Last week I had a little impromptu chat with a fellow expat blogger, over Instagram. The thing about bloggers, and especially expat bloggers, is that we are an incredibly friendly bunch. Just like my desert girls they “get it” so we tend to gravitate to each other, not only in real life, but in the social media one too. Anyway I digress a little, I was sent a message regarding life in Kuwait and did I have any specific posts about life here and advice I could instill. I realised that whilst I had a couple of posts directly about Kuwait, I did not have a post, that anyone considering a move to this little random corner of the Middle East, could read and gain a little insight into what life is really like here. So thanks to the lovely lady for inspiring this post and hope that this may guide her decision.
Wow the pressure is really on for this post. I can feel 1000 eyes on me already as I try to be honest. Let’s face it, nowhere is perfect and there are frustrations with any life, but one thing I have always tried to do with this blog is be honest and I will not paint life through rose-tinted sunglasses. So here goes, and forgive me I am by no means the font of all knowledge when it comes to life out here, all experiences are different, but this is my take on tips for life in the sandpit, abridged because you don’t want to be here all day.
A few key points to get you started
Kuwait is a Muslim Country
Located at the top of the Gulf, bordering Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq
2/3 hours in front of GMT (depending on the time of year)
Local currency is Kuwaiti Dinar (KD
Weekends are Friday and Saturday
It’s 100% “Dry”
Visa, medical and work permits needed
Driving licences need to be issued locally in order to drive (this isn’t always a simple or successful process)
Firstly, like most expat postings, try to have an open mind and no expectations. I came with absolutely none. Well actually that’s not entirely true, I came with very low expectations! Hubby had been out for an interview and had the “special tour” that his company roll out for all potential candidates. He came back with his iPad filled with photos of all the “best bits” and one night in Prague we sat and went through them. At this point, I saw a beach club, a modern apartment and marina sky lines. I suspect that most wives get the exact same power point, but he thought I’d like it.
So when the man you love and trust more than anything says it will be ok, I boarded the plane ready as I could be.
In all honesty, I don’t know what I expected. If you have lived in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or holiday in the Emirates, Kuwait is not like them. It’s fairly sleepy in comparison and whilst Kuwait City is modern and a skyline of skyscrapers, the rest of the country is still a mix match of everything. I was a little shocked at how dirty some of it is, in all truthfulness, I expected it to be spotless and gleaming with the wealth that’s out here, but that isn’t the case everywhere. There are gorgeous landscaped areas, parks and marinas but again they are sandwiched between not so great bits, but its makes the place authentic, there is nothing plastic and fake, no manmade paradise, it is what it is and you quickly adapt and see past the niggles and learn to love it.
Obviously you are moving to a Muslim country, so this can be an adjustment for some. I have mentioned before in Lifting The Veil that Kuwait is fairly conservative and more importantly for westerners dry. That means zero alcohol, not sold, not in hotels, not at home, so be warned this is not Dubai. There is no need for woman to cover their hair or wear abayas (although many locals do choose to) but respect and modesty in clothing should be considered, covering shoulders, not too short and not dressing too provocatively. There will be of course be mosques on most street corners and you will quickly get used to the call to prayer. Even the ones in the early hours will no longer wake you and the mystical, almost hypnotic humming around the city becomes part of life. Other religions are practised here, of course not widely, but there are churches that I know many attend. You will have to adhere to the rules during the month of Ramadan, whether a practicing Muslim or not, so this can be a shock to those new to the country, but it is a big part of the culture and faith, that you learn to adjust and respect. (Post on Ramadan for extra light reading).
The first major adaptation for me, was the heat. Now I came in August and I have spoken on a few occasions, that at this time of the year it is 50+ degrees and is more than something to get used to. Now if you don’t like the heat, then I’m not going to lie this is probably not the place for you. At least 9 months of the year it is above 30 and will rocket to uncomfortable limits.
You are moving to the hottest place on earth so be warned!
There is little humidity, it is just dry and hot, which in some cases makes it easier but there is little respite. So bear this in mind, especially where kids are concerned as there won’t be masses of outdoor activities, at some points of the year, but air con is standard everywhere.
Do not expect a party central! I mean my days of dancing till 3am are well and truly over but there isn’t masses to do. This suits Hubby and I down to the ground and makes it a great family location. The expat community is huge here and a very welcoming one. There will be no difficulties in meeting people, invitations to BBQ’s, dinner parties and coffee mornings will be thick and fast. Much to my surprise, compared to Prague here is so sociable. It maybe quiet and a bit low key but you can still fill your days with plenty of social activities. The one thing I will say, and as another blogging connection mentioned, is that seasoned Middle East expats and locals can be very direct. Don’t be surprised to get 101 questions thrown at you on a first meeting! In the early days this can seem like they are being rude, but I have learned that we English have a lot of social barriers and we can be a little shocked, when asked very direct personal questions, which you wouldn’t dream of asking a stranger on a first greeting. Married? Kids? Husbands job? Why? What? When? it can be relentless but something that soon becomes “normal”, although I still find this a difficult aspect.
Family is everything here, so most things are geared up for everyone to take part in. Now I don’t have kids but I have had plenty of interaction, with the desert girls and their broods, to know that schooling is often seen as a great advantage for a move here. They all have such high praise for most of the English schools (I don’t know any at the American ones sorry) and the kids tend to end up above the UK standard, thriving in a multi cultural environment. They are all private schools, so be prepared for that additional cost if not part of your “deal”, having said that, if you are considering bringing the little people, then I don’t think educational options on the whole will disappoint.
One thing I am so glad we did was join a beach club. The kids and the adults alike can enjoy the perks of the weather, cool off in the pool, have weekends as a family or workout, as most have excellent gym facilities attached. They do get busy and annual memberships aren’t cheap, but in my opinion were essential in my early days. They are a great social hub for meeting people, you can enjoy the weather and wear swimwear with no restrictions. Note that some public beaches are men only and you can not undress on the family beaches, which can seem extreme as a newbie. Outside of the beach clubs, shopping and eating are your “go to”. The malls here are second to none, with The Avenues being one of Kuwait’s main attractions. Shops, salons, restaurants, cinema and KidZania theme park for the kids. More and more indoor attractions are opening all the time, but there are plenty of clubs, choirs and sporting events the whole family can get involved in,
just don’t expect nightclubs and Friday nights at the pub.
I don’t really have anything negative to say about life here. Is it an adjustment? Yes of course there are things to get used to and it is a culture shock coming from a thriving European city. Having said that I feel safer here than I ever did in Prague. That will surprise many of you, as I know most people have a perception of the Middle East of being a war zone or risky in terms of safety. Kuwait’s location to, what can be perceived as dodgey places, may play on people’s minds when deciding on a move and put you off completely. Of course you can never tell what may happen but I have always felt safe and accepted from day one.
I could go on and on, but I think these are the main factors when I considered the move desert side. Like anything in life, it is not for everyone, some will love as I and my desert girls do, some will think it’s too weird and random to even try. But like most experiences it’s what you make them. My parting words of wisdom (hardly wisdom actually) is
I should have had more positive expectations, it’s not the third world (as some rude American woman said in front of me once!!!) it’s a little weird at times and certainly needs getting used to but it’s so much better than I had in my head.
I would tell anyone to give it a go, whether its Kuwait or any other expat posting, you only live once and life is all about adventures and risk worth taking. Go for it!
I could see why my Hubby loved this part of the world. Everything we have experienced and everywhere travelled in this region is so unique. However long we are here for I will always look back at the quirky little nuances with fondness. Desert life in one of a kind but I wouldn’t change it for anything right now.