Why Expat Panda can’t stay in Kuwait any longer

As you read this, I am on a plane bound for South Africa. Kuwait is a few 100 kilometers behind me and if you read on, you will understand why I needed to schedule the publishing of this post only once I was out of Kuwaiti land and airspace. 

 

As my time here in Kuwait draws to a close, I have been reading my blog posts from when I first moved to Kuwait. While reading I remember my first feelings the day I landed- I was confused, curious and slightly underwhelmed. These emotions definitely seemed to define most of time here in Kuwait!

Since I’ve come to Kuwait, I’ve had some interesting experiences. From the time my friend took her top off in a cab to lend to me since I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the bank to the time I was invited for a party with the theme, “skin”… it’s been a crazy roller-coaster.

 

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Bee and I were discussing our first few months in Kuwait. How every time we would go somewhere, we would look at the sandy, brown surroundings and wonder if we would ever like this country. And now… I would classify my feelings as:

Attached but not in love

 

When I travel out of the GCC, I always miss Kuwait. It’s irrational really because I always can’t wait to leave Kuwait but there you go… I am attached. In my last post I discussed the many things I would miss about Kuwait when I leave. Things I am not sure (yet) that I would be able to experience in another Middle Eastern country. But this post, as the title suggests, is a post about why I have to leave.

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When I arrived in Kuwait I had full intention to stay here for a good few years. I thought it was somewhere Fox & I could settle down and plan the path we want our future to take. However, there were many factors that made me change my mind:

 

– A distinct lack of progress regarding infrastructure, tourism or the country as whole especially when compared to other GCC countries. Actually… tourism in Kuwait? What’s that? The government has invested NO money in attracting visitors which is obvious to see when you land at the airport which looks like a throwback from the eighties and a serious lack of facilities or aesthetic appeal to cater to visitors. I can’t, in good conscience, encourage anyone to visit Kuwait for a holiday longer than 2 days. Quite frequently, there are reports on news sites about people meeting in serious car accidents because of poorly maintained roads, shoddy constructions sites and a blatant disregard for the law (which isn’t really enforced here- especially on the road). Do you know there is a section on the Highway 30 (one of the main roads in Kuwait connecting most of the suburbs to Kuwait City) that has been undergoing maintenance since I arrived 10 months ago?! The road is untarred and feels more like a gravel road in Africa (this is a MAIN road by the way). Its disappointing to see such apathy in a country with no lack for funds.

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– A constant feeling that foreigners, especially those of certain inferior nationalities, aren’t particularly welcome in this country… it’s blatant in the bureaucracy regarding paperwork, the way you are treated when you go to the Ministry, the effort of getting a visit visa for family members and the difficulty of getting a driver’s license. Basic documents take a looooong time in Kuwait especially if 1. You aren’t Arab 2. You aren’t from a “Western” country 3. Your face isn’t white. Kuwait parliament has put forward bills to stop non-Kuwaitis from obtaining drivers licenses; they have increased the cost of residence visas exorbitantly especially fees for those wanting to sponsor their wives and children; they want to impose taxes on foreigners curbing the amount of money they are allowed to send back to their home countries; the government wants to now charge non-Kuwaitis for using the public health care system and the government has out-rightly said they wish to drastically minimise the number of foreign citizens in Kuwait. Do I need to mention how they have doubled the fines for overstaying on a visa and how they wish to reduce the number of visit visas granted altogether? Click the links for the news articles, all published in 2017. I don’t know about you but I find it difficult to live somewhere where I feel I am not wanted and where my white friend is treated with utmost kindness when sorting out her documents but at the same place, by the same people, I am yelled at because this brown face couldn’t possibly speak English!

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– If you are not from a “western” or as it is perceived here, a “white country”, it is nearly impossible for you  to visit Kuwait without a work visa. If you do manage to get a job offer and thus, a work visa for Kuwait and you would like friends and family to visit you, buckle up because you are in for the ride of your life! If you are thinking this will be simple, like people visiting Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE who can simply apply for visas online or through their airlines, then you are so wrong. First of all, the person wanting to visit you cannot apply for their own visa. OH NO, that would be too logical! You, as the resident of Kuwait, have to go in person, to the ministry, join the queue at 6am and wait until 9am which is when the Ministry opens. You will need documents upon documents including your birth/marriage certificate if you want your spouse, siblings or parents to come visit you. Oh wait, your parents are over the age of 55? Sorry, they can never enter Kuwait! That is right folks, Kuwait does not grant visit visas to people over 55! It doesn’t matter that they are your flesh and blood, that is the LAW (because people who are over 55 are obviously a threat to society?). So here is hoping you were the result of a teenage pregnancy. If its your LEGALLY WEDDED spouse, you need authenticated proof that you married, proof of what you earn (there is a minimum salary that is required), their passport copy, your passport copy, copy of your work permit, everything translated into Arabic and the list goes on. Then you head to the Ministry and brave the abuse and mistreatment because again, you’re not white! What is it with these people at the Ministry departments? And if your friend wants to visit you in Kuwait, forget it. No legal proof of relationship means no visa. The truth is that if I had known about this visit visa drama, I would never have to come to Kuwait. Imagine living in a place where no one you love is allowed to visit you freely… (And yes, Western countries just get a 3KD visa issued on arrival with no age or salary restrictions applicable).

