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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 as well as new arrivals in a variety of 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 sector, IT, construction, business and tourism.
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 open to commuters.
Luxury housing and 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 have the option of state-subsidised healthcare if they don’t prefer private options. 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. Having said that, expensive housing, exclusive education and imported foods mean the cost of living in Qatar is decidedly steep.
Expat families and children
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 excellent 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 also 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, and 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.
Population: About 2.88 million
Capital city: Doha (also 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. Across the Persian Gulf to the northeast is Iran, 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 portion of the peninsula is made up of sand salt flats. The coastline is emergent and gently slopes toward the sea. Many flat, low-lying off-shore islands are located near the coast and are accompanied by coral reefs. Because of the salt water which comes into contact with the low lying land, many salt pans have formed along the coast.
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 law 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. Expats can easily open a bank account in Qatar with the correct documents. 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 for exceptional service and journeys by taxi, a charge may be rounded up.
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 triangular pattern – type D) are used most often.
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 often 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.
►Weigh up the Pros and Cons of Moving to Qatar
"We’ve enjoyed the hospitality of the Qatari people, and the quality of life is superb. I have delivered three kids in Qatar and progressed in my career. I have been able to accomplish more than I thought I was capable of." Rima has over a decade's experience of expat life. Read more in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
"Don’t let someone else’s opinion of Qatar cloud your own impressions. Try to focus on the positive things. Don’t be in too much of a rush to make friends – it will come." Velvet is a Australian expat living in Qatar. Read about her experiences in her interview.
Are you an expat living in Qatar?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Qatar. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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