What to expect while teaching English in Kuwait
Typical working conditions
Kuwait is a Gulf Arab country at the western edge of the Persian Gulf. Known for the Persian Gulf War I of 1991, it is a member of OPEC and has one of the highest wealth per capita of any country. You might think that there is a great deal of money to be made in Kuwait, but this country is very selective about whom it permits to work and you must do some homework before you apply for your visa. This country is famous for its partnerships with American universities as they attempt to recreate higher education institutions similar to those in the U.S.
For a long time, private universities were banned in Kuwait, but a baby boom of sorts required the opening of several universities and Kuwait turned to the private sector to fill the need for higher education. The governing council for foreign universities and their Kuwaiti counterparts is the Private Universities Council. It licenses and accredits all private universities and promulgates minimum standards for operating in Kuwait. American University in Kuwait is perhaps the best example of a Kuwaiti university and its partner is Dartmouth. The American academics are considered consultants and provide help for establishing curriculum, department hierarchy, standards for student advancement, and so on. The key is the establishment of a general education program for students at the freshman and sophomore levels. All the private universities have had different levels of success, which may be linked to student motivation.1
Working conditions are the same as Western universities: faculty teaches in classrooms and prepares lessons and grades in air-conditioned buildings. There is a computer and a media projector for Powerpoint presentations. Faculty reports to one department chairperson and various roles may be delegated to high ranking faculty who specialize in curriculum, testing, student relations, and faculty relations. Regular faculty will be responsible for one or more classes and may team teach one or more classes with another teacher. An email system is provided for teachers and a laptop computer is often provided for teachers. Department chairpersons will report to various deans and there is a trend toward vocational education with respect to business, engineering, aviation, and health professions. These professions require a certain level of English competence and you may find motivated students who want to learn English. On the other hand, you may not. Kuwaiti students have a reputation for being demanding students.
The universities will provide housing for teachers, usually in the form of an apartment and rent will be deducted from the teacher’s paycheck. Your own housing is something that you can arrange between you and the landlord. Most landlords speak English, but it’s a good idea to bring an interpreter to clear misunderstandings about what is included in the rent. Transportation is not normally included, so teachers frequently share cab rides to and from the university. This is why an advance of Kuwaiti dinars is given to teachers upon arrival in Kuwait City. Again, it is deducted from the first paycheck.
The standard contract is for one year of teaching during which the teacher may choose to provide advance notice and quit. The probation period is usually for 90 days which will include at least one lesson observation and written notes for improvement. After 90 days’ successful teaching, the teacher will qualify for a Civil Identification card, which grants permanent resident status. Opening bank accounts and signing lease agreements can be done which will make life in Kuwait easier. You will need copies of your degree(s), original transcripts, and a current police report clearance form to process your Civil Identification.
Contrary to what you may read on some web sites, you won’t need a Ph.d to land a job in Kuwait. A BA in English subject (such as Literature) or an MA in TEFL or TESL will do just fine. A BA in a non-language field will probably not get you a job in Kuwait. The minimum requirement would be a BA in English language in addition to an ESL certificate (CELTA or Trinity). Doctorates are welcome in fields such as Math, Science, Engineering, and Health Sciences. These professionals often go on to teach more advanced Kuwaiti students. However, student levels are often way below their American counterparts. If the job situation in America continues to worsen, expect the Ph.d to become more important as a qualification.
Where to look:
The better paying jobs will be found in higher education websites like, HigherEdjobs.com, Chronicle of Education, and TESOL.org. Just be advised that even though you may find the jobs in these sites, it does not mean that you will be treated like a higher education professional. Generally, colleges and universities in the Middle East like to have teachers with prior experience in that area. The geographic specific web sites include: Bayt.com, Mideastteachers.com, teachSaudi.com, seekteachers.com and Naukrigulf.com. There might be others, so keep searching those web sites.
Base of operations
Fortunately, Kuwait is a small country and the capital is the base of operations. There are no distant universities in remote corners, so you will always have an urban area as your home. There are many shopping malls, restaurants, and cinemas in Kuwait City, so buying a car would be a good idea once you have settled in and received your Civil Identification card.
There are a few groups that give you information. They might not have relevant information, so look around for groups that address your needs:
Text by Mark Graff
Mark is an experienced ESL teacher who has taught in Kuwait and is now working in Saudi Arabia.
If you have any questions for Mark or also have experience teaching English in Kuwait and would like to add some additional advice for prospective teachers please leave your reply in the comments section at the bottom of the page.