Difference between revisions of "Kuwait"
Revision as of 07:03, 24 November 2012
The Kuwaitis trace their roots to the Al-Anisa and the Al-Utub tribe from the Najd province, in modern Saudi Arabia. They moved to Qatar and then to Al-Qurain (The word 'Kuwait' is derived from Koot, the Arabic word for fortress), which is in modern day Kuwait bay around 1710. By 1752, the long term residents of Al-Qurain decided that the instability of the region, caused by warring tribes, called for the establishment of a stable government. The Al-Sabah tribe was chosen to rule, and the first Sheikh was Sabah ibn Jaber, who ruled as Sabah I, from 1752 to 1756. The Sabah's were skillful diplomats, and weathered out religious and tribal strifes successfully. They dealt with the Ottomans, the Egyptians and the Europeans. Mubarak I signed an agreement with the British making Kuwait a British Protectorate in 1899. The British were in Kuwait for quite a while by then, and as early as the 1770's Abdullah I had a contract with the British to deliver mail for them up to Allepo in Syria. The agreement gave the British control of the Kuwaiti foreign policy in exchange for military protection. In the 20's and the 30's, the chief source of revenue was pearls. But around that time the Japanese started flooding the international market with cultured pearls and this source of income was in decline. In 1938, oil was first struck at the Burgan oil field in Kuwait, and by 1946, they started exporting it. In 1961, Kuwait nullified the treaty of 1899, and became an independent nation. Kuwait was attacked and overrun by Iraq on 2 August 1990. Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a US-led UN coalition began a ground assault on 23 February 1991 that completely liberated Kuwait in four days; February 26 is celebrated as Liberation Day. Kuwait spent more than $5 billion to repair oil infrastructure damaged during 1990-91. It is currently ruled by Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah after the demise of Sheikh Jaber al Ahmed al Jaber al Sabah in January 2006.
Dry desert; intensely hot summers; short, cool winters. Natural hazards : sudden cloudbursts are common from October to April; they occasionally bring heavy rain which can, in some rare cases, damage roads and houses; sandstorms and dust storms occur throughout the year, but are most common between March and August. Common temperatures range from 5oC in Dec/Jan to over 50oC from Jun to Aug.
Flat to slightly undulating desert plain. Highest point: 306 meters high.
The nationals of 35 countries are eligible of visas on arrival at Kuwait's airport and land borders. The on-arrival visa is valid for a single entry of up to 3 months and costs KD 3, plus KD 3 for a "stamping" fee (visa and stamping fee not required for Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, UK and US). Those 35 nations include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Norway,Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea,Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America and Vatican City.
Israel nationals are banned by the Kuwaiti government from entering the country, and you may also be refused entry if your passport has Israeli entry stamps.
Alcohol is not legal and may not be imported into the country. Your bags will be X-rayed and/or hand-searched on arrival.
The national airline, Kuwait Airways , serves Frankfurt,Geneva,Rome, Kuala Lumpur, London, New York and Paris as well as several other European, Asian, African and Middle Eastern destinations, but is best avoided: a flag carrier with a poor reputation, its planes are old, delays are frequent and customer service weak. In 2005 the Kuwaiti government supported two new airlines as part of its liberalisation programme: premium airline Wataniya Airways  ceased operations without notice in March 2011, stranding many customers around the world, while semi-low-cost carrier Jazeera Airways provides a popular alternative for regional flights.
International airlines serving Kuwait include British Airways from London, United Airlines from Washington, D.C., Lufthansa from Frankfurt, KLM from Amsterdam, Singapore Airlines from Singapore, Thai Air from Bangkok and Turkish Airlines from Istanbul, plus connections through other large Gulf hubs (Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi, etc) are accessible through Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airlines, Gulf Air and many other airlines, There are also some airlines that operate seasonal flights to Kuwait including Malaysia Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Bulgaria Air and Czech Airlines.
