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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/exporting-to-kuwait/exporting-to-kuwait
1. Kuwait export overview
Kuwait has a predominantly oil based economy, accounting for 6% of the world’s proven oil reserves. It’s a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Contact a Department for International Trade (DIT) Kuwait export adviser for a free consultation if you’re interested in exporting to Kuwait.
Kuwait is the fifth richest country in the world measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head. It’s one of UK’s largest and most important trading partners. Bilateral trade has doubled from £2 billion to £4 billion in the last 2 years.
Over 100 UK companies, franchises and companies with agents are already operating in Kuwait. Examples include Shell, BP, PWC, Harvey Nichols, Boots, Amec, Atkins, Coffee Republic, Mulberry, Grant Thornton, Dundee University, Pitman Training, and Waitrose.
Benefits for UK businesses exporting to Kuwait include:
- no taxation on personal income
- growing diversification within the Kuwaiti economy
- earmarked government investment of £71 billion on infrastructure projects
- Public Private Partnership (PPP) approach for infrastructure projects
- English widely spoken
Strengths of the Kuwaiti market include:
- free trade zone
- stable regime
- strategic location in close proximity to other Gulf markets
- Kuwaiti dinar is highest-valued currency unit in the world
- friendly living environment for foreigners
- more than half of Kuwait nationals under 25
- moderate business costs
- physical presence needed as long term relationships need to be formed
- restrictions on company ownership by non-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals
- identifying suitable sponsors for initial entry into the market
- finding an appropriate Kuwaiti partner for joint ventures
- slow speed of decision making
- tendering process can be difficult to navigate
- extremely hot weather in summer season slows down outdoor activity
- Kuwait is mid table ranked in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’
3. Growth potential
3.1 Economic growth
Kuwait’s GDP growth in 2014 remained steady at around 3%. Expansion is expected to be driven by oil production, strong investment in infrastructure projects and new legislation aimed at boosting Foreign Direct investment (FDI).
Oil accounts for nearly half of Kuwait’s GDP, 95% of export revenues and government income. Kuwaiti officials have committed to increasing oil production to 4 million barrels per day by 2020.
Kuwait regularly achieves a large budget surplus. Foreign reserves and investment income are substantial, and the Kuwait stock market’s recent performance has been good.
The government’s new 5 year National Development Plan (2015 to 2020) focuses on economic reform and the implementation of several long-stalled mega strategic projects.
Privatisation remains an important priority of the Kuwaiti government. PPPs are expected to become the state’s model for infrastructure development.
3.2 Free trade agreements
Kuwait is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). A European Union (EU)-GCC cooperation agreement was signed in 1988. However, negotiations for a free trade agreement between the EU and the 6 countries of the GCC were suspended by the GCC in 2008. Informal contacts have failed to restart negotiations.
You can find details of Kuwait’s other agreements on the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry website.
4. UK and Kuwait trade
The UK exported £562 million of goods to Kuwait in 2013. In January 2014 the UK exported £45.9 million of goods, an increase of 41% compared to the same period in 2013. The figures exclude significant imports of UK retail goods, virtually all of which are transhipped via Jebel Ali. They are, therefore, recorded as exports to Dubai.
The UK’s exports in services to Kuwait totalled £536 million in 2012.
Main UK goods exports to Kuwait include:
- boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances
- electrical machinery
- pharmaceutical products
- optical, photographic, cinematographic, measuring, checking, precision, medical or surgical instruments and apparatus
- natural or cultured pearls, precious or semi-precious stones, precious metals
- books, newspapers, pictures
- plastics and plastic products
- cereals, flour, starch or milk; pastry cooks’ products
The export of services is a growing area, particularly in consultancy and financial services transactions.
Kuwait is one of the single largest investors in the UK with around £100 billion of official funds invested through the City of London.
5. Opportunities for UK businesses in Kuwait
DIT provides free international export sales leads from its worldwide network. Search for export opportunities.
Infrastructure development at Kuwait International Airport (KIA) is a USD 6 billion project. It aims to expand capacity to handle 20 million passengers per year and become a major passenger and cargo hub for the region. The new passenger terminal was designed by a team led by the UK’s Foster and Partners.
An estimated USD 3 billion will be spent on:
- reconstruction and extension of the existing runways
- construction of primary and secondary access roads and taxiways, aircraft stands
- enhancing control tower facilities
- building new cargo facilities
- upgrading other airport infrastructure
Kuwait’s Metro system will expand to 160 kilometres and 69 stations over 5 phases.
There are opportunities for UK companies throughout the supply chain for these transport projects.
Contact Senior Trade Advisor firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on transport opportunities.
Healthcare in Kuwait represents a significant opportunity for UK companies.
A programme is underway to increase hospital beds to 11,000 by 2016. It is designed to cope with the health needs of a growing, ageing and wealthy national population as well as a growing expatriate population. Healthcare is free for Kuwaitis.
There are opportunities for UK companies supply:
- medical equipment
- Information Technology (IT)
- facilities management
- hospital management
Contact Senior Trade Advisor email@example.com for more information on healthcare opportunities.
A massive new port and logistics facility will be developed over the next 20 years at Boubyan Island in the north west of Kuwait. This will be financed by the government of Kuwait in conjunction with the private sector. The facility will be linked to the GCC railway enabling the port to serve as a major deep-sea staging area for regional shipping and transportation. The wider aspects of the development will include:
- a free trade zone
- industrial area
The port is currently under construction. Opportunities for UK companies include consultancy, design and planning for the next phase.
