An expat shares some of the things she wishes she knew before moving to Kuwait that would've made relocating there easier.
23 November 2016| Last updated on 18 June 2017
When I was first offered a job in Kuwait, I opened up my MacBook and frantically started searching about life in Kuwait on the internet. Unfortunately, the information I found was limited and what I could find was outdated or irrelevant. To make matters worse, when I started telling people that I was moving to Kuwait, I received responses such as:
“Where is that? Is that part of Dubai?”
“But why would you move there?”
Nobody around me had any information for me about this oil-rich country in the Gulf, which filled me with even more anxiety. I have been here for a few months and so far, Kuwait has been a wonderful experience for me, but it’s not for everyone. How you find the experience – at least for an expatriate like me – depends on you. Your character, your expectations, your attitude towards people, society, faith, politics and willingness to adapt.
There are things I wish I knew before moving here and I want to share them, in hopes that it helps other women who have plans to move here.
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1. You have nothing to fear!
People thought I was utterly mad when I announced that I was heading to the Middle East. I think they had images of people shouting “Allahu Akbar” and running down the streets detonating grenades. What a joke! Kuwait is utterly safe in every way; even more so than my home country (South Africa). I feel comfortable and safe when I go out by myself (yes, you are allowed to do that here) and I personally don’t know anyone who has experienced any crime here.
Despite being geographically located under Iraq, there is absolutely no volatility on the streets of Kuwait. In fact, life is painfully peaceful and quiet here. You have absolutely nothing to fear or worry about in terms of your safety.
2. Women are treated liked gold.
Many women worry that in a Muslim country, they will lose their basic human rights or be treated like second-class citizens when compared to their male counterparts. In my experience, this is totally untrue. When I go to the ATM, men step aside so that I can withdraw money first. In the supermarket, there are ‘women priority’ lines where a lady can overtake any men in the queue. There are also malls that don’t allow men inside if they aren’t accompanied by their wives/family. All of this is done to make women’s lives easier and more serene. I have seen women get away with the most abominable parking, purely by virtue of being a woman.
If you are worried about what you are allowed to do as a woman- you can do whatever you like. Go anywhere, drive by yourself, have your own bank account, etc. You are not disadvantaged in any way purely because you are a woman.
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3. Pack all of your regular clothes.
As women, our wardrobe is super important to us. When moving to a new place, you often wonder what is appropriate and what isn’t. Multiply that concern by 100 when you are moving to a conservative Muslim country. Let me shed some light on this matter because I couldn’t find any definitive information about this online.
For work, you will be expected to dress modestly, no matter what profession you are in. That means loose tops, longer in length than average (if your top isn’t long you can always wear a cardigan that is a bit longer) and your sleeves should be below the elbow. Your skirts and pants will be expected to be well below the knee and again, I would recommend those loose, long tops to cover your butt if your pants are tight.
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After-hours, you can definitely wear what you want- within reason. I wouldn’t recommend booty shorts or crop tops, but jeans and t-shirts are perfectly fine. Shorts that cover the majority of your thigh are also ok. As long as your blouse doesn’t expose all of your cleavage, you won’t be offending anyone.
It’s important to note that there are no bars/nightclubs or any sort of party scene in Kuwait, so I would leave the halter-tops and sequinned dresses at home. Remember though, it’s likely that you will be traveling out of Kuwait for holidays, so you will have opportunities to wear those crop tops (perhaps not in other Gulf countries but definitely out of this region).
4. Restrictions? On what?
I often receive questions from people about what they can access in Kuwait in terms of news and the internet. Well, the good news is that for the average expat, nothing is banned. Facebook, Facetime, Skype and every other social network is very much available and of course, every Kuwaiti person is constantly using some app or the other as they drive along the highway! Yes, pornography is prohibited and explicit scenes in movies are censored. However, you aren’t restricted in any other way whatever your political/religious views are.
5. Kuwait might be hotter than hell!
When people think of the Middle East, I am sure they are imagining a vast desert with a scorching sun and to some extent, this is true. Kuwait is made up mostly of the sandy Arabian Desert, with a very small cityscape. I thought I was prepared for the heat after growing up in a tropical city in South Africa but I was still taken by surprise.
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During the summer months, the temperature can reach 50 degrees Celsius but really this shouldn’t scare you. Unless you are accepting a job offer where you need to be outdoors all day, the weather will barely affect you. Every place in Kuwait is air-conditioned and the average person doesn’t spend much time outside in the summertime. Stores are open until 10pm, so most people do their shopping in the evening and some banks also open from 5pm to 8pm.
When I first arrived, I thought the weather would never cool down, but the temperature does drop and the change in weather is quite dramatic. October and November are the perfect months for beach barbecues, pool parties and seaside brunches. December and January are considerably colder (below 10 degrees Celsius) but overall, the weather in Kuwait is quite bearable.
Moving to Kuwait can be the best or worst experience of your life depending on your mindset. The key to enjoying life in Kuwait is to be accepting of local culture, religious tolerance and being open to adapting to the lifestyle. This part of the world isn’t all war zones and conflict; think sand dune bashing and camping in the desert, countless hours smoking shisha in the souq and meeting many interesting people from all walks of life.
Life in Kuwait has its ups and downs, just like anywhere else in the world but remember that there are many good experiences to be had in this little country. If you reach out, you will find them. If you never try, you will not know what adventures you are missing.
About the Author
Born and raised in South Africa. A curious educator, zealous explorer & vociferous storyteller. Trying to inspire and connect with people through her passions. A life lover & encouragement giver in the pursuit of perfection. For more about her experiences, visit her blog Expat Panda.