 

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– A lack of progress regarding infrastructure means a lack of jobs for Expat Fox the Amazing Architect. If we were of a superior nationality, Fox could’ve been here with me on a tourist visa looking for a job like many of my American and British colleagues. But these third world passports mean this is not an option for us. Now; Panda and Fox can live apart for a prolonged period of time, as demonstrated this past year. But it cannot go on indefinitely which is the only path I saw going forward, if I continued to stay in Kuwait.

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– The Ministry of Education’s refusal to approve my qualifications to teach the age group I am qualified to teach meaning that I can never teach high school students at any school  in Kuwait. As you know, I have loved teaching kindergarten but the principle rankles me that they can: 1. Discredit your tertiary qualifications and 2. Stick anyone in a classroom of very young learners. In most countries you need proper training to be around and educate young kids because it isn’t easy! But not in Kuwait. The Ministry’s blatant disregard for my teaching and postgraduate qualifications makes no sense to me because my qualifications are LEGIT as hell.

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Despite discrimination, a terribly mismanaged school (less of a school, more of a joke actually) and all these other struggles, I am glad I came to Kuwait. That I had the experiences I did, met the amazing people that I met and created this blog so I could  challenge people’s perceptions. But when I started this blog, I promised myself that I would not only post highlights or sugar coat things. I wanted to be honest and truthful about my experiences, whether traveling, eating or living in Kuwait. So now you know what some of the challenges of living in Kuwait really are. Ultimately these reasons meant that I could not see myself settling in this country for the long haul and thus, I sought other opportunities.

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Last time I was looking for a job in the Middle East, I applied for a few choice positions and got over 8 interviews. Eventually I picked the best offer at the time. This time round, I applied for hundreds of positions but only had one interview. And it was the one job I wanted the most:

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This panda is leaving the sleepy waters of Kuwait and jetting off to the livelier capital of the United Arab Emirates to teach English in the country’s largest emirate.

I must confess that I am feeling a bit of trepidation at the thought of leaving Kuwait primarily because I was one of a very small group of expat bloggers in Kuwait. I felt that we had a sense of camaraderie and yes I managed to meet EVERY person in Kuwait whose blog I follow. I am proud to call some of those people my friends and will definitely meet them in future destinations! But when I move to the U.A.E., I will be one of sooooo many bloggers 😭 But don’t worry, I will still strive to keep you entertained with funny gifs, quirky lists and crazy narratives.

 

In a future post I will outline the process of me finding my next job in Abu Dhabi and it might be an interesting read particularly for South African teachers. But for now, let me kiss Kuwait on both cheeks as is the custom here and say “مع السلامة” (Maa salama) which is how people here say goodbye. Its been interesting, its been entertaining, its been educational but most of all, its been REAL.

 

I want to thank each and every one of you that has commented on, read my posts, approached me in person, invited me for dinner and even opened up your homes to me via this blog.  To all those that have been inspired, keep your dreams alive. Some of you have been with me since before I even arrived in Kuwait and remained with me throughout; thank you! I do hope you will continue to follow my escapades!

 

See you soon my motherland, SOUTH AFRICA!

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This will be me tomorrow in my hometown (having eaten my mother’s food)!

 

  • If you need information on acquiring documentation for the Kuwaiti work visa, please click here.
  • If you are looking for things to do in Kuwait, please click here.
  • If you are looking for options on where to eat in Kuwait, please click here.
  • If you need to apply for a criminal record check in Kuwait, please click here.
  • If you are coming to teach in Kuwait, PLEASE contact me here before accepting any offers so I tell you whether it is worth leaving your home country for (my school turned out to be awful). I have a wide network of teacher friends in Kuwait who have worked in MANY schools across the country that I can confer with on your behalf. You can also pop me a message with any Kuwait-related queries you have and if I can help, I will- otherwise I will try my best to direct you to someone who can.

 

Peace out pandas car

 

P.S. This post is my own opinion, based on my personal experiences (as always). It is also worth mentioning that I was never discriminated against on a day to day basis (in fact I was treated with the utmost respect as a non-white female) but the people in government departments were always pretty awful. This post isn’t meant as a rant against Kuwait or to discourage anyone from coming to the Middle East but rather, serves to inform people about some of the lesser-known realities of life in Kuwait. 

