Her main concern is that she is blonde with blue eyes and wondered if she should color her hair brown. I would have to say NO! There are tons of blue-eyed blonde's in Kuwait (like me) and it's not a big deal at all. If you are beautiful / sexy it doesn't matter what your hair / eye color is...you are going to get a lot of attention anywhere in the world. (Not just in Kuwait). I will touch on this subject matter later.
There are many American women in Kuwait married to Kuwaitis that they met while studying at university in the US. If you move here with your Kuwaiti husband you will find that Kuwait is a pretty nice place to live and raise a family. Several of these women have successful businesses in Kuwait and live quite well.
*** Update ~ 2014
This post was written in 2010 but I've updated it for 2014.
It's not as easy as it used to be to get and keep a high paying job in Kuwait. If you are coming here as a US Contractor then you must pass an extensive yearly employment physical to get and then keep your job. There is also less $$$ to be made in Kuwait than there was before. There is usually no salary negotiation unless you are in upper management. It's a take it or leave it offer for most American contractors. This seems to work well for the US companies because many Americans are desperate for jobs with our current high unemployment rates back home. Note: It helps a lot if you are ex-military or a mason / eastern star. (Never heard of them? LOL! Me neither until I was a US contractor in Kuwait. Many of the blue collar jobs were held by a brother / sister / gf / bf / husband / wife who was also in this [whatever it is / what is it?].)
FALA (Foreign Area Living Allowance) in most cases is gone and wages are going down faster than the US economy. You might only come out ahead because you are saving Federal Taxes (only if you stay out of the USA 330 days per tax year) but keep in mind you will have to pay FICA Tax 7.65%
Most companies provide bus transportation or shared cars to and from work. They also provide shared apartments. Housing allowances (if given) are less and unfortunately the rent here has increased by more than 30%. The US companies here are to thank for that ridiculous price increase in the American Ghettos ;) of Fahaheel, Mangaf, Mahboula and Fintas. There are also a lot less jobs available for US Citizens as Foreign Nationals (TCNs) or Filipinos (Local Hires) are more cost effective, they do almost anything they're told (wink wink) and seldom stand up for their rights.
There are still jobs and $$$ to be made in Kuwait but not as much as before. In order to earn more $$$ as a Westerner you really need to go to Afghanistan with a good US company or work with a high paying, local, Kuwaiti company.
My best piece of advice?
Do not leave a good job with medical, vacation and other benefits in the USA to come and work in Kuwait. (Unless you plan on working and traveling around the world and don't care about returning to work in the USA, or you can easily get your job back when you return, or you don't need a job because you can always move back in with your spouse / parents who will support you until you find another good job.) Why? There is no job security here! NONE! It doesn't matter if you are an American restaurant manager, a US Contractor, teacher, department store manager or Western oil / gas company employee. The minute they are successful and can replace you with a cheaper third country national or local they will do it.
Now lets get real...
Are you married? Do you want to stay married? Be smart! Come to Kuwait with your husband or wife! I'm not exaggerating when I write that over 80% or more of the Western men move here and cheat on their wives. It's usually with the local hires who often network with their friends / family and know a fresh Western guy has landed in Kuwait the minute he steps of fthe plane. It's survival for them to hunt Western meat (hahaha) and have a better life. Many (not all) hope to score free groceries, weekend American chain restaurant dinners (where they used to work unless they were a runaway maid), extra cash, a free place to live, new clothes, support for their 4 - 10 kids back home, a Green Card, etc. and will do anything and everything for your old, bald, decrepit, fat bastard of a husband that you never had to worry about cheating on you before. (Because nobody would ever want his ugly @$$!) ;p
The local hire girls outnumber the men here like 15 to 1 and it's hard for even the most faithful of men to pass up easy / manipulative meow here when they're far from home, lonely and desperate. Can you blame them? I mean here's this young (usually not even attractive) girl cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, daily massage, !#$*%+@ and never talking back in hopes she gets knocked up by Grandpa to secure a Green Card. (Guys, that birth control she's taking is a tic tac candy! Wake the F up!)
I know this is harsh but come with your spouse or don't let them come. We get so many desperate / sad emails from brokenhearted readers who find out their 40+ year old husband left them for a villager who got pregnant on the first date. (Many times she's not even sure who's the Father so she tells all the old dudes she's shagging in hopes one stupid one will leave his family back home and marry her. They're so good at manipulation for survival that one usually does!) You were warned!
* End of update *
Working in Kuwait (This part was written in 2010 but is still relevant now.)
