Kuwait City, Kuwait Report of what it's like to live there - 05/23/23

Personal Experiences from Kuwait City, Kuwait

Kuwait City, Kuwait 05/23/23

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Prior to serving in Kuwait I served in Tokyo, Manila, and Moscow.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Travel to Kuwait from the U.S.A. almost always involves at least one stop in Europe or one of the Gulf hub cities. Kuwait Airlines has direct flights to New York.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Just under one year.

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4. What years did you live here?

2022 - 2023.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic Mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We have been happy with our housing which is an upper floor 3-bedroom apartment with a great Gulf/city view. The embassy has housing on-compound that is very popular with families with children and anyone that wants to walk to work. Other housing options include some single family homes near the embassy, and other high-rises in the city. My commute ranges from 15 minutes to 30 minutes or so, depending on when I leave (earlier departures = shorter commutes).

My observations about the housing options:
Embassy compound housing comes with green space: a large date-palm lined field surrounded on three sides by housing and the "community center" at the end that you really can't find in the rest of the city. The pool and playground accentuate the kid-friendly atmosphere. Families with children tend to prefer this option, but others do just fine in houses nearby (all families are different).

If you anticipate an active social life with non-embassy personnel (foreign diplomats, Kuwaitis, other 3rd country nationals, etc.), then compound housing might be a bit of a hassle with all the security screening and requirements for visitors. For those reasons, singles tend to prefer off-compound housing, but again, your interests may vary.

City apartment dwelling has its advantages and disadvantages as well. My place was within walking distance (during the cooler months) of a couple of good dining options, and of course, getting anywhere in the city is usually not more than a 15 minute drive. Our gulf/city view was fantastic, and the balcony was a quiet place to practice my guitar when it wasn't too hot (six to seven months of the year). We could count on one hand the number of times we had any noise complaints.

On the downside, Kuwait is not really a walkable city. Sidewalks, where they exist, tend to be an afterthought and are usually littered with dog p@@p. Crosswalks are rare. So wherever you end up in the city, don't expect to do any long walks. Apartment sizes also vary. While we were happy with ours, others in our building complained that it was a bit small. Storage in our apartment was adequate for us, but larger families with lots of stuff could have issues. Clearly state your requirements in your housing survey.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We never had any issues with fresh produce and groceries in general, but we pride ourselves on being able to adapt to local conditions. Groceries here are maybe a bit more expensive than other posts we have served in, but we didn't find them to be outrageous, with the exception of some seasonal items.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Not really, unless you have certain American brands that you can't live without. The military bases have small PXs where you can buy items that aren't available on the local market. We went to the base twice in nine months, and that was plenty. But you've got the option to go more frequently if that's how you roll.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Kuwait is not short on really good restaurants. We've had great Thai, Japanese, Indian and Italian food in addition to great bar-b-que and regional cuisine. All of them deliver. Prices are higher than at some of our last posts, but I didn't think they were any more expensive than Washington, and frankly, the quality is better.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We didn't have any issues.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We only used DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We had a helper come once a week to clean and cook. Cost was very reasonable, and she was very friendly and professional. From what we heard from other families, full-time household helpers, including nannies, are great here.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

All the apartment buildings have swimming pools, and workout facilities. The Embassy has a covered pool and a gym. I don't have much experience with any of them.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards are widely used. ApplePay works everywhere. A very small number of government institutions (some museums) only accept K-net, a local payment option that requires a local bank account. But even there, workarounds exist. ATMs are common and safe.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes. I attended a service on Fridays, and I think several options are available.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

I jumped into a taxi early in my tour here and apologized to the driver that I don't speak Arabic. He replied "that's ok, I don't either." That said, learning a few key phrases in Arabic can go a long way in building relationships with Kuwaitis, even though they mostly speak English as well. Bottom line: no language training required.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

To be perfectly honest, getting around in Kuwait could be a challenge with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are safe and reasonable affordable. There are buses, but I'm not aware of any embassy personnel that use them. Schedules are not posted, and waiting for the bus in the summer would almost certainly lead to heat stroke.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

I drove a medium sized SUV during my time in Kuwait. Car theft isn't really a thing here, so you don't have to worry about that, but you'll almost certainly get dinged a few times. If you intend to do a little desert driving, or to navigate the alarmingly large potholes that tend to appear on Kuwaiti roads, then a 4WD would be a wise investment. I've seen a couple of Teslas on the roads, but there doesn't not seem to be much charging infrastructure around. At-home charging would be a crap shoot. On the other hand, gas is unbelievably cheap in Kuwait, so box up your old Hummer and go to town.

The AC will get be working overtime throughout the summer, if you are buying a used car, check the AC out carefully for any unusual noises - a new compressor isn't cheap.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet here hasn't been as robust as I expected it to be. We got a wireless router from Zain which usually works well. Prices are reasonable. My wife teleworked while we were here and was always able to get her work done, even if she had to reschedule a call or two now and then.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We used a local provider. Service was reliable. You can get a pre-paid plan upon arrival without a civil ID, but if you can wait you can get a post-paid plan after you get your civil ID.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Telecommuting is easy since there are no local income taxes; U.S. companies don't have to jump through a lot of hoops to employ expat spouses. I don't know about working on the local economy, but jobs are available at the embassy.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business attire at work, depending on your section. In spite of its reputation as a quasi-liberal democracy, Kuwait is a fairly conservative Muslim country. Most Kuwaiti women are completely covered in public. That said, foreigners are given significant latitude. Its wise to dress modestly and avoid attracting attention. Jeans and a tee-shirt are never a problem.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Women should think carefully about being out alone late at night. You'll probably be OK, but is it worth the risk?

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2. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

There are dust storms in the summer. My wife and I didn't have any issues.

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3. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Summers are unbelievably hot, so be prepared to spend your time holed up in your apartment or wondering around the malls. To be fair, some of the malls are huge.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Summers are dangerously hot. From October to early May you can expect good weather, dropping down to the upper 30s (Fahrenheit).

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No direct experience, but from what I understand, elementary and middle school options are good. High school is a challenge.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The embassy community is around 160. The foreign diplomat community tends to socialize together.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

If you know what you are getting into, Kuwait is good assignment. It's a dry country, so there are no nightclubs in the western sense of the word. American diplomats tend to host well attended parties, so that's an option. For couples, regional travel opportunities are excellent, and if you are adventurous you can road-trip across Saudi Arabia to Riyadh, Bahrain, Qatar, or UAE. It's a safe post with good elementary and middle schools, so families do well here. With a large base of Kuwaiti students, the schools tend to restrict themselves to academics.

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3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

The expat community is friendly and accepting.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Some members of the community had good tours as far as I know.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Nothing that should surprise anyone.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Winter in Kuwait is great. Walking in Al Shaheed Park and feeding the cats along the Corniche. Trying new restaurants. But there isn't much to do in Kuwait, so regional travel has been the highlight - Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Egypt.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The camel races. Specifically, the Mad Max option.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Persian rugs from the Iranian souk.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Cheap gas, regional travel, good food, safe.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

No surprises for us. Do your research before coming. If you know what to expect, Kuwait can be a rewarding assignment.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Walking shoes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

A Peace to End all Peace - a great backgrounder on the origins of the modern middle east in the wake of the first world war.
The Mariner - a fictional account of Kuwait's pearl-fishing history.
The Exchange - Netflix series loosely based on the experiences of the first two women to work in the Kuwaiti stock exchange in the 1980's.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Kuwait is what you make of it. No more, no less.

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