The reality of Brunei
Negara Brunei Darussalam or The Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam
You can find all the dope and usual facts on other sites, this is a practical informative site for those who want to come here to work and live. I acknowledge that some facts have been reproduced in my own words from CfBT’s site http://brunei.cfbt.org/bn . Please visit this site to clarify any information, check recruitment etc.
Top 10 advisories…..
Before you leave home, ensure that you leave all your pre-conceived ideas and prejudices behind.
If you are not open-minded and willing to accept that you will be a guest in this wonderful place – don’t come. “Flexibility, patience, tolerance and a sense of humour are all qualities of inestimable value”.
Do not think for one minute that you will be able to force your “Western” style on the locals and change them. Whilst the people here are extremely accommodating, friendly and helpful, boorish louts, loud- mouths and yobs will not be tolerated by both the locals and those expats who have embraced Brunei.
You must accept that this is a conservative, Muslim country, where the people are very proud of their flag, their Sultan and their country. Their faith governs everything and they do not compromise it for anything or anyone. If you are not willing to respect this – don’t come!
Alcohol and drugs are illegal – very illegal. The tolerance shown towards others is illustrated by the fact that non-Muslims over 18 are allowed an allowance of 2 liters of spirits/wine plus 12 beers every 48 hours. Don’t abuse the hospitality.
Do not come to Brunei if you do not love eating chicken or prawns or fish and curry!
Do not expect food to conform to the PC ideas prevalent in the UK and Aus. Food here tastes good because they use natural substances and salt and sugar. It is not the cardboard junk dished up in the West as an excuse for healthy eating. People eat well, eat tasty food and are healthy besides.
Health care is exceptional and hospitals are clean and efficient. The UK’s NHS can learn many lessons from the Brunei Hospitals. I had to register to see a Dr within 3 weeks of arrival. I went in the morning, registered, took a number, waited for the Dr, saw him, was referred to Physio immediately, and received a 15 min treatment and a prescription – all in 2 hours and for $15. Try doing that in the UK!
The day starts early – you will probably be up by 5.30 in order to get the kids to school by 7.15. School starts at 7.30, so if you are a teacher, you need to plan all activities around that. Fortunately, the sun is up early and it is hot.
Patience is a virtue, but essential in Brunei. It will take as long as it takes!
If you have any specific questions, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you are thinking of bringing some household goods, car etc, I can assist with a good company that does it at reasonable rates from the UK. Full packing service etc.
Stop thinking in £’s….easier said than done.
Just divide the B$ by about 2 and you will be close enough to be able to comprehend the bargain. NB- if you are bringing any foreign currency with you, especially Singapore $, ensure that all notes are in pristine condition. Not even a tear! They do not accept them here. The best is to open an account with HSBC and transfer it to Brunei. It is the only foreign bank here that seems to offer any decent services.
During your Orientation Course (OC) the representatives from HSBC will come and take all your details to open accounts here. You can choose either a current or savings account. There are no Debit Cards in Brunei, but they do issue Credit Cards. Use them.
Contrary to other sites and information, you can buy anything here. The shops are plentiful and usually well stocked. Sometimes you will have to wait a day or two to get what you want (like lettuce), but it will be there eventually. If you are willing to walk around and look in the many smaller enterprises etc, you will find it.
Places like “Super Save” import from the UK and Australia, so you can get most of the usual stuff.
Meat is available from the butcher in Super Save as is pork, including bacon. There is a butcher in Bandar in the Gadong area opposite the Mall.
In KB there is a meat wholesaler where you can buy lamb, beef and some really good luxuries for low prices….$7 a kg for Topside!
Then there are other supermarkets like Soon Lee, Giant and a myriad of “enterprises” and trading stores (that look like nothing but once you go in, you are surprised at the range and quality, let alone the prices).
There is a restaurant of sorts in every street. Food is good and cheap, if you are willing to eat local. Prawns are one of the cheapest dishes and fresh fish in plentiful at the market.
In the KB area, go to the market and ask for Dean. He is a local with a long pony tail who speaks good English. He will call you when he gets what you are looking for – I mean lobster, Barracuda, etc. He will also do boat trips and deep sea excursions.
Electrical items are plentiful and cheap as most things come from Japan, China and Korea.
Rule no 1 …..Drink lots of water, especially in the first few weeks as you adapt. You may think that you are not sweating, but believe me, you are. You lose tons of water and if you don’t replenish, you are in for tough times. Dehydration causes all sorts of hassles - Google it!
