Living in Qatar

The State of Qatar is an Arab emirate in the Middle East, occupying the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeasterly coast of the larger Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south; otherwise the Arabian Gulf surrounds the State. A gas-rich nation, Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the world, and Qatar’s wealth and standards of living compare well with those of Western European States. More than 100 nationalities live and work in harmony in the country of 1.5 million people.

Qatar Foundation was established in 1995 by the Father Amir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. They shared the visionary idea that the future of Qatar lies in unlocking the most precious resource of all: human potential.

Today, Qatar Foundation supports Qatar’s implementation of Qatar National Vision 2030 and its unique national journey from a carbon-based to a knowledge-based economy. We are unlocking the human potential of the people of Qatar with groundbreaking initiatives in Education, Science and Research, and Community Development that will equip the people and the country with the knowledge and tools to develop their nation.

Most people, who move to Qatar, find that the slower pace of life makes for much better quality of life.

They are able to spend more time with their families and explore new opportunities that might not otherwise have presented themselves.

The historical Qatari lifestyle is still evident in Doha’s museums, traditional souks, parks and deserts, but the city has imbibed much from the rest of the world in terms of the variety of food, sports and leisure, and entertainment options that are available.

If you are new to Qatar, take some time to get familiar with the traditions and history of the country.

Things to know about work visas if you have an employment offer

Obtaining a visa to work in another country can be quite tedious and will require patience. There are many steps in the process and key documents will need to be made available to prevent delay. We’ve compiled this list of useful information to help you prepare for the application process.

Step 1. All non-nationals entering Qatar for work purposes must be sponsored before being allowed in the country.

Step 2. Your employer will act as your sponsor and is responsible for filing all paperwork with the Ministry of Interior for your visa and residency permit.

Step 3. Prior to coming to Qatar, your educational documents (degrees, diplomas and certificates), marriage certificate and official police clearance will need to be attested by your domestic Foreign Affairs office and the Qatar embassy in your home country.

Step 4. You will be issued a temporary Entry Visa (to be provided by your employer) that will allow you initial entry into Qatar.

Step 5. Workers entering Qatar on an Entry Visa will be required to remain in Qatar until the Residency Permit (RP) or Residence Card is issued. RPs can take up to six weeks for issuance.

Here’s a list of documents that you should have prepared prior to travelling:

  • Offer letter from employer signed and dated
  • Valid Passport
  • All educational documents (degrees, diplomas and/or certificates)
  • Official police clearance
  • Marriage certificates
  • Medical records if you have any medical conditions

Now that you have your employment letter and on your way to Qatar, let Commercial Bank of Qatar help you settle in faster with a bank account for expats who are new to Qatar. This unique account designed specifically for Expats has a simple application process and will provide you with a host of benefits to help ease your transition to life in Qatar.  You can set up your account before arriving and transfer funds to your account from your home bank so that you have money on arrival.

Getting setup in Qatar as an expat

Your company should now apply to the Ministry of Interior for a single entry visa, which will be your temporary residence visa once you arrive.

Your company’s PRO officer is authorised to handle the application process from start to finish.

Approval takes 4-8 weeks and your company will send you a copy of the scanned entry visa or you can print a copy from the Ministry of Interior website. The Immigration Officer atHamad International Airport will stamp your passport with the corresponding visa, which he/she will have on their system.

This entry permit will let you start working, but your employer should immediately start the process of obtaining your work/residence permit.

You will need the following:

  • Copy of passport
  • Copy of highest educational certificate/degree, authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Qatar Embassy in your home country. Please note that you will need an Arabic translation of this certificate, done either in your home country or here in Qatar – usually your PRO will undertake handling the translation if you intend to get it done here.
  • Police Clearance Certificate from the country of the passport you are entering on, authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Qatari Embassy of that country.

If you are in Qatar already, you may be able to attest the document at your Embassy and the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The standard immigration procedure for obtaining a residence permit is divided into the following stages:

  • Medical Check: A blood test for HIV and TB and a chest x-ray.
  • Fingerprinting: Once your medical results are published online, your fingerprints must be taken by the Criminal Evidence and Investigation Department (CEID).

Your company’s PRO should make the necessary arrangements and appointments.

  • Residence Permit and ID card: Your company’s PRO will apply for these through the Immigration Department.

Getting your RP takes about 2-6 weeks and you cannot leave Qatar before then.

Expats earning over QR 10,000 per month can now sponsor their family’s residence visa. Attested marriage and birth certificates will be required.

Your employer must ensure that your contract is attested by the Ministry of Labour. Contracts should specify the job description, working hours, salary and any benefits that the employee is entitled to. The Arabic version of the employment contract governs employment and business arrangements as per Qatari law.

