What makes Kuwait a unique country to travel to?
Kuwait is a small, oil-rich constitutional emirate. Foreign workers constitute approximately 75 percent of the labor force. Kuwaiti citizens number 1.1 million of the country's population of 3.4 million, and enjoy the benefits of a generous social welfare system that guarantees employment, housing, education, and medical care. Facilities for travelers are widely available.
The crime threat in Kuwait is assessed as low; however, Kuwait is not crime-free. Although there has not been a rise in crime incidents targeting U.S. citizens, crime overall in Kuwait is steadily increasing according to local media reports. Reports from Westerners of petty theft and vehicle break-ins are crimes of opportunity and usually a result of practicing poor personal security,e.g., not locking vehicle or hotel room doors, exposing money and jewelry, or leaving valuables in plain sight and unattended. However, there have also been reports of harassment and sexual assault, especially of women when traveling out alone. Incidents have occurred in various areas and times to include the Gulf Road, shopping malls, hotels, and in residential neighborhoods.
U.S. citizens should be mindful of cultural and social norms when traveling in Kuwait. To reduce your chances of becoming a victim, practice personal security measures, and share guidance with your family and household members. Female travelers should keep in mind the cultural differences in Kuwait and should be aware that some actions may invite unwanted attention. Modest dress, not engaging in small talk, not making constant eye contact, and maintaining a low profile may deter harassment. As always, call 112 for emergency assistance.
Laws in Kuwait regarding domestic violence are distinctly different than the laws and protections afforded to victims in the United States. Assaults with minor injuries may not be considered criminal acts. Victims of domestic violence often report that they encountered difficulty with making the reports to the police. It is recommended to obtain the services of a private attorney. The Embassy’s List of Attorneys is available on the Embassy website. Social service agencies are few, if any; when they exist it is often only for the benefit of Kuwait citizens.
Travelers should exercise caution with public transportation and check points as police impersonators have been known to use that ruse to lure their victims. Police stations generally do not have female officers or investigators to assist with these cases. While most hospitals will contact a criminal investigator to assist a victim of crime, victims with minor injuries may need to make the initial police report and obtain the required documents for the collection of evidence prior to receiving treatment. The Government of Kuwait does not provide victim’s assistance and there is no rape crisis center or similar service in-country.
The Kuwaiti police accept crime reports at the police station with jurisdiction over the area where the crime occurred. If filing a crime report, it is advisable that the U.S. citizen be accompanied by a person who speaks Arabic or by a local attorney. The Embassy’s List of Attorneys is available on the Embassy website. Filing a crime report can take several hours as a police investigator will take the victim’s statement orally while composing his investigative report. In all cases of abuse, the victim must obtain a medical report from a Kuwaiti hospital.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Kuwait, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Persons violating Kuwaiti laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Alcohol is illegal; possession of it or driving under the influence will result in your immediate imprisonment. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kuwait are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Kuwait, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going. If arrested abroad, a citizen must go through the foreign legal process for being charged or indicted, prosecuted, possibly convicted and sentenced, and for any appeals process.
Within this framework, U.S. consular officers provide a wide variety of services to U.S. citizens arrested abroad and their families. To learn what the Embassy can and cannot do if you are arrested overseas, please see our information on arrests overseas.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Individuals arrested for criminal violations in Kuwait are generally taken to the public prosecutor within two business days to determine if there is sufficient evidence for an investigation and may be detained for up to thirty days without a formal filing of charges. Juvenile proceedings are closed to all but court officers.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
The health care system continues to develop, with many government and private medical facilities available in Kuwait. Medical care at government-run clinics and hospitals is provided at low cost to legal residents of Kuwait. Private physicians and hospitals charge fees for services, and some do not accept local health insurance. Many hospital and clinic services do not compare to U.S. standards.
Safety and Security
U.S. citizens in Kuwait should exercise a high level of security awareness and are advised to monitor local news broadcasts and consular messages. The Department of State remains concerned about the possibility of further terrorist actions against U.S. citizens and interests abroad, specifically in the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula.
Kuwait is located in a region that continues to face the threat of terrorism. Extremist groups in the region have transnational capabilities to carry out attacks against locations where Westerners congregate. U.S. citizens residing in, or traveling to, Kuwait should therefore exercise caution at all times. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Terrorist actions may include bombings, hijackings, hostage taking, kidnappings, and assassinations. Increased security at official U.S. facilities may lead terrorists and their sympathizers to seek softer targets such as public transportation, residential areas and apartment complexes, schools and places of worship, oil-related facilities and personnel, and public areas where people congregate including restaurants, hotels, clubs, and shopping areas. U.S. citizens are advised to immediately report any unusual or suspicious activity in Kuwait to the Kuwaiti police or to the U.S. Embassy.