If you need a visa on arrival at the airport, do not head down to Arrivals, instead look for the "Visa Issuing" desks opposite the Dasman Lounge. Join the mob (no queuing is possible) to have your passport copied and pick up a queue ticket, fill out a visa entry form, and wait for your number to be called. (Be careful, you will only have 2 or 3 seconds to respond before you are skipped.) Payment is accepted only in Kuwaiti Dinar; there are a number of bureau de change in the arrivals area, where the best rates appear to be for U.S. dollars, Australian dollars and Euros. You'll also get an A4-sized sheet entirely in Arabic, which you must keep -- this is your visa! You can now proceed straight through immigration without queuing, just show your visa form at any desk and they'll let you through. Generally, you can pass through the open gate for flight crew and show your visa to the guard just passed passport control.
Airport taxis can be found outside arrivals, with the fare to most points in the city being KD 5. Most hotels can arrange a transfer for the same price if not free of charge, which is probably a safer and more comfortable option. When in operation, you can also use the "limousine" service which is located to the right of the outside exit for KD 6. These generally have a reputation as having much safer drivers than the airport taxis (driven by Kuwaiti nationals who usually do not observe posted speed limits and will even drive on the verge/shoulder at 140kmph). It is illegal for a regular taxi to pick up arrivals passengers at the airport so most will refuse to do so because of the fear of hefty fines and possible imprisonment or deportation.
Kuwait shares its borders with only 2 nations - Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The political situation in Iraq is volatile currently, so it's advisable not to use that route. There are long-distance bus services to Dammam and other points in Saudi, but you will of course need to have a valid Saudi visa.
There are 3 bus lines in Kuwait: KPTC, City Bus, and KGL. KGL is the only one of the three that provides routes to other GCC countries, but visas will probably be an issue for non-GCC citizens.
Scheduled ferries to and from Iran are handled by Kuwait-Iran Shipping Company, phone +965 2410498, fax +965 2429508. The ferries go three times a week from Ash Shuwayk in Kuwait to Bushehr in Iran. One-way tickets from KD37.
Ports and harbors:
Kuwait has a good road system. All signs are in English and Arabic. The major north-south roads are effectively freeways numbered Expressway 30, 40, etc. These are traversed by increasingly widely spaced ring roads named First, Second etc, making navigation fairly easy.
Public Transport: Kuwait's public transport is adequate with three companies (KPTC, City Bus and KGL) running dozens of routes in every major city. Waiting times for buses range from one minute for most frequent routes to fifteen minutes for less used routes. All buses are equipped with air-conditioners and usually one can find a seat without much trouble. Although, during peak hours (7-9AM, 2-4PM, 8-9PM)most routes are packed and public transport should be avoided for those seeking comfortable travelling. It must also be noted that although areas with expatriates majority are covered with many routes, Kuwaiti residence areas are scarcely connected with public transport buses and are reachable mostly by taxis only.
Taxi: These are recognisable by orange licence plates and may be hired by the day, in which case fares should be agreed beforehand. Although most taxis have meters these are rarely used and one needs to negotiate a fare beforehand. Share-taxis are also available. Hailing taxis from the road is the most practical approach. However some sources have reported it was not advisable, particularly for females, and they recommend that taxis are booked in advance by telephone from a reputable taxi company. The cream coloured taxis are the cheapest, but also likely to be poorly maintained and possibly dangerously so, considering the general speed and size of the rest of the vehicles on Kuwaiti roads.
A standard rate is applicable in most taxis, but those at hotel ranks are more expensive. Naive westerners routinely pay 2 to 5 times more than the standard rates which are typically KD 0.500 (500 fils) for up to a 5 minute ride plus about 100 fils (KD 0.100) per minute thereafter. The only exception being airport departures which are approximately 3 KD. Tipping is not expected, however you should negotiate fares before boarding the taxi. It is customary to collect all baggage and exit the taxi before offering payment to avoid conflicts or loss of personal property should a taxi driver demand more than the agreed price after arriving at the destination. This way, the passenger can drop the money in the seat and walk away if necessary.
Car hire: Self-drive is available. If you produce an International Driving Permit, the rental company will, at the customer's expense, be able to arrange the statutory temporary insurance, which is drawn on the driver's visa. If you arrive at Kuwait International Airport, you will find the car hiring companies located at your left after you exit from the baggage claiming area. You can find international companies such as Avis and Budget among others.
