A while back I wrote about my initial struggles with settling in in Brunei Darussalam. Most of that had more to do with the fact that an international move with small kids is challenging, than with the country itself. Now let me share some light on the more practical aspects of living in Brunei.
Let’s look at some questions that you may have regarding living in Brunei. And by the way, it is located on Borneo island in Asia, not in the Middle East (that’s Bahrain, a totally different country).
1. What are the great things about living in Brunei as an expat?
Brunei is a country with a lot of natural beauty. IThere are beaches, rain forest, waterfalls, beautiful animals such as hornbills, monitor lizards and proboscis monkeys. Where we live, there are macaque monkeys and Silver leaf monkeys in the garden. You can go diving too if you like that. People are friendly. English is widely spoken. The air quality is very good, unless there are forest fires in the jungle, which varies per year, is usually only in the morning and around one month a year at worst.
There are not that many people living in this small country, so you’ll have the beautiful nature to yourself, and commutes are short compared to most countries. It is a quiet country in general, unless you try and find a parking space near a Bandar mall on the weekend. This quietude may take some getting used to, but has many benefits, such as time for family and hobbies.
Good for Family Life
Brunei life is about family time. As you will hear many people say- Brunei is great for kids. Personally I find that a bit too limited, because if it is great for kids it benefits the whole family. Great for kids means e.g. good schools and opportunities for outdoor sports and play. And Jerudong Park is every young kid’s dream. Most expat (and local) families also have a Filipino helper (amah), which is a blessing with young children. For older children (12 and up) there is less to do though, especially when you live in the Kuala Belait/Seria area.
Fantastic Travel Opportunities
Brunei is strategically situated in South East Asia, so there are plenty of opportunities for travel. Royal Brunei is a great airline flying from Bandar Seri Begawan to places like Melbourne (7 hours) and Bangkok, Singapore or Ho Chi Minh City (2,5 hours). Air Asia also flies from Bandar. Just across the border in Miri, Malaysia, you can take cheap flights to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore with Malaysian Airlines or Air Asia.
It has most things
It has ok, affordable health care, decent (though expensive) supermarkets, a good high way, petrol is super cheap and whenever I need a product, I can find it. It is not like there is a huge selection, but once you start looking you’ll usually find what you need.
2. What are the downsides of living in Brunei?
It is a quiet, small place
This is a strength and a weakness of Brunei. It is not very large, and although it has the necessary amenities, there is no big party scene, no fancy shopping malls (not many options for nice clothes for example), and few museums or cultural outings. There are cinemas but the choice of movies is limited. You run into the same people everywhere. Food options are decent, but the fact you can’t buy or drink alcohol in public makes going out for dinner a quick experience. Most expats can obtain a limited amount of alcohol per month though, and many people host dinner parties for friends.
It is hot and humid
Brunei is located very near the Equator. Many people struggle with the heat (around 34 degrees Celsius year round) and the 90% humidity. You will need to adjust your internal clock to a tropical setting, rising early, staying indoors midday and going out again in the afternoon. Almost all homes and buildings have air conditioners.
No public transport
There’s little public transport available, so you will be driving a lot, mostly short distances ferrying your kids to activities etc. Brunei now does have its own version of Uber, called Dart.
Bureaucracy and Finding Information Online
Getting something done in Brunei can be a slow bureaucratic process, though sometimes it is unexpectedly quick. The way to find out about anything in Brunei is word of mouth. There is very little information available online, for example about the papers you need for a visa extension or things to do. Many stores only have a Facebook page which does not necessarily contain their opening hours. It can be hard to reach public places including hospitals by phone.
Brunei Veteran Tip: Bring your patience, a smile and an open minded, cultural understanding.
3. What type of expats live in Brunei?
The majority of expats in Brunei work in the Oil and Gas Industry (especially in the Seria/Kuala Belait area), are teachers in international or local schools, or are with the British army which has garrisons stationed in the country (it used to be a British protectorate). There are also pilots (for Royal Brunei and the Oil and Gas industry) and a limited number of foreign diplomats and other business people, the latter mostly in Bandar.
The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is much bigger than the Belait area in terms of people and amenities, and you will have a different experience living in each of these places.
4. Can I work in Brunei as an expat spouse?
Brunei doesn’t give work permits to expat partners. Companies prefer to hire Bruneians and it is tough to find employment in Brunei- even if you are a highly skilled and experienced professional. It is not completely impossible to work in Brunei, but if you do find a job, it often takes up to a year before you have your work permit. So, you will definitely need to have a plan B other than obtaining a job when you get here if you arrive without a job as a spouse (feel free to contact me to chat about your plan B).
5. What to wear in Brunei?
Foreign women are not expected to wear a head scarf, but it is advisable to dress modestly in public- shoulders and knees covered. Given the freezing air-conditioned temperatures in public places- you’ll gladly oblige (pack a scarf). By the way, wearing long pants is a must for men too when visiting government buildings including the Land Transport Department where you get your Bruneian driver’s license. In places and compounds with mostly foreigners, dress codes are more flexible.
In case you were wondering, most Bruneian women work, drive cars, and go out for coffee and a meal. During Ramadan, most restaurants close during the day. Every Friday between 12 noon and 2 pm, all restaurants, shops etc are closed. Most are open all day on Sunday though.
Some useful links:
More practical information about living in Kuala Belait: livinginkualabelait.weebly.com/
And one with practical KB and Seria info by Globetrove