Ryno Cilliers is a South African expat who lived in Doha. Although he has now returned to his home country, he looks back on his time there fondly. He recalls many unique experiences and multiple lessons learned. Life as an expat has done him good, and he wouldn't go back on his choices if you paid him. Take a look at Ryno's photography projects at eragoncilliers.myportfolio.com.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: South Africa
Q: Where did you move to (city and country)?
A: Qatar, Doha
Q: When did you move here?
A: August 1st, 2018
Q: Was this your first expat experience?
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
Q: Why did you move?
A: To broaden my personal horizons, culture-wise and for self-growth. To learn more about cultures and learn more about the world and other people.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Doha? How would you rate the quality of life compared to home?
A: Ever imagined New York being surrounded by sand dunes? I know it doesn't sound ideal, but that is what I enjoyed most. The incomparable and astounding development of Qatar, the big city lights and the success you see in every direction. It creates a sense of hope that fills you with ambition. Opportunities are endless here, and the country has one of the world's highest GDPs, all while being situated in one of the most unimaginable places on earth. You can't help but feel as if you could become anything you want to.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: I missed certain natural elements of home that are hard to find in Qatar, such as grass, forests and trees. Constantly having sand between your toes and shoes is also not the most desired feeling.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Most certainly. In a country where Islam is the main religion, you find a very conservative and private culture, especially in terms of the locals. Something as simple as taking photos in public spaces had to be done considerately so as not to disturb people in any way and to respect privacy.
Q: What's the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Qatar?
A: Qatar has some of the most luxurious options when it comes to shopping. Many of the world's most well-known brands, such as Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Polo and Tommy Hilfiger, can be found around every corner – a true 'rich man's world'. Still, due to large class diversity, Qatar manages to have services and options for every budget.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Qatar?
A: Excellent. Fast, extremely reliable and safe.
Q: How would you rate healthcare in Qatar? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with any doctors or hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend in Qatar?
A: Healthcare is one of Qatar's main social priorities. All their facilities are excellent and filled with some of the best medical doctors in the world and advanced technology. I highly recommend Hamad Hospital for its brilliant service.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Qatar? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: None. The crime rate in Qatar is one the lowest in the world, and there are no areas where I experienced any sense of danger.
Q: How is the climate in Qatar? Do you have any tips for expats on how they can adjust or manage the weather?
A: Extremely hot, with temperatures reaching even up to 50 degrees Celsius. Make sure, when going out and about at midday, to have protective clothing against the sun and sunscreen.
Q: Are there any activities, attractions or events you recommend for new arrivals in Qatar? What are your favourite leisure spots?
A: I highly recommend going on a desert expedition where they take you on a midnight tour through the desert dunes to look at the clear starry skies on camelback. There are also many small islands that you can travel between by boat.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: The Peal, where the harbour is based.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Qatar? What different options are available for expats?
A: Excellent. Houses are in great condition.
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular group? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Qatar as a foreigner?
A: None. Since the start of the natural gas era and the boom in economic growth, people from all corners of the world have found themselves in search of opportunities in Qatar. So, for the last 15 years, foreigners have had no issues integrating into Qatar.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy?
A: Yes. Since Qatar has expats from more than 30 different nationalities, you always find yourself making friends and learning more about other cultures. Since more than 80 percent of the population are expats, you find you have a lot in common with many people you meet. A lot of expats experience the same things when travelling and working abroad.
Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: Yes, I have made friends with a lot of Qataris. Locals have many traditions, and joining them on these journeys and learning their ways can be massively beneficial for expats hoping to integrate. Getting to know the locals, how they came to be where they are today, and how life has been for them before Qatar became so rich teaches you a lot about the country. When interest is shown, friends are made along the way.
About working in Doha
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: It was very simple. Immigration services are fast to act once a contract is accepted and signed. The whole process could be as quick as two weeks, given your passport is in order.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Qatar? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: Once you find yourself in Qatar, you quickly see the massive diversity in opportunities for work and business proposals you can find. With the continuing economic growth, there are countless job opportunities being established daily where you could enlist. You can enrol for any kind of opportunity once you arrive and work yourself up.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Qatar?
A: Qatar has so much to offer for someone restless, looking to know more about the world and other cultures. Working there opens new opportunities for work and growth and can guarantee further travel. Despite the culture shock and the harsh climate, there is a lot to gain from the experience and the time spent there. Situate yourself there for as long as you can and learn as much as you can. In Qatar, nothing is certain, and the country is ever-changing. Expat life here is a true challenge for any individual, but one that most certainly will change your life, your perspective of the world, and what you thought you knew, forever.
– Interviewed April 2022