Travellers with mobility issues may struggle in Kuwait. Like many Gulf states, most streets are not designed for pedestrians. Some streets are sandy, some have no pavements and others are impassable because of building works. Buildings have little provisions for people limited mobility, many with high curbs and narrow doorways.
However, modern hotels and apartment buildings have lifts fitted. Older travellers will find they are treated with respect, with their needs accommodated where possible, but the infrastructure for those needing more accessibility remains poor.
Bargaining is de rigueur in Kuwait’s souqs but also in many Western-style shops and some hotels. It is always acceptable to ask for a discount on the original price offered, particularly as discounts have generally already been factored into the quoted price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Exploring Kuwait is safe, but common sense and respecting local traditions and beliefs will help visitors avoid issues.
- ID Visitors are required to carry a valid passport and visa with them at all times.
- Traffic accidents Kuwait has high road-accident rates, with a third of all deaths driving-related. Only confident drivers should consider self-driving.
- Unexploded ordnance The country was reportedly cleared of mines after the Gulf War, but don't pick up any unfamiliar objects in the desert and stick to established tracks to be on the safe side.
- Robberies The area of Jleeb Al Shuyoukh has higher levels of crime, so be vigilant.
- Stray animals There are a number of stray desert cats and other animals in Kuwait. Don't try to pet them as they may attack you.
- Ramadan Eating or drinking during daylight hours in public during Ramadan (this includes chewing gum) is strictly forbidden.
- Nudity Don't strip off at the beach, it's an arrestable offence.
- Sandstorms If travelling to remote desert areas, be aware that sandstorms can happen at any time. Carry clothing you can use for cover, and ensure your car or a building is nearby for shelter.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|International access code||00|
|Ambulance, fire and police||112|
Entry & Exit Formalities
- No alcohol or pork products are allowed.
- Up to 500 cigarettes and 500g of tobacco are permitted.
- Duty-free items are for sale at the duty-free shop in the arrivals and departures section of the airport.
Available on arrival or online for more than 50 nationalities.
Visas on Arrival
Visas on arrival are available at Kuwait International Airport for nationals of 52 countries, including Australia, Canada, the EU, New Zealand and the US (valid for 90 days; 30-day maximum stay). Take a number from the Fast Service Desk and buy stamps worth KD3 from the neighbouring machine (free for some nationalities). There's no need to wait again at the immigration desk downstairs, where you'll be waved through. Keep the piece of paper you're given with the visa – you'll need to present it upon departure.
Getting a Visa Online
It is now possible to arrange visas before you travel via the official online portal (https://evisa.moi.gov.kw/evisa/home_e.do). Other online operators also offer this service, however, be aware of fake visa websites. Travellers have recently been caught out, arriving at customs and being refused entry with a bogus visa. It's advisable to either go through the official channels or to queue and get a visa on arrival. Online applications cost more.
Israeli or Iraqi Connections
Anyone holding a passport containing an Israeli or Iraqi stamp may be refused entry to Kuwait.
As a strict Muslim country, there are many dos and don'ts in Kuwait, from wearing a bikini to being open about your sexuality (both big don'ts). Other don'ts won't get you in legal trouble but will serve you well if you abide by them.
- Refreshments It is respectful to accept refreshments when offered; try to use your right hand to eat and drink.
- Religion Political and religious subjects should be avoided in conversation, as many subjects are controversial and discussion my upset locals.
- Shoes It is not required to remove your shoes to enter a reception room.
- Soles Revealing the soles of the feet is considered offensive in Kuwait, try not to cross your legs.
Most hotels and many cafes offer free wi-fi, with speeds among the fastest in the world. Be aware that internet usage and browsing is monitored, as in other Gulf countries. At the time of research, Skype was blocked, but WhatsApp could still be used.
Kuwait uses a combination of legal systems, deriving from Sharia law, UK law and Egyptian practice, and it also has some legal similarities to the Ottoman system. Kuwait has the death penalty.
