As is the case with expat life in any country, life in Qatar is a mix of peaks, troughs, swings, roundabouts, and ups and downs. One way for expats to prepare for life in Qatar, is to know what to expect.
Below, we've listed some of the pros and cons of moving here.
Accommodation in Qatar
Expats may either find the state of accommodation in Qatar wonderful or deplorable, depending on where they choose to settle. Regardless, rent is generally high, choices can be limited, and many places look the same.
+ PRO: Expat housing in Qatar is spacious
Expat accommodation is largely spacious and well-proportioned. New compounds and apartments are constantly being built, so those who dream of a home with never-been-used fittings and that ‘new house smell’ may be in luck. Most compounds and complexes have on-site amenities such as pools, gyms, dry cleaners and cafés.
- CON: Rent is paid in a lump sum
Those who go through the househunting battle alone, after dealing with potentially long waiting lists, may face high rental fees too. Rent in Qatar is expected in a lump sum, paid annually or quarterly, which is a mildly terrifying expense to pay upfront. Fortunately, most accommodation fees are covered almost entirely by employers. If this isn't the case, we recommend expats negotiate this with their employers.
Lifestyle in Qatar
Although Qatar is more conservative than many expats are used to, there are plenty of things to do for expats interested in learning about their host culture. And as a developing global destination with a growing population of working expats, the emirate is constantly introducing new sights and attractions for international visitors.
+ PRO: Making friends in Qatar is easy
The population is small, and the expat community is tight-knit, so it's easy to make friends by taking up a sport or starting a conversation with neighbours. This is even easier for expats who move with a family, as there are many moms' groups and activities for kids in Doha. Qatar also boasts first-rate museums, cultural events, a beautiful coastline and striking desert views to experience with friends.
+ PRO: The emirate has mild winters
In contrast to the extreme heat of summer, winters are long and temperate, and residents can enjoy outdoor activities such as beach picnics from November to April.
- CON: Extreme weather means a lack of activities in summer
Extreme heat makes Qatar unbearable for much of the year, especially from June to August, and air-conditioning is a must. During this time, many people leave, turning metros into ghost towns. Finding events to attend will be difficult, although Doha has a budding nightlife scene and some high-profile restaurants.
- CON: There aren't many outdoor activities in Qatar
Most people live in Doha, the capital city. There are expanses of (uninhabited) desert, several coastal reserves and a few city parks, but this is as close to the ‘countryside’ that expats will get. Though these areas may be pleasant in mild temperatures, the heat deters residents from walking around downtown and there isn't much greenery, so outdoorsy expats may take some time to get used to the somewhat barren terrain.
Safety in Qatar
New arrivals in any foreign country may be concerned about their wellbeing, personal safety and health hazards.
+ PRO: The country has low crime rates
New residents in Qatar shouldn't stress themselves over personal security. Qatar is safe for men and women alike, with low levels of even petty crime.
- CON: Qatar has some of the worst drivers
The most unsafe place in Qatar is the road – expats and locals alike often drive like maniacs. Always be vigilant on the roads and follow the law – if not, hefty penalties will be faced. As many Qatari residents choose to drive, traffic isn't fun either. Still, as Doha is developing, public transport is advancing rapidly and safer options for getting around include the bus and metro.
Working and doing business in Qatar
There are tight regulations on doing business in Qatar, as foreign nationals cannot work without a valid work permit, usually sponsored by their employer. Expats will need to get to grips with the visa process and adapting to local business culture.
+ PRO: Salaries in Qatar are relatively high
Highly skilled expats often hold senior positions with excellent pay and lucrative employment packages. Employment contracts may cover accommodation, flights, transport, schooling for an employee's child, and insurance, so it's worth negotiating to get the best deal. Don't forget that expats pay few, if any, taxes, so a lot of money can be saved.
- CON: The work culture is very relaxed
There is generally a relaxed attitude to work in Qatar, which includes meetings and timekeeping, so things don’t happen quickly. The workday is usually from 7am to 3pm, and many government offices close at 1pm. It's best to get things done before noon, as many people start thinking about going home afterwards. Expats need to be patient, especially since they will be part of a workforce which won’t always have English as its first language.
Culture shock in Qatar
No matter how well-travelled expats may be, some things in Qatar will be frustrating and outside of their control. A lot of patience will be needed. People often say what they think others want to hear, rather than be direct. There is a blatant disregard for traffic rules and frustrating queue formations. Sometimes it’s necessary to just take a deep breath – getting upset doesn’t help anyone.
+ PRO: The expat community in Qatar is very welcoming
The community in Qatar is friendly and welcoming. A little searching for activities and new friends will usually be fruitful. There are many expat clubs and events, and even if expats don’t want to engage on this level, bumping into acquaintances while shopping or on the Corniche is likely. Once the ball gets rolling, making friends is easy.
- CON: Adapting to Islamic culture can be difficult
Although Qatar is liberal relative to other Gulf states, it is still in the Middle East and a bit of prudence and respect will go a long way. Expats should avoid public displays of affection, and women should keep their shoulders and knees covered. Many locals wear traditional dress – men wear white robes and women either wear black abayas or face-covering niqabs. Qataris might not shake hands with expats of the opposite sex either, which shouldn’t be taken personally. Expats are allowed to practice their religion, but they must be respectful of Islamic customs.
- CON: Qatar has a divided society
The division of class is stark in Qatar. The country is one of the richest in the world, but it was built and continues to run on the fuel of its migrants. From Nepalese construction workers to Keralan cab drivers and Filipino maids, expats will have someone to carry their clothes to the changing room, bag their groceries and top up their water at restaurants. Locals and expats hire and take sole responsibility for their housekeepers and drivers.
Cost of living in Qatar
Access to affordable and subsidised healthcare, lucrative salaries and no tax seem attractive. But, when moving to Qatar and using a different currency, new arrivals must understand their cost of living and consider all their expenses, from basic groceries to entertainment amenities.
+ PRO: Fuel is affordable
Petrol (gasoline) in Qatar is very cheap, especially in comparison with major world cities. This makes driving a car affordable and easy on the budget.
- CON: The cost of living is high
The cost of living in Qatar is high, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with better quality goods. Qatar imports most of its food, so although expats might be able to find their favourite brands, this will come at a premium. Staples such as rice, bread, certain meats and fish are moderately priced but, in general, food is expensive in Qatar. Household goods are also expensive. Imported Western brands can be found in malls and shops too, but will cost more.
Education and schools in Qatar
There is a high-quality public school system in Qatar, but it mainly caters to locals. Most private international schools follow an American or British curriculum.
+ PRO: The quality of education in Qatar is very good
Qatar pours a tremendous amount of money into education, science and technology, and many world-class institutions have set up branches in Doha. The country also recruits teachers from overseas, and the quality of education in private and public schools is high.
- CON: There is limited space in schools and the cost of tuition is high
Tuition at private international schools in Qatar is expensive. Seats in popular institutions are rare and waiting lists can be long, so advanced planning is often necessary to gain admission. On the other hand, though public independent schools are free, admission may be complicated for non-Qatari nationals.
Healthcare in Qatar
Qatari's healthcare system is impressive, ambulances are efficient, medical staff are well-trained, and both public and private facilities boast high standards.
+ PRO: It is easy to take out health insurance
Most expats have health insurance provided by their employer. If this is not the case, residents can apply for a Hamad health card, which entitles them to subsidised healthcare at the Hamad Medical Corporation.