17,818 sq km (6,880 sq miles).
2.7 million (2014).
153.9 per sq km.
Head of state:
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah since 2006.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah since 2011.
240 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins and British-style plugs with three square pins are both used.
Kuwait consitutes a puzzling but intriguing mix of Western liberalism and strict Islam. The capital, Kuwait City, is a bustling metropolis full of the high-rise buildings and luxury hotels. Yet the country is also host to elaborate and opulent mosques and palaces, and its religion is an integral part of its affairs.
This juxtaposition perhaps stems from Kuwait’s marrying of Islamism with oil-wealth, mostly traded with Western superpowers. Upon independence from Britain in 1961, Sheikh Abdullah assumed head of state, adopting the title of Emir. The large revenues from oil production allowed independent Kuwait to build up its economic infrastructure and institute educational and social welfare programmes.
In the early 1990s, the emir established a National Assembly (Majlis), which placed limits on the power of the ruling family. Since then, the national assembly has clashed several times with the emir and the cabinet (which is still dominated by the al-Sabah family) over misuse of state funds and poor management of the all-important oil industry. Underlying these disputes is the growing impression that the ageing and increasingly infirm al-Sabah clan is no longer capable of running the country. However, they continue to dominate Kuwaiti policies.
Surrounded by three major Middle Eastern powers, the main threat to the country came from the renewal of Iraqi territorial claims over Kuwait (along with the overdue repayment of some US$40-60 billion on the part of Iraq), which led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Kuwaitis later recovered their country by virtue of a US-led, UN-backed multinational military force.
After a period of euphoria, the Kuwaitis had to address a number of difficult questions; the future security of the country was dealt with by the signing of defence and security pacts with the USA, the UK and Kuwait’s Gulf allies. More recently, Kuwait was one of the first countries to join Operation Iraqi Freedom following the US-led war against Iraq, and provided aid and support during Iraq’s (ongoing) process of reconstruction.
Last updated: 19 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Violent crime against foreigners is rare. However, you should take care if you intend to travel in conservative areas like Jahra, where there have been incidents involving firearms, and Jleeb As Shuyoukh where there have been riots by migrant workers protesting about their conditions.
You should only use authorised road border crossing points into Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Any other unauthorised movement near borders is illegal and dangerous. Armed guards patrol border areas. If you plan to cross the border from Kuwait into Iraq, make sure you have the correct paperwork. The British Embassy can offer advice on this.
Landmines and other hazardous ordnance are still present in Kuwait. You should avoid off-road driving. If you do travel off-road, restrict your movements to clearly identifiable tracks, and take great care even if an area has been officially cleared. Don’t pick up any strange metal, plastic or other objects lying around or hunt for war memorabilia.
If you have a visit visa you can drive in Kuwait using an International Driving Permit or a valid UK licence. UK licences must be validated in Kuwait before driving. This service is normally provided by the car hire firm or insurance company. Third party insurance is compulsory.
If you’re applying to live in Kuwait, you won’t be able to drive unless you have a Kuwaiti driving licence. In this case, you should apply for a Kuwaiti driving licence when you receive your residency permit. You should confirm eligibility requirements for a Kuwaiti driving licence with the nearest Kuwaiti Embassy before you arrive
Driving is hazardous. Many drivers pay little attention to other road users; drive in excess of speed limits, switch lanes without warning, ignore traffic lights and use mobile phones while driving. If you have an accident you must stay with the vehicle and not attempt to move it. Call the police on 112. It is an offence to leave the scene of an accident before the police arrive.
Avoid hailing a taxi from the road, particularly if you are female. There have been a few incidents of passengers being harassed. Book a taxi in advance by telephone from a known and reputable taxi company.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Bubiyan and Warbah in the northern Gulf and Abu Musa, and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf. The area in the northern Gulf, between Iran, Iraq and Kuwait has not been demarcated and vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected. There have been occasional arrests. Make careful enquiries before entering these waters or visiting ports.
You should also remain alert to the effect any regional tensions may have on your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be under an increased risk of maritime attack.
Take care when travelling by Dhow, as the safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available.
Demonstrations take place occasionally in Kuwait and are normally peaceful. Protests have been less frequent since early 2014. The most recent protests took place in central Kuwait City on 2 and 6 July 2014. There were reports that tear gas and sound grenades were used to disperse demonstrators. Rioting is uncommon. The most recent small scale localised rioting was in the Sabah Al-Nasser, Riggae and Subahiya areas between 3 and 6 July 2014. You should maintain a high level of security awareness and avoid all demonstrations.