Planning a trip to Kuwait?

Find out what visa options are available for your nationality.
Access requirements, application forms, and online ordering.

Economy of Kuwait

Kuwait is a geographically small but wealthy country with a relatively open economy and self-reported crude oil reserves of nearly 105 billion barrels--about 9% of world reserves. Petroleum accounts for nearly half of GDP, 95% of export revenues, and 95% of government income. Kuwaiti officials have committed to increasing oil production to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2020. Due to a budget surplus generated from oil prices, Kuwait survived the economic crisis that began in 2008, and in 2009 it posted its eleventh consecutive budget surplus. Kuwait has done little to diversify and reform its economy, in part because of this positive fiscal situation, but also due to the poor business climate. In addition, the acrimonious relationship between the National Assembly and the executive branch has stymied most movement on economic reforms. Nonetheless, in 2009 the government passed an economic development plan that pledged to spend up to $104 billion over 5 years to diversify the economy away from oil, attract more investment, and boost private sector participation in the economy. There is speculation whether such an increase in spending over the planned time frame is even possible. The Kuwait National Assembly passed a law on December 26, 2007, amending the Income Tax Decree No. 3 of 1955 and setting the foreign corporate tax rate at a flat 15% to attract more foreign investment. The foreign corporate tax rate previously ranged from 0% to 55%. Oil In 1934, the ruler of Kuwait granted an oil concession to the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), jointly owned by the British Petroleum Company and the Gulf Oil Corporation. In 1976, the Kuwaiti Government nationalized KOC. The following year, Kuwait took over part of onshore production in the Divided Zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait Gulf Oil Company (KGOC) produces jointly there with Saudi Arabian Chevron, which, by its 1984 purchase of Getty Oil Company, acquired the Saudi Arabian onshore concession in the Divided Zone. Saudi Arabia renewed Chevron's concession in the Divided Zone for another 30 years, effective from February 2009. KGOC also manages offshore production operations, while Aramco Gulf Oil Company (AGOC) manages the Saudi portion of the offshore Divided Zone. Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), an integrated, state-owned oil company, is the parent company of the government's operating companies in the petroleum sector. It includes Kuwait Oil Company, which produces oil and gas; Kuwait National Petroleum Company, which manages refining and domestic sales; Petrochemical Industries Company, which produces ammonia, urea, ethylene, propylene, and styrene and participates in a number of successful joint ventures with Dow Chemical within Kuwait and abroad; Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company, which is responsible for exploration and upstream production outside Kuwait (in several developing countries and Australia); Kuwait Oil Tanker Company; Kuwait Gulf Oil Company, responsible for exploration and production in the Kuwait portions of the offshore and onshore Divided Zone; and Kuwait Petroleum International, which manages refining and retail operations outside Kuwait (in Europe and East Asia). According to official Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) figures, Kuwait has approximately 101.5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (including the Kuwaiti share of proven reserves in the Divided Zone), the fifth-largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, and Iraq. By 1993, Kuwait had restored its oil production capacity to its pre-occupation levels of 2.4 million bpd. Kuwait's current oil production capacity is estimated at 3 million bpd. Kuwait plans to increase its capacity to 3.5 million bpd by 2015 and 4.0 million bpd by 2020. Many analysts question whether these goals are feasible. Kuwaiti export crude averaged $77 per barrel in 2010. KPC purchased refineries in the Netherlands and Italy and service stations in the Benelux nations, Italy, and Scandinavia from Gulf Oil Company. In 1987, KPC bought a 19% share in British Petroleum, which was later reduced to 10%. KPC markets its products in Europe under the brand name Q8. In 2006, KPC announced plans to participate in a joint venture to build and operate a refinery and associated petrochemical plant in China. In April 2008, KPC signed a joint venture agreement with Idemitsu Kosan-Japan to hold a 35.1% stake, worth $6 billion, of Vietnam's second refinery. Both projects are pending processing of domestic licenses. In 2008, KPC awarded a $14 billion project to construct a fourth refinery to several international firms. The project would increase refining capacity from the current 930,000 barrels per day to 1.5 million barrels per day by 2012. However, this project was canceled in March 2009. Under political pressure, the tendering process was reviewed and found illegitimate, as it was not awarded under the Central Tenders Committee bidding process. As of now, the fourth refinery has not been retendered. Social Benefits The government has sponsored many social welfare, public works, and development plans financed with oil and investment revenues. Among the benefits for Kuwaiti citizens are retirement income, marriage bonuses, housing loans, virtually guaranteed employment, free medical