Kuwait is a small, oil-rich constitutional emirate, with foreign workers constituting 90 percent of the labour force. Kuwaiti nationals constitute 1.1million of the 3.4million population in the country, and they get to enjoy the benefits of a generous social welfare system that guarantees employment, housing, education and healthcare.
Kuwait City has numerous attractions which include excellent museums, a corniche ornamented with combed beaches and extravagant restaurants, modern shopping complexes and marinas, long and lazy retreats, and new beach resorts.
Outside Kuwait City, however, there are only few attractions, except at resorts along the coast. Tourist development of the historical Failaka Island is still in developmental stage. There are flat desert plains that are given over for oil excavation, and there are few distinctive features.
West of Kuwait City is the Al-Jahra area, the place that unfortunately famed for the violence that took place there as Iraqi troops retreated during the Gulf War. Considering the numerous building projects there, it is possible to almost overlook the Iraqi invasions, and a decade has passed since the invasion. But, Kuwaitis are still coming out of their devastating experience, as there visible reminders of the war.
As for travellers, while in Kuwait, there are some definite rules that need to be followed to avoid any faux-pas, so that local populace is not offended. Further, the tips given herein can help you in taking care of all that you need to, before planning a trip to Kuwait.
Kuwait’s weather pattern is similar to that of Europe, although the weather here is hotter and drier. Summers (April to October) are hot and humid with very little rain. Winters (November to March) are cool with limited rain, while Spring (February to April) is cool and pleasant.
If you happen to visit Kuwait in summer, there are plenty of air-conditioned amenities to make your summer visit tolerable. The winter months are chilly in the evenings, but, with pleasant daytime temperatures. During Spring, the desert is laced in a transparent lime green, decorated with petunias, making it the ideal time to visit.
Kuwait has cheap and well spread transport system with local and intercity buses that operate round the clock. Taxis charge a flat rate between the city and airport. Local taxis without meters are available for getting around. To hire a car, one must have an International Driving Permit.
Women travelling alone may have some problems entering and leaving the country, or when getting around the country, or staying in a hotel by themselves. Check with your local Kuwaiti Consulate, before travelling, to ensure all is fine, and get a contact name and number.
Women have reported stray incidences of harassment, in areas around the Salmiya locality, but, most shopkeepers are willing to help out if someone is especially persistent. Female travellers should keep in mind the cultural differences among several people who co-exist in Kuwait, and should be aware that unwitting actions may invite unwanted attention. Female travellers may dress modestly and generally maintain a low profile, as it may deter harassment.
Individuals with special needs may find accessibility and accommodation easy in Kuwait, as the law mandates access to buildings for people with disabilities. The government enforces such provisions, and also supervises and contributes to schools and job training programs that cater to people with special needs.
Expatriates must hold a valid passport, with a minimum validity of six months from date of entry, to enter Kuwait. Expatriates can obtain a 30-day entry permit or tourist visa, or a 90-day visit/business visa for travel to Kuwait. While Kuwait emphasizes on arranging visas prior to entry into Kuwait, some nations are allowed visa on arrival. You should also have a ticket for travel out of Kuwait. The visa processing may get quicker if you have all necessary documents with you, including sponsor letter or confirmation of hotel reservation.
If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, you may be refused visa, or if you plan to enter Kuwait over land from Iraq, you could obtain a visa in advance.
Travellers who overstay their visas, or do not complete Kuwaiti exit procedures, may be required to pay huge fines before departing Kuwait, and/or are likely to be imprisoned.
Kuwait has now eased visa requirements considerably, to encourage more visitors into the country. Nationals of all GCC countries can enter Kuwait without a visa, while nationals of 34 countries including Australia, Canada, Ireland, UK, Andorra, Belgium, Austria, Brunei, China, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Luxembourg, Monaco, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, the Vatican, and the USA can obtain a visitor visa at the Kuwait International Airport.
Visitor visas have a validity of 90 days from date of issue. Multiple-entry visas are valid only for business needs, and hold one-year validity. But such visas should be applied in advance.
It is possible to extend visa duration by one-month, twice. To do this, an application should be submitted to the immigration department in Shuwaikh before expiry of the visa.
Kuwait has also implemented biometrics, and fingerprints, which will be taken for both visitor and resident visa holders on entry and exit.
For further information on entry and exit requirements, travellers can contact their respective embassy in Kuwait.
Kuwaiti customs authorities enforce strict regulations for temporary importation into or export from Kuwait on items such as religious materials, firearms, pornography and alcohol. Alcohol, pork products and pornography are considered illegal in Kuwait. Travellers with prescription medications should carry them in their original packaging or bottle, as dispensed, along with a copy of their prescription, in case the authorities question about their importation to Kuwait. Baggages of all travellers are screened before entry into Kuwait.
Visitors to Kuwait should have accommodation and all such set-up beforehand, as independent travel is fairly new to the country. Hotels here range from deluxe to first and second class. Several top hotels in Kuwait feature restaurants, sport complexes and shopping malls. Serviced apartments with hotel-style room service are also available. Prices are usually high. All rates are subject to 15 percent service charge.
