Accommodation in Qatar
Depending on where you’ve lived previously, you may find the state of accommodation in Qatar either wonderful or deplorable. Regardless, rents in Qatar are high, choices may be limited and many places may look the same.
PRO: Houses in Qatar
Expat accommodation in Qatar is generally well-proportioned, with a lot of space on offer. New compounds and apartment complexes are constantly being built, so if you’ve ever dreamt of a home with never-been-used fittings and a new house smell, you may be in luck. Most compounds and complexes also have numerous amenities on site, such as a pool, a gym, dry cleaners, cafés and a corner store.
CON: Limited choice of accommodation
Accommodation choices are limited to either villa living in a compound or a high-rise apartment. House hunting can also be frustrating because the most popular locations will likely have waiting lists while other places, despite having all of the requisite facilities, will seriously be lacking in atmosphere.
Lifestyle in Qatar
Qatar is what you make of it. Despite its Muslim roots and relatively recent interest in developing cultural and entertainment distractions, if you know where to look, and are willing to make at least a small amount of effort, there are plenty of things to do.
PRO: Making friends in Qatar is easy
You will have a lot of extra time in Qatar and, for about seven months of the year, this will be glorious. The population of Qatar is still small, and the expat community is quite tight knit. It follows that all you’ll have to do to make friends is take up a sport or start a conversation with the people who live in the villa next door.
This will be made even easier if you have come with a partner and have children, as there is no shortage of mums' groups and activities for kids in Doha. Singles needn’t worry, however, as this could be your opportunity to finally learn a second language or to take up that hobby you’ve been meaning to look into. Qatar also boasts some first rate museums, a beautiful coast line, stunning desert, and many seasonal events such as film festivals, art exhibitions, conferences and sport matches.
CON: Extreme weather and lack of activities in summer
Qatar is unbearable for a large portion of the year, due to the extreme heat. So, although you’ll be on the beach in November and lunching outdoors in January, between June and August (and probably most of May and October) it will be hotter than you can probably imagine. It’s during this time that a lot of people leave Qatar, making it seem like a ghost town. Most activities stop during this period of the year as well, so you may be hard-pressed to find many events to attend. And, although Doha also has a budding nightlife scene with some high profile restaurants and a fair amount of bars/clubs, what does exist is still a large leap from the level of entertainment that many expats may be used to.
PRO: The emirate has mild winters
In contrast to the extreme heat of summer, winters are long and glorious. You will be able to enjoy outdoor activities from November until April, a fact that almost makes you forget about the scorching summer temperatures.
CON: There aren't many outdoor activities in Qatar
Qatar is very much an urban landscape with most people residing in its largest city, Doha. There are wide expanses of (uninhabited) desert, a scattering of coastal reserves and a handful of city parks, but this is as close to any semblance of ‘countryside’ that you will get. For a substantial portion of the year it will be too hot to go outside anyway, so if you are a real outdoorsy person the flat, somewhat barren terrain of Qatar will take some getting used to. The sun shines in Qatar nearly every single day which may appeal to many people, however, due to the lack of vegetation, all you will see is light blue sky and beige landscape.
CON: There is no walkable downtown area in Doha
There also isn’t any sort of downtown or centre of town area in Doha where you can walk around, window shop and visit cafes. You will need to drive (or be driven) everywhere, especially since public transport in Qatar is also very much in its infancy.
Safety in Qatar
PRO: The country has low crime rates
Qatar is a very safe place with low levels of petty crime, and even lower levels of serious crime.
CON: Qatar has some of the worst drivers
The most unsafe place in Qatar is on the roads, people (locals and expats alike) drive like maniacs.
Working and doing business in Qatar
PRO: Salaries in Qatar are relatively high
Most people move to Qatar for work, which usually means a more senior position with better pay. This in itself is one of the perks of working in Qatar, and these jobs often come with a tax-free salary.
CON: The work culture is very relaxed
Work wise, things don’t happen that quickly in Qatar – there is somewhat of a more relaxed attitude, although it may not purposely be so. The workday is generally 7am to 3pm, although many government offices close at 1pm. So really, things need to get done before noon or people have already started thinking about going home.
