Living in Qatar can be quite the cultural experience, as you get to explore the ways of a new country that might be in many ways deeply different from your own. In 2013, Qatar was listed as the world’s richest country by Forbes, and according to the United Nations Development Program, it has had the highest human development. It is believed that over 500 expats arrive in Qatar daily. So, Qatar is home to a multitude of expats who have relocated here for work, and those who are drawn to its fabled life of luxury.The country offers breathtaking desert landscapes and beautiful beaches, and you can also enjoy the many parks, museums, local souks and other entertainment options available. If you’re not used to the climate in the Gulf, then this is one thing that might take some getting used to, because temperatures can go up to 50°C or more. However, most buildings, cars and indoor sports facilities are air-conditioned, which makes it a lot more manageable to deal with the hot climate.
Qatar has recently gained popularity for its successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and it is doing a lot to improve its existing infrastructure to prepare for this grand event.
Here are a few things you should consider before moving to Qatar.
The lifestyle in Qatar is focused around two things, namely the weather and money. It is no secret that more than 50% of the GDP here is accounted for by revenue generated from the oil and gas sectors. The country is growing at breakneck speed, and because of this there are numerous job opportunities for expats. Compared to its neighbors in the Gulf, Qatar is quite modern and offers a range of cultural and entertainment options. Non-Muslims can buy alcohol, and there are quite a few restaurants around that sell it. An alcohol license can be purchased by those who have a resident permit, but the only place to buy alcohol apart from a restaurant would be the Qatar Distribution Centre. Alcohol does cost a lot more than you might be used to, because of all the restrictions.
While temperatures are known to soar in July and August, the winter months are much more refreshing. You can try out activities like dune bashing, fishing excursions and camel racing in the cooler months. Several hotels and resorts are known to have beach parties featuring international DJs and live acts, from October onwards. Or you could just enjoy camping in the desert.
Cost of living
There are plenty of opportunities to make and save money when living and working in Qatar. Most expats are drawn to the lucrative pay packages offered, and even though the cost of goods and services has gone up over the years, it is still possible to live comfortably. Rent prices differ based on the type of property you’re looking at and some expat salaries will include a housing allowance. The allowance is either paid monthly or as a lump sum, and largely varies from employer to employer. If you want to bring your own furniture and appliances from overseas, your salary might also include a one-off shipping allowance depending on how long your contract is for.
Apartments and villas come with furnished or semi-furnished options. 90% of the food available here is imported, which means that some basic foodstuffs might be quite expensive here. However, the quality of food is almost always very good.
Due to the large influx of expats in Qatar, the entire country has slowly transitioned towards English being the preferred language to conduct business in. Apart from the petrochemical sector, jobs are opening up in other areas, like construction, real estate and many more. Most expats are likely to secure a job prior to arriving in the country. There aren’t a lot of recruitment agencies operating in Qatar, so most job seekers directly apply for jobs. The work week usually runs from Sunday until Thursday, with Friday and Saturday serving as the weekend. It is common for expats who work in senior positions to work on weekends, or overtime. If for any reason you need to change jobs, the process can be a bit tedious, because you will need to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from your current employer first. You will also need to ensure that your new employer is willing to sponsor you.
The accommodation here ranges from lavish villas to more modern apartments or sprawling apartment compounds. Expats who have families tend to prefer to live in compounds, as they offer greater security and you are typically surrounded by other expat families as well. In some cases, companies have been known to rent out an entire compound solely for their employees, which also reduces the rent charges a bit. Some apartment complexes come with all the amenities and luxury facilities you could want, from gyms and pools to cafes and supermarkets. Most villas come with four or more bedrooms and a garden area as well.
Check that your apartment or villa comes with air conditioning and check whether it will be fully or partly furnished, as buying appliances and furniture here might be rather expensive. It is usually required that you pay an entire year’s rent upfront, but you can give the landlord post-dated cheques as opposed to a lump sum at once. Most employers provide their employees with a housing allowance, so employees usually look for accommodation that fits within that budget.
Since petrol in Qatar is cheap, most people prefer their own cars and drive themselves around. The public transport system here is virtually non-existent and very unreliable, making a personal vehicle a necessity. If you don’t own a car, you could always rent one or just buy a second-hand car. Some expats even opt to hire their own driver to eliminate the stress of driving and having to look for parking and so on. There are quite a few car rental companies in Qatar that offer great deals for a car lease depending on the duration. The longer the duration of the lease, the less expensive the rates. If you decide to buy a car, then getting a second-hand car instead of a new one is quite a good option in Qatar. Due to the large turnover rates for expats, used cars are generally in great condition and much more affordable than brand new ones.