Rule no 2…..Use a good sunscreen and insect repellent (included). Mozzies and all sorts are freely available and bite without invitation. The sun is fierce and usually right above you. Look at your shadow…in the UK you have a long shadow, usually pointing somewhere Northwards because you are about 50° north of the Equator and the sun is never closer than 23 N. Here, you have a small shadow, just a blob near your feet, because you are 5° north of the equator.
DO NOT be fooled by cloud cover! That is when you really burn viciously. The humidity and sea breeze can lull you into a false sense of security for which you will pay dearly with red, blistered skin and severe pain.
It is advisable to get a good anti-histamine prescription before you come. Start taking them about 2 days before you travel. This prevents allergic reactions to the sun and anything else.
Water – It depends on where you live, the state of the pipes etc, but we found no bad effects from drinking tap water.
There are 2 aspects that are considered problematic to expats – cars and housing.
Cars are expensive, even used cars. Used cars are also difficult to find. Prices vary and any price can be negotiated. Never accept the price shown or quoted, always haggle it down by at least 10%, probably 20. It helps to have some cash in the bank with which to pay a good deposit on a new car and then get finance through the bank (HSBC) Interest is low, so payments are worked on 7 years, but you will only get finance for the period of your contract!
Good used cars start at around $12000. Have a reliable mechanic check it out for you. CfBT has a mechanic in Bandar that does the check for about $15 and one in KB that charges $35 – it is worth it.
If you can bring a car with you, do so. The costs of getting a container loaded will justify it in the end if the car is in good condition.
A car that is worth £1000 in the UK is worth $5000 here. Do the maths!
Housing is scarce, especially in the KB area, because Shell takes up most of the houses available to rent and pays top dollar. That leaves everyone else fighting over scraps. The average rental for a good house in a good area will not be less than $2500 a month. In Bandar and surrounds the situation is better than in Kuala Belait and the Western parts.
By the way, the towns are known as BSB (Bandar Seri Begawan), KB (Kuala Belait), Tutong, Jerudong, Muara etc.
Don’t think you will be able to find “cheap” housing and pocket any difference in your allowance – not likely! In fact you will probably end up paying in to make up the difference if you find a really good house, so prepare for that. The only time people score on housing is when they are “teaching couples” and get a double allowance.
When you do find a house, you will be surprised at the high standards. Most houses are very spacious and large, especially when compared to the average housing in the UK. Sprawling ranch-style bungalows and double storey 5 bedroomed houses are almost the norm, with large gardens or yards.
We have viewed some incredible places, some with outstanding locations, but poor facilities and vice versa. The perfect house has yet to be built, but here you will find a wide selection, so choose carefully – IF you have a choice.
We saw one house that was in the most idyllic location- Large lawns, no fences, right next to a river, with lush tropical growth and palm trees. BUT…..open, squat toilets, crocodiles in the river, no aircons, and cramped small rooms.
Then we saw a huge mansion, with 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, huge garden, BUT $3500 a month and a busy construction place next door.
Another house was right on the beach, BUT the landlord was not willing to do any renovations and boy, did it need that done! There were rats in the roof and 12 cats lived around the property too.
Driving in Brunei can be an experience. It is often a case of “from the sublime to the ridiculous”. You will find huge 4x4’s racing along at reckless speeds, passing on the left, changing lanes etc like maniacs and around the next corner a mom in a BMW driving at 40 in the only lane, with a string of traffic building up behind.
Be prepared for the unexpected especially at roundabouts. It is common for a car in the left lane to skip the first exit and take the third. Be Aware.
To get into a queue of cars at a crossing, do not sit and wait, but don’t be aggressive. Politely edge forward and state your claim. People are reluctant to let anyone in, but if you can make eye contact and politely “ask”, they inevitably will allow you in.
Traffic can be horrendous at times, especially when school comes out or at Mosque times. There are more cars in Brunei than people, or so it seems. Most households have more than 2 cars.
Leave your road rage behind – do not show any impatience here. Just relax and enjoy the journey. Even in the worst traffic, it will only take about 20 min to get going again.
Travel - Nothing is far away in Brunei. The whole country is only 140km from the Miri Border to Muara.
The airport at BSB serves all the main destinations around the world and there are numerous local airlines that have specials on travel around Asia. You are in the best place from which to visit Bali, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore etc etc. Even Perth is only a few hours away.
Recruiting – It is advisable to come to Brunei through a recruitment company of repute, like CfBT. Their benefits and security are second to none and it allows for an easy assimilation, with minimal red tape and hassles. They arrange everything from visas, to driver’s licenses to spousal entry visas. Trust me, you don’t want to be dealing with that.
