Once home to a thriving pearl industry and largely associated with its expansive desert landscapes, Qatar has nevertheless managed to blossom in this arid terrain and is emerging as a major global player.

Situated on the Arabian Peninsula, the emirate – especially its rapidly developing capital city of Doha – continuously surprises its residents and new arrivals in various ways.

Living in Qatar as an expat

Driven by gas and oil, this small emirate has emerged as a powerful player in the global economy, boasting one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Skilled expats have little trouble securing work in Qatar, particularly in the booming petrochemical, IT, construction, business, and tourism sectors.

Not long ago, Qatar had a poorly organised public transport system, but today, it has transformed its infrastructure and is expanding its roads, railways, and metro system. Driving is still preferred, but is no longer the only option for commuters.

Luxury housing, shopping malls and various amenities help residents cope with Qatar’s extreme heat, including well-maintained air-conditioning and swimming pools in expat compounds. That said, accommodation is expensive, and expats should negotiate housing allowances with their employers if possible.

Qatar’s healthcare system is generally excellent, and expats who don't prefer private options can use state-subsidised healthcare. Both systems are cutting-edge, but expats should consider health insurance if they choose the private route.

Cost of living in Qatar

More and more expats are incentivised to work in Qatar, saving money in a tax-free environment while enjoying a good standard of living. The 2024 Mercer Cost of Living City Ranking places the capital, Doha, at 121st out of 226 cities surveyed, placing it well below other major cities in the region, such as Dubai and Riyadh in the UAE. Having said that, expensive housing, international education and imported foods mean the cost of living in Qatar is decidedly steep.

Families and children in Qatar

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. There is a wide variety of schools in Qatar, and the standards are generally exceptional across the board, but they can be expensive, especially international schools.

With an interesting mix of nationalities, religions and cultures alongside Qatari citizens, expat families can look forward to an emirate that emphasises culture and offers many interesting sights and occasions. Family trips to Souq Waqif or one of the many yearly festivals are good fun and perfect opportunities to integrate into local culture.

Climate in Qatar

Qatar is a hot, arid country and expats should be prepared to make some adjustments. The desert climate offers many potential health risks, such as sunstroke and heat exhaustion. The most pleasant months are during spring (March to May) and autumn (October to November). The mild winters (December to February) usually bring a few inches of annual rain; during this time, the desert can be chilly.

Qatar can be a great destination, and the expat community is large and welcoming. Making connections is not difficult and can ease the relocation process, helping new arrivals overcome any initial culture shock.

Fast facts

Population: About 2.7 million

Capital city: Doha (also the 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. Iran is across the Persian Gulf to the northeast, 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 portions of the peninsula are made up of sand salt flats. The coastline is emergent and gently slopes toward the sea. Many flat, low-lying offshore islands are located near the coast and are accompanied by coral reefs. Many salt pans have formed along the coast because of the salt water that comes into contact with the low-lying land. 

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 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. With the correct documents, expats can easily open a bank account in Qatar. ATMs are widely available.

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

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 triangle – type D) are used most frequently.

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 typically 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.

Expat Health Insurance

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Cigna Global Health Insurance.

Moving your family abroad can be intimidating, but learning about medical options such as family health insurance early on can help you settle successfully.

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