Once home to a thriving pearl industry and largely associated with its expansive desert, Qatar has managed to blossom in its arid terrain and is emerging as a major global player. Situated on the Arabian Peninsula, the country – especially its rapidly developing capital city of Doha – continuously surprises its residents as well as new arrivals in a variety of ways.

Qatar is said to be advancing at breakneck speed and Doha is claimed to be evolving into a 'futuristic' city with its land reclamation of The Pearl-Qatar and an impressive skyline of modern architecture. Not long ago, Qatar had a poorly organised public transport system, but today it has transformed its infrastructure and is progressing to expand and construct not just new buildings, but entire cities.

Similarly, both Qatar’s healthcare system and its accommodation options aim to live up to these sophisticated standards. Housing, luxury shopping malls and various amenities help residents cope with the extreme heat, including well-maintained air-conditioning and swimming pools in expat compounds.

Expats moving to Qatar likely know the country as a natural gas powerhouse which punches well above its weight. Driven by gas and oil, this small emirate has emerged as a powerful player in the global economy, boasting one of the highest incomes per capita in the world. As such, expats interested in employment in the petrochemical sector are bound to secure a work permit.

Job opportunities extend further than the energy industry, though, as the country advances; jobs in IT, construction, business and tourism abound. More and more expats are incentivised to work in Qatar, saving money in the tax-free environment while enjoying a good standard of living.

As the large majority of Qatar’s residents are foreigners, cultural and legal practices are becoming increasingly liberal relative to other Gulf states. Expats and their families will encounter an interesting mix of nationalities, religions and cultures alongside Qatari citizens, and they can look forward to an emirate that emphasises culture and education

Qatar aims to be the Middle Eastern flagship for social development and intellectualism. It has been working hard to create a “knowledge economy”, and to promote ventures such as the Museum of Islamic Art and a massive Education City. That said, Qatar adheres to Islamic law. Aspects of this may come as a culture shock, for example, censorship is still enforced and foreigners are unlikely to command a position equal to locals in Qatari society.

Expats considering moving to Qatar should also remember that the peninsula is still fairly new to the global stage, and provincialisms still exist. The red tape of bureaucracy can be endlessly frustrating and some sections of its Arab society are not as liberal as its neighbours in the UAE or Bahrain.

Despite these challenges, the expat community in Qatar is large and welcoming. Making connections is not difficult and can ease the relocation process, helping new arrivals to overcome any initial culture shock.

Fast facts

Population: About 2.88 million

Capital city: Doha (also largest city)

Other major cities: Al Rayyan, Al Khor, Al Wakrah

Neighbouring countries: Situated on the northeastern coast of the Arab peninsula, Qatar is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the west, with the island state of Bahrain to the northwest. Across the Persian Gulf to the northeast is Iran, while the United Arab Emirates is situated to the southeast.

Geography: The peninsula of Qatar is low lying. In the east of the country, there are smooth plains covered by fine-grained dust. The south and southwest portion of the peninsula is made up of sand salt flats. The coastline is emergent and gently slopes toward the sea. Many flat, low-lying off-shore islands are located near the coast and accompanied by coral reefs. Because of the salt water which comes into contact with the low lying land, many salt pans have formed along the coast. 

Political system: The political system in Qatar is an absolute monarchy with the Emir of Qatar as head of state and head of government. Sharia law shapes most legislation in Qatar.

Major religion: Islam

Main languages: Arabic (official), English

Money: The currency is the Qatari Riyal (QAR), which is divided into 100 dirhams. Expats are able to open a bank account in Qatar easily with the correct documents. ATMs are widely available. 

Tipping: A 10 percent service charge is often added to hotel and restaurant bills. Tipping is not so common among Qataris, though for exceptional service and journeys by taxi, a charge may be rounded up.

Time: GMT +3

Electricity: 240 volts, 50 Hz. Rectangular-blade plugs (three flat pins in a triangle – type G) and round-pin plugs (three round pins in a triangular pattern – type D) are used most often.

Internet domain: .qa

International dialling code: +974

Emergency contacts: The general emergency number for police ambulances and fire services in Qatar is 999. Operators will often speak English.

Transport and driving: Traffic in Qatar drives on the right. Expats should drive defensively because the country is known for having high accident rates. Taxis are widely available and the bus system is effective, while the metro and rail systems are expanding.