Culture Shock : Kuwait


Fraser Clarke

‘Culture Shock’ can be a major factor in preventing expats from getting the most out of their new life overseas. Defined as: “The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”, it’s something that will have been experienced in some degree by anyone who has previously taken their career to a foreign environment.
In order to try and help you and your family work through the symptoms, we’ve taken a look at the most common factors likely to affect you in each country we work with, and how to combat them. After all, preparation can be the key.
In the latest article in our exclusive ‘Culture Shock Cures’ series we’ll take a look at the issues facing expats moving to Kuwait - a country that was once considered the Gulf’s biggest success story.

A Divided Society

Kuwait was one of the first countries in the Gulf to discover oil and, as a result, one of the first to experience mass immigration. Kuwaitis therefore make up less than 40% of the country’s total population, and this has lead to feelings of resentment and a divided society.

Younger Kuwaitis can be more open, but the older generations can be intolerant towards foreigners. Many aspects of the country are also divided, with expat only hospitals now in the process of being built, whilst the public system has been made exclusively for natives.

A strong class structure also exists in the country, and this is headed by the Kuwaiti nationals. Many have no issue with stretching the laws of the country, and find themselves able to get away with more than expats. Behind this is the class for professional expats (medics, oil workers and bankers) before the manual workers (often Indian, Pakistani or Malaysian builders, and taxi drivers) and then the lowest class which is for maids, cleaners and personal drivers (often from locations like Thailand and The Philippines).

This can take time to adjust to, and will make many expats feel uneasy in the country.

Top Tip: Respect the Kuwaiti’s attitude, after all it is their country, and don’t get drawn into treating those in a ‘lower class’ differently.  It might sound simple, however it can become difficult for expats to accept how differently the country works.


The prospect of year round sunshine is hugely appealing to lots of people - especially those of us from Northern Europe! In reality however it can become a big hurdle for expats.

As with most of the Gulf, average temperatures in summer can exceed 40°C, with little wind to help cool you down. In the winter they drop slightly, but still remain over 25°. Commonly it only rains for a few days each year too, and so the climate can get very dusty, potentially leading to respiratory issues for people with pre-existing conditions like asthma.

Almost everywhere in Kuwait is air-conditioned, and houses are built to be as shaded and cool as possible. That doesn’t detract from how troublesome walking even a short distance in the heat can be however, and the temperature is something that causes many expats to leave before their new life has truly got underway.

Top Tip: Almost everywhere is air-conditioned and, over time, you will partially adapt to the heat. The key is to visit before you commit to a move so that you know what to be prepared for.

The Battle with Obesity

Kuwait is considered by many to be the world’s fattest country. In oppressive heat, and with traditional diets many people living in the country fail to maintain a healthy lifestyle. As a result rates of certain weight related conditions are extremely high, and this can cause further complications and an increased workload for physicians in the Kuwait.

Obesity puts people at a far greater risk of a range of conditions, from Coronary Heart Disease to Kidney Cancer as well as other noncommunicable diseases like Diabetes. If you are moving to work in the country be prepared to deal with more obese patients than you would in Europe.

Top Tip: There is little you can do to overcome this shock, other than prepare and ensure that you know any additional factors to consider if you are working with an obese patient. For an experienced, well trained medic this shouldn’t be a major issue, however for a younger doctor it could present a range of difficult situations.