Kuwait is a desert oasis in a corner of the Arabian Gulf. With a large expat population, high standard of living and a moderate level of Western influence, the state is becoming an increasingly popular option for teachers.
Kuwait has a volatile past and some notorious neighbours, so hasn’t always been a viable overseas teaching option. However, in recent years, the country’s international school scene has been booming, with arriving expats looking to give their children a Western education.
Unlike Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Kuwait has resisted the all-out commercialism that has transformed other Gulf nations, meaning you can still get an authentic Arabian experience.
Despite being a relatively small country, similar in size to Fiji, Kuwait boasts one of the world’s largest oil reserves. Although this fact has previously led to tension with its neighbours, Kuwait’s economy has benefited and the state now boasts the world’s eighth-highest GDP per capita.
The oil industry and related commerce have boosted the state’s population. Around 70 per cent of the Kuwaiti population are expatriates, with the country containing large Indian and Egyptian communities.
The estimated population of 4.2 million has almost doubled in the past 15 years, despite a government policy to dramatically reduce the number of foreign workers, announced in 2013.
According to Richard Marchant, principal at the New English School in Kuwait, the policy of “Kuwaitisation” has meant that the numbers of expat families looking for places in international schools has been affected. This hasn’t impacted his ability to recruit teachers, although the visa application process has become more stringent.
Things to consider before moving to Kuwait
Visas for teaching
As with most Middles Eastern states, you will need a licence to teach. This will require you to have a degree (at bachelor’s level in the subject you want to teach), and you’ll need to submit a transcript to support the degree certificate. You’ll also need to obtain police clearance and have a medical.
All of the above will need to be attested by the UK foreign office and stamped by the Kuwaiti embassy.
With such a large expatriate population, Kuwait has a considerable number of international schools. In the state you’ll find the British, American and International Baccalaureate curriculum on offer, as well as numerous Indian and Pakistani private schools, and bilingual English and Arabic schools.
Salaries and packages vary from school to school, but as an English-speaking teacher you’ll be able to find some very competitive offers.
According to Marchant, the salaries at the top schools will match those anywhere in the world, and the capacity to save “is massive”.
“People do save a lot of money. All the schools give you state medical insurance, so you’re covered in Kuwait, but there’s not the private healthcare you’d get in Dubai or China.
“There’s one return flight home per year per person and you’ll get a two-bedroom apartment. Salary-wise, we’re competitive, but we’re not offering villas, multiple flights and all those things.”
Culture and society
Kuwait is a dry state, so the boozy brunches that are a mainstay of expat culture in more westernised Gulf states don’t exist, but eating out is still a popular way to socialise.
Most Western restaurant chains and shops can be found and there are numerous societies and sports clubs. Many of the hotels have beach clubs offering memberships, which offer a good place to relax when temperatures rise over summer.
Between the end of October and mid-April, the temperatures in Kuwait are usually somewhere in the twenties (degrees C). From May to September, however, it’s not uncommon to see highs of 45 degrees Celsius.
Owing to the intense summer heat, the international school term finishes in mid June, giving teachers approximately 10 weeks’ holiday over the summer. Numerous airlines fly from Kuwait, to Delhi in four hours, Sri Lanka in five, London in six and Bangkok in seven.
To drive in Kuwait, you will need a Kuwaiti driving licence. To obtain this you’ll need to meet the eligibility requirements, which include your residency category and salary. You may be able to transfer your UK licence, but this will require you to get your UK licence attested by the UK Foreign Office.
Life in Kuwait
Having been teaching in Kuwait for 18 years, Marchant has experienced at first hand what living and working in the country entails:
I moved to Kuwait in September 2001 to take up the post of chemistry teacher at the New English School (NES) and have been here ever since. I was made head of year in 2003 and deputy headteacher in 2004. After a sideways move to a post for assessment, development and learning in 2010, I was made secondary headteacher in 2017 and principal in 2018.
I began teaching science full time in 1996 in Cambridgeshire and moved to Essex to take up the post of head of year 10 in 1999. Then a friend of a friend who worked at NES suggested that I should consider applying here. I have always loved travel and had thought about the opportunity to work in an international school. Money was very tight working in the UK so I put in an application and was successful.
A different experience
Teaching in Kuwait is very different as you can focus on the teaching and learning. Discipline is very rarely an issue and the students are highly motivated. There is a culture of respect for family and elders in Kuwait; as such, teachers enjoy high status with students.
The timetable load is reasonable and, at NES, the cover load is very light. Holidays are similar to the UK but with the heat comes a very long summer holiday. This means we are busy during the school year but still have plenty of time to spend with friends and family.
Outside of work there are clear differences in Kuwait. There are no pubs or bars, and socialising tends to take place in people’s houses. This makes Kuwait a very convivial place and strong friendships are made, if you make the effort.
There are more cultural experiences but they are still few and far between. There are active expat sports leagues for football, netball, sailing and darts, and other organisations for diving, music and drama. Private beach clubs and gyms are enjoyed by many expats in Kuwait. Sports such as golf are available but are very expensive compared to the UK.
‘Side by side’
The local customs are not onerous and are easily adapted to. There is no requirement for any kind of special clothing, and expats and Kuwaitis live side by side.
Expats tend to live in a few areas including, Salwa, Jabriya, Salmiya, Mishref, Bayan, Egaila and Mahboula. These areas tend to be residential but many also contain shops and restaurants. Almost every big brand chain restaurant in the world is represented in Kuwait and prices are generally quite reasonable.
There are huge shopping centres with traditional British shops represented fully, including Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Boots and more. The major supermarkets include Carrefour, Sultan Centre and Lulu. These are well stocked with good-quality products similar to those you find in the UK and the cost of living is good.
If you would like the opportunity to teach well motivated, intelligent, polite and engaged young people, while saving a very significant amount of money and enjoying a good quality of life, then you should consider Kuwait.
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