Kuwait is a tiny country in the Middle East, on the northern portion of the Arabian Peninsula – one of the most tense corners of the world. Danger takes on many shapes and forms for tourists to this country, so it is important to recognize and understand the local laws and customs in order to stay safe. Many of the laws and statutes are governed by Islamic law, which can be hard for non-Muslims to grasp.
Know the Laws!
Kuwait has made some progress, but many of its laws can be seen as quite draconian and ridiculous, especially to westerners. The punishments for disobedience can be equally harsh, leading to execution in some cases. Here are a few of the most relevant laws to be aware of as a traveler to Kuwait:
- Drug offenses, including mere possession, have severe consequences. Death by execution can be a penalty in some cases. The best thing to do is to abstain from any drugs while in Kuwait.
- Alcohol is prohibited inside the country. Drinking it is not allowed, and anyone attempting to bring alcohol into the country will have it confiscated. Driving under the influence can lead to imprisonment or deportation.
- No PDA! Public displays of affection are illegal in Kuwait, and forgetting this can lead to arrest.
- (Same-sex) Marriage is sacred. A man and a woman are forbidden to live together, though visitors staying in a hotel shouldn’t have a problem. Any acts of homosexuality are also illegal.
- No porn, no pork. Pork is banned from consumption in Kuwait, due to the Islamic laws. Pornography is also very forbidden. Both of these will be confiscated if one attempts to bring them through customs.
- Don’t argue with anyone! Challenging the authority of the Emir, by any medium, can lead to a 7-year prison stint. Also, getting into a legal battle with someone or with a company will most likely cause the Kuwaiti authorities to imprison you and not allow you to leave the country until the dispute is resolved.
- Watch what you try to photograph. Snapping a photo of government buildings is illegal and can lead to the confiscation of the camera and your detention. Other more public areas can also be restricted from capture, such as oil fields and even shopping malls. Ask first always.
- Insulting or humiliating another person can lead to imprisonment. Never make fun of anyone in Kuwait, as you are not afforded the same guarantees of freedom of speech as in Western countries.
Driving in Kuwait may appear to be a death wish for visitors from other countries. Kuwait has one of the highest rates of driving accidents in the world; a third of all deaths in Kuwait are related to driving! Kuwaiti drivers are known to be excessively fast, reckless, and they often pay no heed to traffic signs. If you are brave enough to attempt driving in Kuwait, you must pull a double shift; make sure you are following all the rules, and keep a watchful, constant vigil for other drivers and their habits.
Crime and Terrorism
Terrorism still has a high risk of being carried out in Kuwait, just as in many parts of the Arab world. Any part of the country can be subject to terrorist attack at any given time. Stay away from any government buildings, as these are the places where it is most likely for an attack to occur. Be aware of the cultural differences. The US Department of State even discourages women from making small talk, since any display of interest can be misinterpreted.
Other crime is not so prevalent in the country, but caution should still be taken. Women should refrain from traveling alone, especially at night and in isolated areas. One “good” product of the strict penal system is that thieves are rare, but travelers should still not display valuables.
The Gulf area is a hotbed for piracy. If you plan on heading from Kuwait City into the Persian Gulf, maintain constant alert and travel with one of the locals. Another danger of pushing off into the sea from Kuwait is the sensitivity of the regional governments in regards to territorial disputes and security; any vessels that stray may get boarded by the authorities and its passengers detained or arrested.
Other important tips and suggestions to follow:
- Always carry passport/identification.
- No eating, drinking, and smoking in public during the holiday of Ramadan between sunrise and sunset.
- Stay on paved streets when not in Kuwait City; there is still a large volume of unexploded mines throughout the desert and beaches.
- Avoid any protests and political demonstrations. Not only could it be potentially dangerous, especially for westerners, but all non-Kuwaitis are prohibited from demonstration activity within the country.
- Do not overstay your visa. There are heavy fines involved.
- Sometimes there is gunfire heard which is not dangerous. Often, large weddings and such may have guests that aim at the sky and discharge some celebratory gunfire.
- Proselytizing is illegal unless it’s for Islam.