How To Move To Kuwait - The Definitive Guide
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Apply For A Visa[back to top]
Kuwait’s expat community has grown rapidly over the past few decades. There are now two immigrant residents for every Kuwaiti citizen. The political climate in the state is increasingly hostile to this level of immigration, and foreigners are being blamed for everything from burdening the health service to depriving citizens of good jobs.
The issuing of visas is already a tightly controlled process. To live in the state of Kuwait, you have to be given a job by a sponsoring employer. In December 2015, the parliament of Kuwait voted to reduce the expat community to a maximum of 50% of the state’s total population. There is an active desire to reduce the number of people arriving in Kuwait and to persuade the existing foreign residents to leave. 29,000 people were deported in 2016 and one group of MPs are looking to deport up to 1 million over the next decade. Indians and Egyptians have been particularly vulnerable to deportation, usually for minor violations in this conservative country, because their communities are so large here.
Kuwait is not unusual in its concern over immigration levels. Many other Gulf states already have or are introducing restrictions on expat immigration.
If you are from one of the approved countries and travelling by air to Kuwait for a holiday, to visit friends or to conduct business, you can obtain a visa which allows you to stay for a maximum of thirty days. The visa is free and can be obtained on arrival in Kuwait, although you can also apply via the e-visa system if you want a faster journey through the arrivals process.
Should you need longer to visit friends, conduct business or enjoy your holiday, then you can apply for a ninety day visa. A fee will be charged when you make your application. Again, you can apply for the visa on arrival in Kuwait, or receive a faster welcome to Kuwait by having obtained your e-visa before travel.
If you are travelling to Kuwait by land or sea, or your country of origin is not on the approved country list, you cannot apply for the e-visa. Instead, you will need to make an application via the Kuwaiti embassy nearest to you.
Please note that if you are refused entry into the state of Kuwait, you have no official right to demand a reason.
If you are a citizen of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC countries) - with the exception of Iraq - you may arrive in Kuwait and obtain a three month visa as long as you meet strict conditions. You must have a valid passport, a return ticket, have not been blacklisted by the Kuwaiti authorities and must provide the address you will be staying at. You will also need to prove your professional status as the visa is only available to those who are a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, judge, consultant, public prosecutor, a university teacher, journalist, press & media staff, pilot, system analyst, pharmacist, computer programmer, manager, businessman, diplomatic corps, owners, manager or representative of commercial companies & establishments, or a university graduate.
Regardless of your transport, visa and intended length of stay, you must have all relevant documents ready to hand. These may include your passport, visa, evidence of return or onward travel, hotel confirmation, and sponsor’s letter. If you are on business, you must bring a letter from your company requesting a visa and accepting they are a guarantor for you whilst you are in Kuwait.
When you arrive, your passport must be valid for at least another six months. The immigration staff may refuse entry into Kuwait if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport.
Please note that sex outside of marriage is illegal in Kuwait. Your domestic arrangements elsewhere do not change this and will not prevent your imprisonment and deportation. Never underestimate the amount of trouble you will be in for flouting an important law here. If you want your partner to live with you in Kuwait, you MUST be married. If they decide to visit you in Kuwait you must avoid all public shows of affection. Immigration officials may demand evidence of separate accommodation bookings for unmarried couples travelling together.
If you want to live in Kuwait, you or your spouse must have a job there and hold a valid work permit. If you cease working at any stage, you must return home within thirty days.
You must receive a job offer before you travel to Kuwait. The employer will make the application for your work permit. They will submit evidence that a firm job offer has been made, and will supply a copy of the contract of employment. Once your work visa has been approved, you will be issued with an identification card. Now you must apply for a residency visa.
To apply to live in Kuwait, either as an employee or a student, you must submit a fully completed residency visa application to the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The fee must be paid in full on application, by cash, money order or business cheque payable to The General Consulate of the State of Kuwait, and is non refundable. A number of original identity documents will be needed to support the application. They include your birth certificates, a passport with at least six months validity left, a passport photo, your marriage certificate, your driving license, your contract of employment, and possibly academic records and financial records.
You will need to receive a clean police report from your home country, which is dated after the work permit is issued by the General Department of Immigration Affairs in Kuwait.
When you are submitting documents to support your visa application, you must pay to have the documents authenticated by
• The nearest Embassy for the State of Kuwait; and
• The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK, the US State Department or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the country in which you reside.
You will also need to take a medical examination to obtain a Health Certificate. The doctor should certify that you are in good health and have no contagious diseases. You will be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, malaria, filariasis and syphilis. You will also have a chest X-ray to check there are no signs of tuberculosis.
If you are bringing your spouse or children to Kuwait, the same range of authenticated identification documents will be required for the Family Permit Visa application. The non refundable fee is paid in full on application. If you have a child under the age of 5, you will need to provide an up to date vaccination record showing that all necessary vaccinations have been given.
When you finally settle in Kuwait, keep your passport safe and in your possession. Do not allow your employer to hold your passport. If you change employment, make sure you have official approval and your visa is updated. Some politicians in Kuwait are looking to end an expat’s ability to change employment in the future.
You will be allowed to stay in Kuwait as long as you are working for your sponsoring employer, you keep out of any problems with the police, and your visa remains valid. If any of these terms are broken you will either be deported or will be expected to leave within thirty days.
Kuwait does not welcome applications to become a citizen. Even if you have children born in the state or marry a citizen, your application is likely to be refused.
In London, the Embassy of the State of Kuwait can be found at 2 Albert Gate London SW1X 7JU. The telephone number is 020 7590 3400.
In Washington DC, the Embassy of the State of Kuwait is located at 2940 Tilden Street NW, Washington, DC 20008. The telephone number is 202-966-0702. The Embassy’s opening hours are Monday to Friday 9.30am - 5pm, but during Ramadan the hours reduce to 10am-3pm.
Find A Job[back to top]
Two thirds of the population in Kuwait have moved there from elsewhere. Roughly nine out of ten working Kuwaiti citizens are employed in the public sector. If you are moving to Kuwait to work in the private sector you are likely to find your workplace is a melting pot of different nationalities, languages and cultures. However, the government is taking steps to reduce immigrant numbers, both by restricting access to employment for newcomers, and by encouraging people to leave. This is supported by much of the national mood.