It’s impossible to get a residence permit in Qatar without an employment contract and a local employer to act as a sponsor. Employees may work only for their sponsor. After two years with the sponsoring company, it is possible to change sponsors if granted a no objection certificate. Residents (except the spouse or children) always require an exit visa to leave Qatar.

Banking

You can begin your banking procedures before you arrive in Qatar. When you pickCommercial Bank as your financial services partner, you can easily open your bank account before you land and even have your debit card and mobile SIM card waiting for you. All Commercial Bank needs initially is a copy of your passport. In order to assist you with your early expenses in Qatar while you settle in, you can apply online and your account will be set up in just a few days. Once your Commercial Bank account is set up, you can transfer funds into your account, so you have immediate access to money during your first few weeks in Qatar, with the assurance that your transfers are safe and secure with us. Once your account is activated and money has been deposited in your account you will receive a debit card which will allow you to pay for goods and services at all retail outlets in Qatar and gives you access to cash at over 126 Commercial Bank ATMs as well as ATMs of other banks. Your Commercial Bank debit card is also your ideal travel partner, giving you the ability to shop at over 27 million outlets and transact at over 700,000 ATMs worldwide.

You can open a current account with Commercial Bank for your everyday banking needs, including a chequebook. You can set up a sole account or a joint account and manage your finances via mobileInternetbank branches and ATMs. You can also open your savings account with Commercial Bank and earn interest on your money with our various savings accounts. You can set up a sole account or a joint account and grow your savings while still having instant access to the funds.

Commercial Bank’s Sadara Privileged Banking brings qualifying individuals a range of preferential services and benefits. Sadara customers receive priority service round-the-clock, access to Sadara Lounges, personal financial advice, and exclusive offers, all coordinated by a Personal Relationship Manager. Sadara Privileged Banking is subject to qualification criteria of QR 25,000 monthly salary for Qataris (35,000 for Expats) or QR 350,000 total deposits balance or QR 400,000 in loans and total deposits.

Hospitals and Healthcare

Expats can choose between public and private healthcare. A Qatari Health Card entitles you to receive low cost treatment at well-equipped government health facilities.

Your company may offer you private medical insurance. Qatar has many private facilities offering a full scope of medical services.

Schools

September is when most international schools begin their new academic year but securing school places is always difficult.

Schools in Qatar follow a wide spectrum of curricula: British, American, French, Indian, International Baccalaureate as well as Lebanese, Egyptian and so on.

You may have to go on a waiting list for the school you want but with expats leaving all the time, there’s always a chance of getting a place.

Most public schools have separate schools for boys and girls while private and international schools tend to be co-ed. The majority of schools use English as their medium of instruction.

If you decide on home schooling, the Doha Home Educators network can help get you started. If you have children with special needs, these groups can help you with your queries.

Family visas

You can bring your family out to Qatar to visit you on a short-term Family Visit Visa that is valid for one month.

This visa can be extended to a maximum of six months for immediate family members. In order to get an extension, family members who wish to stay longer than one month have to undergo a medical examination within 72 hours of arriving in Qatar. Other relatives can extend their stay to a total of three months.

Here are the steps you need to follow in order to apply for a Family Visit Visa:

  • Complete the application form, which can be foundhere
  • Attach a copy of your Qatar ID, passport (with Visa page), along with a copy of the applicant’s passport
  • Attach a letter from your employer stating your salary and position in the company
  • Supply copies of marriage and / or birth certificates, as required, to show proof of relationship
  • Attach a copy of your rental lease, as proof of where the applicant will be staying while in Qatar. If you are on your spouse’s sponsorship and the rental lease is in your spouse’s name, then you will need to supply a marriage certificate to show proof of relationship and
  • Carry at least eight passport photographs of each applicant with you. Most visa applications require at least six passport photographs.
  • Submit the application to the Ministry of Interior’s main immigration office. This is located just west of D-Ring Road on Al Luqta Street.

Applying for family residence visa If you’re thinking about bringing your family out to Qatar to live with you, you will need to arrange for residence visas for them. If your monthly salary is over QR 10,000, your spouse and/or children are eligible for Family Residence Visas, under your sponsorship, once your residence visa and Qatar ID card have been issued.

Before you begin the application process for Family Residence Visas, check with your employer to see if they make provision for these. Employers are not obliged to process or pay for Family Residence Visas, but some companies do take care of this process as part of their policy.

One of the things to be aware of when applying for visas is that male children aged 25 years and over are not eligible to be on either parent’s visa; there is no age restriction for daughters, as long as they are not married.

There are certain simple administrative steps to follow when applying for Family Residence Visas. Your employer will usually take care of these administrative steps, so please check before you get started:

Your family can enter Qatar on entry visas.

