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Paul McLoughlin

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait named 'world's least friendly countries'

Recent projects in Oman such as the Royal Opera House have attracted tourists [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 November, 2015

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Two Gulf countries have been named the world's least welcoming countries according to a survey, while Oman was polled as the seventh friendliest.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been polled as the world's least friendly countries, according to a survey carried out by expatriate website InterNations.

Gulf country Oman was, however, named as the seventh most welcoming place for overseas workers in the Expat Insider survey, which questioned 14,000 people living abroad in 195 countries.

Saudi Arabia hosts more than ten million expatriates and enforces a strict social code, which strictly separates men and women.

Many wealthier foreign workers, particularly oil workers, choose to live in compounds where social rules are less strictly enforced.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seems to present a true challenge for expats," said a spokesperson from InterNations. 

"Only two-fifths of the survey participants there consider the friendliness of the local population overall good, compared to 72 percent around the globe who rate this factor in their respective host country positively."

Top Expat Destinations 2015 - infographic
[click to enlarge]



Oil-rich Kuwait is home to 2.4 million expatriates, many of whom are blue collar workers and househelpers from the Indian subcontinent.

Kuwait has introduced a number of new laws in recent years, which expatriates say target them.

This includes legislation passed in 2013 aimed at cutting the country's overseas workforce in half by 2023.

In December 2014, a bill was passed that would prevent some expats from bringing their families to the country.

Hundreds of expatriates have also been deported for allegedly breaking traffic and labour laws.

Saudi Arabia has also faced criticism for its treatment of foreign workers.

Many victims of the kingdom's rampant execution rate have been foreigners. Human rights groups say foreign suspects are unjustly tried or forced to sign confessions in Arabic.

Last month, British grandfather Karl Andree faced the threat of flogging in Saudi Arabia after being caught with home-made wine, although he was later released by authorities.

The Daily Show host Trevor Noah recently visited Oman


Oman, too, has been criticised by some foreign workers for laws that discriminate against expatriates, but the sultanate has more liberal social laws that many of its GCC neighbours.

The country has also been working hard to boost its tourism industry, which it hopes will make up for the financial shortfall left by low oil prices.

Oman has less oil than its neighbours, but still carries a huge burden from expensive welfare programmes and public sector wage bills.

This week, Oman announced that its fledgdling tourism industry brought in nearly $1.9 billion last year.

However, there are fears that low oil prices might force the sultanate to scrap some of its tourism infrastructure projects.

Oman was also one of top destinations for women foreign workers, and respondents generally felt welcome and easily settled in the sultanate.

Kuwait was polled as the most difficult place in the world to make new friends with the vast majority of expatriates saying they found it hard to connect with locals.

"It is important to keep in mind that in many of these Arab Gulf states, expats vastly outnumber the local residents, which naturally makes it more difficult to make local friends," said Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations by email. 

"In these countries expat clubs and associations play a larger role in meeting new people than the global average."

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