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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.
Relocating to Kuwait
At a Glance:
- Despite its size, Kuwait is a popular destination for expats with around two-thirds of the population comprised of expats.
- Its strong oil industry and financial sector make it an attractive place to work in.
- Renting accommodation is the preferred option due to restrictions on foreign ownership of property.
For decades, Kuwait has been a popular expat destination. To this day, moving to this Arab country does not seem to have lost any of its appeal. What makes it so popular?
Part of the explanation is tied to the country’s economic prosperity and the career prospects it offers. Many expatriates moving to Kuwait are attracted by the high salaries that compare well to international standards. The fact that there are no taxes to be paid does not hurt, either.
For those who can afford it, moving to Kuwait could offer a high standard of living with all imaginable amenities. At the same time, as many expats who have taken the plunge and moved to Kuwait report, it is a great place to get to know Arab traditions and culture. Therefore, getting a job in the Gulf country can lead to a rewarding expat experience.
The Oil Industry — The Reason for Kuwait’s Success
Kuwait’s economy is one of the main reasons why expats move there. Today, the country’s economic success still squarely relies upon the oil industry. Oil products account for close to 50% of the GDP and more than 90% of government income. The renewed rise of oil prices in 2011 and early 2012 led to a significant increase in government spending and economic growth. The recent decline in oil prices in 2015, however, led to a record annual budget deficit for the first time in 16 years.
Income from oil revenues has enabled the Kuwaiti government to greatly enhance the public education system and develop a comprehensive social security system. Expats in Kuwait, however, may only partly benefit from this because of the recent restrictions and bans on healthcare access and driving.
A Stable Political Situation
Some expats moving to Kuwait may be worried about the local political situation. During the tidal wave of uprisings in the Arab world in 2010 and 2011, people in Kuwait protested as well. These were part of the fight against corruption and broad economic and political reforms. Calls for the resignation of the prime minister, however, were unsuccessful.
The current political system in Kuwait can be described as a constitutional monarchy. The head of state (Emir) holds considerable powers, and the position is hereditary: The ruling Al-Sabah family nominates a new Emir from within its own ranks.
Many foreigners moving to Kuwait may not be aware that the country also has the oldest directly elected parliament among Arab states in the Persian Gulf region. Since women’s voting rights were introduced in 2005, Kuwait truly has had universal suffrage.
An Appealing Expat Job Market
The majority of expatriates moving to Kuwait do so to work in the country’s oil industry. Kuwait’s rapidly-growing financial sector and fields such as marketing, sales, and business development also offer rewarding opportunities for expats moving to Kuwait. However, expats might face some difficulties in the future, with the government already drawing up plans to cut down the huge number of expats currently living in Kuwait in an attempt to give an advantage to the local workforce.
Both Kuwaiti-owned companies and the many multinationals operating in Kuwait employ expatriates on a regular basis. Also, expats considering a move to Kuwait should not disregard working in the public sector. Recently, however, a new law was passed to prevent all expats aged over 50 from working in the public sector, so this option mainly applies to younger expatriates.
In recent years, however, job opportunities for expats wishing to move to Kuwait have been shrinking. This is mainly due to competition from increasingly well-educated Kuwaiti graduates as well as government efforts to get more locals into upper-management jobs. In March 2013, the Kuwaiti government announced its plan to reduce the number of expats in Kuwait by one million over the next ten years. Nevertheless, with a degree in the right field and relevant work experience, expats will still find lucrative opportunities to move to Kuwait.
Visas and Permits for Expats in Kuwait
Sponsorship System for Visitors
All visitors need a visa or entry permit to enter Kuwait. Nationals of other member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are exempt from this rule, however. They may enter and even live in Kuwait without having to undergo any particular formalities.
Kuwait’s immigration system is based on sponsorship. Visitors must always be sponsored by a Kuwaiti national or company while they are staying in Kuwait. Sponsors are responsible for the visitor and liable if the visitor violates any regulations. In case of expatriate workers, the sponsor is simply the employer in Kuwait.
Visitor Visas for Short Stays
Kuwaiti visitor visas are valid for a stay of up to 30 days. Overstaying this duration will result in a fine of 10 KWD per day, which must be paid before leaving the country. Visitor visas are usually issued within two working days and currently cost 3 KWD.
Nationals from 70 countries, including the US, EU member states except Croatia, Australia, and Japan, are granted entry visas upon arrival in Kuwait. If you belong to this group, you do not need to apply for a visa before traveling to Kuwait. You can check whether you are among these nationalities on the Embassy Finder website.
Those who are in Kuwait on a visitor visa may not take up any sort of employment. Working in Kuwait requires a work permit and a residency visa.