Compared to its neighbors in the Gulf, Qatar has a slightly more relaxed policy towards alcohol. It is legal and can be purchased by non-Muslims who have a license. Alcohol is available at several licensed hotels, restaurants and bars. Once you have your residence permit, you can get an alcohol permit that allows you to shop for alcohol. You can purchase a limited quantity of alcohol at the Qatar Distribution Centre. It is the only place where you can buy alcohol, and there is a limit on the volume you can buy per year. Most five-star restaurants do have licenses though, and there are several members’ clubs that expats can join. Qatar has a zero-tolerance policy to drunk-driving and to drinking in public.
The healthcare system in Qatar is quite good. Regardless of whether you are a local or an expat, the Hamad Medical Corporation offers free medical treatment to anyone who registers with them. It is valuable to know though that an estimated 500 expats are moving to Qatar each day, which is putting a large strain on the system. Waiting times at the medical centre have increased, and more and more people are opting for private health care, which can be more expensive. Some companies offer health insurance to their employees, but this is not the default.
If you choose to work in Qatar and you are not a Qatari national, you will need to have a local as your sponsor. Businesses in Qatar can only be owned by those who are citizens of the country, so it is quite normal to be sponsored by a company for work purposes. Additionally, expats will need a residency visa to live in Qatar. The application usually takes about 2-6 weeks and can be valid for anywhere from six months to a couple of years. A medical examination is also required to be able to visit the country.
The process to apply for a family visa is slightly different. These visas are valid for a spouse or child and are usually granted before entering the country. If a family visa has not been granted prior to arrival, it would be a requirement that the working spouse earns more than 10,000 QR per month to be eligible for one. A few companies only provide a family visa if the employee has been with the organisation for more than six months. You should note that only married couples can live together in Qatar.
All employees in Qatar are linked to a single employer at a time, and function under the Kafala (sponsorship) system. This can mean that the employer dictates when employees are allowed to leave the country, regardless of whether it is for a holiday or for emergency leave. Different employers handle this differently. Some allow their high-ranking employees to come and go as they please, and offer them multi-exit permits that are valid for a year at a time. Others, however, might insist on the employee filing an individual application for each trip. There have been situations where employers are rather inflexible and do not approve leave.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, women can drive in Qatar. They can also run for municipal elections, vote, and be employed and educated in all levels of society. The country is constantly balancing between traditional values and modern ways of living. Gender segregation still exists in schools, and only males are still considered capable of being the head of the family. Women of other nationalities are not expected to wear the traditional abaya or hijab, but they do have to dress modestly. This means covering the shoulders, midriff and knees and not wearing provocative clothing in public spaces like shopping malls, restaurants, souks and so on. Hotels might be more relaxed towards expats, but it helps to dress modestly while travelling. A quick tip for expat women in Qatar is to always carry a shawl when going out.
While living in Qatar can present some challenges and require some acclimatization, many expats find the experience extremely rewarding. Qatar aims to be the leading country in the Middle East for social development and change.
Some of the recent endeavours in this regard have been setting up the Museum of Islamic Art and an Education City. Founded by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development in 1997, Education City is made up of 14 square kilometers of educational facilities, research buildings and universities. There is a large and thriving expat community in Qatar that enjoys tax-free benefits and a high standard of living.
The expat community is small and welcoming, and it is very easy to make friends and find things to do. There are quite a few well-maintained parks like the Museum of Islamic Art Park, Aspire Park and Sheraton Park. Sailing and kayaking are also popular activities among locals and expats alike. The Doha Sailing Club offers lessons to beginners every Saturday. Another activity that is popular with expats is taking a desert trip or camping in the desert. Qatar also offers options for kitesurfing, diving, rock climbing and much more.
There are also several nightlife options for expats and locals who want to head out and enjoy themselves with friends. There are several live music venues, bars and pubs that are open until the early hours of the morning.
No matter how much one prepares before relocating, you are bound to experience some bumps along the way. While you can’t expect the transition to be 100% smooth sailing, having a plan of action and the conviction to face every situation head-on usually helps. Hopefully, the information in this article has been helpful in making an informed decision about relocating to Qatar.
Have you lived in Qatar? Share your thoughts in the comments, or if you’d like to be interviewed about your life as an expat, fill in the questions here and send in your answers!