Working in Kuwait

Due to Kuwait's small size and population, the country has always been reliant on foreign workers to fill key positions within both the skilled and unskilled sectors.

Commercial opportunities in Kuwait largely centre on the country’s oil wealth and skilled expats working in Kuwait will most likely find themselves employed in this sector. Other opportunities exist in the real estate, construction, business, education, healthcare and finance sectors.

Employment contracts for skilled foreign workers in Kuwait usually include benefits such as a housing allowance, medical aid and annual air tickets home. However, lucrative expat contracts are not what they used to be as the country seeks to implement a plan to decrease its reliance on foreign workers.

In 2013, authorities announced that they want to reduce the amount of foreigners in Kuwait by 1 million over the next decade (100,000 per year). As part of this plan, the government was looking to do away with generous subsidies for foreign workers, including discounts on electricity, water and petrol, and introducing VAT (value added tax). Local groups have been arguing that instead of bringing in foreigners to fill positions in the country’s labour force, the government should be investing in its own nationals.

Nevertheless, the above reforms largely relate to unskilled workers, mostly from Asia, who fill a large chunk of Kuwait’s labour market, and highly skilled foreigners are likely to still find work opportunities in Kuwait. 

Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood in Kuwaiti business circles. Nevertheless, expats working in Kuwait will find it advantageous to learn at least a few key phrases and greetings in Arabic. 

Work culture in Kuwait is formal, and largely based on Islamic principles. Appearances are important and business attire should be conservative; women should avoid wearing tight-fitting or revealing clothing. Muslim Kuwaiti associates will pray five times a day; meetings and appointments will therefore need to be arranged around prayer times and expats should show respect and patience for this custom.

The work week in Kuwait is Sunday to Thursday, with the weekend falling on Friday and Saturday. A standard working week is 40 hours, with companies usually operating between 8.30am and 6pm, sometimes with an extended lunch break. Office hours are reduced during the holy month of Ramadan.

Expats wanting to work in Kuwait are required to have a valid work permit which is issued in conjunction with a formal offer of employment from a company in Kuwait. The work permit is sponsored and organised by the hiring company. Foreigners caught working without the proper paperwork face severe penalties, including deportation.

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