Before entering the country, make sure that you have obtained the correct visa and work permit. You cannot live there unless you have work, and you cannot work there unless you have obtained the correct documentation. The penalties are serious and include imprisonment. As it takes several weeks to obtain all the documentation, you should take action to secure it as soon as you know you are going to work in Kuwait.
Many expats will be offered work in Kuwait through their employers or allied businesses. In those cases an agent will often help with the documentation process.
For those seeking work in Kuwait, there are a large number of websites available. Sites recruiting highly skilled specialist professionals include Reed, Bayt.com, and MonsterGulf. The website for Indeed advertises lower skilled job vacancies, but please be aware that competition for these vacancies will be tough.
The recruitment websites are useful to assess average salaries for various professions and skillsets in Kuwait. They also give a good indication of the types of experience and skills which are in demand.
Some vacancies are designated for male or female applicants only, and in some professions it will be assumed that only men will apply for the role. This will often have a bearing on the team in which the vacancy has occurred, as interaction between men and women who are not married or closely related to each other is strongly discouraged in Kuwait. This may be unpalatable to western job hunters, but it is an important and normal part of Kuwaiti life which flags up issues to be considered before heading off for a new life there.
For those who wish to foster business links between Kuwait and the UK, the London based not for profit organisation ABCC - the Arab British Chamber of Commerce is there to help. Since 1975 it has been offering a range of services including certification of trade documents, translation services, research and advice about a range of trade and regulatory matters, training and conference events including networking and cultural training, and relevant publications.
Many schools in Kuwait, especially the International Schools in Kuwait City, actively recruit well qualified and experienced teachers from abroad. Many of them offer competitive tax-free salaries of $35,000-$50,000 plus accommodation, medical insurance, and some contribution to airfares so you can visit friends and family back home.
The generous package allows expat teachers to gather savings while they enjoy living and working in a new environment. A high value is placed on education both by Kuwaiti citizens and by expats living in the state, which is known to increase a child’s engagement with learning. The schools have a multicultural intake and can develop a teacher’s professional skills.
Usually schools ask for a covering letter, a CV, a completed application form and references. You should normally hold a TEFL or TESOL teaching qualification and have a year or two of teaching experience. Employers prefer candidates who also hold a bachelor’s degree, and those who are native English speakers.
These vacancies are advertised on school websites. Vacancies can also be found through schemes such as GoOverseas and TeachAway. General recruitment websites such as Reed regularly include teaching vacancies. New employees are often welcomed into schools twice a year, and whilst people do occasionally stay long term, most expat teachers will have returned home or moved on to a new country within five years.
The unemployment rate in Kuwait measures the number of people actively looking for work as a percentage of the available labour force. It is extremely low by international standards. At its highest following a crisis in 2011 it was 3.6% and has continued to fall again since then. In comparison, the UK’s highest recorded rate was 12% and in the US it was 10.8%. However, the government takes the issue of unemployment seriously. They are trying to diversify the economy, which is highly dependant on the oil sector, and increase the skill levels of the native citizens to reduce unemployment levels further.
To live and work successfully in Kuwait requires you to understand the culture and traditions, and to adapt your behaviour accordingly.
Central to Kuwaiti culture is the religion of Islam. It is the religion most native families practice, and is the only religion schools are permitted to teach. Expat families are allowed to continue their own religious practices in private as long as they respect the Islamic principles of the society they are living in.
Prayers take place five times a day in the mosque, at home, at work, or by the roadside. During the month of Ramadan all Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset. The laws forbidding the public consumption of food, drink, cigarettes, music and dancing in daylight during Ramadan also apply to ex-patriots and those who are not Muslim.
The State of Kuwait has a zero tolerance towards alcohol and illegal drugs, even for small personal amounts. The punishment for an offender is severe and may include a heavy fine, removal of a driving license, imprisonment, and deportation. Do not become involved with the making, importation or sale of alcohol or illegal drugs, and do not use them. Drunken behaviour in public will lead to police charges, driving with a tiny amount of alcohol in your bloodstream can lead to imprisonment, whilst selling illegal drugs of any quantity can lead to life imprisonment.
It is illegal at all times and in all circumstances to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage. You may not cohabit with someone or share a hotel bedroom with them. This law applies even if you have arrived from elsewhere and regardless of the relationship you may have had with the person in another country. Pregnancy outside of marriage means both partners face a real risk of imprisonment and legal registration of the birth becomes very difficult.
Given this context, be aware that open displays of affection are not welcome. They should never exceed a married couple holding hands. Men should never touch women if they are not married, or be alone in a room together even if it is a work environment.
Young women from western cultures, including school children, should be taught not to be friendly with men or boys at school. Smiles and friendly engagement in talk may easily be misinterpreted as it is not part of normal Kuwaiti culture for a young woman to behave like this.
Meanwhile men should avoid talking to women in public unless it is appropriate to the work or family situation in which you find yourself. Similarly, you must always obtain a woman’s permission before taking a photograph which includes her.
Dancing outside the privacy of your home is an indecent activity and must be considered when attending social functions.
Although the wearing of Islamic clothing is not mandatory in Kuwait, what you wear should be conservative and modest. Any infringements will lead to your removal from work, restaurants, parks and shopping malls. Through conservative eyes, the body would ideally be covered with only hands and face showing. Women should wear a skirt well below the knee and must never bear their shoulders or torso.
If you wish to drive when living or working in Kuwait, you must be over 18 years of age and carry a valid driving license with you at all times. Transferring your UK driving license to a Kuwaiti one is a complex and expensive process. Firstly your DVLA license must be notarised in the UK, then legalised at the Foreign and Commonweath Office (FCO), attested at the Kuwaiti Embassy based in London, then attested at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The license must be translated into Arabic at your own expense using a translation service. You must then visit the Kuwaiti Traffic Directorate, bringing your UK driving license, translation and other supporting documents.
