Kuwait travel guide
In Kuwait you'll find an intriguing mix of Western liberalism and traditional Islamic culture. The capital, Kuwait City, is a bustling metropolis of high-rise buildings and luxury hotels, while the Gulf country is also home to spectacular mosques and palaces. Religion is an integral part of daily life here.
This juxtaposition perhaps stems from Kuwait's marrying of Islamism with oil wealth, which for decades has earned it the attention of Western powers. Upon independence from Britain in 1961, Sheikh Abdullah assumed head of state, adopting the title of emir. The large revenues from oil production allowed independent Kuwait to build up its economic infrastructure and institute educational and social welfare programmes.
In the early 1990s, the emir established a National Assembly (Majlis), which placed limits on the power of the ruling family. Since then, the national assembly has clashed several times with the emir and the cabinet (which is still dominated by the al-Sabah family) over misuse of state funds and poor management of the all-important oil industry. Underlying these disputes is the growing impression that the ageing al-Sabah clan is no longer capable of running the country. However, they continue to dominate Kuwaiti policies.
Surrounded by three major Middle Eastern powers, Kuwait became the target of Iraqi territorial claims, leading to Saddam Hussein's invasion of the country in 1990. The Kuwaitis later recovered their country by virtue of a US-led, UN-backed multinational military force.
After a period of euphoria, the Kuwaitis had to address a number of difficult questions; the future security of the country was dealt with by the signing of defence and security pacts with the USA, the UK and Kuwait's Gulf allies. More recently, Kuwait was one of the first countries to join Operation Iraqi Freedom following the US-led war against Iraq, and provided aid and support during Iraq's (ongoing) process of reconstruction.
Beyond the geopolitical dimension, Kuwait is a fascinating country with much elaborate architecture and a superb culinary tradition. Its inhabitants are a warm, welcoming bunch, while the fact that Kuwait is a bit less glitzy than other oil-rich Gulf countries means that it can feel like a haven of tradition Arab culture.
17,818 sq km (6,880 sq miles).
4,007,146 (UN estimate 2016).
156.5 per sq km.
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah since 2006.
Prime Minister Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah since 2011.
Last updated: 16 April 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There may be protests and demonstrations in the region in response to military action taken by the US, France and the UK in Syria, following the chemical weapons attack in Douma on 7 April. You should follow local media and be alert to local and regional developments that might trigger public disturbances. You should avoid any demonstrations and follow the instructions of the local authorities.
Around 8,000 British nationals live in Kuwait and a further 10,000 visit each year. Most visits to Kuwait are trouble-free.
You must carry your passport or a Kuwait civil identification card at all times.
Take care if you plan to travel to conservative areas such as Jahra. There are high levels of crime, particularly robberies, in Jleeb Al Shuyoukh.
Following maritime restrictions issued by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior in 2011, you should also take care when sailing in Kuwaiti waters.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Kuwait.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 112 (fire, police and ambulance).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Violent crime against foreigners is rare. However, you should take care if you intend to travel in conservative areas like Jahra, where there have been incidents involving firearms, and Jleeb Al Shuyoukh where there have been instances of robbery.
You should only use authorised road border crossing points into Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Border posts can be easily missed on the Kuwait-Saudi Arabian border, however you must get an exit or entry stamp before continuing your journey. Any other unauthorised movement near borders is illegal and dangerous. Armed guards patrol border areas. If you plan to cross the border from Kuwait into Iraq, make sure you have the correct paperwork. See the Iraqi Embassy to Kuwait website for more information
Landmines and other hazardous ordnance are still present in Kuwait. You should avoid off-road driving. If you do travel off-road, restrict your movements to clearly identifiable tracks, and take great care even if an area has been officially cleared. Don’t pick up any strange metal, plastic or other objects lying around.
If you have a visit visa you can drive in Kuwait using an international driving permit or a valid UK licence. Before driving you must obtain third party insurance in Kuwait. If you’re hiring a car, you can usually get insurance through your car hire company. If you’re planning to drive a car belonging to a relative or friend then you’re responsible for obtaining insurance. The insurance document must be kept with you at all times while driving.
If you’re applying to live in Kuwait, you won’t be able to drive unless you have a Kuwaiti driving licence. In this case, you should apply for a Kuwaiti driving licence after you receive your residency permit. You should confirm eligibility requirements for a Kuwaiti driving licence with the nearest Kuwaiti Embassy before you arrive. Your eligibility to obtain a Kuwaiti licence may be affected by your residency or employment category, annual salary and time spent in Kuwait.
Driving is hazardous. Many drivers pay little attention to other road users; drive in excess of speed limits, switch lanes without warning, ignore traffic lights and use mobile phones while driving. If you have an accident you must stay with the vehicle. Call the police on 112 and don’t attempt to move the vehicle before they arrive.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Bubiyan and Warbah in the northern Gulf and Abu Musa, and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf. The area in the northern Gulf, between Iran, Iraq and Kuwait has not been demarcated and vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected. There have been occasional arrests. Make careful enquiries before entering these waters or visiting ports.
