A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Kuwait
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- Antoine Mariaux
With InterNations it was easy to find the right school for our kids after they joined me in Kuwait.
Life in Kuwait
- Islam has a massive influence on Kuwait’s culture and way of living, though Kuwaitis only represent one-third of the population.
- Huge investment has gone into education and healthcare, thanks to the revenues generated from oil.
- Cheap gas prices make driving the main mode of transportation.
Kuwait has the sixth-largest oil reserves in the world. The exportation of oil and petroleum products has made it one of the richest countries in the world in per capita terms. With the substantial oil revenues, the government provides Kuwait’s citizens with extensive social welfare services, employment, and housing.
Its booming economy has made Kuwait a popular destination for migrant workers and expatriates. Currently, the Kuwaitis only make up about one-third of the total population. The other two-thirds consist of immigrant groups living in Kuwait from India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, and many other countries. You’ll be joining a large, professional expat community.
Kuwait is basically surrounded by desert. The average annual rainfall is about 115 mm. During the summer months, temperatures can climb up to 50° C in the shade. Nevertheless, extensive use of air conditioning will make expat life in Kuwait bearable, even if you are not used to the heat. However, do not forget to pack some warm clothes, too, if you’ll be living in Kuwait over the winter. Temperatures can drop as low as 0° C.
Religious Culture and Everyday Life
The majority of Kuwaitis are Sunni Muslims. Islam remains an important part of everyday culture and influences most aspects of social and private life in Kuwait. Inshallah — if God wills it — is a phrase you will hear frequently during your daily life in this Muslim country. Note that alcohol, pork, and pornography are illegal.
At the same time, the cultural influences of immigrants in Kuwait can be seen everywhere, from international cuisine to the colorful dresses visible on the city streets. Kuwait has also developed quite an extensive Western-style expat infrastructure. There are many international schools, as well as local and international newspapers and television programs in English. Living in Kuwait, you may not even have to miss out on your favorite international groceries either.
New arrivals in Kuwait are advised to familiarize themselves with the most important Islamic traditions. Learning some basic common phrases in Arabic will also make living in Kuwait much easier.
Quality Healthcare in Kuwait
Kuwait has a reputable public healthcare system that provides free or low-cost healthcare to all its residents, including expats living in Kuwait. In addition, some employers offer expatriate employees private healthcare plans as part of their remuneration package. However, the government has approved a proposal to eventually ban expats from using public healthcare facilities in the near future, with plans to build expat-only hospitals charging a considerably higher price.
Medical facilities and treatment at public and private hospitals are usually on par with North American and European standards. For very specialized treatments, however, those who can afford the costs — both expats and citizens alike — often seek medical care outside of the country.
In Kuwait, vaccinations are available free of charge at public clinics. All children need a tuberculosis vaccine in order to attend school while living in Kuwait. Pharmacies are usually well equipped, though they may sell medication under different names than you are used to. However, a quick look at the main pharmaceutical ingredients should help resolve any confusion or uncertainty.
Education and Schools in Kuwait
A Sound Investment in Education
Kuwait has invested considerable amounts of its oil wealth into developing a comprehensive and competitive public education system. It ranges from preschool starting at the age of four to primary, intermediate, and secondary schooling as well as tertiary education.
All levels of education, including the tertiary level, are fully financed by the state and free for all citizens, though not for expatriates. Even the many private institutions in Kuwait are often heavily subsidized by the government.
Starting at primary level, single-gender education is the norm at public schools. Education at all public institutions is conducted in Arabic. Therefore, expats usually opt to send their kids to one of the private international schools, which offer education in other languages.
Back to School — International Schools Aplenty
There are quite a number of international schools catering to the international community in Kuwait. Expat parents can choose from various American, British, and Indian schools offering the respective national curricula, as well as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Kuwait also has a number of Pakistani schools, a French school, as well as various bilingual schools offering education in both Arabic and English.
All students in international schools are required to study Arabic. Most schools offer various classes for both native speakers and those to whom Arabic is a foreign language. The majority of international schools have an excellent selection of extra-curricular activities.
As in most expat destinations, school fees make up a considerable amount of the annual budget. Tuition may vary considerably, however, even between the international schools. For the school year 2015/16, annual fees range from 350 Kuwaiti dinar (around 1,160 USD) to as much as 4,900 KWD (approximately 16,250 USD), depending on the school and the grade.