Always wear a seatbelt whilst driving. Offences to avoid whilst driving in Kuwait include speeding, racing, tailgating and lane jumping. Never use a mobile phone while you are driving. The roads in Kuwait are monitored by a large number of speed cameras and the police. Fines are heavy and you can also have your car impounded. Road rage will lead to imprisonment and deportation.
Rent Property[back to top]
Many expats will arrive in Kuwait to live in a property provided by their employer. This can be a good way to acclimatise in a new country and reduce much of the stress of finding somewhere to rent. Because the civil identification is likely to take 30 days to arrive, newcomers usually need accommodation provided by the employer unless they can stay with a friend or afford a hotel.
Some expats decide to move out of the provided accommodation for reasons of location or taste, but many more have to find their own property because their employer does not provide it. When looking for a new home, it can be a somewhat stressful affair which is not helped by the scams practiced on foreigners.
Advertising a property in Kuwait can be expensive, and renting one out via a realtor will cost the landlord half their first month’s rent. In a state where there is a never ending supply of tenants, especially given the barriers to home ownership for the vast migrant population, many landlords rely on prospective tenants finding empty properties with no action on their part.
It is common for prospective tenants to visit blocks of apartments, in the area in which they wish to live, so they can ask the harissa (the building supervisor) if there are any vacancies. If you do this you need to speak Arabic. Taxi drivers are often happy to drive customers between blocks and come in to act as an interpreter when speaking to the harissa. There are also professionals called a “mandoob” who will accompany you and act as translator in exchange for a fee.
If you find a property you really like, but it is fully occupied and you have the time to wait for a vacancy, make sure the harissa calls you the moment a vacancy occurs. Make a gift of money (30 to 50 Kuwaiti dinars) when you hand over your phone number, and pop in with an edible gift from time to time to make sure you are still at the top of his list. This will be particularly important if you are looking for a building where pets are allowed, as they are in short supply.
If you are confident about going down this route, always agree the fee in advance, both with taxi drivers and the mandoob. You must also be aware of a common scam that expats can readily fall into. If you walk in off the street and the harissa says there is a vacancy but you must go through a certain realtor, you will be expected to pay the realtor the full commission even though they did not help you locate the property. The realtor and harissa will split the commission. And if you signed a lease with the realtor rather than the property owner, you will have no rights as a tenant. Any monies you pay over will not be legally protected other than to recover them under fraud procedures - and even then only if the other party remains in the country.
Most expats, especially newcomers, will prefer to search for a property via an estate agent who has a solid reputation amongst the expat community. It will prevent misunderstandings and ensure you get all the information you need.
AAA Housing and Frost Real Estate are two reputable companies which can offer good quality accommodation, furnished to good standards. You will pay a premium, but receive a nice base to call home. Additional benefits such as phone, satellite and housekeeping services can be made available.
There are many realtors, or estate agents, in Kuwait, but the services are variable. Some do not have good websites, and other will be unreliable for appointments. Check with work colleagues and friends to find companies with good reputations, but be wary if you think the person you asked may be accepting a payment for the recommendation. Realtors tend to be area specific, so contact those who are located in the area you wish to live in. Estate agents who can speak good English will be better able to explain the lease terms to you. Although phoning each agent will be more time consuming than emailing them, you will get a good sense of their English skills and are guaranteed to get a response.
Classified advertisements also list properties available for rent, although when visiting properties you will find it helpful to be accompanied by an Arabic speaker.
The general standard of apartments will be disappointing to many westerners. Cleaning and repainting is not a priority when tenants move out so this is likely to be your first job when you move in. Tenants are given a free hand to decorate an apartment how they like, including flooring and walls, so the landlord will not bother painting everything magnolia.
Some apartments have squat toilets installed. Negotiate with the landlord if you would like this to be replaced with a western style toilet. Many apartments include a tiny room for a maid to sleep in, which can be used for that purpose or turned into a large cupboard.
Furnished apartments will generally offer everything you need to immediately live there. An unfurnished apartment will not contain furniture or kitchen appliances. Although this may not be requested by the landlord or realtor, make a list of the contents of the apartment on the day you move in, and carefully photograph everything immediately. Repeat this process on the day you move out. The evidence will be useful in the event of any dispute about the condition of the apartment or contents.
While the majority of flats will offer air conditioning as a relief against the high temperatures, heating for the cold winters is rarely provided. Double glazed windows will help in the battle against the elements, and will keep the morning pick up car horns a bit quieter.
Parking is not always part of the building’s facilities, even for new apartment blocks. With soaring temperatures for much of the year, being able to park the car under shade is invaluable.
Check the location of the apartment in the building. Swimming pools can become noisy venues and small children stay up much later than in the UK or US. Living near the main entrance may also be annoying on busy days and nights. Living on the ground floor will make you more susceptible to break ins and beggars, who will quickly identify the presence of a new westerner.
Take care to ask who the neighbours are. Apartments known as “F-flats” are used as party venues for groups of men and female “visitors”. Visit the apartment block on a weekend night to assess whether the neighbourhood is as quiet as you want it to be.
Assess the distance of the apartment building from the nearest mosque. Daily prayers will be called from the minaret, which westerners may struggle with at 5am if the mosque is very near by.
You will be asked to provide your civil ID when taking on a property lease. You may also be asked to provide your passport.
You should receive a copy of your tenancy lease in English.
A realtor will charge you commission of one half of a month’s rent, and will charge the same to the property owner. It has not been widespread practice to charge a security deposit, as each month’s rent should be paid in advance. Some landlords ask for as much as six month’s rent in advance. However, the security deposit has now made an appearance in Kuwait is more regularly asked for. Make sure you know who you have paid this money to; make it by online transfer, never pay it in cash; if the money is not returned to you at the end of the tenancy without a good reason then report the loss to the police.
Make sure your lease is between you and the property owner. If you sign a lease with the realtor and they then leave the country with a security deposit and several month’s’ prepaid rent, there is little you can do beyond reporting the crime. Make sure you have been given the property owner’s name and done all you can to check the validity of this information.
You normally sign a one year tenancy lease. However, if you give your landlord 30 days notice then you can terminate the tenancy early.