Securing Your Long-Term Stay — Work Permits and Residency Visas
In order to live and work in Kuwait, expatriates have to obtain a residency visa (iqama). This visa can only be issued on the basis of a valid employment offer from a private company or a Kuwaiti government organization. The Kuwaiti employer then applies for the iqama on behalf of the expatriate employee.
You are then issued a so-called “No Objection Certificate” (NOC) with which you can enter Kuwait. You will be issued the actual residency visa once you have entered Kuwait. In order for the residency visa to be issued, an extensive medical certificate is necessary, including testing for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.
Once the residency visa is issued, you can apply for a Kuwaiti Civil ID (bitaqa-almadaniyah). This application has to be submitted within 30 days of receiving the residency visa.
Dependent Visas — For Expats with Family in Kuwait
Once he has successfully obtained residency, a male expat can act as a sponsor for his wife and children to live with him while he is working in Kuwait. This possibility, however, is restricted by certain salary requirements — only expatriates who earn at least 650 KWD per month (450 KWD if you’re working in the public sector) may bring their families with them.
The procedure for dependent visas is similar to that of residency visas. The actual visa is issued upon arrival in Kuwait. Furthermore, dependents have to undergo the same medical examinations.
In a patriarchal twist, female expatriates cannot sponsor their husbands. Sons above the age of 21 cannot be sponsored, either, although this rule does not apply to adult daughters and parents. Also, any dependents who would like to take up employment in Kuwait will need a separate work visa with a Kuwaiti sponsor.
Further information on obtaining a visa for Kuwait can be found on the Kuwait Ministry website.
Housing and Accommodation in Kuwait
The average Kuwaiti home is more spacious than accommodation in, for example, the US or Europe, with much larger rooms than what you might be used to. Additionally, most big apartments have a maid’s room with separate bathroom.
Most family houses — in expat compounds and otherwise — are built around a majilis. Literally, this is Arabic for “place of sitting”. It is the heart of any Arab home. Here, families greet visitors and socialize with their guests. The majilis is usually located immediately inside the front door, while the rest of the home lies off to the sides or to the rear.
Different Types of Accommodation
At the moment, foreigners have restrictions on buying property in Kuwait, although this law may change in the near future. Expats should fulfill certain conditions in order to be allowed to own property in Kuwait. You must be a permanent resident in Kuwait with enough income to purchase the property, and you should not have a criminal record. The property should be your only one in Kuwait; it shouldn’t be larger than 1,000 square meters, and be used for residential purposes only.
Until these restrictions are eased some day, the most common alternative for expats in Kuwait is to rent a home. Rental homes in Kuwait come in all shapes and sizes: from one-bedroom apartments in skyscraper buildings to spacious single family homes, known as “villas”. Most expats in Kuwait either live in apartments or in compounds.
There is a great number of compounds all over Kuwait, which cater mainly to the international community. Compounds usually have both smaller apartment buildings and single houses. Depending on their size, compounds may have swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds for children, and even restaurants and shops.
The pros and cons of living in an expatriate compound are the same as everywhere else. On the upside, compounds usually offer extensive facilities and English-speaking neighbors who can help you find your way around. On the downside, contact with the local population is usually minimal.
Rental Prices — Value for Money
For a comfortable three-bedroom apartment in a decent location, expats can expect to pay between 500 and 800 KWD (1,650 to 1,900 USD). One-bedroom apartments start at 200 KWD (660 USD). Rental prices have been swiftly increasing in recent years, however. Single houses or villas can cost up to 2,500 KWD (about 8,300 USD) and more, depending on size and degree of luxury. Many employers provide a certain housing allowance for expatriate employees.
For an already furnished home, expats should calculate around 20% to 30% more than the figures quoted above. However, if you do choose to rent an unfurnished place, buying furniture in Kuwait is generally not too expensive. Also, there is always the chance to acquire some household goods from expats who are leaving Kuwait.
When looking for a new home, carefully check what is included in the monthly rent. Air conditioning as well as gas may be included or may have to be paid for separately.
How to Find Your New Home
Finding a suitable temporary home is never an easy task. It is, however, easier in Kuwait than in many other expat destinations. There is plenty of good-quality housing available and landlords are generally keen to rent to expats.
Major international companies as well as private schools usually have housing arrangements for their expatriate employees. Even if this is not the case, your employer or the relevant HR department can usually help you get started with your search.
Here are some strategies to help you find your dream home in Kuwait:
- Consult a local real estate agent.
- Ask work colleagues, friends, and other expats — word of mouth is the most reliable type of recommendation in Kuwait.
- Have a look in one of the local English-language newspapers such as the Kuwait Times or the Arab Times.
- Check online real estate listings such as the Kuwait Real Estate Directory and Mourjan.
- Visit compounds or apartment buildings and ask about availability — you might just be lucky and find out that an apartment will soon be vacated.
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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.