Travellers to Kuwait should familiarise themselves with local laws before arriving in the country (see www.visit-kuwait.com/living/laws-regulations.aspx). The most obvious differences between Kuwait and Western countries are bans on importing alcohol, eating and drinking in public during Ramadan, importing pork products, and homosexual behaviour. Public displays of affection between men and women are also illegal. All of these offences could carry jail time.
If you are arrested in Kuwait, the police can detain you for 24 hours to open a file and begin an investigation on the crime they believe you have committed. Authorities may offer a bail release if you can offer a personal guarantee of a Kuwaiti citizen/sponsor.
Those arrested will be provided a telephone call. Travellers should contact their embassy. While your embassy cannot get you out of police custody, they can contact your relatives (if you ask them to) and will provide a list of legal representation. Detainees who do not speak Arabic should be offered a translator and should ask for all statements written in Arabic to be translated before they sign them.
Kuwait is one of the least liberal places in the world. LGBT travellers should avoid making public displays of affection, at risk of imprisonment. While LGBT people do unopenly live in Kuwait, transgender people may find it more difficult.
Article 193 of the Penal Code punishes 'debauchery', which is interpreted as male homosexuality, with up to six years in jail.
Article 198 prohibits 'public immorality', part of which is defined as 'imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex'. Transgender people may also face jail time or fines.
Arab World Map Library publishes useful maps on Kuwait, available from large online book retailers, plus some car-hire offices, hotels and bookshops in Kuwait City. Google Maps and other app-based map services work here but are often unreliable and don't have up-to-date road information.
- Magazines International glossy magazines, complete with large tracts of blackened text courtesy of the government censor, or even with pages torn out, are sometimes available in hotels, but they're not as common as elsewhere in the Gulf.
- Newspapers Arab Times, Kuwait Times and Daily Star are Kuwait’s three English-language newspapers. They include useful 'what’s on' listings. International newspapers are available (usually a day or two late) at major hotels.
- Radio Radio Kuwait – also known locally as the Superstation – broadcasts on 99.7FM; it plays mostly pop music, with some local news and features.
- TV Kuwait TV’s Channel 2 is a government broadcast service for English speakers. It broadcasts documentaries, serials and movies programs in English. Many hotels, even the smaller ones, have satellite TV.
ATMs widespread; credit cards widely accepted.
ATMs & Credit Cards
Visa and Amex are widely accepted in Kuwait, and all major banks accept most credit cards and are linked to the major networks. Most banks accept Visa (Electron and Plus), MasterCard and Cirrus.
The currency used in Kuwait is the Kuwaiti dinar (KD), which at the time of research was the strongest currency in the world. The dinar is divided into 1000 fils. Coins are worth one, five, 10, 20, 50 or 100 fils. Notes come in denominations of 250 fils, 500 fils, KD1, KD5, KD10 and KD20.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Moneychangers are dotted around the city centre and main souqs, and change all major and regional currencies. The dinar is no longer pegged to the US dollar, but this has made little difference to exchange rates, which remain consistent from one moneychanger to the next.
- Upmarket restaurants A tip is usually expected, but look out for a 10% service fee that is often already added to the bill.
- Cafes and fast food A tip is not expected.
- Taxis For longer journeys, 10% is a suitable tip for a taxi driver.
- Hotels Tips are not expected, but a small amount is appreciated by baggage handlers.
- Petrol station attendants Tips are not expected, but the small change from your bill is appreciated.
These general opening hours prevail throughout Kuwait but will vary by establishment.
Banks 8am to 1pm and 5pm to 7.30pm Sunday to Thursday.
Government offices 7am to 2pm (summer), 7.30am to 2.30pm (winter) Sunday to Thursday.
Cafes 8am to 10pm.
Post offices 8am to 1pm Sunday to Thursday.
Restaurants 11am to 3pm and 7pm to 11pm.
Shopping centres 10am to 10pm.
Shops 8.30am to 12.30pm and 4pm to 7pm or 8pm Saturday to Thursday.
Feel free to photograph obvious tourist sites, such as the Kuwait Towers or the Corniche, but avoid aiming a camera at military installations, embassies or palaces.
