Doing business in Qatar
Qatar is ranked 50th (out of 183 countries) in the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" rankings, faring best in the criteria of 'paying taxes' (where it is ranked second), and 'dealing with construction permits' (30th).
Business culture in Qatar
Firstly, it is important to understand that Qatar is an Islamic country, and it follows that you should always remain sensitive to and respectful of the large influence that these religious beliefs have on ordinary social life. To be successful in the business world it's essential to familiarise yourself with the basic cultural guidelines for behaviour and practice in this Muslim country.
The business culture of Qatar is typically Arabic, in that a great emphasis is placed on personal relationships between business associates – Qatari businessmen will always prefer to do business with people they are familiar with, and who they feel they can trust. For this reason, you will probably be required to engage the services of a local agent (or sponsor) in Qatar, who'll be able to provide you with important introductions and recommendations.
Furthermore, you will also have to remain patient during your first dealings with your new Qatari business partners – a good amount of time will be devoted to 'getting to know each other', before any 'actual business' is discussed. Don't get impatient: long-term, personal business relationships in Qatar are certainly worth the investment of your time and energy.
The management style that predominates in Qatar is strictly hierarchical – decisions are made at the top level, and clear, direct instructions are given to staff, who are expected to follow them to the letter. Note that it is unusual to hear the word 'No' outright in Qatar – a more polite, indirect method of refusal is usually preferred.
Business etiquette in Qatar reflects the close relationship between personal and professional life mentioned above. Handshakes are the accepted greeting between men – be sure to shake the hand of the most senior person present first. Use Arabic titles where appropriate, such as Haji and Sheikh, to indicate your respect for your associates; however, also be prepared to engage in long, personal discussions with them. Especially in the beginning, your new business partners will be far more interested in whether they will be able to befriend you than in your corporate expertise or qualifications. Make sure that when discussing business, you can deliver everything you promise – verbal commitments are treated as solemnly (perhaps even more so) as written contracts in Qatar.
In Qatar, business meetings will most likely be lengthy, and subject to numerous personal digressions, and perhaps even unexpected visitors. Meetings should be confirmed shortly before they are due to take place, as business schedules can change at short notice in Qatar. Dress conservatively for business meetings (especially women), and remain patient, even if the meeting's agenda becomes abandoned – do not resort to hard-sell tactics, as they will be interpreted as aggression on your part. Do not publicly criticise or undermine any associates – if you feel the need to say something, do it in private.
It is common to exchange business cards when meeting new associates for the first time. Make sure your details are printed in Arabic on the reverse side of your card, and always spend a little time regarding someone else's card before putting it away. Business dress is smart, formal and conservative – especially for women, who must take care not to wear anything too revealing. Although nearly every building in the country is air-conditioned, you'll still want to make sure your clothes are lightweight – the heat in Qatar cannot be underestimated.
Attitude to foreigners in Qatar
Qatar is far more friendly and open to foreigners than some of its neighbouring countries. However, it is essential that you behave at all times with respect for Islamic culture and traditions. Make sure that you have Arabic translations of all important documents ready and at hand, and try to learn a few basic Arabic words and greetings – your hosts will appreciate the effort.
Registering a business in Qatar
- Apply for approval of your company name at the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC)
- Open a Qatari bank account and deposit the minimum capital – note that this deposit money cannot be withdrawn until the company is incorporated
- Sign the Articles of Association in the presence of a Public Notary, at the Ministry of Justice
- Register the company with the MEC
- Register with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce
- Obtain a trade license and signage license from the local municipality – and perhaps, have an inspection of your premises
- Register for taxes, and obtain a tax identification number
- Obtain a company seal – you'll need this for all official company correspondence
Doing business in Qatar: Fast facts
Business language: The official language of Qatar is Arabic, though English is widely spoken and widely understood in the business world
Hours of business: Generally, 7.30am (or 8am) to 12pm, and then 3.30pm (or 4pm) to 7pm, from Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday are weekend days.
Dress: Smart and conservative – especially for women
Gifts: It is customary to exchange gifts when meeting Qatari business associates for the first time. Gifts should be wrapped and of high quality – traditional perfume is a popular choice. Whatever you do, don't give alcohol, or anything made of pigskin
Gender equality: While Qatar remains an Islamic nation, it is by far one of the most progressive of the Gulf countries when it comes to attitudes toward women in the workplace. Foreign women, especially, should find themselves respected and valued in Qatar – although they might need to dress and to behave more conservatively than they are used to doing back home. It is also worth bearing in mind that major shifts in the make-up of the Qatari corporate world will take time to establish themselves – and that the vast majority of senior/managerial positions will be filled by men for the foreseeable future.
Dos and don'ts of doing business in Qatar
- DO remain respectful and observant of Islamic culture and traditions
- DO look to cement long-term, personal relationships with your Qatari business associates
- DO make an effort to engage with the culture – learn some Arabic words, and educate yourself about the religion
- DON'T be impatient, rude, or aggressive – this kind of behaviour will alienate you from the corporate culture in Qatar
- DON'T forget that in Qatar, the line between professional and private lives often blurs – people do not 'leave their work at the office'
- DON'T promise more than you can deliver – Qataris will take you at your word, and will expect you to follow through on your promises