Allyson is an American expat who moved to Kuwait with her husband in 2012, to take up a job at a local America School. In her interview with Expat Arrivals, Allyson discusses her experiences of life in Kuwait.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Washington State
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Salwa, Kuwait
Q: When did you move to Kuwait?
A: August 2012
Q: Did you move to Kuwait with your spouse/children?
A: I moved here with my husband.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We moved here to teach at a local American School
Q: What do you enjoy most about Kuwait, how’s the quality of life?
A: I enjoy the fact that there are lots of expats everywhere we go. In Kuwait, something like 60% of the people living here are expats, either from Western countries or places like Sri Lanka, India, Egypt, and Bangladesh. The quality of life is pretty good, overall. Much of Kuwaiti culture caters to Westerners.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: One thing I dislike about living here is the fact that there is trash everywhere and many people litter without care. Even at the school I work at there is often trash in the hallways because students don’t pick up after themselves. It isn’t expected in this culture. Also, because it is a desert there is very little greenery. Some of the wealthier areas of Kuwait have started beautification projects, but the majority of the country is still a very gloomy looking brown. I miss being able to go hiking and explore nature.
Q: Is Kuwait safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: The city is very safe. I wouldn’t say there are any particular areas to avoid, just make sure you are appropriately dressed, especially as a woman. When I go running at the beach I often get catcalls even though I dress modestly. In the older, more traditional parts of Kuwait, it is especially important to dress modestly, as you will be more respected. Some Western women choose to wear a hijab, however most (like me) feel just fine wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Kuwait? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car Kuwait?
There are two types of public transport in Kuwait: bus and taxi. The bus system is difficult to figure out because anyone can drive a bus if they have the appropriate license. There is no set bus schedule. You just have to know which number bus you need to get on. It is very inexpensive, though, costing only 250 fils for a bus ride anywhere.
Taxis are definitely more reliable, though a bit more costly. This is my main form of transit. You can generally walk to the nearest busy street and find a taxi within ten minutes. Taxis are not usually metered, so you should ask the driver how much the fare will be before you get in the cab, or just pay what you know is fair. It costs me KWD 2to go anywhere besides Kuwait City or Fahaheel (the northern-most and southern-most areas).
Many expats choose to rent a car while living here, which does make it easier to explore the city. My husband and I have not chosen to rent a car because parking is often difficult to find in our neighbourhood and I would rather not maintain a car while I’m here. Ultimately, the choice is yours and a Kuwait driver’s license is easily obtained if you are a Westerner. Petrol prices are incredibly cheap, as the country’s main natural resource is oil.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Kuwait?
A: Public healthcare in Kuwait, which is provided by the government, is a nightmare. Upon arrival, I had to go through a government health screening to get my visa, as does everyone. This is much dreaded, and many expats are willing to offer up their horror stories. It is free, though, to visit a government clinic once you have your civil ID. I would recommend private healthcare in Kuwait. There are many British and International hospitals that provide quality care, and still at affordable rates.
About living in Kuwait
Q: Which are the best places to live in Kuwait as an expat?
A: The newest areas are generally the best areas to live if you are an expat, although most people choose to live in a suburb close to work. Salmiya is a great place to live because it is right in the middle of the country, so you are never far from anything. Fintas is one of the newer neighbourhoods, and although it is far from the city, it offers more of a Western culture. Each suburb has its own Co-Op grocery story and strip-mall sort of area, and a Sultan Centre or Lulu’s Hypermarket offering western products is never far.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Kubi?
A: The standard of housing is definitely not what I was used to. I would say most housing is mediocre, although there are lots of ways to spruce up your apartment once you are here. The buildings are all made of concrete, so it is mostly just the layout of your apartment that makes a difference. Newer buildings are more modern and more appropriate to Western standards.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Kuwait compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: My husband and I do not pay for housing, as it was included in our teaching contract. If you enjoy Middle-Eastern food, it is inexpensive. The more “Western” you want to be the more expensive it is to live here. Generally I spend the same amount on groceries as I would in the USA. Sometimes I will splurge for comfort items, like peanut butter, which can cost around USD 5 for a small jar. Other than groceries, I don’t really have any expenses, so I am saving most of my pay cheque.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Typically expats do not mix with the locals. Once in a while you will make a Kuwaiti friend, but it is difficult to reach their “inner friends circle.” There are many ways to meet other expats, as there are all sorts of clubs and activities every week specifically for expats. A good way to join groups is to look for their advertisements in the EEK newsletter. You can sign up for this online.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends Kuwait?
A: It is very easy to meet people and make new friends because pretty much everyone is here for the same reason. You can meet people through work, or by participating in various activities.
About working in Kuwait
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Kuwait?
A: No, the school that hired me took care of the visa process, although it did take some time and I was a bit worried for the month that they kept my passport.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Kuwait, is there plenty of work?
A: There is plenty of work, especially if you are a teacher or work in the oil industry. You won’t be able to get a visa unless you have a job first. though The pay is also quite good, although you should expect to get paid much less than a Kuwaiti.
Q: How does the work culture in Kuwait differ from home?
A: It is night and day! If you are not familiar with Arab culture before moving here, it can be a shock (it was for me!). You will hear a lot of “Insha’Allah,” meaning “God willing.” For example: “I will finish that report tomorrow, insha’Allah.” Also, many people will take tea breaks throughout the day. You learn to go with the flow and relax at work a little more. The expectations are a bit lower than what I was used to.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: The school did help us by telling us which papers to bring and getting our visas for us. Do ask about shipping and moving fee reimbursements, though. These are not always included in your contract and could be very helpful, as it is expensive to ship goods here. We sent some paperwork in a single envelope before we moved and it cost us over USD 50!
Family and children in Kuwait
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My husband had spent some time in the Middle East prior to our move, so I had more trouble adjusting more than he did. Women are also not considered equals to men in this culture, so I had to get used to my husband speaking and purchasing things for me.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: We do not yet have any children.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The public schools are not recommended, however there are many private schools to choose from. Do your homework carefully. Even the American and British schools vary in the quality of education they offer. Typically the company you work for will be able to offer suggestions as to which schools are best. For boys, the American Creativity Academy is a great choice; American International School and the American Baccalaureate School also seem to have great programs.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Kuwait isn’t a bad place to live. It takes some adjustment, but there are many opportunities here that I didn’t have in the states. Travelling is affordable and there are many national holidays. The quality of life I have here is probably better overall than what I had at home, although I miss home quite a bit. Living here really does change your perspective, so be prepared to be a changed person upon returning home!
~ Interviewed in February 2013