However, it should be noted that driving in Kuwait, especially when new to driving in the country, can be extremely chaotic and frightening. Turn signals and lane divisions are effectively optional, speeding and aggressive driving is commonplace, and there is little active enforcement of traffic laws. Recently a law was passed to disallow the use of cell phones while driving (including but not limited to voice calls and text messaging or SMS.) If driving, ensure you keep out of the left hand "fast" lane unless you are very relaxed about large 4-wheel drive vehicles tailgating you.
If involved in a car accident, do not attempt to move your car until police arrive and have made a report or you will be arrested.
Arabic is the official language. In schools, the classical version of Arabic is taught, but the Kuwaiti dialect in everyday conversation. English is widely used and spoken and is taught at all of the schools and universities in Kuwait. All traffic signs in Kuwait are bilingual (English and Arabic). English is taught as a second language in schools in Kuwait from the first grade. Many Kuwaitis speak English fluently, as there are numerous private English and American schools and universities, where all subjects are taught in English, and Arabic is taken only as a subject.
See Kuwait City for listings of attractions in the city. Kuwait is not the ideal vacation spot in the region, but if on a business trip, there are some sites worth seeing
See Kuwait City for more activities in the city.
The national currency is the Kuwaiti dinar (KD, KWD).
The dinar is divided into 1000 fils. Notes are available in denominations of KD 20, 10, 5, 1, ½ and ¼, while 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 fils coins are also available. While notes have Latin numerals on one side, the coins are entirely in Arabic.
Notes issued before 1994, many of which were stolen during the Iraqi occupation, are not considered legal tender. You're unlikely to see these in Kuwait (the designs are clearly different), but unscrupulous dealers elsewhere have been known to try to pass them off. See the Central Bank of Kuwait  for pictures.
Exchanging money can be difficult and exchanging travelers cheques even more so. Stick to ATMs, which are ubiquitous and work fine. Higher-end establishments accept credit cards.
Although Kuwait is a tax haven 0% VAT and 0% income tax It would be hard to manage on under US$80 per day, and you can very easily spend US$200 just on an ordinary hotel room.
Tipping is generally not necessary. A 12% service charge is tacked onto your bill in expensive hotels and restaurants, but if you want some of the money to actually go to the staff, leave a little extra.
Prices on common expenses (January 2009):
Petrol prices are one of the cheapest in the world and most of the time are cheaper than water, literally!
Kuwait is a tax free country. Custom-made items, imported items, and shipping out of the country can be expensive, so shop wisely.
There is a huge array of restaurants in Kuwait. Because the nightlife is non-existant, people go out to restaurants and malls. Almost every cuisine is available in high-end restaurants. Kuwait is known for its culinary specialties and catering services. Restaurants can be found in food courts in malls, and alternatively many international restaurants are grouped together in certain areas in Kuwait, namely: Behind the Roman Catholic Church in Kuwait City Outside the Movenpick Resort in Salmiya In the Marina Crescent Just ask any local where the "Restaurants Road" is and they will guide you to a road in Salmiya packed end-to-end with local restaurants serving a wide array of specialty sandwiches, juices and snacks. There are few restaurants that serve traditional Kuwaiti food. Al-Marsa restaurant in Le Meridien Hotel (Bneid Al Gar location) has some traditional Kuwaiti seafood but with a relatively high price tag. A better option is the quaint Shati Alwatia restaurant at the Behbehani Villa compound in the Qibla area of Kuwait City (behind the Mosques)and another Kuwaiti restaurant is Ferij Suwailih in salmiya area.
Alcohol is illegal in Kuwait: it may not be imported, manufactured or served. However it can be legally consumed in private areas such as homes.
Tap water is drinkable, although most of it is desalinated. Bottled water is available everywhere for a few hundred fils.
Hotels in Kuwait are expensive, but major Western chains are well represented. See Kuwait City for hotel listings. Light sleepers should bring ear plugs as public announced prayers are broadcast at 4:30AM, again at 5:00AM and several times during the day.
Chalets and other weekend accommodation can be rented in many places along the southern part of the coast.
