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.
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.
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.
– 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!
– 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).
– 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.
– 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.
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.
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:
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” (Ma‘a 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!
- 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.
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.