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58 thoughts on “Why Expat Panda can’t stay in Kuwait any longer

    1. I’ve just read your blog. I was offered a teaching job in Kuwait yesterday and after reading your blog I just became terribly afraid. A salary of 705kd… Any advice

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  1. So when you read this you are home 🙂 yay! hope you enjoy it! And Abu Dhabi! yay, that will certainly be very different! Thanks for your insights on Kuwait expat life… All the best on your new adventure, I’ll be here to read about it x

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  2. I seriously wasn’t expecting this to be your experience. I also thought South Africa was considered a Western power and gave you some advantages despite skin color, but I continue to learn new things. I have seen some job offers in Kuwait but didn’t think about their lack of tourism until you just mentioned it. I never hear about vacations in Kuwait. Wow. Your running away sounded similar to my escape from Egypt.

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    1. South Africa is not considered a western country by most of the world but what does play to our advantage is our excellent ability to speak English. As much as I accept that certain societies are the way they are, I can’t find it in me to stay in a place where racism is a norm. Ultimately I had to leave even though I’m glad I went!

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  3. I am sorry that you had such a struggle and fight whilst you were here. One that you shouldn’t have had but still you have managed to take the positives from your time here which is great! I’m glad we got to meet and I look forward to following your adventures. Good luck in Abu Dhabi and enjoy your holiday first!

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  4. I can relate to all the prejudice because I’m an Egyptian, we don’t seem to be liked that much by Kuwaitis. I had quite a few bad experiences with admin papers before. But to be honest, I also came across people who were nice and kind and managed to get my papers done as fast as possible! 55? I thought it’s 60 😀 My parents don’t want to visit anyway and if they do, I won’t be able to have them over :-/ Have a safe flight back home and best of luck in Abu Dhabi.

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    1. If I had to write a post about all the prejudice against Egyptians in Kuwait, I might as well publish a book. Perhaps it’s a post I can look forward to once you leave Kuwait. They have reduced the age to 55 which is what I was told at the Ministry but hey who knows what’s the truth in Kuwait! I’m hoping you find a job in the UAE and join me soon 😇

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      1. The problem with Kuwait is that there are no clear rules and regulations 🙈 and to tell you the truth, I never thought of Kuwait as a country I would want to live in permanently!! Unless I met someone for instance and that doesn’t look to be happening any time soon 😂 I hope so too 🙏🏽 I looked around and it’s not easy to find a job at a university level!! Let’s hope for the best anyway and hay, I fly to Dubai a lot so we will meet definitely 😉 best of luck panda 🙌🏽

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  5. I totally agree with you. Teaching in the kindergarten is absolutely complicated. As for me, I’d rather teach university students than a bunch of active toddlers. They sure are cute, but these balls of energy can be really exhausting.
    Good luck on your next adventure!!! I am excited to read about it.

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  6. Sorry to burst your bubble but discrimination is everywhere…. even in one’s own country. People can’t help the colour of their skin ( I’m brown too) but somehow white gets preference everywhere. 😦 Wish you luck with your new job and in the meanwhile enjoy your mum’s food.

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    1. Thank for your well wishes 😇 I’m not living in a bubble, I’m a child of post Apartheid South Africa and a frequent traveler so I know that discrimination and prejudice is everywhere. This post was to highlight the ways institutionalized racism affected my life in Kuwait because it was a post to share my experience 😊 Yes my mums food is waiting for me… thanks for your feedback, comments are always appreciated!

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  7. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts and experience. I know there is so much going on in Kuwait but I never thought the discrimination on non-white population is so severe, and family members aged above 55 cannot apply for visa? Come on…. Glad you made great friends and managed to meet your fellow bloggers. I also managed to meet a few travel bloggers during my travelers as well and we still keep in touch to this day. It is the people you met on the road that makes the journey so worth it. I wish you best of luck in your new journey in the Abu Dhabi.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really enjoy reading your blog! I’ve always wondered about Kuwait’s infrastructure, schools and why I could not find much information regarding tourism online. Now I know. I’m excited that you’re going to Abu Dhabi. It’s actually my dream to teach there. I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience.

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    1. Make your dream a reality, Abu Dhabi is large enough for the both of us 😀 Thanks for reading and commenting. You can’t read about Kuwait’s progress because there isn’t any unfortunately 😂

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  9. That was interesting and will be very helpful for people who are planning to move to Kuwait! Though I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with their government departments 😦 that was awful! Anyway, best of luck on your new life in Abu Dhabi! Will be looking forward to read your stories! 🙂

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Honestly each place has it negatives and positives and it’s all about what you can live with right? But these were things that I just couldn’t live with hence my need to leave. Yes I’m looking forward to Abu Dhabi ❤️

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  10. Girl, girl, girl. That would make me want to run too. Just the point of not having the choice for my family to visit would have done it for me. I hope you enjoy U.A.E. I hope this diplomatic thing goes away soon, so I can visit.

