In recent years, the possibility for travel around the Arabian Gulf has become increasingly more accessible and popular for female travellers. While many guides exist for female travel in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, little information is available about travelling in Kuwait.
Firstly, is Kuwait safe for female travellers? Yes. While Kuwait is quite different from its other GCC neighbours, travel in Kuwait is completely safe for solo female travellers. I’ve spent a lot of time in Kuwait, and I have never felt unsafe in any way. The Kuwaiti police are very strict, and violence or crime of any type is not tolerated.
What Makes Kuwait Different
Unlike the other Gulf countries, Kuwait has little tourism infrastructure. While tourism accounts for 10-20% of the rest of the Gulf Countries’ GDP, tourism consists of less than 1% of Kuwait’s national income. There is little set up to accommodate tourism, and the economy is almost-exclusively based on oil income. This makes travelling in Kuwait difficult, yet rewarding.
Overall, Kuwait has around 7% of the world’s oil reserves. The total population of the country is around 4 million, and 75% of this population is foreigners. Kuwaiti citizenship is almost impossible to acquire, and the country’s foreigners are allowed to reside in Kuwait only for the purpose of work. In addition, there are more than 100,000 stateless people in Kuwait, many of whom have resided in the country since its founding but are ineligible for citizenship.
Kuwait became an independent country in 1961, beginning its development as a modern nation state a decade before the rest of the Gulf. After a period of rapid development and liberalisation, the country was crippled by the 1990 invasion from Iraq, and since then, the country has been going through a process of rebuilding and reformulating its national identity.
Unlike the rest of the Gulf countries, which are strict monarchies, Kuwait has the closest political system to a democracy. Its constitutional monarchy is ruled by the Al-Sabah Family and citizens vote for an elected parliament. However, unlike other constitutional monarchies today, the ruler of the country, Emir Nawaf Al-Sabah, has the power to overrule parliamentary decisions and frequently exercises this power. The parliamentary elections are often overshadowed by the country’s longstanding tradition of tribalism.
When the nation of Kuwait was formed, very distinct and different tribes were brought together under one nation, and these differences still remain distinct in everyday life, to the extent that different dialects of Arabic are spoken depending on one’s family tribe. Even within the Kuwaiti population, there are more than ten different distinctions of citizenship based on one’s tribe. Though these different “levels” of citizens have largely the same political rights, they perpetuate continued tribalism. Today, citizens largely vote for members of their own family’s tribe. Political parties are banned, and family tribes form de facto political alliances.
In the last three years alone, the royal family has dissolved the parliament three times. Conflicts between powerful families in the country have essentially stalled political development over the last decade, and corruption runs rampant. While Kuwait is an extremely wealthy state, this corruption has meant that the state’s development is significantly less than other Gulf States.
However, Kuwaitis also have a different relationship with the ruling family. Despite having minority populations of Christians, Bahais, and Shia Muslims, Kuwait is a strictly Sunni state and criticism of Islam is strictly prohibited.
Unlike other Gulf States, Kuwaitis have the constitutional right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech against the government, and it is not uncommon to find Kuwaitis that openly criticise the government. However, these rights are often considerably restricted for non-citizens of the country, and many foreign residents do not discuss politics for fear of being deported.
While it is very important to ensure that you do not openly criticise Islam while travelling in Kuwait, you may find Kuwaitis are much more open to discussing politics. In general, Kuwaitis are often more open to speaking with foreigners than citizens of other GCC countries, and I have been fortunate to make many Kuwaiti friends. However, English is less common in Kuwait than in other parts of the Gulf, and many Kuwaitis speak little English.
Kuwait has only one large city, Kuwait City. Public buses are safe and reliable for women to use. Routes are available on Google Maps, and buses come every 5-10 minutes. I recommend purchasing a SIM card at the airport or downloading an e-SIM in order to use public transport.
A single trips costs 300- 350 fills depending on the route ($1-$1.14), or a day pass can be purchased for 1 Kuwaiti Dinar ($3.25). However, the day pass is only available for a single company, and as there are three companies operating in Kuwait City, I recommend purchasing single fares so that you do not have to wait for the bus of the company that you purchased the daily pass from. All fares can be paid in cash to the bus driver.
I recommend using the app Careem if you would prefer to take taxis, for it provides pre-determined fares. Overall, however, as transport is fairly difficult to coordinate in Kuwait, I recommend organizing a private tour or joining a group tour to improve your experience.
What to Wear
Kuwait’s population is a mix of liberal and uber-conservative people. For women, I recommend covering your knees and shoulders, but there is no need to wear a headscarf or full abaya in any part of the country
Things you should Know
- Kuwait is a dry country. It is illegal to sell alcohol, and alcohol can only be purchased on the black market at exorbitant prices (around $300 per bottle of liquor).
- It is illegal to stay in a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex if you are not married. This rule is strictly enforced for tourists, citizens, and residents alike, and if you are travelling with your spouse, it is essential that you bring a copy of your marriage certificate if you want to stay together.
- Kuwait is expensive. Because tourism is so underdeveloped, there are few options for budget travellers. The Kuwaiti dinar (KD) is the most valuable currency in the world, with 1 Kuwaiti Dinar being worth USD $3.25. The dinar is split into 1000 fills, and you will often find prices that are less than one KD.
Are you interested in visiting Kuwait? Join our Kuwait tour for a unique glimpse into this country that is difficult for tourists to enjoy.