Living in Kuwait
Kuwait lies at the head of the Arabian Gulf, between latitude 28 and 30 north and longitude 46 and 48 east. The land area of Kuwait is approximately 7,500 square miles, or roughly the size of Wales and is for the most part, flat. It has no rivers and no lakes. It is bounded on the west and north by Iraq, on the east by the Arabian Gulf and on the south by Saudi Arabia. There are nine islands, the largest of which are Failaka, Bubiyan and Warba, although none of them are inhabited. The Head of State is the Amir, who has appointed a Prime Ministerto oversee all things political. Kuwait is a modern state in many ways today, but much of it still holds the flavour of the event of its political independence, which took place nearly 250 years ago. The population of Kuwait is about 3.5 million, with one third of the population made up of Kuwaitis, and the other two thirds are expats.
The ambient temperature is hot in summer, with official temperatures of 50C being registered and 55 being the unofficial high in July and August. Humidity at this time of year is usually very low, due to the Northwesterly winds being hot and dry. Southeasterly winds, usually hot and damp, occur during July and October. Humidity can reach the 90% range at this time, making it extremely unpleasant, and spectacle wearers should take care when leaving air conditioning as a thick fog soon appears. What may also surprise you is how cold a winter morning can be. It has been known to approach zero. Sand storms are frequent especially in summer. Rain is almost nonexistent and comes in short bursts and amounts to some six inches a year, however, due to poor drainage floods do occur, especially in low lying areas such as underpasses and basements. Summer is from May to October & Autumn and Spring can be equated to an English summer, only dry! As an obvious word of warning, wear a hat.
When arriving in August, expect humid days with daytime temperatures above 50C Temperatures may be higher in July and humidity will get much higher in September. Clothes made of cotton or other “cool” fabrics are recommended. You will likely wear light clothing through October and again in March. Virtually all buildings and most cars are air-conditioned, so, believe it or not, a light sweater for wearing in-doors is advisable. Summer clothing for women could include light-weight dresses, linen trousers and loose-fitting tops, ensuring shoulders and knees are covered. Short, shorts are not appropriate in public. For men knee length shorts and t-shirts are fine although there may be an occasion that requires long trousers. (Please note there is additional guidance re school dress code). Individuals adjust differently to Kuwait’s warm weather, but when temperatures drop in November, most find they have a lowered tolerance for cool temperatures as well. Freezing temperatures rarely occur in Kuwait, but the almost constant wind and the humidity intensify the cold. Warmer clothing is often necessary from November through March. Winter sweaters, medium to heavy-weight jackets or coats, a scarf, even a pair of gloves are recommended for winter weather. Semi-formal evening wear will occasionally be worn for special parties or functions. In general, dress in Arab countries is quite conservative and more formal than the typical Western dress. The most important thing to consider with respect to local customs is the code of conduct observed among Arab men and women. Departure from conservative behaviour and dress by foreigners can be misinterpreted and even resented by host nationals. Common sense will dictate what to wear and what not to wear on any given occasion.
The religious holidays in the Islamic world are not determined by the Gregorian calendar but by the Muslim calendar. This is based on the phases of the moon and is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. Ramadan is one of the most interesting and is definitely the holiday that has the greatest impact on residents of Kuwait. It is a lunar month of daylight fasting — up to thirty days during which Muslims allow nothing to pass their throats, including food, drink, or smoke, from sunrise to sunset. Even non-Muslims are required to observe fasting behaviour in public. Cannons, as well as public calls to prayer from the mosques, announce the times for beginning and ending daily fasts. All government offices and most businesses adopt shorter daytime working hours during Ramadan, but shops stay open later in the evening. The school shortens the teaching day during Ramadan. A three-day holiday known as Eid Al-Fitr celebrates the end of Ramadan. Eid Al- Adha is a holiday at the end of Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, generally lasts four days. It includes Waqfa, the “feast of sacrifice”. On the first day of this holiday, pilgrims sacrifice sheep in remembrance of Abraham’s sacrifice. Waqfa, the day preceding the Eid Al-Adha, corresponds with the pilgrimage timing when Muslims stand at Mount Arafat. Islamic New Year is the beginning of the Hijra calendar. As with all other Muslim holidays, it shifts approximately 11 days forward in the Gregorian calendar each year. Ascension of the Prophet is the celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s miraculous transition at night from the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and his subsequent ascension into heaven on the horse, Al-Baraq.
Domestic help is available on a full time or part time basis. Those who chose to sponsor a full time live in maids (two year contract) can expect to pay agency fee and flights as well and residency and medicals with a monthly salary. Part time help is possible for a few hours to several days in a week.
While climate, cost and government regulations neither encourage the bringing of pets nor contribute to the quality of life for pets in Kuwait, all services and good are available to support dogs, cats, etc. Many school employees do keep small pets, and a limited variety of animals are available for purchase locally. Teachers choosing to bring pets to Kuwait are advised to check with the airline about requirements and costs.
The local currency is the Kuwaiti Dinar, usually written “KD”, sometimes before the amount, sometimes after. It is subdivided into 1000 fils. There are 5, 10, 20, 50 & 100 fil coins and ¼, ½, 1, 5, 10 & 20KD notes. It is freely convertible and has no restrictions, although you may not find any at some UK banks or airports. Both cash and travellers cheques are readily converted at the various money changers, but it would help to bring about 20KD in case of any hassle at the airport. All major credit cards are accepted in most shops (often with 4% surcharge for all but the large ones), however the Co-op for instance only accepts Visa and your cards will work in some ATMs (usually the big hotels) and can be used over the counter to obtain a cash advance.