By law, the rent cannot be increased in the first five years of the tenancy starting. After that, the rent can rise by a maximum of 15%. Landlords regularly assume their tenants are unaware of the law and bring in high increases at their choosing. Tenants have the right to take court action which will prevent illegal rent rises. Be aware though that some landlords in Kuwait threaten and bully tenants that they want to get rid of so it can be a difficult situation to live through. Finding another property is time consuming but may be a better solution when faced with a price hike.
The landlord will sometimes pay the utility bills, or arrange the supply for you in exchange for a small payment. If you need to connect yourself, you may need the help of a mandoob when you visit the Ministry of Electricity and Water. Take your civil ID. They will ask for a deposit of 100 Kuwaiti dinars, and then the supply will start. You will not receive a bill, but should visit the offices on a regular basis to pay what is due.
If you want a landline phone, you need to sign up and pay one year in advance. Each year you must go back to pay the next year’s rental charge and you will not receive reminders to do this.
Post will not be delivered to your apartment. You can either have it sent to your work premises, or you can hire a post office box at the Ministry of Communications for a small annual fee.
If you find you need a replacement water boiler, the landlord is unlikely to arrange this for you. However, the harissa for the building will be able the arrange the purchase and installation of one, and the cost will not be too onerous.
The harissa does small jobs around the building, including taking out the rubbish that each householder leaves on the stairwell. They will also wipe down a car or even wash them with water. You should pay him each month for these services. A payment of 5 Kuwaiti dinar is normal, although you are free to make further gifts of food, clothing or a tip at your own discretion if he has gone over and above his duties. For example, if you have been bothered by people coming to your door to beg money from you, the harissa will escort them from the building.
Porters will often be seen around the apartment block. They carry items to the apartments, assist with small handyman jobs, and bring cooking gas into the building for tenants to use in their cookers and stoves. Alternatively, ask the local convenience store to deliver the gas.
Buy Property[back to top]
In 2014/15 the Cabinet for the Government in Kuwait approved the principle that foreigners could own property in Kuwait, subject to strict conditions. This overturned a longstanding law which restricted property ownership in Kuwait only to citizens of Kuwait. The move is not popular with many citizens, because prices for land and property are high, and in the country’s current political climate incomers are being blamed for all the country’s ills.
Purchase of a house, apartment or land will not entitle the owner to residency status in Kuwait. The normal conditions for employment and residency status must still be met; essentially this means you must be working in order to remain in the country.
Prospective property owners who do not hold a Kuwaiti passport must never have been convicted of any crime in Kuwait. They must also be long term residents able to prove their income earned in the state. The apartment must be no larger than 350 square meters and must be their only residential property in the country.
The price of property in Kuwait depends on the strength of the oil industry. If you expect to return to your home country in the short or long term then it may be wise to hold other investments in case you sell your home in Kuwait at a point the oil price is a under pressure.
The combination of high, tax free salaries and many newcomers in a country whose customs and practices are different to those in their home country means criminal are attracted to Kuwait for easy pickings. This includes the property market. Regulations can be difficult to understand and check. To avoid corruption, try to find an estate agent with a solid reputation, and a lawyer to match.
Most expats, especially newcomers, will prefer search for the property via an estate agent who has a solid reputation amongst the expat community. It will prevent misunderstandings and ensure you get all the information you need. Two estate agencies in this market areCentury 21 and Saba Real Estate. There are also many independent realtors who tend to work for a very localised market, so find one in the area in which you wish to live.
When viewing properties, try to avoid ground floor apartments which may be vulnerable to break ins and beggars at the door. If the apartment is near a swimming pool, bear in mind that children in Kuwait stay up far later than is normal in the UK or US, which means noise and thrown items may be a nuisance late into the evening. A nearby mosque will call prayers from the minaret five times a day, starting at 5am, so consider how loud it will inside the premises. Shaded parking for your car is important in high temperatures; many apartment blocks are built with only limited numbers of car parking spaces.
Double glazing, air conditioning and heating for the winter are all important but easily overlooked features which will impact your ability to enjoy your new home.
Any property is significantly affected by the neighbours. It is a good idea to visit a property at different times of the day and at different times, even if it is just to drive by and assess the area. Kuwait does not have a western style nightlife, but certain types of resident can become raucous at the weekend. Do not move near to a school if the noise and traffic congestion will bother you.
Check what the charges for communal areas and building maintenance will be, and ensure your notary receives this in writing. You need to be aware how often the costs can go up and if there is a possibility of surprise additional charges.
You will need to pay the building harissa about 5 Kuwaiti dinars a month for taking out your rubbish - which you leave on the stairwell for him to collect - and doing other small tasks such as wiping your car clean. However, this is a customary payment and is small so will not form part of the purchasing documentation.
When buying a property, you will be responsible for all fees. These include the legal fees and the survey fees. The UK government published a list of lawyers in Kuwait who can speak English. You are buying a property in a country which has very little in common with western practices so it is essential to hire the services of professionals who can explain complex situations to you. Your life savings and long term housing security are at risk if mistakes are made. Finding a building surveyor will be difficult and you will need to use local knowledge. The sale of property to foreigners is such a new and small market that related services are not widely marketed in English.
Your lawyer should register the sale with the Property Registration Department.
Once you have moved in, you will need to set up an account with the neighbourhood office for the Ministry of Electricity and Water. You will need to take a deposit of 100 Kuwaiti dinar, and your civil ID. The services of a mandoob will be helpful as he will explain the process and act as interpreter with the ministry staff, in return for a small fee. Once you have been supplied and are using the utilities, you will need to visit the offices to check your due payment as bills will not be posted out.
Similarly, you will need to pay for your phone landline one year in advance, and remember to return a year later to make the next payment, as again bills are not posted out.
The postal service does not bring mail to individual apartments. Instead, you can pay a small annual fee to hire a post office box at the Ministry of Communications. If you trust your company’s mail services, the alternative is to have your mail delivered to work.
The Hungarian Embassy recently issued a warning that criminals in Kuwait were attempting to sell Hungarian properties with the promise that it would give the new owners eligibility for residency in Hungary, which is not true. Complaints were also received about a lack of information and issues about prices. The Embassy is happy to advise anyone considering the purchase of a Hungarian property.