Avoid taking pictures of people without seeking their permission first. Refrain from taking photographs of local women – this is considered haram (forbidden).
The postal rate for aerograms and for letters or postcards weighing up to 20g starts from 150 fils.
Postage for cards or letters weighing 20g to 50g starts from 280 fils. Ask at the post office for parcel rates as these vary significantly from country to country.
There is no poste restante service in Kuwait. Large hotels will usually hold mail, but only for guests.
In addition to the main Islamic holidays, Kuwait celebrates three public holidays:
New Year’s Day 1 January
National Day 25 February
Liberation Day 26 February
- Smoking Much more prevalent than in neighbouring Gulf countries on buses, in taxis, at the airport, and in restaurants and hotel rooms.
Taxes & Refunds
There are no personal taxes in Kuwait. However, the nation is planning to implement value-added tax in around 2021. Proceedings may start earlier on products such as tobacco, energy drinks and carbonated drinks.
Kuwait's country code is 965, and there are no area codes. The international access code (to call abroad from Kuwait) is 00.
SIM cards are widely available.
The main cellular networks are Ooredoo (formerly Wataniya), Viva and Zain. There is an Ooredoo outlet at Kuwait International Airport offering various data packages for visitors. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you travel.
Kuwait is three hours ahead of GMT. The time does not change during the summer. Not taking daylight saving into account, when it’s noon in Kuwait, the time elsewhere is as follows:
Paris & Rome
Perth & Hong Kong
Toilets are mostly Western-style with a seat. However, some public places (like old-fashioned shopping malls) may have squat toilets with no toilet paper, only water sprays.
The website www.visit-kuwait.com is a good source of information for visitors, as is the Touristic Enterprises Company (www.kuwaittourism.com).
Travel with Children
In many ways Kuwait is great for children; it has lots of activities and attractions from the Scientific Center with its educational discovery zone, and Magic Planet at The Avenues with its fairground attractions, to the Aqua Park for water play, the Sribb Circuit for go-karting and the Marina Skate Park, where kids can burn off their energy on a BMX or scooter. However, while there are plenty of family parking bays close to attractions and lifts in shopping malls, Kuwait's streets are not pram-friendly. The sweltering heat can also be challenging for parents and kids.
In major shopping malls, mothers will find baby-changing facilities and breastfeeding rooms. Dads may find changing difficult as facilities are often attached to the ladies toilets or to prayer rooms. Breastfeeding in public is possible if you are fully covered, but even then it is still taboo in the Gulf.
There are few volunteer opportunities in Kuwait, but one notable organisation is the Kuwait Red Crescent Society (www.krcs.org.kw), which is linked to the International Committee of the Red Cross and helps people affected by social conflicts, wars or natural disasters.
Weights & Measures
- Weights and measures Kuwait uses the metric system.
On paper, women in Kuwait are among the most emancipated women in the Middle East (with more than 50% of Kuwaiti women in the workforce). But women only garnered the right to vote properly in 2005, much to the dismay of Kuwait's conservative population.
Women travellers are likely to find the increased attention from men in Kuwait a nuisance. The cultural perception of Western women is exacerbated by the fact there are fewer women (with a population of around 60% men to 40% women). While most expat and solo women travellers won't feel distressed exploring Kuwait, others may find the inevitable unwanted glares disconcerting. Some female travellers have felt harassed, with cases of men following foreign women around shopping malls, tailgating and so on. Even if you dress conservatively and refuse to respond to approaches and avoid eye contact with men, it’s still difficult to avoid attracting unwanted attention.
Generally, if the situation becomes uncomfortable, the best way to defuse it is to stop, turn towards the men in question and address them frostily. Better still, if you can speak Arabic, ask the offending parties where they come from and to which family they belong. This is usually so unexpected harassers disappear.
Work visas can be applied for after receiving an offer of employment in Kuwait. Visit the State of Kuwait Ministry of Interior website for details (https://evisa.moi.gov.kw). Your new employers may take care of the formalities. Those looking for work in Kuwait can check job websites such as www.gulftalent.com, www.bayt.com or www.jobs.theguardian.com.