Expats moving to Brunei, officially the State of Brunei Darussalam, will find a small, tropical country with a tiny population of just over 440,000 residents. Brunei has one of the highest standards of living in the world and the country’s economy is booming thanks to its thriving oil and gas industries.

Living in Brunei as an expat

Brunei has a large expat contingent of around 40 percent of the country’s population, with most foreigners having been enticed by the prospect of lucrative employment packages and tax-free income. Expats in Brunei are often employed by one of the large multinational companies that work in the oil and gas sector. The construction industry also employs a large number of foreign workers. 

Brunei has one of the world’s top public healthcare systems. Public medical care can be accessed by locals at no cost and expats are usually charged low rates. For expats with a comprehensive health insurance policy there are a number of private hospitals which are also of a high standard, but these tend to be located only in major urban areas.

New arrivals are sure to experience some culture shock. Brunei is a strictly Islamic country and expats should always take the necessary steps to adhere to local standards. Expats should dress modestly and refrain from physical contact between members of the opposite sex in public.

While Malay is the official language of Brunei, English and certain Chinese dialects are commonly used in business. As such, most expats won't experience much of a language barrier.

Brunei is generally a safe destination for expats and crimes tend to be opportunistic rather than violent. The country has strict laws when it comes to alcohol and drugs. While expats are allowed to import small quantities of alcohol for their personal consumption, they are not allowed to possess more than their designated allowance or sell alcohol to others.

Cost of living in Brunei

Expats moving from Western Europe and North America are likely to find the cost of living in Brunei relatively low. This is evidenced by the capital's, Bandar Seri Begawan, fairly low ranking of 172nd in Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey, which evaluated 227 cities worldwide. That said, Brunei is more expensive than its neighbouring countries. Even so, expats in Brunei will earn well and will more than be able to afford a comfortable lifestyle and high standard of living. Food and travel are particularly cheap in the country. 

Expat families and children 

Although Brunei’s public education system is relatively young, it's of a high standard and is continually improving thanks to large government investments. English is the main language of instruction in most public schools in Brunei, with only subjects related to the Malay language and Brunei being taught in Malay. Nevertheless, expats generally opt to send their children to international schools so that they can continue with a familiar curriculum. The majority of international schools are located in the country’s capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.

Brunei's natural environment provides much to keep families busy outside of work and school. With an extensive coastline packed with beaches and an abundance of gorgeous rainforests, there is plenty to occupy the time of families who enjoy exploring the outdoors. Those looking for activities with a little cultural enrichment will also discover a wealth of museums and historical sites to visit throughout the country. 

Climate in Brunei

Brunei has a tropical rainforest climate that is characterised by hot and humid weather, with plenty of rainfall. The country doesn't experience a dry period but it has two monsoon seasons each year, from December to February and June to October. The average temperature throughout the year is 81°F (27°C).

While expats moving to Brunei may need to make some adjustments to their lifestyles and overcome elements of culture shock, they will likely be rewarded with a high standard of living and an array of new opportunities.

Fast facts

Population: Around 440,000

Capital city: Bandar Seri Begawan

Neighbouring countries: Brunei is bordered by Malaysia and the South China Sea.

Geography: Brunei is split into two areas on the island of Borneo. Its geography consists of idyllic coastal areas and well-preserved rainforests.

Political system: Unitary Islamic absolute monarchy

Major religion: Islam

Main languages: Malay, although English is widely spoken

Money: The local currency is the Brunei Dollar (BND) which is divided into 100 cents.

Time: GMT +8

Electricity: 240V, 50Hz. Plugs with three flat blades are used throughout the country.

Internet domain: .bn

International dialing code: +673

Emergency numbers: 991 (ambulance), 995 (fire), 993 (police)

Transport and driving: Cars in Brunei drive on the left side of the road.

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