Traveling overland in the Middle East? You’ll likely end up at the Kuwait-Iraq border crossing eventually! Here’s what you need to know, based on my experience crossing the border by motorcycle in January 2023.
The Kuwait – Iraq crossing at Abdali/Safwan used to be a hassle for overlanders, but now is straightforward for many nationalities… as long as you have your papers in order!
I crossed from Kuwait to Iraq on my motorcycle in January of 2023, and my experience wasn’t too bad—quite different from what people had in previous years.
If you’re traveling to Iraq or Kuwait overland in your car, van, or motorcycle, read on to learn everything you need to know about the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing.
Table of Contents: Kuwait – Iraq border crossing
- Why the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing is best
- Documents needed for the border crossing
- How to get a green permit in Kuwait
- When is the border crossing open?
- Crossing the border: Kuwait
- Crossing the border: Iraq
- Changing money for the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing
- SIM cards at the borders
Why the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing is the best option
Many travelers end up at this border crossing because they’re looking for a way to get from Saudi Arabia to Iraq.
From Saudi Arabia, there are two routes people take into Iraq: one via Jordan, and one via Kuwait.
The Kuwait – Iraq border crossing is easier and faster because this region of Iraq is more secure. The border crossing with Jordan is in a sensitive area where the security situation can change quickly. The Jordan – Iraq border occasionally stops issuing visas on arrival, and travelers often require a military escort for part or all of the journey to Baghdad.
If you want an easy way to cross from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing is the best way to do so.
What documents do you need for the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing?
Visas: Obviously, if you require a visa for either country, you need to prepare them! A handful of nationalities can get visas on arrival for Iraq at this border. If heading to Kuwait, most nationalities need to apply for a Kuwait e-visa online a couple of days in advance, and bring a print of the visa approval to the border.
Carnet de Passages: Both Iraq and Kuwait are CPD countries. Have yours ready!
Insurance: Neither country asks for proof of insurance obtained in advance; in Kuwait you can buy insurance at the border.
Kuwait to Iraq: You need to have a green permit to reach the border with Iraq. This can be obtained only in Kuwait City, near the airport. If you don’t have this paper, they will not let you go to the border.
Iraq to Kuwait: Only visas needed in this direction.
When is the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing open?
The Kuwait – Iraq border crossing opens around 9AM, and reportedly is open every day of the week except Friday.
How to get a green permit in Kuwait City for the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing
If you want to do the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing, you need to have a green permit saying you’re allowed to enter the border area with Iraq. If you do not have this paper, even if you have an Iraq visa already, Kuwaiti officials will NOT let you cross the border!
To get this paper, you need to go to an office near the Kuwait airport, a bit south of Kuwait City. The location is marked as Ports Management on Google Maps. There, enter the building, go up the stairs to the right, and the desks you need are in the back left corner of the big room on the next floor up. When I went, there were several women working at the desks.
Tell them you’re going to Iraq, give them your passport or a copy of it, and within 5-10 minutes they should be able to issue you a free green permit allowing you to do the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing. That’s it!
Crossing the border: Kuwait side
The Kuwait side of the border is straightforward, so long as you have your documents (green permit if exiting, Kuwait evisa if entering). There are several checkpoints, including one where you’re issued a small receipt type of paper—keep it with you, as you need it to pass through the border!
All of the officials were quite friendly and helpful, and some spoke a bit of English. They even insisted I stay and have tea with them before crossing the border; a nice goodbye gesture from Kuwait.
When exiting from Kuwait, there wasn’t any official customs or security check/scan. However, when I entered Kuwait from Saudi Arabia there was (a lazy one), so I’d expect there’s some kind of check in the other direction.
Stamping your Carnet de Passages
Getting my Carnet de Passages stamped at this Kuwait border was straightforward enough, unlike other borders. The border officials at the drive through desk sorted everything out.
There are no entry fees. If you’re exiting Kuwait, you need to pay an exit fee at the border in local currency. I had to pay 2 KWD (around US$6) for my motorcycle.