Selected International Schools
- American International School
- Kuwait American School
- The British School of Kuwait
- New Pakistan International School
- International Academy of Kuwait
Ample Childcare Options
Childcare opportunities for expats with younger children living in Kuwait are plentiful. Kuwait’s expat infrastructure includes a variety of international kindergartens and nursery schools. Parents can choose between different national curricula and educational philosophies. Many of the international schools also accept children at the kindergarten level.
Tuition fees for private nursery schools and kindergartens almost rival those of the international schools. A place at a reputable international nursery school can cost you around 300 KWD to 2,500 KWD per year. Cascade British Nursery and Learning Steps Montessori Nursery, to name just a couple, are international nurseries to consider for your children. To find the right place for your child, it is best to ask other expat parents for advice.
Alternatively, a lot of expats currently living in Kuwait hire nannies to take care of their kids at home. These are most easily found by word-of-mouth recommendations from other expatriate families. For a live-in nanny, expect to pay around 100 to 200 KWD per month, not including healthcare, meals, and other expenses.
Driving and Transportation in Kuwait
Driving in Kuwait — With Heavenly Gas Prices
Cars are easily the most popular way of getting around in Kuwait. Many expats enjoy the cheap gas prices in Kuwait when driving, which often would be much more expensive back in their home countries. Most cars in the Gulf region are equipped with a heavy duty transmission, a large radiator, and a very effective air conditioning system.
Gas stations in Kuwait are operated by the state. With 70 fils (around 0.23 USD) per liter, Kuwait has gas prices most of us can only dream of. Kuwait also has a well-developed infrastructure of urban expressways. Nevertheless, traffic can be heavy during peak hours, and accident rates are relatively high.
When they first arrive in Kuwait, expats may drive a car if they have an International Driving Permit. Once your new Kuwaiti Civil ID has been issued, however, you are required to obtain a Kuwaiti driver’s license. However, recent measures have made it more difficult for expats to acquire a local driver’s license. The new conditions take the following factors into account: age, health, fitness, passing driving tests, holding a valid iqama for at least two years prior to application, holding a university degree, and receiving a minimum monthly salary of 600 KWD.
Buy a Used Car
Expats are not permitted to bring a car with them from their home country. Only Kuwaiti citizens are allowed to import cars. Most expats recommend buying a used car upon arrival, since new cars tend to be very expensive. And — considering local driving habits — they don’t look all that new after a while, anyway.
If you buy a used car, make sure to have it inspected by a mechanic. Stories by expats about broken-down cars and tedious repair problems are numerous. In fact, your best bet would be to buy a car from an expat about to leave Kuwait. Since cars bought in Kuwait usually don’t meet other countries’ emission standards, most expats sell their cars again prior to their departure.
Leasing or renting a car from a local agency is a popular alternative to buying one. In this way, you avoid having to deal with the hassle of repair problems and potentially unreliable mechanics.
Taxis — A Good Alternative to Your Own Car
Rather than buying or renting a car, a growing number of expats in Kuwait rely on taxis for getting around on a daily basis. Taxis in Kuwait are generally reliable, and prices are reasonable. Once you get to know a driver, he might even give you his personal phone number. Otherwise, you can always ask for a specific driver when calling for a taxi.
Keep in mind that taxis in Kuwait often do not use taximeters, even though they are obliged to use them by law. Therefore, always agree on the fare before you actually get into the taxi. Most taxi companies have zone-based fares and this may be a problem if your destination is relatively close but lies in a different zone.
There are a lot of unofficial “taxis” roaming the streets of Kuwait, too. They usually just honk when passing someone and offer a ride. However, their fares are not subject to any regulation, and it is best to avoid them.
Ticket to Ride: Public Transportation in Kuwait
Though there are plans to build a railway and metro system in the future, buses are currently the only means of public transportation available in Kuwait. The two public bus companies are the state-owned Kuwait Public Transportation Company (KPTC) and CityBus. Their routes cover most of the state’s more densely populated areas.
Buses in Kuwait are generally very safe and reliable, and they run approximately every ten minutes. Buses are air conditioned, and fares range from around 200 to 250 fils (around 0.50 to 0.70 USD) per ride, depending on the distance traveled.
Men, be aware that seats at the front of the bus are usually reserved for women. This does not mean that women have to sit in one of these seats. However, they can ask men to leave if they occupy a seat in that particular section.
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- Antoine Mariaux
With InterNations it was easy to find the right school for our kids after they joined me in Kuwait.
- Patricia Quade
I found some amazing people on InterNations, and now I enjoy helping other newcomers in Kuwait.