There are many full service office providers available to businesses within Kuwait such as IO Centers . Most of the large companies have high quality office facilities however expect to see a great portion of Kuwaiti businesses operating out of small 3 to 4 people offices. These businesses are normally owned by a Kuwaiti and staffed by Middle Eastern or Asian staff and don't normally hire nationals of western descent. If you plan to work in Kuwait be sure to check the academic requirements of desired positions as in most cases the Kuwaiti government insists on degrees from accredited universities.
Expect to be paid anywhere from 250 KD - 600 KD for average middle range positions to 1000 KD - 1500 KD for higher positions such as teaching or consulting. Kuwait is heavily saturated with IT workers (mostly from India) and so wages in the IT industry are very low. If you are looking at accepting a job offer before coming to Kuwait be sure to check carefully how much you will be paid and if your employer will assist you with accommodation. It is commonplace for workers of Asian nationality to fall victim to promises of good pay and provision of accommodation only to find themselves having their passport confiscated and falling under the control of their sponsor. Be sure to check the reputation and creditability of any potential employer before accepting a position.
Any foreign national wishing to work in Kuwait MUST have a working visa under a Kuwaiti sponsor. There is no provision for freelance work and foreign nationals found working without a working visa will be promptly apprehended and asked to leave resulting in a possible ban from returning.
The crime threat in Kuwait is assessed as low.
Do not eat in public during the holy month of Ramadan or you may be fined or even go to jail. The fine is 100 KD or about US$350.
Do not get into conversations concerning the Emir of Kuwait. Although Kuwait is a relatively democratic country with one of the best freedom of speech laws in the Middle East, the topic of the Emir is beyond the red line.
Do not take pictures near the Iraq border fence.
Alcohol is prohibited in Kuwait, however, possessing alcohol will generally NOT get you into trouble; especially if it is for personal use. Also, never drink and drive.
Public health is entirely supported by the government at local clinics and hospitals, with a 5KD(~$17.88) fee paid by foreigners visiting Kuwait and 1KD(~$3.57) for expats with a resident visa, or a visitor's visa. Private non-governmental clinics are available as well, but charge much more at 30KD(~$107.31) and upwards. You will be entitled to free treatment in case of an accident or an emergency. In case of an emergency, call 112.
The country code for Kuwait is 965. Local phone numbers are 8 digits long. The numbering system is as follows: Numbers starting with 2 are landline telephones. Numbers starting with 5 are mobile telephones for the VIVA Mobile Operator. Numbers starting with 6 are mobile telephones for the WATANIYA Mobile Operator. Numbers starting with 9 are mobile telephones for the ZAIN Mobile Operator. Numbers starting with 1 are service numbers. To dial outside the country from Kuwait, prefix the country code with 00. E.g a US number would be dialed as 00-1-555-555-5555.
Kuwait uses GSM and mobile phones are widely available. Major operators include Zain, Wataniya Telecom, and Viva. As roaming charges can be very steep, it makes sense to get a local SIM card: prepaid starter kits are available for around KD 5(~$17.88), including some call time.
Internet kiosks are everywhere. The biggest ISPs in Kuwait are QualityNet and KEMS. High speed internet is available via DSL subscription (upto 4Mbps) although prices are higher than usual. Internet costs about 130KWD (~$465.03) for a year at 2mbps. This is in addition to the money you must pay to the MoC for a telephone landline. Some people choose to use a USB 'dongle' and use mobile internet services from Wataniya, Zain and Viva.
ISPs are forced to censor internet access by the government, but this is easily bypassed by using either a proxy or a VPN service.
Another recommendation is to try a relatively new service " Mada ". This service is Wimax, up to 10mbps download speed, and no capping. the cost is 40kd (~$143.08) for the main router and 20 kd (~$71.54) per month after the first 3 month period.
Kuwait has high international call rates. Although calling overseas is also very cheap if you use the many booths that advertise 'Net2Phone' service, which is illegal. Basically it is calling over the Internet. For home usage, Phoneserve cards are available (mostly in Hawally) that can be used for cheap calls worldwide. Users with credit cards use Skype and Yahoo Voice for communication as well, but skype website was banned now.
Some traditional corner-shops commonly referred to as "Bakalat" sell an international calling card called Big Boss which offers good rates to Europe but only when calling landlines. For the rest of continents the rates are decent even when calling mobile phones.