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    1. Now you see why I had to leave Kuwait! I was smiling through a lot of things that I shouldn’t really have had to put up with. Oh I’ve been praying for this political drama to go away since it began but hey, let us meet in Oman 😌

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The UAE is lucky to have you! Welcome!! Should you ever need anything or just want to get together let me know! I’d be more than happy to come see you in Abu Dhabi! Good luck with your new adventure!

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  12. Wow that was a long one lol! Great round up of your time in Kuwait and as always your honesty, which may seem a little brutal to some, gives a fair perspective and highlights many issues the country has. I totally agree with the lack of investment in infrastructure, tourism and just a little more effort in sustainability would make a huge difference.

    It’s a real shame that you experienced such discrimination, sadly not the first time I’ve heard a similar story. I’m lucky to say this has never been a part of my kuwait journey this far and I’m lucky that that is not an added pressure I have to deal with.

    I think the ultra conservative culture doesn’t help what can seem rather archaic views on single women, marriage, single parents and non biological children where visas are concerned, there is a long way to go. Your work experience was poor which is such a shame but will be a lesson to many considering the move I’m sure and your insight will be greatly appreciated.

    I hope you won’t look back at your kuwait time too downwardly, I know you had some great moments, it’s allowed you to travel and meet some fab people, which I hope far out weigh your frustrations.

    We will miss you and I can’t wait to read about your new Abu Dhabi adventures and who knows I may see you singing away at Ed Sheeran!

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    1. I think, if over the course of 10 months and oh so many blog posts, I had one brutally honest negative one, it means that I enjoyed my time in Kuwait despite the flaws of the country! Honestly I don’t have any regrets and even if Kuwait was not the long term place for me, I enjoyed my time there. I learnt a lot, traveled a lot and met the most delightful people (yourself included!). Yes inshallah we will be belting away at Ed’s concert in November 😀

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  13. Whaaaaaaaaattttt!!!!!! I knew it was close to me!!!!!!! 💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾 can’t wait! When do you arrive?! 🇦🇪🇦🇪🇦🇪

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  14. Oh gosh excitement over I forgot to say this is what I’ve loved about your blogs! How honest they are and how much they open the mind of others to what really happens! I’m excited to see what you think of Abu Dhabi and UAE in general!

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    1. The UAE, as it stands now, is the only country I have never lived in yet travelled to the most 😮 I am very excited by my move and can’t wait to meet in person even though I feel like I know you for years already! I knew you would be the most excited 😀 My Caribbean food awaits me 😀

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  15. Well, you certainly described many of the frustrating things about Kuwait and yet I could add a whole lot more to that list. I’ve been here 22 years and see it going backwards rather than forward. There are so many 30- somethings who truly want change, who want to make a difference, but the patriarchs don’t want progress and won’t move out of the way. The best things are the friends I’ve made and the places I’ve traveled; otherwise, I have to put my rose colored glasses on just to make it through most days. 🙂 I wish you all the best in the UAE.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! No place is a utopia of course but Kuwait definitely had some flaws I just couldn’t stomach for the long haul! I wish you all the best with Kuwait; I honestly have massive respect for people who are there for years and years although I guess it is different when you have a family.

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  16. In advance… Welcome to the UAE! It is far better that Kuwait by all accounts. Do you know anyone over here? You know where I am if you want any advice. Not that I know Abu Dhabi very well, but I can help generally I’m sure! Have a wonderful time in SA and I look forward to reading your next adventures!

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  17. Hey! I’m moving out there in about a week or so and just wondered if you were able to use facetime/Skype/WhatsApp calling?

    Thanks
    Raeesa

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  18. Amazing, spot on description of real life experience of Kuwait. I had spent my last 3 years in Kuwait and leaving to Dubai next month. I been through exact same experience as you have Expat Panda but only difference is I am a British expat with Asian origin. People especially in government offices treated me as an Indian rather than British until they see my papers, their attitude changes. First question they ask is how the hell did you get British passport (I get this question almost every time I pass Kuwait immigration). This blog is very informative and wished that I have seen it earlier. All the best and hoping to meet you at some point in UAE.

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    1. The discrimination in Kuwait out of this world when compared to other GCC countries. I haven’t experienced this in the UAE and its also worth noting that many normal tasks are far simpler to achieve in the UAE without having to go into government offices in the 1st place. No country is without its flaws but Kuwait needs to stop treating people of colour as secondary citizens if they want non-white people to live there! All the best with your move and hope to meet sometime too 🙂

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  19. great views and compliments but where in the places you have visited is most rewarding to visit and work as a teacher?

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