Kuwait lies at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. This Eastern Arabian country boasts landscapes ranging from the seemingly endless sands of the Arabian Desert to the ultra-modern skyline of the capital, Kuwait City, as well as picturesque shorelines. Moving to this oil-rich Middle Eastern state guarantees a unique experience for any expat.
Living in Kuwait as an expat
On the one hand, Westerners may experience culture shock after relocating to this Islamic country with its strict laws. Despite this, expats should always show respect for Arab traditions, including dressing moderately and not displaying affection in public.
On the other hand, the country is not quite as conservative as its neighbour, Saudi Arabia. Arabic is the official language of Kuwait, but English is widely spoken and an official language of business. Expats should face few problems communicating with locals, although making friends may be more of a challenge. Putting in an effort to build strong relationships in one's business and personal life could greatly enrich an expat’s experience here.
Despite its size, the small Gulf country is home to the world’s strongest currency, the Kuwaiti dinar. This is largely thanks to its oil reserves which have, in the past, spurred on waves of expats relocating to Kuwait for work. Today, the job market is broad, ranging from financial and marketing sectors to education and healthcare.
That said, finding a job in Kuwait is becoming increasingly difficult for expats. The governmental plan for Kuwaitisation aims to invest in the local Kuwaiti workforce and limits the number of foreigners allowed to stay in the country.
Accommodation in Kuwait is generally rather expensive and we suggest expats try to negotiate an allowance for housing with their employers if one is not already included. One positive about housing in the country is that expats have a wide range of different options to choose from. Houses often come fully furnished, but we recommend that expats ensure that air-conditioning is included, as summer months can get searingly hot.
Considering its small size, getting around in Kuwait is relatively easy. The country has a network of buses, taxis and ferries that make commuting convenient, though there is no railway system. Private cars are one of the main forms of transport here, and driving is generally straightforward, and petrol is much cheaper than in many other countries. Kuwaiti roads can be dangerous, however, and we suggest expats remain aware of their surroundings and drive defensively at all times.
The country has an extensive and high-quality public healthcare system. Expats can access this system freely, but in some facilities, Kuwaiti nationals are given priority, making waiting times for expats rather long. Instead, many expats rely on the private healthcare system. Here, they are offered excellent service and world-class expertise is guaranteed, although it all comes at quite a steep price. Health insurance is mandatory in the country, and while the state insurance scheme is available for expats, it does not cover treatment at private facilities.
Expat families and children
Families with kids will have to budget for school fees, and receiving an international education in Kuwait is expensive. These schools offer a range of curricula from around the world, including that of the US, UK, Canada, Pakistan, India and the International Baccalaureate. Public schooling is also an option, although teaching is done in Arabic and the resulting language barrier may be a problem for expat children.
With a rich culture and a myriad of historic sites, newcomers to Kuwait can find entertainment around almost every corner. Large shopping centres like the Avenues Mall can have everything from cinemas to famous British and American stores and restaurants serving up delicacies. For the adventure seeker, the country also offers scuba diving, desert safaris and trips to Failaka Island.
Cost of living in Kuwait
Although Kuwaiti employers once sought out expats, drawing them to Kuwait with lucrative relocation packages, these are far more difficult to come by recently. So, while salaries are tax-free, expats may need to consider the cost of living in Kuwait, particularly in terms of accommodation and healthcare. Many food items are also imported, which means daily groceries may be more expensive than expats are used to. In general, though, the high cost of living is balanced out by a high standard of living.
Climate in Kuwait
Expats should research Kuwait's climate thoroughly before moving. Most of the country’s topography consists of desert, and the intense summertime heat could easily overwhelm many new arrivals. That said, winter comes with the promise of far more pleasant, comfortable weather.
New arrivals may have to deal with an element of culture shock and make some lifestyle adjustments when moving to Kuwait. Despite this, they're likely to settle in quickly enough and start enjoying the luxuries associated with expat life in the Middle East. With a high quality of life and many interesting things to do and see, expats settling in Kuwait are bound to have something to write home about.
Official name: State of Kuwait
Population: Around 4.2 million
Capital city: Kuwait City
Neighbouring countries: Saudi Arabia to the south and Iraq to the north
Geography: Kuwait is a small country with its capital, Kuwait City, located on Kuwait Bay, a natural deep-water harbour. 90 percent of the population lives within the Kuwait Bay coast.
Political system: Constitutional monarchy (emirate)
Major religions: Islam is the main religion. Kuwait is a conservative society that enforces strict Islamic customs. That said, other religions are respected and expats are free to practise their own religions.
Main languages: Arabic (official) but English is widely spoken
Money: The currency of Kuwait is the Kuwaiti Dinar (KWD, or KD), which is divided into 1,000 fils. There are a number of local and international banks operating in Kuwait, and expats can open a local account.
Tipping: A service charge may be added to bills in hotels; if not, tipping is discretionary. Tipping is not expected but is often done out of courtesy, for example, rounding up a bill and giving the change to a waiter, taxi driver or petrol station attendant.
Electricity: 240V, 50Hz. Both the UK-style three-pin and European-style two-pin plugs are in use, with type C and type G sockets.
Internet domain: .kw
International dialling code: +965
Emergency contacts: 112
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road and road signs are in English and Arabic. Visitors need an international driving permit to drive in Kuwait, and expats residing there will need to get a Kuwaiti licence.