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Welcome to Kuwait, the world’s worst expat destination

Kuwait City: looks nice, but would you want to live here? Unsplash
Kuwait City: looks nice, but would you want to live here?

They say they are unhappy with career opportunities, fed up with the poor quality of life, find it difficult to settle and rarely talk to “unfriendly” locals. It’s no wonder that expats in Kuwait have voted it the worst place in the world to live and work.

Kuwait not only ranks last of all 52 destinations in the Expat Insider 2022 survey overall, but also in the bottom 10 of every index. 

It is rated worst in terms of quality of life and ease of settling in and expats feel that they cannot openly express their opinions.

They also perceive the local residents as unfriendly and rate their social life negatively. “The locals here aren’t as friendly as in other Middle Eastern countries,” complained one expat from the UK.

The Working Abroad index does not look much better. Expats are unhappy with their career opportunities and their work-life balance.

They are especially unhappy with the business culture in Kuwait while nearly twice the global average are dissatisfied with their work-life balance and 26 percent are dissatisfied with their working hours (compared to 17 percent globally). 

Close to half of those asked rate the local job market negatively and 39 percent are unhappy with the personal career opportunities, while a third of the expats in Kuwait rate job security in the country negatively and less than half believe they are paid fairly for their work. 

“There aren’t many business opportunities here,” said an expat from Egypt.

Overall, only 37 percent of expats are happy with their life in Kuwait, according to the survey, one of the world’s most comprehensive polls about living and working abroad with nearly 12,000 respondents.

Feras Al-Salem, vice president of the Kuwaiti Business Council in Dubai, told AGBI: “The expat living conditions in Kuwait continued in a more negative trend throughout the past few years due to the strict regulations regarding real estate ownership, which has limited the chances of living in a desirable community and the absence of long-term residency categories has also increased the feeling on instability and has unintentionallly created an unwelcoming environment. 

“The lack of automation and digitisation of government services alongside the inappropriate training of government employees to deal with visiting crowds has resulted in a nationwide upset even amongst Kuwaiti nationals.”

He did concede that he believed there are “visible efforts” in fixing issues such as altering the family visit permits, making tourist visas more flexible and inviting and allowing more expats to study in the state-owned university.

Dubai's coastlineUnsplash
Dubai’s coastline in the UAE

In contrast to Kuwait, expats living in the UAE say they love the quality of living and their working life, but struggle with their finances.

Expats are particularly happy with the ease of handling admin topics in the UAE: 83 percent found it easy to get a visa to move there, compared to only 56 percent globally, ranking the UAE first worldwide. 

Once they arrive, over three in five expats (61 percent) have no problem dealing with the local authorities, 21 percent higher than the global average.

Online government services are praised, with one Indian expat saying: “The government system is the best”.

According to the survey, the UAE is the best place to live for expats in the Middle East and sixth globally.

Expats also say they find it easy to get high-speed internet access at home and to pay without cash, although one in five (19 percent) are unhappy with their access to online services, such as social media.

One American noted that the “blocked social media” is something he dislikes most about life in the UAE, while an Australian said that the “restrictions on communications make it difficult to stay in touch with home”.

Expats seem to love working in the UAE, placing it third globally in the career prospects sub-category.

They are also happy with the local job market. “The country encourages ambition, innovation, and pursuing opportunities,” said one Australian.

However, the UAE lands among both the top and the bottom 10 destinations worldwide for salary and job security. It ranks sixth for the state of the economy, with 87 percent approving, but only 55 percent feel that they are paid fairly for their work.

It ranks sixth for the state of the economy but only 55 percent feel that they are paid fairly for their work, based on industry, qualifications, and their role, placing the UAE in the bottom 10. 

“The government should set a minimum wage,” said a South African. “So many expats are underpaid.” 

One in three (33 percent) of expats earn less than $12,000 per year, compared to 18 percent globally.

This may be a reason why the country’s worst performance is in the personal finance index (34th). Over one in three feel that their disposable household income is not enough to lead a comfortable life. “The UAE is quite expensive in all aspects,” added one Indian expat.

The UAE scores another top 10 ranking in the quality of life index with expats appreciating the culinary variety and dining options, as well as the culture and nightlife.

Manama, the capital of BahrainUnsplash
Manama, the capital of Bahrain

Away from the UAE, Bahrain was placed 15th out of 52 destinations in the survey.

Respondents voted Bahrain first in the expat essentials index but rank it among the bottom 10 for personal finance.

While the country has fairly average results for quality of life (23rd) and working abroad (30th), it performs very well when it comes to the ease of settling in (12th).

Overall, 61 percent say they are happy with their life in Bahrain, compared to 71 percent globally.

Oman was ranked 12th while Qatar was placed 26th and Saudi Arabia 27th.

The top three destinations for expat life in 2022 were named as Mexico, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Kuwait, New Zealand and Hong Kong ranked the worst. 

What expats say about Kuwait:

“If you don’t look too close so as to see the dirty water and rubbish on the beaches, living near to the sea gives off quite a pleasant view,” said one Canadian.

“There are no entertainment facilities or tourist areas,” said an Indian.

“Fortunately, I have a good circle of expat friends and work for a very good company. However, compared to the other countries where I have lived and worked, I’m not surprised Kuwait is ranked last. There seems to be a growing resentment towards expats in general,” said a Brit.

What they say about Qatar:

“Although the cost of living is high and I have long working hours, I like the weather and working with a tax benefit,” said a US expat.

“I love the way of living in Qatar. It has a good infrastructure and a good quality of healthcare,” said a Kenyan.

“I love feeling safe in Qatar and the level of cleanliness that is maintained throughout the country. But I think there are still vast inequalities in how migrant workers are treated and this bothers me a lot,” one former UK resident.

What expats say about Saudi Arabia

“Houses are cheap and life is affordable here, but I think the country is too overly religious,” said one from Uganda. 

“I like the online banking services and the healthcare services. But there’s really no local nightlife,” said an Egyptian.

Top 10 expat destinations

  1. Mexico
  2. Indonesia
  3. Taiwan
  4. Portugal
  5. Spain
  6. UAE
  7. Vietnam
  8. Thailand
  9. Australia
  10. Singapore

10 Most disliked expat destinations

  1. Kuwait
  2. New Zealand
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Cyprus
  5. Luxembourg
  6. Japan
  7. South Africa
  8. Turkey
  9. Italy
  10. Malta

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