Register For Healthcare[back to top]
QUICK LINK: Kuwait health insurance
If you are in Kuwait and need to call the police, ambulance or fire services, call 112.
Kuwait offers a national health care service to its own national citizens which is free for some services and subsidised for others. The standard of care compares favourably to that of free healthcare services offered in European countries. With a large number of medical centres offering a comprehensive treatment to a small population, citizens can enjoy fast access to high quality consultation and treatment.
However, Kuwait does not traditionally have access to certain treatments, such as for diabetes or many cancers. Poor diets and lack of exercise, combined with longevity, are increasing the risks of these diseases affecting citizens in Kuwait.
Members of the elite families typically seek treatment abroad for most of their health issues, with London and the US being popular destinations. However, all residents may be referred abroad for treatment if they cannot access appropriate services in Kuwait. According to the State Audit Bureau, in 2014, there were 11,000 overseas medical trips by Kuwait’s citizens and their companions at a cost to the public purse of $1.5bn.
Since 1999 only Kuwait’s citizens are entitled to free or subsidised care. Expats have been required to join a public insurance scheme since 2006, and must provide evidence they have done so when renewing residency permits. These mandatory annual health care plans have a minimum level of cover so expats must pay for medical appointments, tests, surgery and medicines.
A number of insurance providers also operate in Kuwait, insuring expats for private healthcare. These allow their customers to access services and treatment in a number of privately run facilities in Kuwait.
The national health care system in Kuwait is undergoing a significant and substantial reform. At the heart of the change is the need to reduce the state’s rising budget deficit. They form part of the Kuwait Development Plan. Investment of $1bn is being made by the Ministry of Health to construct eight hospitals and hospital extensions, with the Ministry of Public Works providing an additional $4.2bn to build nine hospitals. If successful, these plans will provide thousands of additional hospital beds and create an estimated 15,000 new jobs.
The reforms are intended to reduce the number and cost of overseas medical treatments. The daily allowances for patients and their companions who travel overseas for treatment have already been reducing.
The national healthcare system is currently trialing and expanding a system of service segregation. The Jaber hospital will be providing services only to those who are citizens of Kuwait, and other centres may be restricting appointments for expats to specified times of the day. It is proposed that a public shareholding company, the Health Insurance Hospital Company, will provide separate medical facilities for the two to three million expats living in Kuwait.
Preventative health care, especially around the message of adopting healthier lifestyle choices, is now taking centre stage in Kuwait. In addition to encouraging citizens to stop smoking, eat nutritious diets and exercise, the health services are improving screening services.
Just over 10% of the population in Kuwait have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and there may be many more cases which have not be identified. The disease causes a range of serious conditions and if left untreated can result in blindness and limb amputations. There are a number of interesting initiatives to help tackle this situation. For example, the Dasman Diabetes Institute and supermarket retailer the Sultan Centre worked together in 2015 to set up a free diabetes screening programme.
Back in 1995 Kuwait passed a law banning smoking in public places, for which a fine could be levied on transgressors. However, the law has not been enforced and smoking continues to be a widespread and normal part of life in Kuwait for men and women. The government is now trying to take action by tightening the law to prevent smoking in hospitals, markets and shopping centres. The fines have been substantially increased.
Vaping has become a popular alternative for those in Kuwait who wish to give up cigarette smoking. Vaping hasn’t been forbidden in the state but if coming into the country make sure you only have a small quantity for personal use. Customs checks in Kuwait are notoriously thorough - and hotels also sometimes check your luggage to ensure you have no alcohol or drugs with you. There are many retailers in Kuwait who sell vaping products.
Kuwait’s climate and environment cause a number of health issues for residents. The heat and humidity can be extreme and pose a risk to human health. Sunstroke can cause death and sunburn very significantly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Once the temperature is close to 50°C you should not be outside, even to work. It is unusual for a building not to be cooled by air conditioning. Make sure your skin is protected by sunscreen and light clothing throughout the year. In hot temperatures it is important to drink plenty of fluid. Bottled water is readily available in urban areas.
Concentrations of dust and sand can cause respiratory problems for residents. Large scale building projects are thought to exacerbate this issue, especially in Kuwait City. When sandstorm warnings occur, it is best to go inside and stay there as long as possible.
Mental health issues affect those living in Kuwait as much as elsewhere. Traditionally mental illness was rarely discussed and sufferers were kept hidden away at home, but attitudes are slowly changing. Kuwait now delivers mental health service provision at seven primary care centres, the hospitals and the Kuwait Centre for Mental Health.
A mental health campaign named “Taqabbal”, which is the Arabic word for ‘acceptance’, raises awareness of mental health issues in public and private schools as well as universities. Young people are the ones most likely to be affected and the least likely to know where to ask for help, so the campaign aims to inform them of the issues and what can be done to help.
In 2017 a woman in Kuwait filmed her Ethiopian maid struggling to hold on to the windowsill of the seventh floor apartment window. The maid could be heard in the video calling “hold me, hold me” but her employer merely replied “Oh Crazy, come back” and continued to film as the maid’s grasp gave way and she fell. The employer then uploaded the video to social media. The video caused global disgust and led to the arrest of the employer. Miraculously, the maid survived the fall despite being hurt, and said she had been trying to escape from her violent employer. The problem of abuse experienced by domestic maids is so severe that the government runs a number of shelters to help them as they overcome their ordeal. An estimated 10,000 complaints are received by embassies in Kuwait each year as domestic workers flee abuse.
The majority of medical staff working in Kuwait’s hospitals and clinics are expats. The financial packages on offer, tax free salary, and standard of professional care in the Kuwaiti healthcare system means it is an attractive destination for medical staff looking to broaden their life experience.
Open A Bank Account[back to top]
Kuwait has one of the region’s oldest and most developed financial services industries, having started in 1941 with British investors setting up the first national bank. There are now eleven domestic commercial banks in Kuwait, which include five Islamic banks and the National Bank of Kuwait which is the largest bank in the state. Twelve foreign banks have been established in Kuwait following a law amendment which allowed this to happen. All banks fall under the supervision of the Kuwait Central Bank.
