Expat Life in Kuwait

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Expat Life in Kuwait
Gov co-op grocery sign. Below this is a sign that says ‘no photos’. Spell check is not really a priority.

Expat Life in Kuwait

After living here for seven years, I don’t get too many questions about expat life in Kuwait. Oh wait. I’ve never gotten a lot of questions about expat life in Kuwait. I have, however, had several requests to post pictures of Kuwait online and they get more views than just about any other pictures I post. This makes me think there are people out there who are actually curious about expat life in Kuwait, especially for a single woman.

Many people have misconceptions about Kuwait and think it is as conservative and restrictive as Saudi. It isn’t. Some people think it is more liberal like Dubai and that there are nightclubs and alcohol and live music available as entertainment. They aren’t. Some people think Kuwait is a city and Dubai is a country! It isn’t and it isn’t. Others think Kuwait is a barren desert (it is) where people still live in tents and that teachers like myself live in some sort of hostel type place while making boatloads of money wearing a burka to work. We don’t. None of the above.

So what is Kuwait like? What is it like living here as an expat? A western expat? I will attempt to explain, but sometimes there are just no words to explain some of the things I see/hear/experience here.

Expat Life in Kuwait
Salmiya Kuwait waterfront along my running route in the morning – modern and usually fairly clean

Daily Life in Kuwait

Daily life here, honestly isn’t much different than anywhere else. People go to work, shopping, running errands, paying bills. One difference is most bills can be paid online, but my students tell me not many people actually do this, so people drive to the utility companies, find out from them how much they owe because paper bills aren’t mailed, and pay what they owe in cash.  As an expat, I don’t pay utility bills, so this doesn’t affect me, right? Not directly, but indirectly it contributes to a horrible traffic problem where at certain times of day, city streets are more like parking lots.

Yes, I said bills are not mailed. Nothing is. There is a huge post office or two in each area. Huge empty buildings. I dared to go inside one once when I first moved here to mail some Kuwaiti postcards. Ha!! It was huge! Cavernous! And empty! Not even one piece of paper to be seen. There were about six men, all having tea, and three women sitting at cubicles. Every one turned to look at me wide-eyed, eyebrows raised, but no one moved.

I waited quite a while before one of the women came to help me, and she had no idea how much it cost to mail a postcard. She put a stamp of some sort on it, threw it in an otherwise empty bin, and I figured it would never leave. Neither of us even said a word. Four months later, two of them arrived in the US. No one was more surprised than me. If nothing is mailed locally, how do people send/receive documents? They are hand delivered by mandoobs (gophers, couriers), thus contributing to a horrible traffic problem.

Expat Life in Kuwait
Inside the Al Salhiya shopping mall connected to the Marriot downtown. I can’t afford anything in this mall. Ha!

Some expats manage to stay quite busy here. They belong to groups like American Women’s League or book clubs. Neither is really my thing. Many help with volunteer organizations which offer assistance to animals and humans alike. There are numerous animal shelters here, all overcrowded. Of course people are here with their families or even start families here. Not everyone is unattached like me.

I’m not really one to join clubs as I don’t have much of a group mentality, but I have other ways of keeping busy. Writing this blog is one of them. I spend a lot of time in the gym, like a lot of other single people here. That’s a real benefit, because I also spend a lot of time eating chocolate and ice cream. I’m not much of a shopper, but shopping is definitely a favorite pastime of local people here and some expats as well. Shopping is common all day every day, but on holidays or evenings, any evening, it contributes to a horrible traffic problem.

Expat Life in Kuwait
The gym at the university where I work. I’m often the only one there on Fri and Sat. I’m so spoiled.

Sometimes I get asked if I can buy western products here, like toiletries and food from the US. The answer is an emphatic yes. I can find just about anything I want, except unscented body, hand and face creams. These people love their perfume! As a result, I return to Kuwait after a summer at home with two bags instead of one. The second is stocked with non-glamorous lotions with names like Curel and Eucerin. Not every product can be found in every pharmacy or grocery store. Sometimes we have to drive around in search of certain things, like unsweetened almond milk or English books. And in case you haven’t figured it out, all this driving around leads to a horrible traffic problem.

Expat Life in Kuwait
View from my window during a dust storm, which is a common sight here and contributes to a horrible traffic problem

Another question people ask me, well, used to ask me, is what kinds of restaurants Kuwait has. My response? Anything you want, but there are no guarantees that it will be good. I don’t eat fast food in the US, so I sure don’t eat it here. Good pizza is truly rare, but surprisingly, fantastic Thai food can be found in many neighborhoods. Not mine, but many others.

There is a website called Talabat where you can search for the type of food you want, specify your neighborhood, and voila! You make your choice and it will be delivered in about an hour. Expat life in Kuwait is so difficult, as you can see. It’s like GrubHub. I first lived in Kuwait in 2006 and Talabat was very successful then. I can even get Marble Slab Creamery or Pinkberry or Frost gelato delivered right to my door. Dangerous. But there is one problem with people’s love for the ease of food delivery here. It contributes to a horrible traffic problem!

