Kuwait travel guide
Kuwait is one of the most liberal Islamic states in the Middle East, with a population predominately comprised of expats from Africa, the UAE and South Asia. Often overshadowed by the controversy surrounding neighbours Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, as well as falling victim to attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Kuwait has rebuilt itself in a region ravaged by numerous recent conflicts.
In 1990, Iraq claimed Kuwait as its 19th province, but a US led alliance expelled the Iraqis in a short war in 1991, and, subsequently Kuwait erected a barrier along its border to deter its threatening neighbour. Despite the turbulence of its history, Kuwait today is, once again, beginning to reflect its status as an oil-rich nation. Now, Kuwait attracts both business travellers and tourists from the west, particularly the US.
Those visiting Kuwait today are imbued with a lust for adventure that has nothing to do with adrenalin, but rather a yearning to explore and invest in this increasingly westernised Islamic state. In comparison to its more conservative neighbours, women comprise nearly 50 percent of the workforce in Kuwait, and the dual legal system, with some separate legal codes for Muslims and non-Muslims, is a good indication of the progressive nature of the country. Kuwait developed a reputation as a haven for the arts in the 20th Century and this legacy continues today; Kuwait has the oldest modern arts and literary movements in the region, as well as a famous talent for theatre.
The ruined capital, Kuwait City, has risen from the ashes of war to become a buzzing metropolis with gleaming high rises, numerous luxury hotels and lush parks set along wide avenues. The city's major landmark is Kuwait Towers, visible from the harbour where oil tankers come and go, docking alongside hundreds of cargo ships and pleasure crafts. There is plenty to interest the traveller, not only in Kuwait City itself but also throughout Kuwait, from its arid desert plateau to the fertile coastal belt and its nine small offshore islands.
Unfortunately, the terrorist attack by ISIL in June 2015 has harmed the region's newly acquired reputation as a safe travel destination, but authorities maintain strict security measures in order to secure the safety of its citizens and guests.
Kuwait's currency is the Kuwaiti Dinar (KWD). Major credit cards are widely accepted. Currency is best taken in US Dollars or British Pounds, with the Indian Rupee (INR) also easy to exchange. There are banks with foreign exchange facilities in the large centres and ATMs are plentiful. Many banks are open from 8am to 3pm from Sunday to Thursday, but some banks have more varied hours. ATMs are usually open 24 hours.
Language : Arabic is the official language, but English is widely used and understood; a compulsory language in secondary schools. Other widely spoken languages include Farsi (common among Iranian expats) and Urdu (common among South Asian expats).
Electricity : 240 volts, 50Hz. The UK-style three-pin is in use (Type G).
Entry Requirements :
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond their arrival in Kuwait. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 3 months.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond their arrival in Kuwait. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 3 months.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond their arrival in Kuwait. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 3 months.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond their arrival in Kuwait. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 3 months.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond their arrival, and require a visa, to enter Kuwait. A visa can be obtained on arrival for up to one month only, provided (i) travellers are holding confirmation that their visa is available on arrival, (ii) that they are entering Kuwait for touristic purposes, (iii) that they have a sponsor in Kuwait who is in possession of the original visa, and (iv) that they stay in Kuwait for a maximum of 30 days.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for six months beyond their arrival in Kuwait. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 3 months.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Kuwait. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 3 months.
Passport/Visa Note :
All foreign passengers to Kuwait must hold return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. Most foreign nationals can obtain a three-month tourist visa on arrival. Visas may also be obtained prior to departure from one's country of origin, as are e-visas. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health :
No vaccination certificates are required for entry into Kuwait, but inoculation against typhoid is advisable for travellers eating outside of major hotels and restaurants. General vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, and MMR updates (measles-mumps and rubella) are also recommended.
There is a risk of diarrhoeal diseases, which are common in the country. Tap water is safest when boiled, filtered and disinfected, and, while many people consider it relatively safe to drink, most visitors stick to bottled water.
Medical fees are high and medical insurance is recommended; many doctors will expect payment in cash regardless of whether you have medical insurance or not. All prescription medicines must be accompanied by a doctor's letter detailing exactly why the medication is required and be sure to check the list of medical contraband, so as to avoid importing banned prescription drugs (e.g. drugs containing alcohol) into the country.
A service charge of 15 percent is usually added to bills in restaurants and hotels; if not a tip of 10 percent is acceptable. Additional tipping is only expected in more expensive hotels. Taxi drivers appreciate a small tip for long journeys. Baggage handlers, petrol attendants and assistants can also be tipped a small amount; this is common practice.
Safety Information :
Authorities are of the opinion that there is a high general threat of terrorism against western targets in Kuwait and other countries in the region. Visitors should remain vigilant, especially in public places and where westerners gather.