On CfBT – the ladies in the office at Bandar are extremely efficient and helpful. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience and have dealt with “newbies” and all their moans and groans for years. Feel free to contact them and ask questions. If do not ask, nobody will know you have a question! Just remember that you are not the only one they have to deal with. A smile, politeness and gratitude will go a long way to make your life easier.
Schooling – Investigate the costs. International schools charge enormous amounts and there are many costs that are not fully explained or obvious. You don’t need the shock after you arrive here. NB …you have to pay up front!
Secondary schools are only located in BSB. People with children of that age will have to work in that area.
This means that if you have no children or your children are under 10, you will probably be located in KB and surrounds.
Weather – This is a tropical country. It lies almost 5° (450km) north of the equator and is therefore in the area known as The Doldrums. There is not a lot of wind and it has extremely high humidity. When it rains (regularly) it pours sheets of water, which cause roads and rivers to flood in minutes. As I say this, I am reminded that we have not even experienced the monsoon season in Dec/Jan. So who knows what that is like?
Temperatures in summer (July) vary around 30 – 35C by day and rarely drop below 24C at night. ALL houses approved for teachers by CfBT must have aircons. The temperature can also be deceiving. 35C with almost 100% humidity can feel like 47C!!!
However, after only 3 or 4 weeks you will acclimatise and get more used to the climate. The aircons dry out the air and it can become uncomfortable to breathe at night. BUT…the aircon is a life saver.
Which brings me to …
Utilities – Cheap is all you need to know. Gas and electricity will cost about $120 a month if you use a lot. Water is negligible and all of these are often incorporated in the rent.
Beaches – The beaches may surprise you, mainly because they are deserted! Very few locals actually swim or use the beaches, so you may very well be the only person there. If so, take care. Unfortunately, Brunei is not immune to the influences and aspirations of criminals, although instances are rare.
The beach area at Muara in the East is a very well –visited place and is used for outings and picnics. The parking area might be full and the grass/gardens clogged with people, but the beach might be empty.
As you drive around, explore and find the out of the way beaches, often secluded and very nice. One of the nicest swimming spots is Tungku Beach, where a man-made breakwater has resulted in a beautifully sheltered cove where you can wade in and enjoy the warm South China Sea – the temperature of the water is around 24C.
Warning- there can sometimes be jellyfish and poisonous fish around, so take care.
In the Lumut area the beaches are also very quiet and clean, but the closer to KB and the river mouths, the more driftwood you will find. Be aware of this if you swim in the sea.
VERY NB…..there are Saltwater Crocodiles around here, so be very careful.
T.I.B – You will often encounter this expression around expats. “This is Brunei”. Accept it and live with it. Things are done at a slower pace with much form-filling and red tape. The Government structures and hierarchy work, so don’t try to change them or get impatient – it won’t help anyway. This paradise has existed very well without you and all other Westerners for over 600 years.
Alcohol – Although no alcohol is available in Brunei (legally), non-Muslims are allowed to bring in 2L of spirits/wine plus 12 beers, every 48 hours. This means that most ex-pats do a “border run” every week to either Kuala Lurah (from BSB) or to Miri (from KB).
It is a great experience to go to Kuala Lurah. Once across the border, there are numerous food stalls and various liquor outlets. I suggest you try Lingi’s. Sit down and order some food. They bring you a liquor menu and you place your order. They pack it in black plastic bags and once you have had a few beers and food, you pay and leave. The crowd is great and they have music too.
Wonder around all the stalls and get a feel for the place – BEWARE, there are some dodgy looking prostitutes around too.
There is a “duty free “shop too, but it seems a bit clinical and expensive (that is a relative term here).
At the Miri border you can just go across to the duty free and pick up all you need. Also, you have to pay to cross the border $3 there and $3 back.
Still, a litre of Smirnoff will cost you under £7, yes you read right! At Heathrow a 750 ml Smirnoff costs around £14 at the so-called duty free!
DO NOT cross the border in a hired car. You need to fill out forms for cars the first time you cross and you need to show that you are the owner by producing a blue card.
NB – Very important to have your yellow form correctly completed and authorised. It must always be where the booze is. If you are stopped or raided and you do not have your yellow form, you are on the next plane out!
Read the following link too:
Dress – Ladies, please note that there are certain strict restrictions that govern dress in Brunei. Modesty and conservative dress are the norm for women. Never show too much skin! It is offensive to the locals and you do not want to be addressed about this. As a guideline, cover your arms to the elbows, cover your chest so that no sign of cleavage is possible, cover your legs to calf length and ensure that all clothing is NOT see-through in any way. No slacks and no long slits up the side of the leg.
If you plan to go swimming or sunbathing, it is advisable to wear baggies and a T-shirt, Even a full body costume is not acceptable, unless you are at a private pool.
