Abu Dhabi vs. Kuwait: Middle Eastern Truths
I have lived in Abu Dhabi for one month today!
It’s been the busiest and most chaotic month of my life without a doubt. The strangest things have happened to me since I landed here; from being proposed to by a very handsome cowboy (hey it still counts even if I couldn’t accept!), to assembling furniture (YouTube is my new best friend) to being recognised in public (“Hey panda girl!”) to becoming a typical Arab driver (shisha in one hand, cellphone in the other- just kidding)- I hardly recognise myself anymore! I’ve broken a couple of my 2017 resolutions and it hasn’t been without turmoil but hey… I am LOVING all the new changes to my life!
When I said I was moving to Abu Dhabi, I got the following responses:
“So that’s not part of Kuwait?”
“Is that another name for Dubai?”
But more importantly:
“It will be easy for you to adjust… All these gulf countries are the same.”
Well actually… Other than culture, language and religion, The United Arab Emirates has very few similarities with Kuwait as I am slowly discovering.
People are also asking me, “Which is better?” It is difficult to answer that without discussing all criteria in full so… let’s start!
Documentation and employer
Let me begin by saying that in Kuwait I worked at a private school. And now in Abu Dhabi, I am back to working for the public schooling system. This has had a huge impact on my experience thus far.
In Kuwait I was asked to hand the school my passport a few days after I had landed and then I did not see it again for 4 months. During this time, no updates were given to me about how long it would take for my residency visa to be issued and neither was a date given by which I could expect my passport. My medical exam was done over a month after I landed in the country and my ID card came 5 months after I arrived in Kuwait (exactly halfway through my contract).
In Abu Dhabi, our passports were taken away on the very day we landed. Within the first week we had received an orientation outlining the documentation process, were given a timeline by which to expect our residency permit and emirates ID card and the medical exam was completed.
The United Arab Emirates proved its efficiency by having my passport ready for me before I reached the 1 month mark. I should receive my ID card sometime in the next few days since its already been printed.
Once I have the emirates ID, I will begin the process of converting my South African drivers license into an Emirates driving license. It will take me one day. In Kuwait one had to undergo lessons, book a test, pass the test and pay 500KD for the license over a period of months.
I landed in Kuwait in September and my the first pay cheque paid into my bank account was in February. I could only use the bank account after I received my ID card (which took 5 months) so I had large amounts of cash with me. It was stressful.
In Abu Dhabi, my bank account was opened at our orientation program and will be paid into on the 25th of this month. No cash whatsoever.
The whole documentation process in Abu Dhabi is a complete and utter stress free process.
I already touched on the drivers license process so let us talk about the actual driving.
I have been driving here for the last 3 weeks and the two hardest challenges are:
- Staying within the low speed limits
- Being aware of the oh-so-many rules so I don’t end up incurring hefty fines
Oh yes driving in Abu Dhabi is a complete and utter breeze compared to Kuwait! People here obey the rules of the road and the rules are enforced. Of course I’m not saying that the driving is perfect but by Middle Eastern standards, its pretty civilised. Honestly I might prefer to drive in Abu Dhabi over Johannesburg!
In Kuwait, no one ever followed the speed limit, people were frequently texting and driving and of course, rules were not enforced (maybe there were none?). Being on the road in Kuwait meant taking your life into your own hands… and the number of car accidents reflected that feeling. I am so glad that I survived that crazy place because now when people do silly things on the road in Abu Dhabi, I just shrug it off knowing that in Kuwait, it would’ve been 100 times worse!
3. Cost of living
Well as much as I have to say Kuwait was pretty expensive to live in, Abu Dhabi sure isn’t cheap either. Certain aspects like taxi rides, are far cheaper in Abu Dhabi; petrol & groceries are around the same price. But life in Abu Dhabi comes with far more expenses than I realised.
Although ADEC is providing us with rent free accommodation, we still had to put down huge amounts of money for:
- Aircon fee
- Lights & water fees
- Gas connection
Internet is 2-3 times what it costs in Kuwait although the speed and capacity are far superior to Kuwait. In Kuwait no one is obligated to pay for lights and water so this is something I need to adjust to again in Abu Dhabi. Of course there are a million more things to do and see in Abu Dhabi including freely available (but pricey) alcohol so it does seem far easier to say goodbye to one’s money than in Kuwait.