The Mail System
The local postal system is inefficient and letters can take weeks. Also available are various courier services, e.g., TNT, D.H.L., FEDEX. Outgoing mail is OK but check first whether your company has a regular mailbag home before using it. It is generally best if you can take your mail to the post office, but if this is not possible there are a few post boxes dotted around (there is one outside the Sultan Centre in Salwa) and occasionally they do get emptied. At the time of writing there are a few “Royal Mail” guys, showing the locals how it should be done. It is possible to arrange an Aramex box for an initial fee and then you’ll be charged by weight. DHL can also assist with incoming and outgoing mail. DO NOT SEND ANYTHING RELATED TO ALCOHOL, PORNOGRAPHY OR RELIGION. Anything judged to be illegal will be confiscated, and the addressee may be subject to prosecution.
Kuwait ‘s bus system is neither excellent nor convenient and is not recommended. It is, inexpensive and functional and does serve most areas of the country. The usual passengers are bachelor labourers residing in Kuwait.
Taxi’s are readily available, the general advice is to find a driver or a company you trust and are able to communicate with.
Entertainment and Leisure
Newcomers to Kuwait may observe that a Western-style entertainment is in short supply, but most expats stay as busy and involved as they please. Here is a short list of some thing to do and places to see:
Kuwait’s zoo is small, and set in a peaceful park, which features playground equipment and rides for children and picnic benches and tables.
Boating, jet-skiing, and wind surfing, scuba diving and snorkelling, swimming, and fishing are among the most popular recreational activities.
Many families continue to explore, camp in, and enjoy the desert.
A traditional fishing village located half an hour’s drive from Kuwait City. Not only do the fishermen craft their own nets and build fish traps there, but the traditional fishing vessel known as the dhow is still constructed by hand without the use of power tools.
A small, amusement park complete with rides and arcades popular among the younger set in Kuwait. Although the park was dismantled and largely destroyed by the Iraqis, it has been restored and reopened to the public.
At the base of the Kuwait Towers, this swimming park includes a wave pool and giant slides.
There are a variety of musical, theatre production and comedy nights that are happy to entertain or let you join so you can be the entertainer.
The American Women’s League is an active group that sponsors regular meetings, a Christmas bazaar, and many activities for expatriate women and children. There is also active International Women’s Group in Kuwait.
The Old Souk in Kuwait is a fascinating area. You will find gold, spices, incense, oriental carpets, ordinary household goods, clothing and almost anything else one would care to purchase. There is also a Friday Souk where sheep, goats, birds, second-hand furniture, household items and a few antiques can be bought. Also available here are cleaning supplies, plastic and paper goods, etc.
National Museum and Art Museum
Displayed here is one of the largest collections of Islamic art in the Middle East. Until recently, on section of the museum was preserved in the deplorable condition left behind by the Iraqis.
This house of martyrs was the site of a fierce and protracted battle between Iraqi troops with tanks and a group of ill-equipped Kuwaiti freedom fighters, many of whom died just hours before the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
This private collection of magnificent art pieces is widely regarded as the best in Kuwait.
This traditional Kuwaiti home features Bedouin weaving demonstrations and classes, and handicrafts.
The Science and Natural Science Museum
Just what the name suggests, this government museum is worth a visit or two.
An important landmark of the city, the Towers feature panoramic views of the city and the Gulf. A restaurant, revolving snack bar, and observation deck are included in this magnificent modern symbol of Kuwait.
Numerous movie theaters are located although censorship means some movies won’t make it to Kuwait or will be cut.
Many health and exercise clubs are available, and each of the major hotels features and exercise and facility.
Kuwait’s ice-skating rink features family recreation time as well as segregated skating on a regular basis.
Kuwait is the home of two sand golf courses. Avid golfers may wish to bring golfing gear to Kuwait. Balls and tees are available for purchase, but clubs cannot be rented and are very expensive to buy, if available at all. There is also an 18 hole grass course which overlooks the race course.
The Hunting and Equestrian Club
This recreational facility hosts numerous activities in addition to opportunities for equestrian showmanship and show jumping.
Ballet and contemporary dance groups are available.
Kuwait owes its strong tradition of dart competition to its British heritage. Die-hard dartists may inquire among the British community for opportunities to participate in established leagues.
Many supermarkets stock Western imported brands as well as local products.
The malls are the source of much entertainment be it shopping, eating or going to the cinema. Many imported brands can be found in the malls and you will be spoilt for choice.
Kuwait has a wonderful selection of restaurant be it cheap and cheerful to high end extravaganza. There will be many names you will be familiar with and some you will grow to love. Home delivery and restaurant take out is also popular and some choose to rely on this service instead of a home cooked meal.
Health and Hygiene
There are apparently no real health risks in Kuwait, however vaccination against TB is recommended, and cholera and yellow fever is required for those coming from infected areas. The major exception is a particularly nasty strain of flu which is prevalent at the end of Summer, when the temperature drops, this can cause great discomfort and sleepless nights, with the possibility of a couple of days off work to the less robust. Another problem is that of dehydration and as a consequence plenty water must be drunk, especially for those with jobs having an outdoor involvement. Note that all residents in Kuwait must undergo an AIDS test, with a positive result meaning immediate expulsion. (See also Medical Facilities)
Electricity throughout Kuwait is 240v 50Hz with British style13 amp 3-pin square type power outlets and is usually included in your rent (or provided in school accommodation).
Tap water is desalinated and fluoridated and almost drinkable from the special filter tap in all flats but is it advisable to boil it first, however you may prefer bottled water to be absolutely sure. Cooking is by bottled gas, available from outlets usually located next to a Co-op or speak to the building harris (maintenance).
Food can be expensive if you rely on the imported brands. If you become familiar with local ingredients or local recipes you will be able to reduce your food budget. There is a huge fast food industry but slowly there is a move toward more organic and health conscious restaurants and markets.