services, and education at all levels. By Amiri decree, the government occasionally disburses a portion of its budget surplus as a grant to all Kuwaiti citizens. In 2006, an Amiri grant of 200 Kuwaiti dinars (approximately $700) was paid to every citizen who applied. In 2007, the government implemented a debt forgiveness scheme for Kuwaiti citizens amounting to just over $1 billion. In February 2011, the government announced an Amiri grant of estimated 1.5 billion Kuwaiti dinars (approximately $5.3 billion), including 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (approximately $3,500) to be paid to every citizen along with free monthly food baskets to each Kuwaiti family for 14 months. Foreign nationals residing in Kuwait do not have access to these welfare services. The right to own stock in publicly traded companies, real estate, and banks or a majority interest in a business is limited to Kuwaiti citizens and citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries under limited circumstances. Industry and Development Industry in Kuwait consists of several large export-oriented petrochemical units, oil refineries, and a range of small manufacturers. It also includes large water desalinization, ammonia, desulphurization, fertilizer, brick, block, and cement plants. The U.S. and Kuwaiti governments signed a Trade and Investment Framework (TIFA) agreement in 2004, providing a forum to address mutual trade concerns and needed economic reforms. Kuwait and the other GCC nations signed a free trade agreement with Singapore in 2008, and with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 2009. Kuwait does not attract significant foreign direct investment (FDI), largely due to bureaucratic obstacles and barriers to doing business in Kuwait. Agriculture Agriculture is limited by the lack of water and arable land. The government has experimented in growing food through hydroponics and carefully managed farms. However, much of the soil which was suitable for farming in south central Kuwait was destroyed when Iraqi troops set fire to oil wells in the area and created vast "oil lakes." Fish and shrimp are plentiful in territorial waters, and large-scale commercial fishing has been undertaken locally and in the Indian Ocean. Shipping The Kuwait Oil Tanker Company has 24 crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas, and refined product carriers and is the largest tanker company in an OPEC country. Kuwait is a member of the United Arab Shipping Company. Trade, Finance, and Aid The Kuwaiti dinar is currently pegged to an undisclosed basket of currencies. As of December 31, 2010, one U.S. dollar was equivalent to 0.28664 Kuwaiti dinars. Stable oil prices in 2009 contributed to a budget surplus for fiscal year 2010 (ending March 31, 2010). As of January 2011, the budget surplus was estimated at $24.8 billion for the first 9 months of the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The Kuwait Investment Authority's (KIA) Kuwait Sovereign Wealth Fund manages the Kuwait General Reserve Fund and the Kuwait Future Generations Fund. KIA is prohibited by law from publicly discussing the size of its holdings, and avoids any but the most general discussions of asset allocation. KIA does, however, provide closed-door presentations on the full details of all funds under its management--including its strategic asset allocation, benchmarks, and rates of return--to the Council of Ministers as well as to the National Assembly. Media reports in 2010 speculated that KIA's holdings were approximately U.S. $220 billion. Kuwait has been a major source of foreign economic assistance to other states through its Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED). The fund is an autonomous state institution created in 1961 on the pattern of western and international development agencies and is chaired by the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister. In 1974, the fund’s lending mandate was expanded to include all non-Arab developing countries. According to the most recent statistics, the fund’s paid capital amount is $7 billion. The fund has granted 793 loans with a total value of about $15.4 billion since its inception, and has extended technical assistance on 102 countries, including 16 Arab countries, 40 African countries, 35 Asian and European countries, and 11 Latin American countries. During the year ending on March 31, 2010, the fund signed 23 loan agreements, valued at $676.6 million, with seven Arab countries, seven African countries, five countries in East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific, three countries in Central Asia and Europe, and one country in Latin America and the Caribbean region.
GDP (official exchange rate, 2010 est.):
$115 billion. Real GDP growth rate (2010 est.): 2%. Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, fish. Agriculture (about 0.3% of GDP): With the exception of fish, most food is imported. Cultivated land --1%. Industry (about 48.3% of GDP): Types --petroleum extraction and refining, fertilizer, chemicals, desalination, construction materials. Services (about 51.4% of GDP): public administration, finance, real estate, trade, hotels, and restaurants. Trade (2010 est.): Exports-- $63.27 billion f.o.b.: oil (93%). Major markets --Japan 18.4%, South Korea 14.6%, India 11.5%, U.S. 8.9%, Singapore 7.9%, China 6.1%. Imports --$21.61 billion f.o.b.: food, construction materials, vehicles and parts, clothing. Major suppliers --U.S. 11.9%, Japan 9.2%, Germany 8.1%, China 7.6%, Saudi Arabia 7%, Italy 4.8%, U.K. 4.2% (2008 est.).