Kuwaiti law permits freedom of assembly, although groups larger than 20 individuals must obtain prior approval from the Ministry of the Interior. Still, spontaneous demonstrations take place in Kuwait in response to world events or local developments. At times, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. The Embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid areas of large gatherings and demonstrations. Exercise caution if within the vicinity of any large gatherings and demonstrations and monitor media coverage of local and regional events. It is illegal for non-Kuwaiti citizens to participate in any demonstration, even if the demonstration is licensed.
U.S. citizens in Kuwait should also maintain a low profile, practice personal security measures, and avoid areas where Westerners are known to congregate. As in many other countries, soft targets such as shopping malls, hotels, and restaurants can be considered vulnerable to terrorist attack. Heightened security awareness should be exercised at areas perceived as Western or residential complexes where Westerners largely reside. U.S. military personnel, as well as civilians and contractors related to military interests, are also potential targets.
U.S. citizens are also reminded that desert areas and certain beaches contain unexploded ordnance and war materials left over from the 1990-1991 war. Unexploded ordnance results in deaths each year throughout the country.
The following areas are considered off-limits for U.S. diplomats and require U.S. diplomats to seek special permission to travel in these areas in order to conduct official duties: Kuwait/Iraq border – north of Mutla’a Ridge, the tank graveyard (near Ali Al Salem base), and the city of Jahra. U.S. diplomats are also recommended to avoid the following areas, especially during nighttime hours, as they have been identified as high-crime areas: Jleeb Ash Shuyoukh, Hasawi, and Abbasiya, located on the outskirts of Kuwait City International Airport.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Kuwait, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Kuwait is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Kuwait is extremely hazardous. Although Kuwait has an extensive and modern system of well-lit roads, excessive speed on both primary and secondary roads, coupled with lax enforcement of traffic regulations and a high density of vehicles (almost one vehicle for every 2residents), leads to frequent and often fatal accidents. Incidents of road rage, distraction on the part of drivers, poor driving skills, and highway brinksmanship are common in Kuwait, and can be unsettling to Western drivers in Kuwait who are accustomed to more rigid adherence to traffic laws.
The government-owned Kuwait Public Transportation Company and the City Bus Company operate bus services throughout the Kuwait City metropolitan area, on 50 different routes, which are widely used by the low-income expatriate labor force. Taxis are available at major hotels and may be telephoned to pick up passengers at other locations. It is sometimes possible to hail taxis on streets; taxis have meters, but fares are more commonly negotiated. U.S. citizens are advised to use only marked taxis with meters. U.S. citizens, especially those traveling alone and/or in darkness hours, should avoid sitting in the front seat of a taxi, do not travel to unfamiliar areas, do not enter taxis with unknown passengers, and not engage in “small talk” that can be misinterpreted as interest in the taxi driver. Visitors can use international driving permits issued by their respective countries within the time limit of their visas; however, the visitor must also have liability insurance. It is illegal to drive in Kuwait without a license and car registration documents. If an individual is stopped and cannot produce these documents, the individual may be taken to a police station and held until the documents are presented on his/her behalf.
The Government of Kuwait may provide U.S. citizens with a Kuwaiti driver’s license. Visitors and residents should consult the Ministry of Interior website for the most up-to-date information on obtaining a driver’s license.
If an individual is involved in an accident, Kuwaiti law mandates that he/she must immediately notify the police and remain at the scene until the police arrive. Involvement in an accident, even if not at fault, can lead to arrest and temporary incarceration. At-fault accidents can result in arrests, demands for financial restitution, and/or travel bans preventing individuals from departing Kuwait.
The use of front seat belts is mandatory in Kuwait. Driving is on the right side of the road. Speed limits are posted. Making a right turn on a red light is not permitted unless there is a special lane to do so with a yield sign. When a driver flashes his/her high beams in Kuwait, it is meant as a request to move the car into a slower lane to allow the driver with the flashing beams to proceed ahead. Parking is not allowed where the curb is painted black and yellow. Digital cameras for registering traffic violations, including speeding, are in use on Kuwaiti roads. Non-payment of traffic and parking fines may result in travel bans which remain in place until the fines are paid, often with penalties.
Possession or consumption of alcohol is illegal in Kuwait. Driving while under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense, which may result in fines, imprisonment, and/or deportation. Repeat traffic violations or violations of a serious nature may also result in the deportation of an expatriate offender.
Kuwait has one of the highest per capita rates of cellular telephone ownership in the world; using a cellular telephone for phone calls or text messaging while driving remains illegal, although it is widely practiced. Local emergency service organizations may be contacted by dialing 112. Ambulance crews do not respond as quickly as in the United States and do not often include trained paramedics. Visit the website of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior for information and statistics in Arabic about traffic safety and road conditions in Kuwait.