Men – suitable shirts, ties and light weight slacks is standard teaching attire. The problem is around hair. Long hair is frowned upon and you should ensure that you have your hair cut so that it is not over your ears or collar, BEFORE you arrive. Forget about expressing yourself and your personal rights.
Do not have a crucifix showing and men, do not show any sign of jewellery other than watches and a ring.
Hygiene – Please be aware and very sensitive of the fact that this climate causes you to perspire – a lot!
It is absolutely essential to bathe/shower at LEAST once a day, preferably twice.
The use of a very good deodorant is extremely important and clothes should never be worn for more than one occasion. Synthetic fabrics are not a good idea. Cotton or linen is best.
Internet – If you have ever moaned about BT and the poor connections you were getting, write them an apology letter. The maximum speed you can get here is 1meg – 1000kbps! That will cost you $128 a month, but it is worth it. You can talk on SKYPE and connect to everything back home.
TV – Probably the worst shock you are going to get. Sky is amazing in comparison and if you had SKY+, well sorry, but you will be very disappointed.
ASTRO is the satellite service. It costs a fortune to install (about $300) and $54 a month for the top package.BUT you can only understand a few channels. Most are in Malay or Chinese or have English sub-titles.
The best news channel is Al Jazeera – no kidding! BBC Wold Service sux in comparison.
The good news is that they do have some pay-for –view sports and other packages and you can get cricket tournaments like the ICC Trophy or the Ashes etc. (You can also get these and many others on your PC for free…IF the internet is working properly!). The Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) shows the Tri Nations rugby and there is wide coverage of football with repeats from all over the world….many, many repeats.
Espn and Euro Sports are free as well.
Movies are limited, but there are varied entertainment progs and Discovery.
I would advise you to get a good dvd player that can record on long play. That way you can set it to record programmes that are on while you are asleep.
Remember that Brunei is 7 hours ahead of the UK during summer and 8 in winter. That also means that when the sport is on in the UK (8pm) it is 3am here.
Heat – The heat can get you in numerous ways. The combination of high temperatures (30 to 35C by day) and very high humidity can be lethal. Drink lots of fluids and keep yourself and your clothes clean.
The heat also results in various odours rising from open drains and water channels. Anything organic rots quickly and gives off pungent odours.
In general, the people are very tolerant and will never cause confrontation. They will not address an issue immediately, like in the West. They will tend to smile and you will think that you are “getting away with it”, but suddenly you may find that you have been transferred or that your contract is not renewed, because you did something to offend.
Just stick to the rules, be sensitive about the culture and do not offend. Yes, do not offend.
I think I have repeated that a few times, but it is not sufficient. I cannot stress enough how important it is to try to understand the difference in cultures and behaviour, especially if you are from the UK. If you are a typical UK city-slicker, after dark pub crawler, boozing fun seeker, chasing bright lights, loud football supporter – DON’T come to Brunei, PLEASE!
A good guideline is that what you know as your Inalienable Human Rights, you rights of Freedom of Expression and a Right to Be Heard, do NOT COUNT FOR ANYTHING here. You are a guest of the Sultan, the People of Brunei, and Islam – so you either behave in an appropriate manner or you get out and go home. No right to contest the decision!
Now…..think VERY carefully about what you have read. Read it again and ask yourself and all those who are maybe going to be with you, if you all can REALLY adapt and accept this very dramatic change.
If you are VERY sure that you can, then come.
Those who embrace this place are living in paradise, enjoying a lifestyle and culture that they never thought was possible. This is the place that you want your kids to grow up in. This is the place where you want to earn a retirement.
The cost of living is cheap, if you work for CfBT and get the housing etc. There are no drunken yobs fouling up the streets, no threatening youths, drug dealers, crime gangs and all the other detritus that Western “civilisation” has spawned.
Here you will meet people from all over the world – Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans, English, Scots, Samoans, Dutch, Italians, Thais, Chinese, Philipinos, Americans etc etc. The World has descended on Brunei to make the most of its beauty and privileges, but only those who can adapt to it, will be accepted and will last.
Fortunately the Government (The Sultan) have certain restrictions and do not allow anyone and their dog into Brunei.
Dogs – They are considered “unclean” in Brunei and there are no care facilities at all. I suggest that you do NOT bring a dog with you, even if you can. Malay landlords will not allow dogs under any circumstances. Under Malay culture, no contact with a dog is allowed, especially the wet nose.
If you bring dogs with you, you will also severely limit your housing options. Chinese landlords do not mind dogs, but their housing standards are below that of Malay landlords.
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