Motorcycle or car insurance
In Kuwait, it is mandatory to have insurance for your vehicle. You can buy insurance at the border. I paid 6 KWD (around US$18) for a week’s worth of insurance.
Crossing the border: Iraq side
The Iraq side of the border was slightly more confusing, though more streamlined than in recent years. Part of the hassle was due to my entering during the Gulf Cup (football)—there were thousands of people coming from Gulf countries to watch matches in Basra, meaning the Carnet desk was swamped with impatient drivers waving papers.
As a whole, most of the officials were helpful enough, though English was extremely limited. I didn’t see any fixers roaming around, but that could change on more quiet days.
If entering Iraq from Kuwait, the immigration office will be off to your left after several passport checks. Inside, you can avail your Iraq visa on arrival (VOA) if relevant. You must pay for your VOA in US dollars, but will receive change in Iraqi dinar. In January 2023, the VOA fee was $77. It took them about 10 minutes to process my visa—not bad! They did check every single stamp in my passport, presumably looking for signs of visiting Israel.
Note that this visa on arrival from Federal Iraq is good for all of Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan.
Temporary import papers for vehicles in Iraq
The confusion came later: many travelers report needing to pay US$100 for temporary import papers for vehicles for Iraq, but I didn’t get them. I didn’t see where to buy them, nor did anyone direct me because it was chaotic. I know other travelers who also didn’t get them when crossing. I was asked for my bike’s papers several times in Iraq, but usually my CPD sufficed. I was asked for the import papers at the border with Turkey, and though I didn’t have them, it wasn’t a problem in the end. After a few phone calls, they said it was okay and I could go. Score!
Stamping your Carnet de Passages (and where you can go)
Another huge point of confusion and concern: when I did the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing, an official didn’t want to stamp my Carnet de Passages. He said I was NOT allowed to leave Iraq by any other border except Safwan, and refused to stamp my papers. We had a bit of a fight, and when he didn’t budge, I told him I would leave by the same border IF he stamped my CPD (cough). He ended up stamping it. I was scared about leaving Iraq, but no one said anything at the border in Kurdistan. Guess it’s not an issue?
There are no entry fees for Iraq (aside from the visa fee and the maybe-mandatory import papers fee). If you are exiting Iraq, you will need to pay a fee for your vehicle in local currency. I had to pay 38,000 IQD for my motorcycle at another border.
Motorcycle or car insurance
I could not find anywhere to buy insurance for my motorcycle at the border… and international insurance plans are definitely not covering Iraq at the moment! I asked around, but all of the officials said there was no need to have insurance, nor was I ever asked for proof of it. Good enough for me, up to you if that’s good enough for you!
Changing money at the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing
There’s nowhere official to change or withdraw money from an ATM at either side of the border; you need to have local currency ready in advance, along with your US dollars to pay fees if needed.
In Kuwait, the currency exchanges in the Al Mubarakiya old market area have good rates for Iraqi dinar. In other areas, you’ll need to ask around at smaller exchanges; the most popular exchanges don’t carry Iraqi dinar, they’re mostly used for remittances to places like Pakistan or the Philippines.
In Basra, Iraq, there are lots of small money changers on Trading Street, as well as Western Unions in other places. However, there’s not as much need for cash in Kuwait; there, it’s far more common to pay with card, Apple Pay, or Google Pay. Even at the border.
Buying SIM cards at the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing
Local SIM cards are always useful; I make sure to get one ASAP when entering a new country.
Kuwait: I did not see anywhere to buy a SIM card at any of the Kuwait borders. Better to wait until you get into the city, since it’s only 1 hour away. While in Kuwait, I had a Zain SIM and coverage was good throughout the (very small) country.
Iraq: At the border was a small stand selling Zain SIM cards. I got an unlimited plan for around $40. My coverage was excellent throughout the south of Iraq, but Zain coverage wasn’t as extensive in Iraqi Kurdistan. If you can’t find the SIM card stand at the border, there are also shops selling SIM cards in Safwan town just after the border.
More resources for travel in Iraq
That’s all you need to know about the Kuwait – Iraq border crossing! But if you’re looking for more deets about traveling in Iraq, check out my other blog posts: