Kuwait is an oil-rich city-state flooded with expats; indeed, over 80% of the workforce is made up of foreigners. The culture is influenced by Western tradition, though places family, friends, and religion at the centre of life. The country is proud of its advanced democracy, which saw four female MPs elected for the first time in 2009.
Kuwait City is a vibrant place with fascinating museums, excellent restaurants, beautiful beaches, and Western-style shopping experiences. Diving and water sports are popular pursuits. Various resorts are dotted along the coast, making for indulgent breaks from city life.
Kuwaitis prefer doing business with people they know well and trust. Indeed, nepotism is viewed positively because it guarantees trust between employer and employee. Kuwaitis spend a lot of time getting to know someone, and impatience is viewed as a critique of their culture. Appearance is judged harshly.
Many Kuwaitis were educated in Europe or the US and know the business methods of the East and West well. This also means they are impressed by degrees from prestigious universities. They are shrewd negotiators, and decisions are reached slowly after discussions with various stakeholders.
Greeting people is a time to exchange small talk about health, family (in general; never ask about wives, sisters, or daughters directly), mutual friends or acquaintances, or other general comments. It is important to greet the most senior person in the room first.
Meetings are often in the early evening, and may be interrupted by the call to prayer. Frequent interruptions are common, and meetings are rarely private unless discussing confidential matters.
The working week is usually between 40 and 48 hours, with office hours usually between 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Friday is a day of rest. The ‘weekend’ for schools is Thursday and Friday, though ‘weekends’ for companies is often Friday and Saturday. During the Holy Month of Ramadan, the working day is reduced to six hours.
Life in Kuwait is not expensive, and tax-free status on items such as cars is a major advantage. As with every country, the cost of living depends on the lifestyle you choose to lead.
Kuwait is a closely-knit society, and the extended family is the basis of social structure and identity. This includes the nuclear family, immediate and distant relatives, tribe members, friends, and neighbours. Kuwaitis socialise in their homes, restaurants, and international hotels. If both genders are included in the invitation, they may be entertained in different spaces.
If invited to a Kuwaiti home, bring a gift such as a houseplant, box of imported chocolate, or something from your home country. Always greet the eldest person first, and accept any offer of food or drink.
All Westerners are expected to respect local traditions and laws. Most notably, consuming, buying, importing, or brewing alcohol is illegal in Kuwait, as is pornography. Knowing some basic Arabic, especially numerals, will make everyday life easier and will be appreciated by locals.
Men outnumber women in Kuwait nearly 2:1. Women are given more freedom in Kuwait than in neighbouring nations, though conservative dress is required. Women rarely socialise together in public.
Expat life in Kuwait can include glamourous private parties, lively dinners, and frequent trips to the sea for diving and recreation.
Public healthcare is free for all residents, though most expats prefer to use insurance to access excellent private hospitals and clinics.
Freedom of religion exists and churches are allowed to practice freely.
One airport serves Kuwait, though flight prices are quite high. Bus services are reasonably comfortable and take visitors to Jordan, Egypt, and other nearby countries. Boats take travellers to Iran, Bahrain, and Doha, among other places.
Most people own cars, especially women, and petrol is inexpensive. Local buses are not air-conditioned and are unreliable. Taxis are easy to find but can get expensive if used frequently.