Kuwait is not Saudi Arabia nor Dubai. Kuwait is a separate country in the Middle East. It’s not fast and trending as Dubai but also it is not mandatory for all women to wear a burqa/hijab like they do in Saudi. Making this clear because that is what I am most asked about.
Yeah we have the highly valued currency in the world and all that but what is life like here? This post is the experience of a girl who came from Kangayam 5 years ago.
I remember the first flight, first hour in the country so well. After clearing the immigration at around 11 in the night, we came out of the airport and entered the car parking, I felt like I stepped into a furnace right from the refrigerator. It was super hot and I was told that summer had JUST started! I am not sure about making an omelette in the heat outside but you need to cool down the water before you use it directly from the tap in the summers. June to August are harsh summer months and winter is equally cold from December to March. And there are sandstorms that happen during the weather transition. In the past couple of years, we saw some heavy rains and floods during the months of November/December for a few days. Otherwise the weather is pretty dry.
Within few days after getting here, I had gone for my residence stamping formalities. I was standing in the queue with my documents in hand. A lady next to me asked if I had come in the domestic helper visa and before I could answer she went on asking for other details like what was my salary, how many years was my contract and all that because she confirmed that I was a domestic helper. I didn’t see this coming when I decided to give up my H1B visa and an opportunity to travel to the US and call this place home. Later I was told that its a very common assumption here about people wearing a salwar kameez and no makeup. Even today, I don’t wear makeup but I also have learnt to keep my Indian wear to the right place and occasion.
The expat population is more than the citizens and the domestic workers make up to 60% of it. Getting a house-help would be the easiest part of setting up a house here. I used to tell my friends that one can write a book titled “Maids of the Middle East” because there are so many of them and they have so many stories to tell.
Bringing your family here, getting a license,owning a car, getting your parents on a visit are all based on your designation on the visa and your salary. There are no taxes so one could save better. Cost of living is moderate and house rent takes the major portion of the expenses. Expats aren’t allowed to buy properties here so houses are all rented. Kuwait doesn’t give citizenship to babies of expats born here.
Next big thing to oil and gas industry is the food industry in Kuwait. There are so many restaurants catering different cuisines and you’re spoilt for choices! Every street or other has a couple of Indian restaurants that serve from idli , dosai to roti sabji to panipuri. I know what a privilege that is because I hear from my brother in Germany and friends in the Western countries, how difficult it is to get Indian food at the doorstep.
You don’t even have to ask about Indian groceries. We get EVERYTHING ! We have Tamil kadai that sells millets, traditional rice varieties, pooja related stuff, fresh mallipoo and what not! I am not sure if people in Tamil Nadu get Erukampoo for Vinayagar Chaturthi these days but I have seen them here. Except dates and a few vegetables grown locally, every single thing is imported. Supermarkets extend for acres and you get produce from all over the world.
To be honest, when I moved here, I didn’t have slightest ray of hope to get a job in the IT industry. Not sure if it was my 5 years of experience at Accenture or my stars had aligned at the right direction that day, I gave an interview at a SW firm and got placed as a SAP Consultant. I have my 10 years of work experience equally split between India and Kuwait, luckily both in IT. I have seen many women who have had jobs at the top MNCs in India, work in office support or clerical jobs after moving here and many others don’t get one at all! IT Industry isn’t big here and the work environment is extremely different from what I have experienced in India. All my Accenture life, I was taught not to address anyone as Sir/Madam and call them by their first name but here it is otherwise. The work timings are from 7 am to 3 pm in most places which gives you almost half a day with your family. The pace of work here is a little slow and there’s no rush. I have friends and colleagues who would agree with me on this.
Oh! did I tell you weekend here means Friday and not Sunday? When rest of the world says TGIF, our weekend would have been over already. So what people do on weekends? Catch a movie or eat out ( duh!) or take a road trip to Wafra or Abdali where there are farm houses on rental and spend time there. These two areas are where some real agriculture is done in Kuwait. Many farms are now open to public, sell their produce and you can spend a day there. You can find my farm visits here and here.
We have malls that are endless ! Most of the recreations are all indoors and in the past few years there are a couple of public parks opened and maintained really well. So they’re the only outdoor places that you can spend time at,apart from the beaches. Tourist attractions are hardly any unlike UAE.
Online shopping isn’t big here. There is no Amazon. Only during this COVID era, many stores have started their online shopping facilities. Interestingly, Instagram is much bigger than Facebook here! Every store, big or small has a very active Instagram account.
There is a huge flea market called the Friday Market because they’re open only during the weekends. They sell thrift-ed stuff like dresses,shoes,handbags,etc. You get home furniture, curtains, antique pieces, very pretty carpets and rugs (both used and new) at a cheaper price.
Amazon Prime, Netflix and other streaming services are available but the content is restricted here. Even at the cinemas, the seating arrangement is done in such a way that they are separate for families and bachelors. One should book accordingly.
There are community programs held by different societies like Tamil Sangam, Tamilnadu Engineers Forum, Toastmasters Club,etc throughout the year. They conduct sports, seminars, industrial visits for kids, farm tours, cultural programs for their members. One can get a paid membership and that’s one way of socializing.
If you own a car and who like to hit the road, can go for a drive from one end of the country to other. There are highways that runs across lengths and breaths of the country. Between, how much do you think are the fuel prices here? 90% of the vehicles here run on petrol and the finest quality costs around 25 INR per litre. Perks of having the oil wells right under your feet,huh!
Roads are not pedestrian friendly. Public transport is used only by the expats but its the less desired way of commute because of the poor connectivity. There is no UBER but there are normal taxis that are life savers. Used cars from Corolla to Rolls Royce are just parked in the roundabouts for sale so no one really bats an eye when a Rolls Royce or a Lamborghini passes by. They are just like any other sedan here.
How can I not mention this! The country uses a LARGE amount of plastic carry bags which people here refer as keys. Even the hyper markets give you extra keys, because why not?! I have had many stares when I tell the helpers at the billing counters not to give more carry bags and pack everything together in a single bag. As we don’t have waste segregation there’s no way to avoid the carry bags or recycle-reduce. I really wish this changes.
These days when living in your own country has mountain of challenges, I guess living as an expat in any country isn’t easy. Many complain that life is pretty boring here. That’s because there is no much recreational/entertainment options and unfriendly weather conditions for spending time outdoors. There is nothing much to look forward to except to eat out or just stroll inside the malls.
On the other hand, traveling to Europe and other western countries from Kuwait is easier. Main reason being the currency, because you spend in Dinars and also visa processing takes less time. European countries are just a few hours of flight away. Georgia, Azerbaijan, Egypt,Turkey are ideal for a 3-4 days trip from Kuwait. And of course,India is just roughly 3 to 4 hours away.
When you live as an expat in any country, in one or other way you are bound to be influenced by the lifestyle of the country you live in but in my experience you live 99% Indian life in Kuwait because in no way your life is influenced by the place or the locals. Knowing Arabic is not necessary for survival here because if you’re from India every third person you meet will speak your mother tongue. You don’t miss out on the food and if you are lucky you can just hop on a plane and meet your family and friends in a few hours.
Maybe life could have been different if I had taken the H1B and moved to the US but life has taught me to believe that things happen for a reason.I have made some great friends for life and career in Kuwait. I would be lying if I said I fell in love with this place at first sight or even in the first year. Well, slowly and steadily I have grown to accept this place and I call it home now.
If you had come this far, thank you for reading and hope I said something that Wikipedia doesn’t say about Kuwait 🙂