Contact your General Physician at least eight weeks prior to your trip to Kuwait, to check if you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Kuwait has a state medical service with local clinics and several good hospitals. Nationals can avail healthcare at low cost in government clinics. Apart from this, there are several doctors and dentists in private practice/hospitals. However, the fees are controlled by the State and are expensive. Ensure that you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover cost of medical treatment while in Kuwait and repatriation.
In case of any medical emergency, dial 112 for assistance. In case you are referred to a medical facility for treatment, contact your insurance/medical assistance company. When taking travel and medical insurance before travelling, check for any exclusions, and check if your policy covers you for all activities you wish to undertake.
Vaccination against typhoid and poliomyelitis is sometimes advised. Diarrhoeal diseases such as dysentery, giardiasis and typhoid fever are common. Hepatitis A occurs and Hepatitis B is endemic in the region. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, tick-borne relapsing fever, measles, mumps are sometimes reported. For those at high-risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered.
Political developments in Kuwait continue to have an impact on public opinion. Protests do happen in Kuwait City, and are almost always localised and peaceful. However, on 21st October 2012, a larger march took place in the presence of riot police, and use of tear gas, baton charges and paintball guns have been reported. It is possible that such protests may be organized in future too, and hence you should maintain a high level of security awareness, and exercise caution in public places and on roads and avoid large crowds and demonstrations.
There is general threat from terrorism, and terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region. The attacks, therefore, cannot be ruled out, and may be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expats and foreign travellers. Terrorist activities may include bombings, hostage taking, hijackings, kidnappings and assassinations.
Emergency Line in Kuwait – 112 (accessible 24/7)
Kuwait International Airport – 24336699
Kuwait Coast Guard Department – 25656741 / 25652979
Ambulance Department – 24722000 / 24721008
Fire Department – 100 – 105
Kuwait Police Department – 199
Operator Assistance - 101
Kuwait has a good road network between cities. The Kuwait Transport Company operates a nationwide service which is reliable and inexpensive. Taxis are recognized by red license plates and may be hired during the day, wherein fares are agreed beforehand. Share-taxis are also available. Taxis can be made available by a phone call, and this service is popular and reliable. A standard rate is applicable to most taxis, but those at hotel ranks are more expensive. Tipping is not expected.
Self-drive is also available. Driving is on the right. Visitors can use international driving permits issued by their respective countries within the time limit of their visas. On producing international driving permit, the rental company will grant a temporary local license, with one month validity. It is illegal to drive in Kuwait without a driving license and car registration documents. Insurance should be arranged with Gulf Insurance Company or Kuwait Insurance Company.
The highways and road systems in Kuwait are among the best in the world, with most highways being four lanes wide, and outside Kuwait city, there is hardly any traffic. When using road transport, only authorised road border crossing points into Iraq and Saudi Arabia should be used. Any other unauthorised movement in the vicinity of borders is considered illegal and dangerous. Off-road driving is discouraged, and if you happen to travel off-road, it is better to confine your movements whether by bicycle or on foot.
For trips to offshore islands, dhows and other small craft may be chartered. Kuwait has restrictions on eligibility requirements for driver licenses. Driving in excess of speed limits, switching lanes without warning, frequently ignoring traffic lights and use of mobile phones when driving are against rules. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense, which may lead to imprisonment and/or deportation. In case of an accident, you should stay with the vehicle, and not attempt to move it. You can call the police, as it is an offence to leave the scene of an accident before the police arrive.
Taking pictures of government and public buildings, economic infrastructure and military installations, particularly those related to oil industry, is against law and can lead to arrest, investigation and prosecution. If photographing public scenes or persons, visitors should seek permission beforehand, so as to not cause offense, else, it could lead to an official complaint to the authorities.
Importing narcotics, pork products, alcohol and obscene material can lead to imprisonment. You are not allowed to import alcohol into Kuwait, although the penalties for trafficking can be severe, including death sentence. Possession and abuse of drugs can lead to imprisonment of five to ten years and a heavy fine. Bail is usually not granted for drug offences and penalty for drug trafficking can also attract death sentence.
Drunken behaviour in public or driving under influence of alcohol is a punishable offence and can lead to imprisonment and/or deportation and withdrawal of driving license.
Co-habiting of unmarried partners in Kuwait is illegal. If you wish to live with your partner in the same house, you need to be married. Pornographic materials are considered illegal in Kuwait, and can get you into trouble, if found in your luggage on arrival. Homosexual behaviour is illegal and so is any public display of affection between men and women.
There is a wide variety of cloth and dress material available. Readymade clothing in Kuwait can range from cheap quality to expensive designer couture. The various styles reflect the multinational culture of Kuwaiti population. Tailors and dressmakers are widely available. Laundry and dry-cleaning services are in plenty. Although Kuwaitis are broad-minded, Islamic traditions dictate clothing decorum. Beachwear worn by either sex, is not permissible in Suqs or in the street, and is strictly limited to the beach or home. Although the black aba (cloak) is not a must, the fashionable clothes worn by Kuwaiti ladies do not reveal shoulders and upper arms, and usually stretch down to mid-calf at least. In the work place, formality of dress varies among different companies and occupations in Kuwait, but, styles are modest.