The government in Kuwait established the Kuwait Currency Board in 1960, which launched the Kuwaiti dinar the following year. A new Kuwaiti dinar was launched following the 1990 Gulf War, so that stolen currency became invalid.
The Kuwaiti dinar is today the world’s highest valued unit of currency. It is divided into 1,000 fils. The legal tender consists of notes in ¼ dinar, ½ dinar, 1 dinar, 5 dinars, 10 dinars and 20 dinars. Coins are available in 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 fils.
ATMs are plentiful and available 24 hours a day. Be careful to check the charges that may be attached to your card if it if the ATM does not belong to the same financial institution that issued your card.
US dollars and British pounds are easy to exchange at the banks. Although banks will have varied hours, most will be open from 8am to 3pm from Sunday to Thursday. They will be closed on Friday and Saturday.
It is common for banks in Kuwait to offer a chip and pin debit or credit card connecting to the VISA or Mastercard system, and the cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Many businesses will add a 2% charge to the cost of the goods if you pay by credit card, so it is best to ask about this before making payment. However, some retailers offer a discount to customers using a specific bank’s debit card.
The economy in Kuwait is reliant on its oil industry, which has faced major challenges since the 2014 decline in oil prices. The oil industry provides 80% of the government’s income, while low energy prices and the oil companies boost the private sector earnings. The government’s determination to diversify the economy is at the heart of its recent education reforms.
The Kuwait Stock Exchange was established in 1983. It followed the collapse of the informal Souk Al Manakh stock exchange, where total debts of $26bn meant all but one financial institution in the state became insolvent.
The 1990 Gulf War was the next big shock to the financial system. Part of the post war recovery included recapitalisation of banks, establishment of a new Kuwait dinar, and invalidating stolen currency.
The banking sector in Kuwait was impacted by the 2007-08 global economic crisis, and in response the Central Bank of Kuwait and other institutions tightened up the regulatory framework under the Capital Markets Law. Some of these laws have been relaxed as the banks expanded their asset base and increased lending, but the capital markets sector remains under the vigilance of the Capital Markets Authority and a revised corporate governance law was implemented in 2013. By law, banks were required to improve their financial reporting and to invest in their risk management departments.
Kuwait signed a tax compliance agreement with the US in April 2015. Laws passed in the US required foreign banks to identify accounts controlled by US citizens, green card holders and US owned companies, and pass the details to the US Inland Revenue Agency (IRS). This was to ensure US individuals, regardless of where they live, correctly declare all their global earnings and assets. The agreement between Kuwait and the US means the Ministry of Finance will receive relevant account details from all the banks in Kuwait, and will pass these to the US IRS.
The current account, or cheque account, will normally be offered with the range of services expected in the US and UK. A chip and pin debit or ATM card, online banking services, standing orders and regular statements would form part of an essential account package. Unlike some European countries, cheques are still used in Kuwait, so banks offer cheque books with these accounts.
Most banks will only allow their accounts to be opened by individuals meeting a minimum income level. This will be clearly set out in their terms and conditions. If you are earning a high income, you may be offered a premium account, which will have a number of specified perks attached.
Some banks offer tailored services to expats. These can provide additional benefits such as free online money transfers to your home country and free travel insurance. Website information, as well as branch and telephone services, will be available in English. Banks frequently offer some accounts only to Kuwait’s citizens and others are designated for expats.
Accounts can often be opened using just your civil identification. The address you use must be correct as all correspondence will be sent there.
Banks offer a range of savings products. A savings account will be held in Kuwaiti dinars, often with interest accrued monthly but paid quarterly. There will often be a minimum deposit balance which must be maintained to accrue interest without penalty. There may be penalties for withdrawing some of the funds before a specified date. The terms and conditions for the account should be shown clearly on the website and in the notes which accompany an application form.
Asset management services are available via the banks in Kuwait. However, be aware that they will be selling their own products or those of business partners, and this may not be the right choice for you and your circumstances. Ensure you visit at least two or three providers before committing your funds.
Learn The Language[back to top]
The state of Kuwait is in the Middle East, and its neighbours are Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The official language is Arabic. Classical Arabic, in which the Qur’an was written, is largely unchanged from when it developed between the 7th and 9th centuries AD. But the spoken form of Arabic has developed its own character in each of the 22 countries where almost 200 million people use it. Gulf Arabic is the version of Arabic spoken in Kuwait.
In such a small country as Kuwait, especially as it is the first language of only about half a million residents, there is not a wide variation of dialects. The dialect used in Kuwait is called Hadari. Some differences do exist, though; the dialect spoken in the town and Kuwait City in particular is subtly different to how it is used in remote and rural settlements.
Children learn modern standard Arabic in the public school system and private Arabic schools. It is the root of the Gulf Arabic that they speak in everyday life, but is more formal and distinctly different. Most official documents, books, newspapers and magazines are written in modern standard Arabic, and it is one of the six languages used by the United Nations.
At University, lectures are given in Arabic for subjects with religious or historic focus. Those which are more geared to business or applied sciences will often be taught in English. For those who wish to learn simple Arabic phrases to get by in Kuwait, the first steps can be taken by looking at Youtube. A few young people have filmed themselves explaining and demonstrating the key terms that will help you do simple things like greet and thank people. The Arabic script, which is read left to right and has a lettering system alien to westerners, can be difficult to learn. A basic level of spoken Arabic is a more achievable target for beginners.
Today language resources are affordable and easily obtained. Books and CDs can be used to learn a language at home, but websites and apps also offer resources. Some of these are free, and some will make a small charge. It is possible to sign up for formal language courses on the internet, although these are more expensive. When accessing resources, make sure you are being taught a form of Arabic which will be useful in Kuwait. Egyptian Arabic, for example, has a number of key differences to the Arabic spoken in Kuwait.
Alternatively, you can join at course at one of the many language schools in Kuwait. They offer everything from short intensive courses to long term evening courses. Some employers may be happy to cover the tuition costs.
With expats forming two thirds of the resident population and about 80% of the working population in Kuwait, the reality is that many languages are spoken in the country.
