The state of Kuwait, situated at the northwest extreme of the Arabian Gulf, is somewhat overshadowed and overwhelmed by its neighbours Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Nevertheless, the flat and featureless country is beginning to attract tourists and businessmen from all over the world. Those visiting Kuwait today are imbued with a lust for adventure that has nothing to do with adrenalin-producing experiences, but rather a yen to explore a not too radical fundamentalist Muslim culture and witness a country undergoing post-war reconstruction.
Despite the turbulence of its recent history, Kuwait today is once again beginning to reflect its status as an oil-rich nation. In 1990 Iraq claimed Kuwait as its 19th province, but the Iraqis were expelled by a United States led alliance in a short war in 1991, and now the country is separated from its threatening neighbour by a wall along its border.
The ruined capital, Kuwait City, has risen from the ashes of war to become a buzzing metropolis with gleaming high rises, numerous luxury hotels and lush parks set along wide avenues. The city's major landmark is the Kuwait Towers, visible from the harbour where oil tankers come and go, docking alongside hundreds of cargo ships and pleasure craft. Kuwait is now regarded as a safe destination with plenty to interest the traveller, not only in Kuwait City itself but throughout, from its arid desert plateau to the fertile coastal belt and the nine small offshore islands over which it has sovereignty.
No vaccination certificates are required for entry to Kuwait, but inoculation against typhoid is advisable for travellers eating outside of major hotels and restaurants. There is a risk of diarrhoeal diseases, which are common in the country. Mains water is chlorinated and considered relatively safe, but most visitors stick to bottled water. Avian influenza outbreaks have been reported, but there have been no human infections; the risk of travellers contracting the disease is slight, but contact with live birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked as a precaution. Medical fees are high and medical insurance is recommended.
A service charge of 15% is usually added to bills in restaurants and hotels; if not a tip of 10% is acceptable. Additional tipping is only expected in more expensive hotels. Taxi drivers appreciate a small tip for long journeys
Authorities are of the opinion that there is a high general threat of terrorism against western targets in Kuwait and other countries in the region. Visitors should remain vigilant, especially in public places and where westerners gather. The country is regarded as trouble-free as far as crime is concerned, but there is political turmoil resulting from developments in Iraq and the Middle East peace process and visitors should avoid public gatherings and demonstrations. When travelling outside Kuwait City keep to tarmac roads and take care on beaches and picnic spots because landmines and other unexploded ordnance still litters the countryside. Driving in Kuwait is hazardous, local drivers being negligent and reckless, so constant vigilance is essential.
Being a strict Muslim society dress in public should be modest. Homosexuality is illegal, as is any public display of affection between men and women, and unmarried couples are not allowed to stay together. Alcohol is not permitted in Kuwait, and the use of this or the importation of obscene material can be punished with imprisonment. Photography near industrial, military or government buildings is illegal, including oil fields. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. It is important to carry identification at all times.
Most aspects of the business culture are conservative. Dress should be formal and conservative (particularly for women) and greetings should be between same sexes only. There is often accompanying small talk when meeting someone for the first time. Be sure to adhere to local customs. Affection between opposite sexes is not shown in public and in general take the lead from a woman when greeting her. Most business is conducted in English, although using a few words of Arabic (particularly for titles) will be appreciated. It can be difficult to conduct business in Kuwait as the working week runs from Saturday to Wednesday, often with some non-government businesses working from Sunday to Thursday. Business hours vary, but are usually from 7am to 1pm and 4pm to 10pm. Government offices and banks are usually open from 8am to 2pm.
Full international direct dialling is available in Kuwait. The country code is +965 and the outgoing international code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are not required. There are two national GSM mobile telephone networks, which have active roaming agreements with most international mobile phone operators. Internet cafes are available throughout the country.
Travellers to Kuwait do not have to pay duty on 500 cigarettes, or 1kg tobacco. It is prohibited to enter the country with alcohol or narcotics; milk products and unsealed salty fish; mineral water, unsealed olives and pickles; home-made foods; fresh vegetables; shellfish and by-products; and fresh figs.