The ‘Expat City Ranking 2019’ by InterNations ranked Kuwait at the bottom of a global list of worst cities for expats to live in. The survey rated cities on key parameters such as quality of urban living, leisure activities, transport, mobility, work-life balance and career opportunities. While Kuwait does have lots to offer and has been home to millions of expats over the years, there is plenty of room for improvement, as the study shows.
Quality of Life
Expats living in Kuwait tell us they would give the city a ranking of 6/10 for quality of life. “While the infrastructure in the city is impressive, life is not a balanced one- things can get a bit dull out here. Basically, it’s all work, with very little time or option for anything else. Then again, jobs are very insecure and no one knows when all the expats will have to pack up and leave,” notes an Egyptian expat who has lived in the city for over 15 years. “Although times have changed since I first landed in Kuwait, it still has a long way to go in terms of offering a balanced quality of life.”
Perhaps the biggest grouse expats have is that the city offers no activities of any kind. There’s not much to do here, except shop or dine out. Nightlife is almost nonexistent,” says a Lebanese expat. “If we’re talking summers (end of May through mid/end of September), the options tend to be limited as most people travel during that time. So events, concerts, festivals and other major social gatherings come to a halt,” says another expat. “However once the new school semester begins and people return to their daily routines of job/school/university, things tend to be a bit more lively,” he adds.
“Two of the main attractions that have come up in the city recently, are JACC (Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Cultural Center) and ASCC (Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Center). JACC is an opera house surrounded by lush greenery, restaurants and a manmade lake with dancing fountains. It brings in artists and performers from all over the globe regularly. In fact, in its opening week, there was a performance by Yanni. ASCC, on the other hand, has 6 architecturally unique museums of art and science located within its premises. Problem is, with JACC, tickets tend to be expensive even for a semi-decent seat, while ASCC gets boring after two too many visits,” the expat points out.
Here again, the options are limited. Being a small city, public transport is limited to buses and taxis. Accidents are frequent, and traffic congestion during peak hours are a nightmare. Expats say buses tend to stick to certain routes and have early final scheduled trips. According to them, taxis are more convenient when it comes to destinations that are far away, but they’re a much pricier option than buses. Also, meters are seldom used and taxi drivers tend to haggle and round up the fare fee, which means you have to argue with them. Careem seems to be the commuting option of choice, since it is always available, the fare is stated as soon as you choose your destination and the drivers are friendlier than most others. Point is, those without cars of their own might find it difficult to move around.
One of the most important aspects of daily life, healthcare, is expensive for an average expat. “If you go to a private clinic/hospital and don’t have insurance, be prepared to spend at least 30-50 KWD (360-600 AED) on just consultation and prescribed medication. However government clinics charge you way less and tend to have the same, if not better, care. A consultation, an X-ray, IV medications, plus prescribed antibiotics will cost a mere 5 KWD (60 AED). However, government hospitals had a few incidents of medical error induced deaths recently, and this pretty much tarnished their reputation with the expat population,” a resident says.
Cost of living
Even though Kuwait has the most powerful currency in the world, living here isn’t as cheap as one might think.
Expat residents point put that if you wish to have a cost efficient lifestyle where it’s possible to both survive and save every month, you’ll have to take a few things into consideration. First of all, you need to be single, so you won’t worry too much about spending. Second, you’ll need to find a place to live that’s relatively cheap. Studio apartments would be your go to, but even in areas like Salmiya and Hawali where rents are supposed to be less, it’ll probably still cost you around 150-200KWD (1800-2400 AED).
With groceries, restaurants, and clothing, expats say, it really depends on how you live. You could live with 20 KWD a week eating out from Falafel restaurants and grocery shopping from co-ops (where most of the imported and domestic items are heavily subsidized by the government); or you could live a life of semi-luxury and spend a good 100+ KWD every week, getting your morning coffee from Starbucks and having your meals delivered straight to you via a meal subscription plan from companies such as Diet Center, they add.
‘Un’ Friendly locals
Here again, is another area where expats say Kuwait slides down the ranks. “The locals here are not friendly, end of story,” says an Indian expat. “As a result, they don’t feel too welcome, but then the point of coming to the city is to work and earn a living, not make friends, so it doesn’t bother much,” he adds. “If you’re European or North American, the response is very different, you’re made to feel very welcome and at home. However, with people from other countries, the story is very different,” says a Syrian expat.