English is widely spoken at workplaces and across the service industry. This occurred through a combination of highly skilled expats arriving to work in the oil and health industry, and people from ex-colonial countries arriving to find work across the employment spectrum. It is also a compulsory second language in schools, so many Kuwaiti citizens have english skills to some extent.
English is now the second language in Kuwait, though it is not an official language and all government documents must be in Arabic. The ability to use the English language fluently is seen as an essential skill by well educated Kuwaiti families, who choose to pay for their children to attend an International school.
The largest expat communities in Kuwait are Indian and Egyptian, but the country is home to a vast array of people from all over the world. In common with expats elsewhere, communities often live in close proximity and their closest friendships develop within it. Therefore, there are many languages frequently spoken in Kuwait. Farsi, which is the official language of Iran, Urdu, which is the official language of Pakistan, and Hindi are three of the most common after English.
If you are living in Kuwait it is important to know how to address the people you meet. As with western norms, a Kuwaiti’s first name is their personal name. However, their second name will be their father’s personal name, prefixed by “al-”. Next comes their grandfather’s personal name, and finally the family name. Both are also normally prefixed with “al-”.
Whilst women in Kuwait are traditionally given fewer freedoms than expected in the west, when they marry they do not take on their husband’s name.
When you talk to a Kuwaiti it must be with respect. You may not use their personal name alone until they explicitly invite you to. Instead, they should be addressed as “Mr.”, “Professor” or any other appropriate honorific title, with the personal name then following. If they are a member of the royal family, which has over twelve hundred members, or if the person you are addressing is an old man, then the title “Sheikh” should be used.
Business cards are widely used in Kuwait, and well kept cards should be given to everyone you meet. One side of the card can be in English, but the other should be in Arabic. Apart from being a normal part of good manners in Kuwait, it will help your contact identify your correct name given that they may be confused about the western name forms.
In Kuwait, it is possible to watch television and listen to the radio in English. It is also possible to access streaming services via the internet to purchase films and TV programmes. Radio stations are easily found via such apps as the BBC iplayerRadio.
Kuwait Television is the state broadcaster, and has operated the domestic channels since 1961. These include KTV1, which shows news, current affairs, cultural and religious programmes, and KTV2, which offers family shows in English, Kuwaiti TV series with English subtitles, and American movies with Arabic subtitles. The stated mission of KTV2 is to promote Kuwait’s culture, media and news to foreigners. KTV Sport is also available, showing a wide range of international sport.
28 free to air satellite channels are also located in Kuwait, whilst the only provider of cable television is KCV.
A number of papers and magazines are available in English, in addition to UK and US imports and web pages. Most Kuwaiti newspapers are privately owned by individuals and reflect a range of political viewpoints. However, newspapers are not allowed to make criticism of the government or Islam, so some situations cannot be published or commented on.
Out on the street, most road signs include both Arabic and English. Many restaurants and other businesses do likewise.
70% of Kuwait’s population are Sunni Muslims, and 30% are Shi’a Muslims. Islamic studies form a core part of the school curriculum. For practising Muslims living in Kuwait who do not speak Arabic, it is possible to find Friday sermons also delivered in English in Kuwait City.
Across the Middle East, the group known as Daesh or ISIS targets Shiite Muslims. On National Unity day in 2015, Friday prayers at the Imam Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait City was packed with 2,000 worshippers. A sudden bomb killed 27 of them and injured many more, and also caused a lot of damage to the mosque itself.
Other religions may be quietly practiced in Kuwait, but children at school may not be taught about any religion other than Islam. There should be no attempt to convert Muslims to another religion, both for the security of the persons involved, and to avoid causing an inflammatory political situation.
Choose A School[back to top]
The educational policy for the State of Kuwait aims to provide opportunities for all children. This includes children of all social classes and irrespective of any disability and special needs that they may have. The government is concerned that 80% of its revenue is earned from the oil industry, and that over 90% of its working nationals are employees of the public sector. They hope education may be the key to producing a skilled workforce in a diversified economy.
Kuwait spends just under 4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education, which is low compared to the average for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. However, the amount represents between 9 and 13% of all the country’s government spend. Residents in Kuwait traditionally have a high cultural appreciation of the value in education. It is not uncommon for even very bright pupils to receive private tuition after school.
The Ministry of Education in Kuwait has brought in a number of policies and initiatives over the past few decades aimed at improving the literacy rates in the country and supporting women’s entry into the educated workforce. Scholarships are given to outstanding students, allowing them to access higher education institutions around the world.
The Quranic schools have long had a presence in Kuwait, teaching reading, writing and basic arithmetic. Modern educational institutions have been present in Kuwait since 1911. Formal education has been provided by the government since 1936, with the numbers of students and amount of funding increasing significantly after 1945. Since many of the early teachers were recruited from Egypt, the Kuwait education system was strongly modelled on the Egyptian education system. Education became compulsory for all primary school children in 1965, and today is mandatory for all children aged 6-14.
Kuwaits’s population has risen significantly in the past few decades. The birth rate in Kuwait averages 2.1 children per adult woman, which is high by Western standards. In addition, the oil industry sparked decades of significant migration into the State, both from highly specialised workers in the oil fields to the maids who work for wealthy families. Currently, about two thirds of the resident population are immigrants. The increase in population and government focus on education means there has been a substantial increase in the number of teachers working in Kuwait, especially in the primary schools. Female teachers have a significant presence in schools, especially primary schools, although there are only a small percentage of women still teaching over the age of 45.
There are well over a thousand schools in Kuwait because almost 20% of the country’s population are enrolled students. Just under half of the schools are private or international schools, teaching about 40% of the school age population. Only children who are citizens of Kuwait may enrol at a public school.
The cost of private schools will vary enormously. However, they must seek official approval before raising fees, even by the rate of inflation. The government will step in and take action where this official permission is not obtained, as happened in 2016.
Regardless of whether they are private or public places of learning, all education institutions in Kuwait must comply with the regulations set down by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. The Private Education Department within the Ministry of Education regulates the International schools.
The UK education inspector OFSTED will only inspect schools abroad when they are run by the Ministry of Defence. However, the Ministry of Education in Kuwait ordered an OFSTED inspection of all English schools in the State, for which an assumption must be made that the schools pay for the inspection to be carried out. It is unusual for parents to have access to the reports following such an inspection in an English school in Kuwait.
