At a recent gathering of friends where we were looking for the oldest couple and the ones who have stayed longest in Bahrain to raise a toast, my husband and I found to our rather horrified amusement that all indicators pointed to both of us.
Yes, as sixty-somethings who had spent close to four decades in Bahrain, we were now the ‘community elders’. It also meant that many of our friends who had made the expat journey easy for us over the years had moved back home while others, like migrating birds, came to Bahrain in the winter and spent a month or three gently partying from their well-appointed service apartments.
What surprises me is that despite year-round sunshine, excellent infrastructure, great lifestyle, good time-zone positioning vis-à-vis east and west and that golden deal-maker for retirees: good healthcare – Bahrain has not leveraged itself as a great place to retire in.
Sure, many expats choose to settle here and in recent years, many have even chosen Bahraini nationality after generations of serving the nation. But unlike the thrust in marketing Bahrain as a tourism destination, for example, there is no real effort to build the Kingdom’s reputation as the ultimate retirement destination, something that Portugal and Spain did very successfully at one time.
Still, the decision to settle here after our active work life is not easy. For one thing, the rhythm and focus of a working life is very different from that of a retired one. A friend who was visiting after leaving and settling in India, told us that his brief stay reminded him of his children’s summer holidays – when everybody was busy and cousins had school and could play with them only in the evenings.
There are pockets of retirees and older folks who have their own circle and activities but the chances of being stranded in a wilderness of loneliness without friends (and certainly not family) is greater here than back home for many of us.
The time to plan retirement is when you least need it. Experts advise us to start in our forties so that we have a good 20 years to put the plan into action.
Bahrain has a golden opportunity to showcase its attractiveness as a retirement destination and promote its freehold properties to potential retirees, establish retirement gated communities and help revive an under-utilised realty sector.
Those who say that welcoming retirees will lead to expensive health sector costs should remember that Bahrain already mandates compulsory health cover and financial self-sufficiency for retirement candidates.
What a properly planned and monitored retirement sector will do, is unlock potential investment and create a vibrant silver-lining of secondary growth.
As for those of us who choose to return home, remember there is one investment even more important than your money – and that is your time.
Clearly, you will need to decide where you will settle and get a home for yourselves. It is important to ensure you factor in the amount of mobility you want - from whether your knees can take on a multi-storeyed home to whether you want an airport nearby to catch a flight to see the kids. And, most importantly, spend time before you settle in, getting to know your retiree neighbourhood, making friends and setting the stage for a fruitful sunset zone.
Remember, these can be wonderful and satisfying years of your life and you need to plan today to enjoy them in the future.