me that they are still checking and reviewing my passport and to continue to wait.

A mixture of rational and irrational thoughts filled my mind as I longingly stared at the illuminated green exit sign. Will I ever get the chance to go through that exit? Was there something in the passport which was suspicious to them? I had three blank pages left; so it could not be that. Was it the stamps of the countries in the passport? I would have thought Kenya might have posed a problem; but I had my yellow fever certificate with me — and no one had asked for it. Is this similar to the dreaded secondary security screening selection process implemented randomly upon travelers by the Transportation Security Administration in the United States? Will I ever be reunited with my passport again?

There must be something wrong. It certainly felt like I was in trouble. Why else would there be such an extensive delay upon my entering Bahrain?

A few minutes later, the large customs agent finally emerged and handed my passport back to me as if nothing ever happened. He instructed me to follow him.

“Was there a problem with me or my passport?” I asked again, wondering why I had to wait so long.

Once again, he casually replied: “No.”

He went into the booth where I originally waited in line to collect the visa fee. I had a choice of paying 25 Bahraini dinars or 250 United Arab Emirates dirhams. As I had not yet exchanged currency, I had no Bahraini dinars; but I thankfully did have 250 United Arab Emirates dirhams in my pocket, which actually turned out to be a slightly better deal for me at the time. Regardless, the visa cost me approximately $67.00 — a little rich, I thought; but I paid it.

Once that visa fee was paid and my passport was stamped, I then exited into the airport to pick up the rental car which I reserved.

I still do not know to this day exactly why the processing of my immigration into Bahrain was significantly delayed…

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

10 thoughts on “Trouble at Customs in Bahrain?”

  1. Hari Hullur says:

    Hi Brian,

    It looks like you too experienced this harrowing process that all of my family has gone through at different times when visiting me in Bahrain. This is actually normal procedure for all foreigners (though I only know of it happening to Westerners, though I have no reason to think it’s restricted to us) during their first visit to Bahrain. From my experience, it has nothing to do with any problems with your passport or your line of work. They do it to all new visitors to Bahrain. The worst part is they make you wait forever and take away your passport and it all seems so clandestine! But alas everyone I know has come out of the process just as you did: a little confused but without any problems.

    I enjoy your blog!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      …and here I thought my experience was an isolated incident.

      Thank you for the information and your thoughts, Hari Hullur.

  2. enthusiast says:

    I had a 7 hour layover at Manama (BAH) airport. I exchanged some USD to Bahraini Dinar. I lined up in a line where a lot of people were being rejected. When I got up, I got rejected too. I had the money for Visa on Arrival and an American passport with plenty of date validity & pages. The customs guy says that no entry allowed for same-day departees.

    In the line next to us, pretty much everyone was allowed through. I wonder if they had any same-day departees. Or if this rule was being made up on the fly. Too bad…

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That experience can ensure that one is less enthusiastic about wanting to visit Bahrain, enthusiast.

      I do not understand why some countries seem to render the immigration process unnecessarily more difficult for visitors — especially when they want more business and tourism…

  3. Tyler says:

    Had a similar sketchy experience there in April. Had to sit on those blue chairs next to the window. Never a good feeling when your passport is out of your sight. If Bahrain ever wants to increase their western tourism they really need to improve their process.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I completely agree, Tyler.

      I am sorry to learn that you experienced a similar situation to mine…

  4. Joey says:

    Wow! Who knows I guess? I’m surprised they didn’t accept USD since it seems almost every where in the world USD is accepted as visa fees.
    Thanks for sharing. I have plans going to Bahrain later in October and hopefully will be ok. I thought they might have checked your passport to see if you have visited Israel before. In addition, do you write “writer” as your main occupation? Maybe they thought you were a journalist? Who knows. Glad to read all is ok.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I had you in mind when I posted my experience, Joey, as you said in a previous comment that you might be visiting Bahrain in a few months. I intend to post another article pertaining to Bahrain before you leave.

      I want to visit Israel one day, as I have never done so — so that was not the cause of the situation.

      I did indeed put “writer” as my occupation; and although I have experienced the very basic tenets of training in journalism, I do not consider myself a journalist.

  5. Ara says:

    Hi Brain,
    Just some remarks on the terminology you have used:
    What you have experiences in some sort of security procedure in Immigration services which happens either randomly or based on specific criteria prior to issuing you the entry visa.
    The personnel you were dealing with were Bahrain Immigration officers and not Customs officers.
    Immigration and Customs Affairs are two separate organizations and you are not required to fill up a customs declarations but an immigration form (these are very different forms).
    you have passed the customs affairs when you have gone down the ramp and passed through the x-ray scanners. those are customs officers.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You probably could tell that I was struggling with the terminology of what exactly to call those officers and their department for whom they work, Ara.

      It was only after I completed at least half of the article that I started to use the term immigration; but I was unsure as to whether or not that was the correct designation.

      All I know is that I do whatever I can to get through those areas as quickly as possible so that I can experience and enjoy the country which I am visiting. What do I know?

      Thank you very much for the clarification.

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