When I first came to Kuwait I briefly worked on a big American contract. You usually work 48 hours a week with two days off. The salary is considerably low compared to other US companies here but the quality of life is high. I really enjoyed working for this company and it's a great place to start if you're young and need to get your foot in the door. My salary was around $4,000 per month which included a foreign area living allowance (FALA), shared car and apartment. You will get four weeks paid vacation with ten days of paid holidays. This is the standard.
My current contract will not be renewed because of significant downsizing. This is a good thing since they just cut off our FALA and uplift. Thanks to a referral from a close friend, I just landed a terrific new job here in Kuwait with a local 'Kuwaiti' company. Let’s just say its sweet and my dream job! The new company will pay almost the same as what I make now but you only work 60 hours and five days a week. That means weekend travel is back on the menu for me. :D I can't wait to start and my new boss rocks!
***Did I mention that in most cases your earnings are tax free up to $91,400? (Warning: Only if you stay outside the US for 330 days per tax year.) Check with the IRS website for yearly updates.
Yearly employment physical (Updated 2014 by source: B & D)
All US Companies in Kuwait now require a yearly physical not only during the initial hiring process but also to renew your contact every year.
Are physicals enforced? It depends on who you are and who you know. Welcome to Kuwait and the world of Wasta. If you do not have any health problems then you must be under 40 BMI. If you do have a health problem (i.e. high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) then you must be under 35 BMI. You might ask why then are there so many fatties walking around the US Camps in Kuwait? Again, it's who you know (or who you blow ;) and what you do (or who you do ;). Yes, WASTA exists even on the US Camps.
Note: According to B & D the contractors with weight problems almost never get fired which isn't fair to those with "normal" BMIs. I just heard about an older lady with cancer who lost her job in Kuwait because she failed her medical. Can you imagine that happening in the US?
It's common knowledge that if an employee fails their initial physical for weight at the company required clinic all they have to do next is see their own "personal doctor" in Kuwait who can (and often does) lie that they miraculously lost the weight (when they haven't lost a pound nor look like it) so they can keep their job another year. What if you don't have WASTA or you suffer from another health problem i.e. cancer, diabetes? You better do everything you can to pass or start packing because your fat or sick self is fired. There are already many lawsuits in Kuwait where Westerners are suing their US companies for not following the Kuwait Labor Law or discrimination between employees.
My advice? If you're not in good health do not try and work here. Any minute now the US companies are going to figure out how many people go to "their special doctor" (wink wink) to get a false medical note (fraud) and start making everyone go to the same clinic as the original company medical tests. Again, there is no job security here. If you are or get sick you're gone. Don't leave a good job in the USA with benefits to come here when there is no guarantee. I first came here as a US contractor and then moved over to a Kuwaiti company as soon as I had the chance. Once I went to work for a Kuwaiti company my life in Kuwait got AWESOME! It still is!
As you already know, gas is dirt cheap. Bottled water is more expensive than gas for your car. The average exchange rate isn’t good for us Americans here in Kuwait but the US $ is pitiful almost anywhere you go in the world. If you are a Western Expat working for a US company or DOD your living expenses are generally part of your benefits package. One Kuwaiti dinar is the equivalent to around $3.54 dollars. Ouch!
Kuwait is an excellent base for those with wanderlust. Europe, Asia, other countries in the Middle East (UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, etc.) is just a short flight away. My love of travel is what keeps me happy living and working in Kuwait.
Heat / Dust
There is no better way to say it...Kuwait is hot as hell! The good thing is that everywhere has A/C so if I can stand it you can.
Dust storms suck! You can't avoid them. Hopefully this summer will not be as bad as last year. The dust storms are a pain so hiring a good cleaning lady is a must for your apartment. You can also have your apartment building Haras wash your car daily to keep it clean. These services are very reasonable in Kuwait compared to the US. And you will be far too busy working and enjoying your new life to clean yourself.
There is plenty to do during your time off so go out and explore your new surroundings. I highly recommend purchasing a good GPS. Many blogs in Kuwait list current events and activities.
Check out my post on: Tour Kuwait in one day
World Travel Guide on the Middle East
Shopping is considered a sport and a form of entertainment in Kuwait. There are malls everywhere with all of your designer favorites. The souks are also a great place to shop. If you live in Kuwait you will enjoy spending some of your free time and money at the malls. Check out my links section on the right sidebar for Kuwait Malls.
Yummy Yum Yum! Almost every place delivers to your front door. There is a wide variety of restaurants for every taste bud. Including many American chains but I suggest you try the local flavor. There is a website you can look at (Talabat.com) that literally delivers everything you could ever want or crave to your front door. DANGEROUS!!! One thing for sure, you will never go hungry living in Kuwait.
