Math teacher Ciaran Bradley and myself, give you a personal account and overview of Kuwait for Abu Dhabi Paddy.com
Overview / Daily Life:
Kuwait is a highly urban country, surrounded by desert and the Arabian Gulf. It gets ridiculously hot from late May to early October – although due to low humidity (mostly, not always) it is a little more bearable than other countries in the Middle East. Prepare for dusty air and sand storms.
As Kuwait produces very little other than oil, everything is imported. This means that you can get most brands of food, clothes etc. from home out here, but you will pay a bit more for the privilege.The Palms (although it’s been under construction all year and costly) is worth getting a membership. It’s s a good gym, with an expat feel about it. It also has a pool and women can even wear bikinis! In Kuwait, women are advised to “cover up” more so than the likes of Dubai. They are advised to cover shoulders and not to wear anything the shows above the knee.
Kuwait is a “dry” country as alcohol is illegal. No pubs and bars may be a massive culture shock to some. There are a lot of nice restaurants, in particular the Marina and Arbella, as well massive shopping centres such as The Avenues. Shopping and eating are the national pastimes here. Seriously.There is an excellent road network in the country, although this is tempered somewhat by the crazy driving and the volume of traffic. Rush hour is all day every day, apart from Friday morning when it is a ghost town. (Friday morning is prayer time) Almost all signs are in both Arabic and English, and the vast majority of people in the country – expats and locals speak English. This is very helpful and makes the transition from living at home a little bit easier.
How to get a residency visa:
The residency visa process is a joint one between you, your employer and the Embassy. Gaining a working visa is first done by sponsorship from the employer. Some employers are much better than others at completing paperwork. Many people had different experiences in terms of residency.
Ciaran and his wife Emily both had very different experiences, Emily from America had her residency completed within three weeks of her arrival in Kuwait whereas Ciaran is approaching the end of my fourth academic year in Kuwait without residency!
“That sounds frightening but you soon get used to the different way of doing things out here. Not having residency means I need to leave the country every 90 days and means I can’t get a phone contract or TV subscription but, as you will find, there is always a way around things in this place.”
I have my residency however it was not an easy process with a lot of documents being sent to and from the Embassy in London, as well as the school not knowing exactly what is needed. The producers may differ from a school to a company. However here are some things to get together and my process of getting residency in Kuwait. First off I sent all needed documents to the school. This included:
• Photocopy of passport.
• Photocopy of Degrees and Transcripts of each year.
• Letter of Recommendation from a previous employer.
• Photocopy of medical cert – letter of general health, x-ray, blood test, pregnancy test for females.
In my case, the school then sent this to the Ministry of Education in Kuwait for approval. The Ministry then sends a working permit to you. When the work permit is sent to you that’s when you can get the police check –I was advised to not get the police check until you know work permit has been approved and is on its way to you.
When you receive the work permit and police certificate: everything must be photocopied and sent along with originals Kuwait Embassy in London. N.B Make a second copy of every document for yourself.
Before sending it off, the original and photocopied documents MUST be signed as legitimate copies by a certified solicitor before presenting for authentication to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. ALL documents need to be authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Please see link below for contact details. I called ahead and was told no appointment needed to just come to the office in Dublin.
When all the signing and stamping is done, every document including your passport must be sent to Kuwait embassy in London. For me this also included:
- Application Fee: The cost of a work visa for Irish Passport is £60.00 and any extra document (i.e. Police Certificate) will be £15.00 each.
- a self-addressed envelope plus £10.00 for registered postage to Ireland if applying by post.
Most important points:
- Non-original copies must be signed as legitimate copies by a certified solicitor before presenting for authentication.
- All documents need to be authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
- Kindly note that all the documents required should be a duplicate set One Original and One Photocopy
Once you arrive to Kuwait, it may take some time to actually receive residency. You may also have to do another medical. At this stage, you will more than likely only have your working permit. When you receive your Civil I.D that is when you officially have residency. This may only take a few weeks. You cannot leave the country until you get your civil I.D. Unfortunately this meant that during the Eid Holiday, while most 2nd year teachers were leaving to travel for the few days break 1st year teachers can not.
The vast majority of western expats in Kuwait are employed as teachers. There is a high demand for English speaking schools here. There are also many engineering opportunities and there seems to be construction projects all over the country. Manual labour and service industry jobs are almost exclusively the preserve of cheap labour from South East Asia.
Teaching jobs can be found through Recruitment Company’s such as Teachanwhere.com
Essential government buildings/locations/services:
Almost all schools and companies employ a ‘mandoub’, who is essentially a person who acts as go-between for you, your company, and the essential government offices. The administrative process in the Middle East in general can be a bit of a nightmare, with things like opening a bank account maybe taking four visits to the bank itself. If you are an organized person this might be frustrating. If you are unorganized and have a lax attitude towards these types of things, you will fit right in.
Housing and cohabitation:
Schools and companies provide teachers with accommodation or the option of a housing allowance. The standard and proximity to the school varies from place to place, although all teacher apartments I have visited have been of a pretty decent standard. Transport to and from school is also provided in most cases when living in teacher accommodation as well as no bills or rent to pay.Co-habitation is technically illegal although many unmarried couples live together and have no problems.The culture here is that in your own home, anything goes. If you are living in an apartment block exclusively for teachers (most schools have this facility) then you will not have any problems in this regard. Unless the school does not allow it.