The situation has become more dire with the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region. ISIL claimed responsiblity for a bomb attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait City, which took place on 26 June 2015. It is evident that both western and non-western targets are currently under threat of terrorist attacks in Kuwait and travellers should be wary of further threats from ISIL.
The country is regarded as trouble-free as far as crime is concerned, but, while unorganised protests are illegal they do occur occasionally and visitors should avoid sanctioned public gatherings and demonstrations as well, as some have turned violent in the past.
When travelling outside Kuwait City keep to tarmac roads and take care on beaches and picnic spots because landmines and other unexploded ordnance still litters the countryside. Driving in Kuwait is hazardous, local drivers being negligent and reckless, so constant vigilance is essential.
Local Customs :
Being a strict Muslim society, dress in public should be modest and formal attire is always preferable to casual. Any public display of affection between men and women, beyond married couples holding hands, is punishable; male homosexuality is illegal and the legal status of female homosexuality is ambiguous. Because of the influx of western tourists, some hotels allow unmarried couples to share a room, but unmarried couples are not allowed to stay together on a permenant basis.
Alcohol is not permitted in Kuwait, and the use of this or the importation of obscene material is an imprsionable offense. Touch between the same gender is allowed, but not between opposite genders; verbal greetings are customary.
Photography near industrial, military or government buildings is illegal, including oil fields. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet, as it is forbidden and punishable by law. It is important to carry identification at all times.
Most aspects of the business culture are conservative. Dress should be formal and conservative (particularly for women). There is often accompanying small talk when meeting someone for the first time. Be sure to adhere to local customs.
Public affection between opposite sexes is proscribed and, in general, when greeting a women take her lead. Most business is conducted in English, although using a few words of Arabic (particularly for titles) will be appreciated.
The working week runs from Sunday to Thursday; business hours vary, but are usually from 7am to 1pm and 4pm to 10pm. Government offices and banks are usually open from 8am to 2pm.
The international dialling code for Kuwait is +965. Full international direct dialling is available. Local mobile service providers operate on GSM networks, which have active roaming agreements with most international mobile phone operators. All telecommunications services are of a high quality in Kuwait, however, there are occasional disruptions to internet connections nationwide. Internet cafes are available throughout Kuwait.
Duty Free :
Travellers to Kuwait do not have to pay duty on 500 cigarettes, or 2lbs tobacco. It is prohibited to enter the country with alcohol or narcotics; milk products and unsealed salty fish; mineral water, unsealed olives and pickles; homemade foods; fresh vegetables; shellfish and by-products; and fresh figs.
Kuwait International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 10 miles (16km) from Kuwait City.
Time: GMT +3.
Contacts: Tel: +965 2431 9829.
Getting to the city: Taxis and buses are available to take passengers to Kuwait City. Taxis are reasonably priced, but it is important to travel with reputable companies. The buses leave from outside Arrivals roughly every 45 minutes; buses can often be crowded. The trip to the city centre takes around 30 minutes.
Car rental: A car rental desk is located in Arrivals and includes companies like Avis, Budget and Hertz.
Airport Taxis: There are many different taxi companies and types of taxis available from the airport. It is advisable to book a taxi at Arrivals, as drivers are notorious for overcharging unsuspecting travellers.
Facilities: The first-class lounges offer five-star catering, a children's play area, hot shower facilities and high-speed internet. The Commercial Centre Complex is linked directly to the Arrival and Departure halls of the airport terminal and includes facilities such as duty-free shopping and popular retailers, as well as a variety of food and beverage outlets. Other services offered are banks, a help desk and facilities for the disabled.
Parking: There is a multi-storey car park next to the mall and a street-level car park outside of the arrivals hall available for both short- and long-term stays. There is also a valet parking service available.
Kuwait enjoys a variable continental climate, characterised by long, hot and dry summers, with short, warm winters that have occasional rainfall. The hottest months are between May and October and the rainy season (if you can call it that) runs from December to February, when humidity can also be high. In summer temperatures can get over 100°F (38°C), but drop below 70°F (21°C) in winter and occasionally under 50°F (10°C), especially at night.
American Embassy, Kuwait City: +965 259 1001 or +965 2538
British Embassy, Kuwait City: +965 2259 4320
Canadian Embassy, Kuwait City: +965 2256 3025.
Australian Embassy, Kuwait City: +965 2232 2422.
South African Embassy, Mishref: +965 561 7988 (Switchboard) or +965 997 94483 (emergency).
Irish Embassy, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (also responsible for Kuwait): +971 (0)2 495 8200.
New Zealand Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for Kuwait): +966 11 488 7988.
Kuwait Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 966
Foreign Embassies in Kuwait
Kuwait Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7590 3400/3406/3407.
Kuwait Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 780 9999.
Kuwait Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6286 7777.
Kuwait Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 0877.
112 (General Emergencies)
Kuwait Emergency Numbers
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