Parents need to exercise similar caution when presented with exam results. Some schools will enter students as independent candidates if there is concern that they will do badly. It means the results of borderline students might not be included in the school’s official results.
Public schools in Kuwait deliver the national curriculum, as do the Arabic private schools which often receive government subsidy. The international schools follow the curriculum specified in their prospectus, which usually reflect the nationality of their founders. American, British, French and Indian schools are popular choices for expat families. International schools include the British School of Kuwait, the American School of Kuwait, the New English School (Kuwait), the American International School of Kuwait, the Kuwait English School, the French School and the Canadian School of Kuwait (CSK).
All schools must include Arabic language lessons in their timetable, including International schools which may be delivering their curriculum in English or French, for example. Schools will separate native Arabic speakers and children who are learning the language into separate classrooms for these lessons.
Muslim children will receive compulsory lessons in Islamic Studies. No other religious studies will be offered in any school in Kuwait, as this is prohibited by law.
Public schools, and many private schools, teach girls and boys separately. In the private sector, co-education is offered by schools whose provision is informed by western systems of education.
The academic year starts in late August or early September, and ends in the middle of June after exams. The school week starts on a Saturday, and runs until Wednesday. On Thursdays and Fridays the schools are closed.
Fleets of school buses cover a lot of Kuwait City’s school run. However, the children of Kuwaiti families are typically taken to school by the family’s driver and maid. Even if parents bring their children to school, they are not welcome to enter school premises without an appointment. This would be an alien concept to many western parents, but keeps the school site secure for children and staff. Many teachers in International schools send very regular emails to parents to report on their child’s activites and progress at school, to make up for the lack of parental contact at the classroom door.
Before starting school, parents must provide evidence that their child has received a BCG vaccination. They must also present the results of a general health check undertaken by the staff in a local government health clinic. When attending this health check you must bring your child’s passport and a separate passport photo, their original birth certificate and a photocopy to hand in. You must also present your child’s vaccination booklets, and proof of their blood type. Finally you must remember to present the identification documents of the child’s father, with a photocopy for submission. Much of this information and proof will also be held on file by your child’s school.
Kindergarten is available to children under the age of six, but is not compulsory. Private institutions offer kindergarten, as do some primary schools. Parents must pay the fees for kindergarten, unless the child has Kuwaiti citizenship and is aged between four and six years old in which case the government will provide funding.
Social interaction and communication skills are at the heart of the two year kindergarten syllabus.
Kuwait has a high kindergarten enrollment rate of 66% of eligible children. This is very favourable compared to the OECD average and comparable to nearby countries in the region.
Notable examples of kindergarten schools available to expat families are Gulf Montessori, Kuwait English School, Playdays and The English school.
The English school is also host to the Jack and Jill Mother and Toddler Group.
Primary school begins at the age of six, when education becomes compulsory. Children will attend grades 1 to 5, during which time they should receive a basic knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic. They will also learn about Islam, explore a range of sciences, study the Arabic and English languages, take part in physical education, and be introduced to a range of arts and humanities subjects.
At the age of 11 students move on to the next compulsory phase of education, Intermediate level. Through grades 6 to 10, they will develop the subjects introduced at primary school and acquire a broad technical knowledge.
For students who achieve the required level of competence, an Intermediate school certificate will be awarded. These pupils will be permitted to move on to secondary level education. Approximately 91% of female students and 90% of male students successfully do so.
Secondary education lasts for three years until students are eighteen years old. A diverse range of subjects are offered, covering Islamic Education, Arabic and English language, humanities, arts and sciences. Computer studies, physical education and home economics are also available.
Any student who completes their secondary education to the required standard will be awarded the secondary school leaving certificate, or Shahadat Al-Thanawiya-Al-A’ama. As in many other countries, girls outperform their male counterparts in many examined subjects.
Students can repeat years if they failed to make adequate progress and wish to continue their school education.
Each school in Kuwait must be equipped with a library, and between them the schools have millions of books available for student use.
Information technology is a key part of the Kuwaiti education system. All schools and libraries are connected to the internet with generous provision of IT hardware.
Educational reform in 2015 set out to make Kuwait’s education system one which demanded high levels of skills and competence achievement, but which remained child-centred.
The Ministry of Education also oversees special needs teaching in Kuwait. There are more than 30 public schools offering a specialised education to children with special needs, with several more provided in the private education sector. Furthermore, children can attend mainstream schools with additional support or specialised classes where provision meets their individual needs.
Pupils who successfully complete their secondary education can move on to University. Students can opt between the publicly funded Kuwait University, 14 private universities, or apply for a scholarship to attend University overseas. Kuwait University was established in 1966 and today is a co-educational institution delivering courses across five campuses in Kuwait City. However, most students without official status as a citizen of Kuwait attend private universities. Examples of private institutions offering degree level courses, which have been accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education Private Universities Council, include:
• Kuwait International Law School (KILAW)
• American University of the Middle East (AUM)
• American University of Kuwait (AUK)
• Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST)
• Arab Open University (AOU)
• Australian College of Kuwait (ACK)
• Box Hill College Kuwait (BHCK)
• American College of the Middle East (ACM)
Those from other countries who are considering Kuwait as a destination for University study may find it a difficult process to obtain a student visa. The high cost of University accommodation will impact on limited budgets. Some people are also concerned that the courses being delivered are targeted at domestic needs, and may not be attractive to an international audience.
Another popular post-secondary choice is entry into a vocational college, where a range of technical and vocational qualifications can be achieved. The Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET) is a publicly funded college which has been providing a range of practical courses since 1982. Entry can take place before the completion of secondary school, but the majority of students enrol after the age of 18. Changes in course provision over the years have boosted female participation. The government is keen for all citizens to increase their skills knowledge and qualifications, both as a way to boost diversification in the Kuwaiti economy and to reduce the increasing problem of unemployment.
The Higher Institute for Theatre Arts and the Higher Institute of Music offer publicly funded training for gifted performers.
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