Mains water is normally chlorinated, and although relatively safe, may cause mild abdominal upsets. Bottled water is available and it is better to use bottled water for the first few weeks of the stay.
Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Local meat, seafood, poultry, fruit and vegetables are considered safe to eat. Most food is imported and subjected to stringent testing by Ministry of Public Health. Shops are inspected regularly by the Ministry. As long as normal domestic precautions are taken, the food in Kuwait is safe to eat.
Currency in Kuwait is Dinar, abbreviated as KD. Kuwaiti Dinar (KD) = 1000 fils. Notes are in denominations of KD20, 10 5 and 1, and 500 and 250 fils. Coins are denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 fils. Kuwait Dinar is stable, and is worth about $3.74.
As for credit and debit cards, American Express, Master Card, Diners Club and Visa are accepted. For details of merchant acceptability and other services, check with your credit or debit card company.
Travellers cheques are widely accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take travellers cheques in US Dollars or Pounds Sterling.
The import and export of local and foreign currency is allowed.
Banks are open Sunday to Thursday 0800hrs to 12oohrs. ATMs and Banks are everywhere and all major credit cards are accepted.
Kuwait shares borders with Saudi Arabia. The Persian Gulf lies to the southeast where Kuwait has sovereignty over nine small islands (largest being Bubiyan and Failaka being most populous). The landscape is mainly desert plateau with a lower, more fertile coastal belt. Kuwait is located in the northwest corner of Arabian Gulf with the Republic of Iraq, and to the south and southwest it shares border with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s territory includes nine islands located off-coast of Kuwait – Failaka, Bubiyan, Miskan, Auhha, Warba, Umm Al-Maradim, Umm Al-Naml, Kubbar and Qaruth.
Kuwait follows traditional Arab monarchy. It gained complete independence from the UK in 1961. The Kuwaiti government is headed by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-JAber Al-Sabah.
GMT + 3
240 volts AC, 50Hz, single phase. UK-type flat three-pin plugs are used.
For telephones full IDD is available. Country code: 965. Outgoing international code: 00. For mobile telephones GSM 900 and 1800 networks are available. Network operators include Zain, Ooredoo, VIVA.
Most hotels have fax facilities. Internet cafes are available throughout Kuwait, and offer public access to email and internet services. ISPs include KEMS, QualityNet, Fastelco, Gulfnet, Zain, Ooredoo, VIVA, mada.
Telegram services are available 24/7 at the Ministry of Post and Telegraph offices, Abdullah Al Salem Square, Kuwait City, but should be handed to the post office. Airmail to Western Europe takes about 5days. The general post office hours are 0700-1400 (Sat-Wed) and 0700-1200 (Thurs).
'Arab Times' and 'Kuwait Times' are popular English language newspapers, while BBC World Service and Voice of America are received on radio, although frequencies change from time to time.
Several large shopping complexes have been built recently. The Souk Sharp Complex is an extensive centre near the waterfront in Kuwait City, with Western chain stores and Kuwaiti shops also being present. Other popular centres include Al-Fanar Shopping Centre, Leila Gallery, boutiques and other small general stores. The shopping hours are 0900-1300 and 1630-2100(Sat-Thurs) and 1530-2030 (Fri).
The work week in Kuwait is Sunday to Thursday for majority of businesses, government offices and commercial banks.
April to October – 7:00am to 2:00pm (Thu & Fri)
November to March – 7:30am to 2:30pm (Thu & Fri)
Ramadan – 9:30 to 1:30pm (Thu & Fri)
8:00am to 1:00pm (Friday) only
4:30pm to 7:30pm (except Thu)
2:00pm to 5:00pm (except Thu)
Ramadan - 7:30pm to 10:30pm
Arabic is the official language, but, English is widely understood, particularly in the commerce and industry.
95 percent are Muslim (mostly of the Sunni sect), with Christian and Hindu minorities.
10 to 15 percent tipping is okey at a restaurant. However, tipping a taxi driver is not customary in Kuwait.
Ensure that you carry your own passport or Kuwait civil identification card, if you have one, at all times.
Bouncing of cheques is illegal and the law does not grant bail to offenders. Post-dated cheques can be banked immediately.
Humiliating or insulting a person, including a police offer or public official, is a crime in Kuwait. Such behaviour from your end will be subjected to police investigation and possible prosecution and imprisonment.
Kuwait, being a Muslim country, you need to respect local customs, traditions, laws and religion at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that you do not offend other cultures, religious beliefs and religious areas, particularly if you happen to visit during the holy month of Ramadan. Proselytizing is prohibited for all religions except Islam.
General modesty of behaviour and dressing is expected in public. Women wearing shorts or tight-fitting clothes, particularly in downtown areas, may attract unwelcome attention.