The shortage of housing and long waiting times for land allocation has resulted in housing being a government priority. There are plans to build 3 new cities by 2020.
The waiting list for government subsidised housing has grown to over 100,000. More than 170,000 homes will be needed by 2020.
There are a total of 11 planned projects to build over 175,000 new houses. These projects will all need supporting transport and service infrastructure.
There will be significant new opportunities for UK companies in:
- project management
- the supply chain
Contact Senior Trade Advisor firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Boubyan Island / port and cities / housing opportunities.
5.4 Defence and security
Kuwait has some significant opportunities in the defence and security sectors over the medium to long term. Healthcare, oil, infrastructure and transport projects will also all have security elements.
Contact Export Control Organisation (ECO) to check your goods you are meeting legal requirements for export.
6. Start-up considerations
You can carry out business in Kuwait in any of the following forms:
- Commercial Agent, under the sponsor ship of a registered Kuwaiti agent
- Commercial Representative, under the sponsorship of a commercial representative
- a joint venture
- establishing a Kuwaiti company
The Companies Law allows a range of company structures. You can find more details of business structure on the Kuwait Government Online website.
Foreign ownership in the State of Kuwait is restricted to a maximum of 49%. However, to encourage FDI the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA) was setup and a new law passed. This Foreign Direct Investment Law allows 100% ownership in some designated economic activities and projects.
6.1 Free Trade Zone (FTZ)
Licences for operations in the FTZ near Shuwaikh port are issued through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Businesses operating in the FTZ are:
- exempt from all corporate and personal taxation on operations conducted within the zone
- exempt from custom duties
- able to freely transfer capital and profits and are not subject to exchange controls
- permitted to operate with 100% foreign ownership
7. Legal considerations
Islam is one source of legislation in Kuwait, but not the main source. The legal system is based on Latin Civil Law, which is mainly derived from French Law.
A list of the laws relating to business is available on the Kuwait government website.
Contact the DIT team in Kuwait to help find tax and legal advisers before entering into agreements.
7.1 Standards and technical regulations
No one ministry has responsibility for standards and technical regulations.
All goods imported into Kuwait must be clearly marked with the country of origin.
Some imports have additional labelling requirements. Foodstuffs, for example, must include composition (ingredients and additives), production and expiration dates as well as other indicators.
8. Intellectual Property (IP)
Trademarks, designs, patents and copyright are the principal forms of IP protection available to companies and individuals.
Kuwait is a member of the WT) and a signatory to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
Patent must be registered with the Patents Office at the Trademark Control Department of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Industrial designs must be registered in the Industrial Designs and Models Register. An application for registration must then be submitted to the Trademark Control Department. The registration is valid for 5 years and can renewed for 2 additional consecutive terms.
Kuwaiti Commercial Code, Law No. 68/1980 governs trademark registration and the penalties for infringement. You can apply to register your trademark at the Trademark Control Department. When approved protection is granted for 10 years and can be renewed for another 10.
Article (17) of Law No. 64/1999 defines period of copyright protection.
9. Tax and customs considerations
There is a double taxation agreement between the UK and Kuwait.
The Kuwait tax Authority (KTA) has responsibility for taxation in Kuwait.
Contact the DIT team in Kuwait for a list of local taxation experts.
9.1 Sales tax
There is currently no Value Added Tax (VAT) or sales tax in Kuwait.
9.2 Corporate tax
Income Tax Law No.2 of 2008 sets tax liability at a 15% flat rate on net taxable income.
Zakat (poor relief) at 1% of annual net profits is levied on Kuwait public and closed Joint Stock Companies, and similar GCC entities with operations in Kuwait.
9.3 Income tax
There is no personal income tax in Kuwait.
The Kuwaiti General Administration of Customs has responsibility for Kuwaiti customs procedures.
The import of alcohol and pork products into Kuwait is prohibited. Certain meats from the UK are also banned. The Kuwaiti Customs site provides full details of restricted items.
You can find more about import tariffs in the Market Access Database.
The documents required to export to Kuwait are:
- invoices – initiated by supplier
- certificate of origin
- bills of lading / airway bill
- packing list
- import licence and quality test certificates as applicable
- Original Islamic Compliant Slaughter (Halal) meat products
- customs duty payment receipt
The accompanying documents must be legalised by the Kuwaiti Embassy and also certified by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs upon arrival of the shipment.
A licensed customs clearing agent is required in order to facilitate the customs clearance process and for practical considerations.
10. Business behaviour
The weekend is Friday and Saturday in Kuwait.
The official language of Kuwait is Arabic, but English is widely spoken. However, all official correspondence with government ministries and bodies must be in Arabic.
All contracts are written in Arabic. If there is both an English and Arabic version, the Arabic will be the one followed.
Initial contacts with a Kuwaiti firm may be conducted with an expatriate or a non-Kuwaiti Arab, or a trusted Indian or Pakistani office manager. In most Kuwaiti companies, you’ll have to work your way up before meeting a decision-maker. Displays of impatience will reach senior management.
Aggressive, hard sell methods do not appeal to Kuwaitis. Patience, small talk, low-key presentation with video, product samples and attractive company brochures are an essential part of business behaviour.
11. Entry requirements
You need a visa to enter Kuwait. You can get a free 30 day tourist visa on arrival at the airport, or a 90 day business visa for a fee. Your local hotel can also help arrange a visa.
11.1 Travel advice
If you’re travelling to Kuwait check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice page beforehand.
Contact the DIT team in Kuwait for more information and advice regarding doing business in Kuwait.