Expat Life in Kuwait
Japanese restaurant called Maki

What is the deal with all this traffic? It’s a wide open desert (not anymore) and a country of only 4 million+/-, depending on how many expats are deported back to India or Sri Lanka or the Philippines on any given day for minor or major violations. So how can there be such a horrible traffic problem? Let’s just say that the roads in neighborhoods were built back when families had one car, not ten.

When their children all went to the same school in the same car, not each child to a different school in a different car with a different driver. When speedbumps at fairly close intervals weren’t necessary because people didn’t drive such fast cars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris. There are a plethora of reasons why the traffic is so bad, but I avoid most of it because I don’t leave for work until 11:00AM and I get home around 4:30PM and those aren’t peak drive times. Yeah, long work day, I know. Terrible hours. I think I already admitted that expat life in Kuwait as a single woman is so difficult.

Expat life in Kuwait
Mosque next to my work – you can’t really see how beautiful the green tiles are on the roof

There are a few sights to see in Kuwait. I wrote about some of those here. There are even companies that offer tours of downtown and they are pretty interesting. There’s a link to them in this post. But there is really nothing here to bring in the tourists. I will post more later about the fascinating sights in Kuwait, she says with a chuckle.

I’m curious what you’re curious about. If you want to hear more about Kuwait or international teaching in Kuwait, leave a comment below, or subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss any updates. I don’t live in Kuwait anymore, but I still have more to write about it.





Mary Lyons
I have had incredible travel opportunities since moving overseas eleven years ago. I created this blog to share my experiences, what I've learned, and my mistakes and frustrations, in hopes of entertaining readers and helping people to create and plan their own travel opportunities.

28 thoughts on “Expat Life in Kuwait”

  1. Would Like to know What about the health food stores there? Im lactose and gluten intorable and need to get those kind od food on a daily basis. And can i get probiotics in pharmacie?

    1. Hi Danijela, thank you for reading. There are actual health food stores in Kuwait, and you can also find a pretty good variety of health foods in the grocery stores. You can find lactose and gluten free foods at Sultan Center, Lulu Hypermarket, and Carrefour in Avenues Mall. All of these chains understand the needs and wants of an expat community. You can also find probiotics over-the-counter at the grocery stores. There’s no need to go to a pharmacy, but I’m sure you can find them in pharmacies as well. Kuwait is truly international when it comes to food. They import so many things from England, the US, and Australia.

  2. Hi Mary,

    Love all your articles about Kuwait. Very informative esp for a potential expat like me. I’m Farah from Malaysia and my husband just got an offer to work in Kuwait. I’ve a 1 year++ old son and thought of working in Kuwait myself instead of being a house mon. Would you mind sharing if it’s hard for a woman to find a job in Kuwait? Heard that it’s better to go there and apply so I could attend the interview physically rather than applying online .

    Thanks and hope to hear from you soon!

    1. Hi Farah,
      I think you’re right about applying and interviewing in person, no matter what job you’re searching for. Depending on your qualifications and the type of job you’re interested in applying for, I think women have just as must of a chance at getting a job as a men. But in Kuwait, if you’re applying for a professional position such as teaching, accounting, management, they do tend to hire people with the right qualifications. They are very picky about having the right paperwork to do the job. Be sure to bring your credentials, transcripts, updated resume, etc with you. If you know of a specific job you want to apply for, you can find out exactly what paperwork you’ll need before you arrive and bring it with you. Conservative, professional dress is also important. Hope this helps.

  3. I taught in Kuwait in 2006-2007.at Kuwait International English School in Hawalli.,and lived in the area. Female teachers I observed, and they also told me every time they walked back to their apartment in Hawalli,.male drivers would blow their horn and some stopped to say inappropriate comments, and other. Does this still happen? Adjust to the culture and you have a safe place to live.

    1. Yes, it still happens. In every neighborhood I’ve ever walked in. Hawalli, Salmiya, Salwa, Mishref, even in malls. It’s almost a daily occurrence for any woman who walks anywhere, or just waits outside for the bus or a taxi. That said, I have had men offer to take me somewhere so that I wouldn’t have to pay a taxi. They do this to western women because it works. There are western women, I think who maybe don’t get attention from men in their home country, who will meet these men and date them. It’s very dangerous.

  4. Hey. Im a single woman and thinking to apply for a job in Kuwait. I wonder how strict they are when you want to get into contact with males? Can you meet, flirt and kiss in public (in case you should meet someone)?
    The prospect of being on my own without being able to maybe meet somebody is a bit….well….I dont know how to phrase it. Lets just say that I dont want to end up in prison just because I kissed a man who I met or held hands with him….I think you get what I mean?

    1. Hi Alexandra,
      I will start by saying that in Kuwait, or any Middle Eastern country, public displays of affection can get you into serious trouble. You won’t see it in Kuwait and shouldn’t do it. Married couples can hold hands and not get in trouble. As far as meeting someone to date, you have to be careful. It’s fairly easy to meet someone, but a lot of men there – both natives and expats – are married and just leave that little detail out. You can have dinner with a man, or go to a movie. You can go on a date, in other words, and be in vehicles together. But I don’t recommend flirting, dressing provocatively, or any type of PDA. These actions draw a lot of negative attention and PDA can lead to problems. Hope this helps.