Attitudes towards meetings and time keeping are slack, to say the least. Much patience is needed, particularly when you’ve become part of a workforce whose first language is not always English.
Culture shock in Qatar
No matter how worldly or well-travelled you think you may be, many matters in Qatar will frustrate you, yet be completely outside of your control. You will need a lot of patience. People may tell you what you want to hear and not really what they are capable of. You will see a blatant disregard for many (if not all) traffic rules, a serious lack of order and terrible queue formations. Take a deep breath, relax, and try to tell yourself that it’s not the end of the world – getting aggravated and upset will not get you very far.
PRO: The expat community in Qatar is very welcoming
The expat community in Qatar is small and friendly, and very welcoming to newcomers. A minimal amount of searching for activities and new friends will usually be very fruitful. There are plenty of expat clubs and events on offer in Doha, and even if you don’t engage on this level, it’s likely you will bump into someone you know while at the grocery store or walking alone on the Corniche or shopping at the mall. Once the ball is rolling, it's easy to make friends.
CON: Adapting to Muslim culture can be difficult
Although Qatar is one of the more liberal countries in the region, you must remember that you are still in the Middle East and that a bit of prudence and respect will go a long way. Certain guidelines should be followed and, although not illegal, public displays of affection ought to be avoided and women should dress modestly with their shoulders and knees covered. You will see many, if not all, locals in traditional dress, with white robes for men and black abayas for women. You will also see a lot of Qatari woman with not only their heads covered, but their entire faces as well. If you are male, a Qatari woman will not shake your hand but do not take offence. If you are a female, a Qatari male may or may not shake your hand.
CON: Qatar has a divided society
The division of class is clearly evident in Qatar. Yes, the country is ranked as one of the richest in the world, but it is an obvious, sometimes overlooked fact that Qatar was built and continues to run on the fuel of its migrant workforce. From the Nepalese construction workers to the Keralan cab drivers and Filipino maids, there will be someone to carry your clothes to the changing room, bag your groceries and top up your water at restaurants, and many people (locals and expats) have hired help such as housekeepers and drivers, for whom they are solely responsible. This is how things are done in Qatar.
Cost of living in Qatar
PRO: Fuel is affordable
Petrol (gasoline) is very, very cheap in Qatar.
CON: The cost of living is high
The cost of living in Qatar is high or, rather, higher than you may be used to, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with better quality of goods. Qatar imports 90 percent of its food so, although you may be able to find your favourite brand of organic spinach, this will definitely come at a premium. Staples such as rice and bread, and certain meats and fish are moderately priced but, in general, food is more expensive in Qatar. Household goods, furniture and electronics are also more expensive, and, sometimes, not that well made. Familiar Western brands (including clothing) can be found in the malls and shops, but because they are imported too, they will also cost you more.
Education and schools in Qatar
There is a public school system in Qatar but, with very few exceptions, this is only for locals and taught in Arabic. The majority of private international schools tend to follow either an American or British curriculum.
PRO: The quality of education in Qatar is very good
Qatar is pouring a tremendous amount of money into education, science and technology and, as a result, many world-class institutions have set up branches in Doha.
The country is also recruiting teachers from overseas, so the quality of education on offer in private schools is not lacking.
CON: There is limited space in schools and the cost of tuition is high
Private international schools in Qatar are expensive, in some cases as much as 75,000 QAR. Furthermore, seats in the popular institutions are rare and waiting lists can be long. Advanced planning is often necessary to gain admission.
The only home university, Qatar University, does not offer a graduate programme, so students usually leave Qatar to continue their education and many never return.
Healthcare in Qatar
PRO: It is easy to take out health insurance
Most expats have health insurance provided by their employer. If, for some exceptional reason, this is not the case, residents may apply for a Hamad Card, which will entitle them to highly subsidised health and dental care at the Hamad Medical Corporation.
CON: Expats are still weary of healthcare in Qatar
The main hospitals in Doha are modern and well-equipped, and the city boasts an international medical community. Having said that though, the general consensus among expats is that, if you have the option of having a treatment in Qatar versus having one in your home country, you should opt for treatment in your home country. Finding a doctor/dentist in Qatar who you are comfortable with and can trust can be tricky.