Following maritime restrictions issued by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior in 2011, you should take care when sailing in Kuwaiti waters. You should also remain alert to the effect any regional tensions may have on your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be under an increased risk of maritime attack.
Take care when travelling by Dhow, as the safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available.
Demonstrations and protests are uncommon in Kuwait and are normally, but not always, peaceful. Rioting is rare. You should be vigilant, avoid demonstrations, follow the advice of the local authorities, and be alert to local and regional developments.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Kuwait. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
On 26 June 2015, Daesh carried out a suicide attack at the Imam Sadiq mosque in the Al Sawabir area of Kuwait City, resulting in 27 deaths and many injured. Further attacks on places of worship are possible.
Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region. These include references to attacks on western interests, including residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests, as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping centres and mosques. You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places. Avoid demonstrations, take security precautions and follow the advice of the local authorities.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Kuwait is a Muslim country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 16 May and finish on 14 June.
Carry your passport or a Kuwait civil identification card at all times.
Entry to and photography near government, military and industrial and other restricted areas (e.g. near borders and oil fields) is forbidden.
In public, you should dress and behave modestly. Women wearing shorts or tight-fitting clothes, in particular in downtown or conservative areas, are likely to attract unwelcome attention.
The importation or possession of narcotics, alcohol, pork products or obscene material is a crime and can lead to imprisonment.
Possession and abuse of drugs can lead to a prison sentence of between 5 and 10 years, and a heavy fine. Bail is not usually given and even if found not guilty you can expect to spend several months in detention while the case progresses through the judicial system. Penalties for drug trafficking include the death sentence.
Drunken behaviour in public or driving under the influence of alcohol is punishable by a fine or imprisonment, and/or deportation and the withdrawal of your driving licence.
Sexual intercourse between men and imitating the appearance of the opposite sex are punishable by law. See our information and advice page for LGBT travellers before you travel.
Intimate displays of affection between men and women are also frowned upon.
Co-habiting of unmarried partners in Kuwait is illegal. If you wish to live with your partner in the same house, you need to be married.
Bouncing cheques is illegal and the law does not provide for offenders to be released from custody on bail. Post-dated cheques can be banked immediately.
If you’re involved in a commercial dispute with a Kuwaiti company or individual, you may be prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute.
The British Embassy can’t intervene with labour disputes.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Regardless of age, British nationals travelling by air can get a free 30-day entry permit/tourist visa, or a 90-day visit/business visa for a fee, on arrival in Kuwait. For further information contact the Kuwait Embassy in London:
Embassy of Kuwait 2 Albert Gate London SW1X 7JU Telephone: 020 7590 3400
You can now apply for an e-visa before arrival.
On arrival in Kuwait, the immigration authorities may ask to see evidence of return or onward travel, a sponsor’s letter and hotel confirmation.
If you are arriving by land or sea, you should obtain visas in advance from the Kuwaiti Embassy in London.
For visit visas, obtained on arrival or in advance, your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Kuwait.
For residency visas, your passport should be valid for a minimum of 2 years.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Kuwait. However, ETDs are accepted for airside transit and exit from Kuwait.
Previous travel to Israel
If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport you may be refused a visa and/or entry into Kuwait.
Living and working in Kuwait
For work or residency visas apply to the Kuwaiti Embassy in London.
If you intend to use UK documents like academic records, marriage certificates, or your driving licence in your application, you should have all such documents authenticated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK or by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country in which they were awarded and the nearest Kuwaiti Embassy. The same procedure is necessary for children’s birth certificates.
Your employers should not retain your passport.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures.
Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
There is a state medical service with local clinics and several good hospitals. There are also private medical and dental facilities. Fees are controlled by the state and are expensive. From 1 October 2017 the Kuwaiti government has decided to further increase the cost to expatriates and visitors of using state medical facilities. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. If you’re working in Kuwait, check whether your employer provides private medical insurance. If not, you’re strongly advised to take out personal medical insurance for yourself and any dependents.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
The currency in Kuwait is the Kuwaiti dinar.
There are plenty of ATMs and credit cards are widely accepted, although some banks and shops don’t accept foreign-issued bank or credit cards.
Contact FCO Travel Advice Team
This email service only offers information and advice for British nationals planning to travel abroad.
If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the consular assistance team on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
If you’re abroad and need emergency help, please contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
If you have a question about this travel advice, you can email us at TravelAdvicePublicEnquiries@fco.gov.uk
Before you send an email, make sure you have read the travel advice for the country you’re travelling to, and the guidance on how the FCO puts travel advice together.