      1. Hello Mary, thank you so much for your information. Yes, it helps. Except I’m not sure what PDA means?
        I’m not going to Kuwait or any other country to meet men, but as a single woman it might happen.
        And I really don’t want to get into trouble for doing something that is considered to be “normal” in Europe for example but brings me into trouble in Middle Eastern countries. I want to know exactly what I’m dealing with in order to adapt.
        Thanks, Alex

  5. Hi Mary, Thank you very much for this post

    I will be moving to Kuwait in February 2018 and it was very good to read.

    1. Ahmed, thank you for reading and I hope you found it and my other posts on Kuwait helpful. If you have any questions about Kuwait that I haven’t addressed on my blog, I would be happy to try to answer them. There’s still a lot I don’t know about Kuwait, even after living there for 8 years. I hope you have a great experience there, as I did.

  6. Hi, I am coming to Kuwait by December probably and I am concerned with the kind of clothing, women should be considered wearing. I usually wear shorts and shirts and dresses that don’t cover my knees fully. If I do wear such clothing style in Kuwait, will I be ostracised by citizens of Kuwait? Please advise.

    1. Hi Sonam,
      Thanks so much for reading. My experience in Kuwait is that women can wear what they want, but if clothing is too revealing, they will receive negative attention and it may cause some problems for them. Most expat women dress in western clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. However, I worked with several professors who wore suits with skirts that came just above the knee and they did not experience any negative attention at work, as far as I know. I don’t think you would be ostracized, but any clothing that is too revealing or sexy may cause problems, especially because you are Asian. I would say wear what you like and see if you feel comfortable there.

  7. My fiancé actually lives in Kuwait, and has just asked me if I’d move there for a year and my dad is very skeptical. But I wouldn’t mind it but it would be very challenging for me cause I have never left the United States before. Any advice on how you did the transit from one to another?

    1. Hi Hunter Ann,
      Thanks so much for reading. As far as transitioning to Kuwait, I would say take some things with you from home that you love and that make you feel comfortable. Kuwait is a stable country, and it is actually quite safe for women if you behave smartly. For example, dress conservatively, don’t smile at everyone like people in the US tend to do, and draw unnecessary attention to yourself. I found it quite easy to adjust to life in Kuwait by talking to expats who had lived there and trying to learn my way around and speak a bit of Arabic so I could get around in a taxi. There is an obvious western influence in Kuwait that I think made living easier. And remember to keep an open mind and try to accept, rather than change, the cultural differences. Hope this helps.

  8. Thanks, That was comical 🙂 Is there no public transport options like subway’s or sky train’s? Excuse my ignorance, it’s my first time googled Kuwait that bought me to you blog…I have a potential job in the fitness/wellness/spa world…apparently weight has become somewhat of an epidemic over there? Any views on this. And of course…my number one ask…any cute single boys for us single girls?

    1. The only public transport is buses and taxis, and there are a lot of both. Not many western people ride the bus. I used to, but when I changed jobs, I had to take taxis. Weight problems are definitely a problem here. Lots of fast food and fattening food is readily available. As far as cute, single boys? Well, you must be younger than me. There are lots of single guys here, but none I would get involved with, in all honesty. Good luck with that!

    2. Hi Tamara,
      There is public transport in Kuwait in the form of city buses and lots of taxis. Most westerners do not ride the bus, but I did for three years and had no problems. Obesity is at epidemic levels in Kuwait. There is a huge diabetes center there. One quarter of the population has diabetes due to the easy access to western fast food and junk food. As far as cute guys, well, I guess everyone has a different opinion on what “cute” is. I would just say be very, very careful and don’t believe what any man tells you in the beginning, no matter what their nationality is. Get to know someone before getting too involved or spending time with them in private.

    1. I wasn’t sure about that, but my students tell me no one does it and some of them didn’t seem to know it was possible, but they don’t pay the bills! Thanks so much for telling me and for reading my post. I will make that correction in my post. Maybe more people will start paying online and help solve this horrible traffic problem. LOL Hope you enjoy the rest of my blog. I have much more to write about Kuwait.

    1. Thanks, Susan! Kuwait is a place I can write a lot about and it certainly provides fodder for laughter. Hard to write about it in a humorous way sometimes but I will continue to give it my best shot!

  9. Mary,

    I enjoyed every word and would love to see more. I am particularly interested in what you do at the University. I know you are a teacher, but can you share more about what that’s like and include pictures of the classrooms and campus?

    Your writing is engaging and clever. Keep it up.

    A. Lee Bruno, cousin in Maryland.

    1. Hi A! Thank you for reading and commenting! You are the first to comment on my blog and that makes me very happy! I teach at Gulf University for Science and Technology in the Foundation English Program. My students are not yet proficient enough in English to be undergrads, so they must go through the Foundation program first. I would be happy to write a post on that and post more pictures. It’s a very nice facility, small university, and great air conditioning! I will work on this for next week and take some more pictures.
      Thanks for reading! Mary

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