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, with both pros and cons.
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 hopes to invest in the local Kuwaiti workforce and limit the number of foreigners allowed to stay in the country.
Although expats were once welcomed with open arms, lucrative relocation packages are also far more difficult to come by. So, while salaries are tax free, expats may need to consider the cost of living, particularly in terms of accommodation and healthcare. Thankfully, provided they have extensive medical insurance, expats can rest assured that excellent private medical facilities are available.
In fact, expats make up the largest proportion of Kuwait’s population. Though this is expected to change, the diversity of nationalities has strongly influenced Kuwaiti culture.
On the one hand, Westerners may experience culture shock relocating to this Islamic country with its strict laws. Alcohol cannot be purchased. 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 neighbouring 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. That said, an effort to build strong relationships, both business and personal, could greatly enrich an expat’s overseas experience.
The country’s climate plays another key role in an expat’s stay. Most of Kuwait’s topography consists of desert, and, no doubt, the intense summertime heat could overwhelm many new arrivals. However, winter comes with the promise of far more pleasant weather and cooler temperatures, and an abundance of outdoor activities are on offer.
While new arrivals may have to deal with an element of culture shock and accordingly make some lifestyle adjustments when moving to Kuwait, they're likely to settle in quickly enough and start enjoying the luxuries associated with expat life in the Middle East.
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. Ninety percent of the population lives within the Kuwait Bay coast. Failaka Island, one of Kuwait's nine islands, is a popular weekend getaway spot.
Political system: Constitutional monarchy (emirate)
Major religions: Islam is the main religion. Kuwait is a conservative society which enforces strict Islamic customs. However, 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.
Time: GMT +3
Electricity: 240 volts, 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: Although Kuwait has well-kept roads, driving in Kuwait can be hazardous; expats must drive defensively. Cars drive on the right 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 must get a Kuwaiti licence. Anyone over the age of 18 may hold a driving licence, meaning there is no restriction on women driving. Driving under the influence of alcohol will result in imprisonment.