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about the Middle East

general Information/Customs of Middle Eastern Countries customs and Etiquette

When moving to the Middle East, there are certain things that expatriates need to know beforehand. Customs and etiquette are considered to be very important, and must be adhered to in order to keep good relations. Unlike Saudi Arabia, however, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait are relatively liberal, giving due respect to women, who can vote in all four countries.

There are practices, though, which ought to be kept in mind both when doing business and socializing.



  • Dress should be modest and respectful, not revealing or exposing parts of the body indecently. Material should not be transparent or display offensive pictures or slogans. Skirts should cover the knee and sleeves should cover the shoulders.
  • Public displays of affection between couples, whether married or not, does not fit local customs, and may be taken offence at. The holding of hands is generally acceptable, but not kissing or petting.
  • If invited to a Kuwaiti’s house, bring a small gift such as a houseplant or box of chocolates. However, gifts are not opened upon receipt.
  • If the host is not wearing shoes, the guest should remove his at the door.
  • Elders should be greeted first as a sign of respect.
  • Greetings are made between members of the same sex. Unless a hand is offered by someone of the opposite sex, never shake their hand.
  • Kuwaitis like to take time with their greetings, firstly discussing their families, health, mutual friends and acquaintances before discussing present matters.
  • Impatience is viewed as a criticism of Kuwaiti culture.
  • Hospitality is considered very important. One should always accept a drink offered by the host, as refusing would be seen as a rejecting their hospitality.
  • If invited for a meal, there is often a great deal of socializing and small talk before the meal, and the evening comes to an end quickly after the meal.
  • Food should be taken with the right hand, as the left is considered dirty.
  • Some food should be left on the plate at the end of the meal, otherwise the host will fill it with more.
  • When the host stands, the meal is over.
  • Hospitality should be commented on, but not possessions, as the owner will feel compelled to give the object as a gift, and expect a gift of comparable value in the future.
  • Never point the sole of the foot at another person. The sole is considered dirty, and this is an offensive gesture.
  • Titles are important. Use the honorific "Mister" and any academic or political title and the first name.
  • Do not use only the first name until invited to do so.

Use/ meanings of names:

  • The first name is the personal name and used as we would use ours.
  • The second name is the father's personal name. It is used with the connector "al- ".
  • The third and fourth names are the grandfather's personal name and a name that denotes the family lineage. Both names generally start with the prefix "al-".
  • Women do not take the husband's name upon marriage.
  • The title "Sheikh" denotes that someone is a member of the royal family. It is also used for old men.
  • Alcohol, where legal (it is illegal in Kuwait) should be consumed with local customs in mind, and not publicly.
  • Fridays and Saturdays are weekends.
  • Before entering a mosque, shoes should be removed and feet washed.
  • The Arabic greeting of “SalaamAleikum” is advisable instead of “Hello”.
  • Controversial discussions about religion, the status of women and the poilics of the Middle East should be avoided.


useful information for expatriates

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    Ramadan is a holy month for Islam, occurring in the ninth month of the lunar calendar. The month of Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. Muslims (except for the elderly, chronically ill, children and pregnant or nursing mothers) take this time to fast from sunrise to sunset. The fasting is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. During this period it is disrespectful for non-practisers to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public. Dress and behaviour should also be modest. Muslims are also encouraged during Ramadan to give to the poor and perform other acts of generosity. At the beginning of Ramadan, it is appropriate to wish Muslims "Ramadan Mubarak" which means "Blessed Ramadan." At its conclusion, you may say "Eid Mubarak". Often during Ramadan the evenings are filled with banqueting, shopping and socializing, sometimes into the early hours of the morning.

    The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day period called the Eid ul-Fitr, the "Festival of Fast-breaking." It is a joyous time beginning with a special prayer, and accompanied by celebration, socializing, festive meals and sometimes very modest gift-giving, especially to children. At this time, Muslims also give charity in the amount to feed one person for a day, known as fitra. Many Muslims also take this occasion to pay the annual alms which are due to the poor and needy, known as Zakah or Zakat (2.5% of assets).

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    Cost of Living

    Overall, the cost of living in the Middle East is similar to most Western European countries, although individuals are not taxed, which makes a difference to income. The costs of international phone calls are kept low by the government to encourage international business and investment. The cost of utilities are subsidised by the government, so these, too, are relatively low, although air conditioning is needed in most months.

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    Renting/Buying a car in the Middle East

    If you are only planning on staying in the country temporarily, it may be cheaper to rent a car on a long-term basis, rather than buy, and it is not recommended that you import/ship your car there, as this can be expensive.

    Opening a bank account in the Middle East

    Middle Eastern banks generally welcome expatriates who wish to open an account with them, some in fact having special accounts tailor made for expatriates, which offer features such as international debit cards, domestic and international payments and multi- currency accounts. The paper work needed for this includes a residency visa and a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from your employer, declaring your salary (so the bank can see how much will be going into the account monthly). Proof of address will also probably be required in the form of the tenancy agreement, and forms of identity, including passport. There is usually a minimum earning requirement, but this is relatively low. The holder of the account can then open accounts for the rest of the family, as he is considered to be their sponsor.

    Cheques can be used to pay utilities, or cash paid in at a bank (not necessarily your bank), but cheques are rarely used to pay for commodities, as they are viewed with some suspicion. However, it is a criminal offence to pay with a cheque when you do not have sufficient funds in your account. Some banks charge transaction fees after a certain amount are made from an account, but this charge varies between banks.

    Banks which offer expatriate accounts include: National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) National Bank of Bahrain (NBB), Emirates bank International, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, and International Banks such as HSBC and Citibank.


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