Unlike in Kuwait, transportation is not provided to and from work so that is definitely another cost to factor in. Also, working for a private school meant that I moved straight into my own, fully furnished accommodation as soon as I landed in Kuwait. Abu Dhabi was of course, very different and after 20 days, when I finally got into my own apartment and looked at the empty expanse before me, I knew I had a lot of work cut out for me! But now, 2 weeks later, my home is beautiful even though I just have the basics for now, and it truly is my own space.
One of the things that I truly believe is that an airport is reflective of its country. My two favourite airports- Incheon International in South Korea and Changgi Airport in Singapore are so representative of the efficient, clean and beautiful countries they are in. Kuwait Airport was disgraceful and well, the chaos in the airpot was well reflected in the country’s inefficiency.
Abu Dhabi Airport is an obvious a step up from that and it definitely reflects the emirate- orderly, clean and modern. Hey first impressions matter to me!
When I was in Kuwait I was always reminded that I was in the desert- there are large plots of sand everywhere, buildings are all brown and other than a few buildings in Kuwait City, nothing really looks modern.
Abu Dhabi city, in comparison, is much more aesthetically appealing with far more grass, trees and modern buildings. Every building has a parking lot (this seems like a basic thing but most buildings in Kuwait-even malls- didn’t have dedicated parking!) and petrol stations are not hidden in strange corners. I took a drive to my school the other day and even though it isn’t anywhere near the city (and looks more-desert-y), there is still an order to the layout of the area and plenty of facilities. I, however, haven’t spent much time in the outlying areas of the emirate so I can only judge based on what I have seen so far.
One of the things that always fascinated me about Kuwait was how Kuwaiti citizens lived close to the city; the further away you got from the city, the more expats you found. It was almost as though they wanted us to be far away from them if we were not working for them. Savage I know, but just my observation. In Abu Dhabi, Emiratis live in my building, in my area and well, everyone just seems to be everywhere!
For a while now I have been waiting to bring back the Panda Rating Scale so here we go (remember that 5 is the highest and 1 is the lowest):
5. The people
A few simple observations-
– Emiratis and Kuwaitis look 100% different. There is no way I will ever be mistaken for a local here as Emiratis are fair skinned. They’re also slimmer than their Kuwaiti counterparts and smile a lot more! Emirati women are far more conservative in their dressing, favouring abayas whilst young Kuwaiti women were more likely to be wearing modest clothes with hijab.
-Western expats in Kuwait are definitely granted visas based on their good looks because there were so many handsome men in Kuwait! The standard here is lower (poor single ladies) but thats probably because there are twice the number of expats here. Just my personal observation and yes I stand by my all round stereotype that the most handsome men in the GCC are found in Oman!
-In Kuwait, a lot of expats in certain professions, were expected to understand a basic level of Arabic. There were definitely places in Kuwait where speaking Arabic was mandatory. In Abu Dhabi- not so much. English is much more widely spoken by all nationalities, locals included.
-Customer service was just better in Kuwait! I barely had to lift a finger to do anything in Kuwait from shopping for groceries to eating out in a restaurant where your needs are just anticipated. Not that customer service is bad here… it isn’t! I think Kuwait just set my bar really high in this aspect. I definitely missed those kind guys at Lulu & Co-op who would push my trolley and load the groceries into the car!
On the whole though, I cannot make any definitive judgement on people here in Abu Dhabi and those in Kuwait as I was fortunate enough to meet AMAZING people- that have changed my life already- in both places!
My experience in the United Arab Emirates has been completely different from my experience in Kuwait despite the close proximity of the two countries. A lot of that has to do with the difference in employers and the way in which the governments run each country. Abu Dhabi, as I have said before is the perfect blend of old world Arabian charm with modern developments whilst not falling into the trap of over-the-top fake glitziness. Kuwait, on the other hand, is definitely stuck in a time warp and other than the odd 2017 Lexus, you might be forgiven for thinking the country stopped progressing in the eighties. Hey thats just my unbiased opinion (no revenue is received from anyone for my opinions) and while I am not discouraging anyone from moving to Kuwait, I want to highlight what people can expect from both places especially if they are heading there to work.
Like every place, both countries have their negatives and positives, but truthfully, I feel more comfortable in Abu Dhabi after a month than I did after the ten months I lived in Kuwait! Its still another 2 weeks until I have to put my paws in a classroom here so lets see what that adventure holds in store for this panda!
P.S. I KNOW that Kuwait is an entire country and Abu Dhabi is just one emirate but seriously, Kuwait is probably the size of this entire emirate. My experience has primarily been in Abu Dhabi city so I can only write about what I know!