Doing business

Current business situation

Kuwait has a small, relatively open economy dominated by the oil industry and government sector. Oil revenues comprise about 95 per cent of exports and of total government revenues. Kuwait currently has long term plans to develop around A$325 billion worth of infrastructure and development projects, representing significant opportunities for Australian companies. (Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kuwait country brief, Nov 2014)

Individuals should take sensible precautions, dress and behave conservatively, strictly observe Islamic customs and ensure that travel documentation, including passports and any necessary visas, for themselves and their dependents are valid and up-to-date.

Business culture

Business practices

It is important to understand that business relationships in Kuwait are more influenced by local customs and standards of behaviour than they are in Australia. Face-to-face meetings are very important and building personal relationships play a large role in achieving success.

Kuwaiti's will greet each other with kisses on the face or on the forehead and walk hand-in-hand and westerners will be greeted with a handshake. Kuwaiti's do not like to be slapped on the back or neck.

Kuwaitis are aware of seniority. Ensure that an older or more senior person walks through the door first. Similarly, if walking together, the guest or senior person should be on the right of the group as a mark of respect.

It is considered offensive to sit with the soles of your shoes or feet facing the other members of your group.

It is not usual in Arab countries to hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or to be served with a smile. Arabs reserve such pleasantries for people they really know and like. Use of Arabic greetings will lead to a more pleasant atmosphere and it will also help if you speak distinctly and slowly.

When entertaining visitors, the host should never terminate a conversation abruptly or seem to be dismissing a guest, no matter how busy they may be.

Care should be taken not to express admiration for something owned by your host, for you may be embarrassed by having the object offered to you then and there as a gift. This is an ancient custom, still preserved in traditional areas.

Kuwaiti men are usually addressed by their first given name. It is advisable for female business visitors to be accompanied by a male colleague on the first business meeting in Kuwait. For follow up meetings this is not necessary. An abaya (a loose-fitting full-length robe) is not required to be worn by expatriate women.

Business discussions

Arranging appointments with government bodies can be a lengthy process in Kuwait and advanced notification of a minimum of six weeks should be given. If you are planning to visit the region, please discuss dates and travel arrangements with Austrade Riyadh first to ensure that your trip will be a successful and rewarding one. There can be no guarantee of an appointment being confirmed, however, with the correct procedures followed and plenty of lead time the likelihood of the appointment being confirmed is increased.

‘Small talk’ is vital for the establishment of trust and must not be hurried or dispensed with. Impatience is unforgivable, a sign of bad manners or a lack of self-confidence. In social or opening business conversations, there is usually small talk, often centring on the health and wellbeing of the other person, but never about his wife or female relatives.

Hospitality requires that a Kuwaiti offer you tea or coffee and is offered to guests in order of their rank. It is customary to drink more than one cup of coffee or tea, but not any more than your host or others present. To decline a further serving, you shake the cup when handing it back to the server. If you are the host, you should offer coffee or tea.

It is customary to work gradually to business, though some businessmen and officials are very time conscious and appreciate punctuality and brevity. In the less dynamic areas of business and government, people may be very relaxed about their own observance of time and punctuality, this should not be misinterpreted as discourtesy or a lack of interest. Punctuality will be expected, though it may not be encountered.

There is an Arab custom of having a number of people in an office all discussing various matters at once. When invited into an office where businessmen are sitting, you start an introductory conversation after which your host may break off conversation with you and deal with one of his other visitors before returning to you. It is not unusual for a Kuwaiti businessman or official to receive several visitors at once. Others may walk into the room mid-conversation. The threads of these separate conversations can be kept going at once and you may get several cups of tea and coffee between the parts of your conversation with the person you are calling on.

Functions etiquette

It can generally be assumed that only males will attend the function, women frequently have separate functions.

It is unlikely that a visitor will be invited to an Arab’s house unless the host is very Western-oriented or a strong friendship has developed. If you invite an Arab to dine with you, do not include his wife in the invitation, unless you have prior indication that she may accept.

If the group is large and the guests are important, traditionally, the feast is laid out on mats or carpets spread on the ground or floor and the guests assemble around it. Conventional tables and chairs are often used in the cities and the customary food is frequently supplemented with European style dishes. Knives, forks and spoons may be used, but at traditional meals the guests may tear off pieces of meat and dip into the rice and other dishes with their right hands. When the eating is over, water and soap may be offered for washing hands. Leave as soon as this is done, as coffee is not served after meals.

Setting up in Market

Australian companies are advised to spend time investigating the market, obtain professional advice where appropriate and thoroughly investigate the issues in entering the market and establishing business relationships.

Australian firms wishing to operate in this country should commit to the highest level of corporate behaviour and familiarise themselves with Australia's law and penalties pertaining to bribery of foreign officials.

Bribery of foreign public officials is a crime. Australian individuals and companies can be prosecuted in Australia for bribing foreign officials when overseas. Further information on the regulations governing bribery of foreign public officials is available.

For further information on frauds, scams, personal and asset security, intellectual property protection and other business risks please visit Legal issues.

Banking and finance

Kuwait has one of the oldest and most financially stable economic systems in the Middle East, with a stock exchange which dates back over 50 years and a well-developed banking system. Domestic institutions offer a full range of competitive commercial services.

The Kuwaiti sovereign wealth fund, the Kuwait Investment Authority, has around A$7 billion invested in Australia. Total investment in Australia from all Kuwaiti sources is estimated to be around A$8 billion – including in real estate, hotels, banking and a liquid natural gas project.

(Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kuwait country brief, Nov 2014)

Links and resources

Government, business and trade

Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Australia Gulf Council
Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Kuwait Investment Authority

News and media

Kuwait Times

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.