Currency and tax-free salary:
The currency is the Kuwaiti Dinar. I love it because to convert to every other currency in the world you multiply. As a math teacher I can testify that people find it much easier to multiply than divide. Current rates are around 1 KD = 3 euro and 1 KD = 2.25 sterling. Both rates are fairly stable, although the euro has rocketed up in the last year or so.
The salary is tax free, which is amazing. However cost of food is more expensive than it should be, this is in part due to the fact that majority of goods are imported.
For most, we spend our salary travelling around as there isn’t too much to do in Kuwait.It’s in a great location to explore the area – Dubai, The Dead Sea, The Pyramids, Petra are all within a two hour flight away. Most teachers should be able to save at least 700 euro per month here and have a higher standard of living than they would at home.
How are women treated?
The ratio from men to women is fairly ridiculous. Even in schools, classes are at least 70% male students, which may suggest that parents value the private education of their sons more than their daughters. (Daughters usually attend government schools after a certain age). Expat women are not required to fully cover up but unlike other GULF areas such as Dubai and Oman, expat women in Kuwait are advised to cover knees and shoulders when out in public. I’ve seen many women who don’t cover up which is fine, however it can attract unwanted attention or cause offence.This can be a bit of a culture shock at the start, and a hassle because of the hot weather. BUT it is your personal choice.In work I was asked not to wear such “tight clothes” which in opinion were not one bit tight! But you have to respect the culture. Even though you may be covered up, it does not stop men from sometimes being “creepy”. Most migrant workers here are not allowed to bring their families with them so I’m sure you can imagine the problems it creates.
How to get to Kuwait?
Flying from Dublin with usually a stop in Istanbul or Dubai.
It takes about 9 hours and cost around 500euro.
Loads of other airlines fly the same route and if you go to London you can fly direct.
Driving and Driving license:
Driving in the Middle East is an interesting, chaotic, infuriating experience. It is rare to witness another driver being courteous, it’s very much a case of ‘me me me’ on the roads. No one seems to have shown anyone in this country how to use indicator lights, or even that they exist. Be prepared for swerving cars on the motorways, traffic jams, people cutting in, you name it!
I have also become used to seeing smashed up cars by the side of the road. At home it would be something of note, something out of the ordinary, here it is pretty much a daily occurrence. Frightening stuff.
- Assume every other car driver is an idiot and that they will make the worst possible decision when they are driving. This should help you stay on your guard!
- ALWAYS wear your seat belt.
- If you don’t drive taxis are the other main source of transport. Try get a regular taxi driver who knows the roads well (and has seatbelts – not all do)
I should say that I have witnessed driving in most parts of the Middle East by now and Kuwait isn’t the worst! It has to be seen to be believed!
The GAA club in Kuwait Harps is excellent. It has been responsible for the majority of both our social activities.
“This is how I met my wife. I have made friends for life due to the club and I will always look back fondly upon it when I leave” says Ciaran.
The club competes in the Middle East league and has both men’s and women’s teams. The Middle East league is well organized, with 4/5 tournament weekends per year. These are always great fun, and give you an opportunity to travel around the Middle East such as Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.Training is twice a week, Wednesday evening and Friday morning (weekends here are Friday and Saturday). It’s hot at the beginning of the year but it is brilliant to be training in the pleasantly warm sunshine in December. Take that, Ireland!
“I never played GAA until I came to Kuwait, there is no way you would have caught me out on the pitch, but over here it’s different. You need some way of meeting people, It’s a good way to make friends and meet fellow Irish in Kuwait”- says Roisin.
The Kuwait Harps website is currently under construction but here is the Middle East page:
or on Facebook at:
Other sports such as football (soccer) are massive here. Kuwaitis have a huge interest in the sport. The Spanish and English leagues are followed religiously and are watched in shisha cafes (smoking bars with no alcohol) all over the country.Many expats over here work as full-time coaches in clubs – Everton, Arsenal, Barcelona and many other European clubs have academies here.There are also various levels of the game to participate in – from friendly games with your work colleagues to competitive 7 a side leagues to trips away against other teams in the Middle East. There are astroturf pitches everywhere and they are easy and cheap to book.There are also plenty of classes like yoga, kickboxing, MMA, salsa, spinning etc. Once you sign up as a member in the Palms the classes they offer are free!
Strictly speaking, alcohol is illegal in Kuwait. However, as previously mentioned, there are ways and means for everything in this place. If you want to buy real booze it is very expensive on the black market – maybe something like 150euro for a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. People become adept at making home brew, and it is most amusing to witness people in line at the supermarket with all the ingredients required to make the home brew, big containers included. You can also buy spirits that are distilled here – the two most popular being date rum and soju. Date rum is vile stuff and seeps out of my pores for days afterwards, soju is quite nice when you use kiwi and lime juice as your mixer.
As there are no bars in Kuwait, it’s all about the house parties. There are always house parties. As I said, what goes on in your own home – especially in teacher accommodation – is your business and you will be left alone.
By Ciaran Bradley and Roisin Traynor