Boasting the highest per-capita income in the world, Qatar is a country focused firmly on the future. With a goal of becoming the intellectual and cultural capital of the Middle East, Qatar offers a high standard of living and a bustling expat scene.
Only 250,000 people are native to the country, and the attraction for foreigners goes beyond the lucrative tax-free salaries. As host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is investing heavily in infrastructure. Beautiful, unspoilt beaches, breathtaking desert landscapes and interesting Arabian culture make for a fascinating destination.
Hundreds of expats relocate to Qatar each week to take advantage of a thriving economy and excellent job opportunities. English is widely spoken, though learning a few Arabic phrases will impress colleagues and locals.
The business culture is personal and friendly, and colleagues take time to engage in small talk and encourage warm relationships. Ask after a coworker’s family, but not about a wife or sister directly. Stay away from discussing religion or politics. Eye contact is important.
Punctuality is flexible. Foreigners are expected to be on time, though they may be kept waiting; patience is required at all times. Meetings may be interrupted by personal calls, as the family is more important than business.
The working week is Sunday to Thursday. Business hours are usually 8:00 am to noon, then 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm, though corporations may work to a more standard schedule of 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Banks, schools, and government agencies often work from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm.
Salaries are impressive and tax-free, though life in Qatar can quickly eat into the salary. Petrol is very cheap, but some 90% of food is imported, so supermarket sprees can be pricey. Entertainment and cultural activities can also be expensive.
Expat life in Qatar is busy and varied. Sports and activities clubs meet frequently, and the expat community is welcoming. Major professional sporting events, including tennis and golf opens, world-famous bands, and international exhibitions turn up on the annual calendar. Cultural groups, from ramblers to a debate society to a Harley-Davidson club, meet frequently.
Extreme heat between June and August means that many expats leave during these months, and it can be more difficult to find things to do.
While Qatar is fairly liberal in its treatment of women, respect of Islamic law is expected. Women should cover their shoulders, cleavage, midriff, and knees. They are allowed to drive and to interact with men, although public displays of affection are strictly forbidden. Women under their husband’s sponsorship can enter and exit the country whenever they please, and are able to work.
Alcohol is illegal, though most five star hotels have licenses and include several bars and restaurants on the premises. Members-only clubs, such as rugby and golf clubs, also serve alcohol. Expats may also drink at home; they must apply for an alcohol permit to use at the country’s off-license shop.
Qatar’s health care system, Hamad Medical Corporation, is to a very high standard. All emergency treatment is covered, though many expats also have private insurance to bypass waiting lists for other medical needs.
Housing can be expensive and on par with major cities around the world, especially in luxury compounds or buildings.
If you wish to relocate as a family, clarify with your employer if they help with school fees. Do your research and contact any schools you may be interested in to get on the waiting lists. The transient nature of Qatar means that places become available throughout the year.
Qatar observes the Holy Month of Ramadan and expats are expected to refrain from eating in public, though a number of hotels cater to non-Muslims during these times.
Driving is something of an adventure, and not for the faint-hearted. Drivers must apply for Qatari licenses as soon as their residence permits are approved. Taxis are easily accessible and cheap, and public transportation is limited. The Doha airport includes international flights around the world.
Couples must be married to live together in Qatar, and children will only be allowed to join if couples are married. Successful applicants arrive on a special entry visa and must begin the residence permit process within one week, including fingerprinting and medical tests.
Each expat is connected to an employer, which translates into needing both an entry and exit permit. Check with your employer to see how they handle exit permits should an emergency arise.
Information on visas can be found here.