Geography of Kuwait

Location: Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf, between Iraq and Saudi Arabia Map references: Middle East Area: total area: 17,820 sq km land area: 17,820 sq km comparative area: slightly smaller than New Jersey Cities:Capital-Kuwait (pop. about 700,000). Other towns-Ahmadi, Jahra, Fahaheel. Terrain:Flat to slightly undulating desert plain. Climate:Intensely hot and dry in summers; short, cool winters with limited rain. Land boundaries: total 464 km, Iraq 242 km, Saudi Arabia 222 km Coastline: 499 km Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm International disputes: in November 1994, Iraq formally accepted the UN-demarcated border with Kuwait which had been spelled out in Security Council Resolutions 687 (1991), 773 (1993), and 883 (1993); this formally ends earlier claims to Kuwait and to Bubiyan and Warbah islands; ownership of Qaruh and Umm al Maradim islands disputed by Saudi Arabia Climate: dry desert; intensely hot summers; short, cool winters Terrain: flat to slightly undulating desert plain Natural resources: petroleum, fish, shrimp, natural gas Land use: arable land: 0% permanent crops: 0% meadows and pastures: 8% forest and woodland: 0% other: 92% Irrigated land: 20 sq km (1989 est.) Environment: current issues: limited natural fresh water resources; some of world's largest and most sophisticated desalination facilities provide much of the water; air and water pollution; desertification natural hazards: sudden cloudbursts are common from October to April, they bring inordinate amounts of rain which can damage roads and houses; sandstorms and duststorms occur throughout the year, but are most common between March and August international agreements: party to - Climate Change, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection; signed, but not ratified - Biodiversity, Endangered Species, Marine Dumping Note: strategic location at head of Persian Gulf

Government of Kuwait

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by princes (Amirs) who have been drawn from the Al Sabah family since the middle of the 18th century. The 1962 constitution provides for an elected National Assembly and details the powers of the branches of government and the rights of citizens. Under the Constitution, the National Assembly has a limited role in approving the Amir's choice of the Crown Prince, who succeeds the Amir upon his death. If the National Assembly rejects his nominee, the Amir then submits three names of qualified candidates from among the direct descendants of Mubarak the Great, the founder of modern Kuwait, from which the Assembly must choose the new Crown Prince. Successions have been orderly since independence. In January 2006, the National Assembly played a symbolically important role in the succession process, which was seen as an assertion of parliament's constitutional powers. For almost 40 years, the Amir appointed the Crown Prince as Kuwait's Prime Minister. However, in July 2003, the Amir formally separated the two positions and appointed a different ruling family member as Prime Minister. Kuwait's first National Assembly was elected in 1963, with follow-on elections held in 1967, 1971, and 1975. From 1976 to 1981, the National Assembly was suspended. Following elections in 1981 and 1985, the National Assembly was again dissolved. Fulfilling a promise made during the period of Iraqi occupation, the Amir held new elections for the National Assembly in 1992. In 1999, 2006, 2008, and March 2009, the Amir dissolved the National Assembly, but complied with the constitution by holding new elections within 60 days. The most recent general election, held in May 2009, was considered free and fair. Women participated for the third time as voters and candidates, and Masouma Al-Mubarak, Aseel Al-Awadi, Rola Dashti, and Salwa Al-Jassar became the first women to win seats in the National Assembly. The 2009 parliamentary election was the second under a new five-constituency system. Observers noted that the outcomes of these elections reflected gains for Shi'a and tribal and sectarian influences. The government does not officially recognize political parties; however, de facto political blocs, typically organized along ideological lines, exist and are active in the National Assembly. Although the Amir maintains the final word on most government policies, the National Assembly plays a real role in decision-making, with powers to initiate legislation, question ("grill") cabinet ministers, and express lack of confidence in individual ministers. For example, in May 1999, the Amir issued several landmark decrees dealing with women's suffrage, economic liberalization, and nationality. The National Assembly later rejected all of these decrees as a matter of principle and then reintroduced most of them as parliamentary legislation. In July 2005, the Prime Minister appointed Kuwait's first female minister, Masouma Al-Mubarak, as Planning Minister and Minister of State for Administrative Development Affairs, and later as Minister of Health. Moudhi Al-Humoud, appointed Minister of Education in May 2009, is the sole female cabinet member. Principal Government Officials Amir--Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al Sabah Crown Prince--Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al Sabah Prime Minister--Nasser Al-Mohammed Al Sabah First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--Jaber Al-Mubarak Al Sabah Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and Minister of State for Development Affairs--Ahmad Al-Fahad Al Sabah Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister--Mohammad Sabah Al-Salim Al Sabah National Assembly Speaker--Jassem Al-Khorafi Ambassador to the United States--Salim Al-Abdullah Al-Jaber Al Sabah Permanent Representative to the United Nations--Mansour Al-Otaibi Kuwait maintains an embassy in the United States at 2940 Tilden Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. [1] (202)-966-0702). Type: Constitutional hereditary emirate. Independence: June 19, 1961 (from U.K.). Constitution: Approved and promulgated November 11, 1962. Branches: Executive--Amir (head of state); prime minister (head of government); Council of Ministers (cabinet) is appointed by prime minister and approved by the Amir. Legislative--unicameral elected National Assembly (Majlis al-'Umma) of 50 members who serve 4-year terms. Judicial--High Court of Appeal. Administrative subdivisions: Six governorates (muhafazat): Al 'Asimah, Hawalli, Al Ahmadi, Al Jahra', Mubarak Al-Kebir, and Al Farwaniyah. Political parties: None; formal political parties are banned although de facto political blocs exist. Elections: There are no executive branch elections; the Amir is hereditary; prime minister and deputy prime ministers are appointed by the Amir. Legislative branch elections were last held July 5, 2003 (next National Assembly election is due in 2007) Suffrage: Adult males who have been citizens for 20 years and are not in the security forces (about 14% of all citizens).

Back to Top

History of Kuwait

Archaeological finds on Failaka, the largest of Kuwait's nine islands, suggest that Failaka was a trading post at the time of the ancient Sumerians. Failaka appears to have continued to serve as a market for approximately 2,000 years, and was known to the ancient Greeks. Despite its long history as a market and sanctuary for traders, Failaka appears to have been abandoned as a permanent settlement in the 1st century A.D. Kuwait's modern history began in the 18th century with the founding of the city of Kuwait by the Uteiba, a subsection of the Anaiza tribe, who are believed to have traveled north from Qatar. Threatened in the 19th century by the Ottoman Turks and various powerful Arabian Peninsula groups, Kuwait sought the same treaty relationship Britain had already signed with the Trucial States (UAE) and Bahrain. In January 1899, the ruler Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah--"the Great"--signed an agreement with the British Government that pledged himself and his successors neither to cede any territory, nor to receive agents or representatives of any foreign power without the British Government's consent, in exchange for protection and an annual subsidy. When Mubarak died in 1915, the population of Kuwait of about 35,000 was heavily dependent on shipbuilding (using wood imported from India) and pearl diving. Mubarak was succeeded as ruler by his sons Jabir (1915-17) and Salim (1917-21). Kuwait's subsequent rulers have descended from these two brothers. Sheikh Ahmed al-Jabir Al Sabah ruled Kuwait from 1921 until his death in 1950, a period in which oil was discovered and in which the government attempted to establish the first internationally recognized boundaries; the 1922 Treaty of Uqair set Kuwait's border with Saudi Arabia and also established the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone, an area of about 5,180 sq. km. (2,000 sq. mi.) adjoining Kuwait's southern border. Kuwait achieved independence from the British under Sheikh Ahmed's successor, Sheikh Abdullah al-Salim Al Sabah. By early 1961, the British had already withdrawn their special court system, which handled the cases of foreigners resident in Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti Government began to exercise legal jurisdiction under new laws drawn up by an Egyptian jurist. On June 19, 1961, Kuwait became fully independent following an exchange of notes with the United Kingdom. Kuwait enjoyed an unprecedented period of prosperity under Amir Sabah al-Salim Al Sabah, who died in 1977 after ruling for 12 years. Under his rule, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement dividing the Neutral Zone (now called the Divided Zone) and demarcating a new international boundary. Both countries share equally the Divided Zone's petroleum, onshore and offshore. The country was transformed into a highly developed welfare state with a free market economy. In August 1990, Iraq attacked and invaded Kuwait. Kuwait's northern border with Iraq dates from an agreement reached with Turkey in 1913. Iraq accepted this claim in 1932 upon its independence from Turkey. However, following Kuwait's independence in 1961, Iraq claimed Kuwait, arguing that Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman Empire subject to Iraqi suzerainty. In 1963, Iraq reaffirmed its acceptance of Kuwaiti sovereignty and the boundary it agreed to in 1913 and 1932, in the "Agreed Minutes between the State of Kuwait and the Republic of Iraq Regarding the Restoration of Friendly Relations, Recognition, and Related Matters." Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a UN-mandated coalition led by the United States began a ground assault in February 1991 that liberated Kuwait. During the 7-month occupation by Iraq, the Amir, the Government of Kuwait, and many Kuwaitis took refuge in Saudi Arabia and other nations. The Amir and the government successfully managed Kuwaiti affairs from Saudi Arabia, London, and elsewhere during the period, relying on substantial Kuwaiti investments available outside Kuwait for funding and war-related expenses. Following liberation, the UN, under Security Council Resolution 687, demarcated the Iraq-Kuwait boundary on the basis of the 1932 and the 1963 agreements between the two states. In November 1994, Iraq formally accepted the UN-demarcated border with Kuwait, which had been further spelled out in UN Security Council Resolutions 773 and 883.

