I made a series of schoolboy errors when I arrived here in Kuwait, meaning that I failed spectacularly in my GCC Contactless Challenge for the country, on the first day! Arrgh!
But, it’s got a lot better.
First, here’s a reminder about the ‘Contactless Challenge’ I set myself as I began my FinTech Tour around the GCC countries: I wanted to see how easily I could ‘exist’ in each country without ever using a physical card or physical money. Ideally, I want to try and only use my phone or Apple Watch to pay for everything. I also included app usage here too – so in many cases, the transaction wouldn’t be contactless at all, it would be ‘digital’ (for example, ordering food via Talabat or a taxi with Careem). Here’s how I got on in Dubai and most recently in Riyadh.
Now then. Kuwait City.
I should point out that I did no research whatsoever for these trips. This, I think, is an important point. One of the benefits of a truly contactless, seamless payments lifestyle is not having to plan or think too much! If you’ve got your phone, you can either summon/avail of the service via an app or you can transact with Apple Pay/Google Pay or the local wallet alternative. You shouldn’t have to carry your cards in your pocket. You should never have to touch cash. That’s the ideal, anyway. I didn’t plan ahead.
I got to the arrivals area of Kuwait Airport and then I loaded up Careem. That didn’t work at all. I think this was a localised issue for me. I spent 15 minutes fiddling with it and also the Uber app, trying to get it to recognise my new city and to find my hotel. Eventually, I provided just the address of the hotel and nothing seemed to work. I think this was me at error. Careem does work in Kuwait (I’ve been using it since).
I fumbled around googling for other taxi apps in Kuwait. I downloaded one that just constantly displayed an error. Then I downloaded another and it had one car available in 27 minutes’ time.
So resolving to try something new, I walked out to the taxi rank and found a cab.
“Do you take cards?” I asked the taxi guy.
“No, cash,” he replied.
So, dear reader, for the first time in the GCC, I went into the airport and hunted for an ATM. Luckily I didn’t have to do much in the way of hunting. It looks like most banks had some kind of branch or presence in the terminal building.
Which led to my first interaction with one of these during my GCC trip:
Which led to this:
Now then, I made a rookie error and withdrew 100 Kuwaiti Dinars… which is about 300 pounds. I am not sure I am going to need that as I am hoping to use contactless for everything. I’ll need to convert this later.
At The Hotel
Buuut… let’s get to the hotel.
And that, dear reader, is another fascinating experience.
If you recall in Riyadh, I didn’t even insert my (physical) card at the hotel. This is usually one of the only things you need to use a physical card for (that, and car hire) as you’re typically using the card to hold the deposit. In Riyadh, I used Apple Pay to pre-pay the bill. Boom.
Not for me here in Kuwait alas.
I asked the receptionist if I could, “try Apple Pay,” and she nodded. She was keen to try it out. She picked up the modern point-of-sale terminal next to her, keyed in the amount and presented it to me.
I used my trusty Amex. That didn’t work. I wonder if I should have tried a Visa or Mastercard?
“Oh, I’ll try the other machine,” she said, reaching for the 5-year-old POS. You know the one. The bulky horrible one that they keep in the back!
“I’m not sure that will…”, I said as she keyed in the amount again. I tapped. No, it didn’t work. I didn’t get a chance to look at the error message.
“Let us just put the card in,” I said, much to the receptionist’s relief.
That transaction was completed immediately.
And then… later on, after a coffee with a leading FinTech superstar in Kuwait, I resolved to try and pay with Apple Pay.
The chap behind the counter didn’t have a POS to hand. He was much happier when he saw me getting my paper money out of my pocket. I actually received change as well. A novel experience after using my phone for everything.
So…. that’s my first day in Kuwait and technically, the only thing that’s been totally contactless has been my delivery with Talabat.
Day 2, and Onwards
I’m pleased to report that, apart from my rookie errors on Day 1, everything else in Kuwait has been contactless. Completely seamless, and I have loved it.
I took a trip to the massive, massive, simply HUGE Avenues Mall (Careem got me there).
I visited the cinema. I booked on my phone and paid for water with Apple Pay. I visited the Cheesecake Factory for an awesome steak… and paid with Apple Pay.
Most of the shops or businesses I have visited had these modern point-of-sale units – see below for a photo. What’s particularly interesting for me is that not one single sales assistant was surprised, shocked or frustrated by me brandishing my phone to pay. It was treated as absolutely normal.
Yesterday I took a walk to Wendy’s… it’s been an age since I’ve been in a Wendy’s restaurant, ever since they closed the one in King’s Cross (London) during my University years. I tapped to pay there.
And then, dear reader, to get my steps up, I walked all the way to Marks & Spencer to buy some socks… boom… contactless.
Oh, and I bought some sparkling water in the local shop also with Apple Pay.
So there we go. Apart from my mess-up at the start, it has been totally possible to be contactless here in Kuwait!
If you have any suggestions for me to consider to make my contactless journey easier, please comment below or head over to my LinkedIn profile and make a comment on this post.