What to Wear
You can basically get away with wearing anything in Kuwait. Keep in mind that you are in a Middle Eastern country and you should be respectful and dress more on the conservative side. Yesterday at work on Camp Arifjan my girlfriends and I saw this “Plus sized Diva” wearing skin tight jeans that couldn’t contain all the junk in her trunk. They were in danger of ripping at any moment and I think the blouse buttons were about to pop off and hit me in the eye. She literally tripped in her 4’ heals that looked like they were from Payless. I wouldn’t recommend that look on or off base but nowadays you just about see anything and everything. You are pretty much free to dress as you please. It depends if you want to look classy or trashy.
Kuwait is generally a safe place to live. Crime is increasing like everywhere else in the world. I used to feel safer here compared to the US but after some scary attacks on Western girls I do not feel that way as much anymore. Again, it's still safer here for American girls than it is back home. For more information hit on the links below and click on their crime section: (Or go to my "crime" label on my blog.)
Driving in Kuwait
I won't lie to you...driving is a scary business in Kuwait. It doesn't take you long to get the hang of it and your seat belt is your best friend. Every day I drive in fear because some maniac almost hits my car driving twice the highway speed limit. Then if that doesn’t freak you out there are always the burned and smashed cars on the side of the roads from horrific daily accidents. (YES! It’s really that bad.)
Well, dating in Kuwait is complicated. According to my Kuwaiti friends it's not really allowed but almost everyone is dating anyway. Go out, enjoy life, have a little fun! Experience a new exotic culture. Life is too short to just work all day without any play. If you can't get a date in Kuwait then you need to unlock the closet and jump out. But safety first and be smart! Kuwaiti men are just like any other men in the world. Some are good and some are bad. If you’re a target in the US for being used and abused then you will be a target anywhere in the world and not just Kuwait. It's really up to you and your standards.
Bars and Clubs
Yep, it's true...there are no "legal bars or nightclubs" in Kuwait. Drinking alcohol is illegal. There are lots of parties during the weekends. You can get alcohol here but I advise you not to take the risk. If you have to get your drink on, Dubai and Bahrain are just 50 minutes away by plane.
Again it's illegal in Kuwait but you can buy it here on the black market. It's probably cheaper and more fun to just fly to Dubai or Bahrain for the weekend where you won't pay $354 per bottle of Red Label like in Kuwait. You can also make it at your house on the down low. Many people do make their on wine, beer or champagne. (I ain't got time for that sh**t! ;p Just fly me to Dubai!)
Any women from 6 - 60 will experience some sort of unwanted or wanted attention in Kuwait. This is especially true if you drive alone. Most of this is harmless flirtation but it can sometimes get a little scary. One morning I was driving to work alone and a Kuwaiti male tried to run me off the road. I didn't even see his car until he almost hit mine. At the next stoplight he jumped out of his car and tried to get into mine. He seemed to be high on alcohol / drugs and just wouldn't give up. It was beyond scary and I almost kissed the ground when I made it safely inside the Camp Arifjan gate.
Always lock your doors and travel with a cell phone. Try to look ahead and ignore any unwanted attention. Usually ignoring does the trick but it's not always effective. If you are young and beautiful like the self-described American lady that sent me the comment this AM - all the ignoring in the world doesn't work. Trust me!!! You probably get a lot of attention in the US as well. You just might get a little more here in Kuwait. If the constant attention bothers you, try sunshades on the windows of your car, wearing a manly baseball cap with your hair tucked in or traveling with another person.
Now for some straight talk and humor:
Are you a lady of average cuteness or pushing 80? You might not get that much attention in the US but in Kuwait you will be one hot mama! ;p Literally there's a saying that a '2' is a '10' here in Kuwait because the ratio is about 4 to 1. Some girls let all this sudden attention go to their newbie little heads when back in their home country they couldn't get noticed from a fireman if they were on fire.
If you smile, laugh or give any indication that you are approachable this will translate as you wanting them to chase you. If you don't want them to chase you then ignoring them will work for you. But ladies...why not enjoy yourself a little while in Kuwait and experience the culture? I hear about and even see some of these women enjoying all the attention they never had before. I say good for them. :) I know one American lady who is close to 60 and she recently told me she is constantly approached my young Kuwaiti men. She shared some hilarious stories of how they propose marriage, blow her kisses and follow her everywhere she goes.
Like I said, it's mostly harmless flirtation but you should remain cautious and aware of your surroundings. Also watch out for local / expat guys who might be using you because you are new to Kuwait and naive. There are even some Green Card marriage / money seekers searching for wealthier, older, Western women to con. Please just be careful and take things slow until you really know this guy.
Please feel free to comment and ask me any questions you might have about living in Kuwait.
(I will do my very best to answer you quickly but please understand with my current schedule and social calendar it could take up to a week but I will respond.)