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Language and Business Etiquette in Kuwait

If you have the opportunity to accept an expat assignment in Kuwait, prepare for a career boost! Every year the country’s huge oil reserves and great opportunities for expats attract thousands of foreigners keen on working in Kuwait. Our guide has info on permits, business etiquette, and more.
Residency visas are only granted to expats with a valid employment contract.

Knowing a Bit of Arabic Helps

Companies in Kuwait usually do not require — or, for that matter, even expect — expats to speak any Arabic. In the Kuwaiti business world, English is widely spoken. Many Kuwaiti entrepreneurs have plenty of experience abroad and speak English well.

In everyday life, however, English is not as prevalent. While most Kuwaitis know at least some English words, having basic Arabic skills can be very helpful for expats. Being able to read Arabic numerals will also make grocery shopping much easier. Knowing how to reply to common phrases and greetings is always appreciated by Kuwaiti neighbors, acquaintances, and shopkeepers.

The official and written language in Kuwait is Modern Standard Arabic. Most people, however, speak in the local colloquial dialect, Kuwaiti Arabic. For those planning to travel to or live in other Arab countries, it might be a good idea to learn Standard Arabic instead of the local Kuwaiti dialect. You may wind up coming across as rather formal when you speak, but you will be understood everywhere and avoid stepping on anyone’s toes.

A Religious Culture

Islam plays an important role in everyday life in Kuwait. Always respect local residents’ need to perform their religious duties. Muslims pray five times a day at predetermined times. Even official meetings may be interrupted in favor of prayer.

Dinner invitations may also be somewhat different than what you are used to back home. Even if you are invited for 20:00, dinner may not be served until several hours later at 22:00 or even 23:00. The time before the actual meal is considered time to relax and socialize.

Some Arab families still eat in the traditional fashion as well. This means sitting on cushions on the floor during the meal and eating with your hand. If participating in such a traditional meal, always remember to use your right hand for eating. The left is considered unclean.

Business Etiquette — Up Close and Personal

In Kuwait, doing business is dependent on building up a lot of trust and developing personal relationships. Therefore, never try to rush business matters, but wait until an atmosphere of trust and friendship has been established.

Also, it may seem that your Kuwaiti counterparts rarely are in any rush. Decisions are often reached slowly, and negotiations require patience. One of the most disrespectful things to do during a business meeting — or any other social event — is to appear to be in a hurry. On the bright side, being on time is less important, so you needn’t rush to your next meeting anyway.

Business apparel in Kuwait should be conservative. Women should choose skirts that cover their knees and sleeves that cover their elbows. More revealing attire is often considered offensive. When introduced to somebody, always remember their academic or political title, and use this whenever you address them.


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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."

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