People of Kuwait

Over 90% of the population lives within a 500-square kilometer area surrounding Kuwait City and its harbor. Although the majority of people residing in the State of Kuwait are of Arab origin, fewer than half are originally from the Arabian Peninsula. The discovery of oil in 1938 drew many Arabs from nearby states. Following the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1991, the Kuwaiti Government undertook a serious effort to reduce the expatriate population by specifically limiting the entry of workers from nations whose leaders had supported Iraq during the Gulf War. Kuwait later abandoned this policy, and it currently has a sizable foreign labor force (approximately 68% of the total population is non-Kuwaiti). Of the country's total population of 3.5 million, approximately 85% are Muslims, including nearly all of its 1.06 million citizens. While the national census does not distinguish between Sunni and Shi'a adherents, approximately 70%-75% of citizens, including the ruling family, belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. The remaining Kuwaiti citizens, with the exception of about 100-200 Christians and a few Baha'is, are Shi'a. Among expatriates, there are an estimated 450,000 Christians, 400,000 Hindus, and 100,000 Buddhists. Kuwait's 93.3% literacy rate, one of the Arab world's highest, is the result of extensive government support for the education system. Public school education, including Kuwait University, is free, but access is restricted for foreign residents. The government sponsors the foreign study of qualified students abroad for degrees not offered at Kuwait University. In 2009, approximately 3,318 Kuwaitis were enrolled in U.S. universities. Nationality: Noun and adjective--Kuwaiti(s). Population (2009 est.): 3,520,000 including approximately 1.06 million Kuwaiti citizens, 2.36 million non-Kuwaiti nationals, and 100,000 stateless persons. Annual growth rate (2009 est.): 3.549%. Ethnic groups: Kuwaiti 45%, other Arab 35%, South Asian 9%, Iranian 4%, other 7%. Religion: Muslim estimated 85% (Sunni 70%, Shi'a 30% among Kuwaitis), with sizable Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist communities. Languages: Arabic (official), English is widely spoken. Education: Compulsory from ages 6-14; free at all levels for Kuwaitis, including higher education. Adult literacy (age 15 and over)--93.3% for the total population (male 94.4%, female 91%) (2005 census). Health: Infant mortality rate (2009 est.)--8.97 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (2009 est.)--76.51 yrs. male, 78.96 yrs. female. Work force (2009 est.): 2.091 million (75% male, 25% female; 20% Kuwaiti citizens).