They must then undergo the medical test and have their fingerprints taken.

The application for residence visas is only made after the medical tests have been completed.

The application process takes up to six weeks.

Spouses who wish to work, require special dispensation (in the form of a work permit) in order to be able to work while in their spouse’s sponsorship. This work permit is issued by the Ministry of Labor’s Employment Department.

When applying for a Family Residence Visa, you will need to prepare the following documents:

A completed application form

A letter from your employer, stating your position in the company and your monthly salary

Six months’ worth of bank statements

Copies of all family members’ passports

If you have adopted children, statements of adoption as well as reasons for adoption will be required

Copy of your marriage certificate; this document will need to be notarised by your country’s embassy in Qatar, as well as Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Copy of your children’s birth certificates; these documents will need to be notarised by your country’s embassy in Qatar, as well as Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Copy of your electricity bill to show proof of address

 

Things to remember when making your application:

The application must be filled out (typed) in Arabic. This can be done at a translation centre

You must have a Qatar ID before you apply for residence visas for your family

While you will only need to leave copies behind, you will need to show all originals at the time of application, so please be sure to bring all original documents with you (including bank statements)

You must earn at least QR 10,000 in order to be eligible to sponsor your family

If you work for a government agency, your employer’s letter stating your position and salary, will need to be approved by the Ministry of Civil Service Affairs and Housing

If you are a GCC national, and your wife is of a different nationality, and you would like to bring her to Qatar, you will need a no-objection letter from your country approving your marriage to a foreigner

Once you have all the paperwork in order, you will need to make the application for Family Residence Visas to the Ministry of Labor’s Department of Employment for approval.

Working in Qatar

Most expats find that working in Qatar involves a surprisingly smooth transition. Foreigners make up most of the population and English has largely replaced Arabic as the language of business. Despite its distance from home, the Qatari workplace can feel eerily familiar.

Colleagues and clients from all over the world mean that the business culture in Qatar is eclectic. However, cultural norms from different countries might clash when it comes to things like communication styles, and Arabic work culture is very different to the West.

Expats should educate themselves about doing business in Qatar but shouldn't expect too much to happen too quickly. Being patient, sensitive and aware of the effects cultural differences can have on office life will help smooth the transition.

Job market in Qatar

Whereas most of the corporations luring expats to the peninsula used to be in the petrochemical sector, the Qatari monarchy has stressed economic diversification and growth in other industries.

Construction and real estate continue to grow and massive amounts have been invested in improving infrastructure and the tourism sector in anticipation of the FIFA World Cup. This means that the number of foreigners is expected to keep increasing as the expat job market expands.

Working in Qatar is not without its challenges. The salary packages are attractive and tax-free living is tempting, but employees in Qatar work notoriously long hours to earn their riyals. Some companies even enforce a one-and-a-half day weekend, instead of the regular two days.

Finding a job in Qatar

Most expats don't need to look for a job in Qatar because they have already secured a position or were transferred from overseas. The difficulty in getting a Qatari work visa without a host sponsor is a large factor in limiting the amount of unemployed foreigners in the country.

Still, it shouldn’t be too difficult for foreign hopefuls with the right qualifications to get a job, especially if they have experience in the construction, oil and gas industries.

There are not that many local recruitment agencies and the best job-hunting tactic is often for expats to present their CV personally, and to get networking. Vacancies can also be found in the daily Gulf Times and Peninsula newspapers; otherwise, international recruitment agencies are a good option.

Changing jobs in Qatar

One of the downsides to working in Qatar is the fact that changing jobs can be difficult. Employment contracts in Qatar often have clauses that ban employees from starting a new job in the country without first leaving for six months.

Some employers feel these rules are justified because they invest time and money bringing foreign workers into the country. It is possible to work around these stipulations but an expat would need the full support of their employer. Even then it may be necessary to exit the country while applying for new sponsorship.

Expats wanting to switch jobs will need a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their current employer and need to make sure that their new employer is willing to sponsor them – it is illegal to be in Qatar without a formal sponsor.

Working hours in Qatar

The work week in Qatar runs from Sunday to Thursday but hours vary between companies. Working hours in Qatar aren't usually negotiable and expats in senior positions should expect to work overtime and on weekends.

Banks, schools and government agencies often favour beginning and ending the day early, running from 7.30am to 3.30pm. Shops and trading companies may opt for dividing their day between 8am to 1pm, and 4pm to 7pm. On the other hand, corporations and small-business owners may enforce a more standardised work day from 8.30am to 5.30pm.

Moving guide: 10 things to know before relocating to Qatar

Doha Airport’s arrivals terminal is not somewhere I like to linger for long. An estimated 500 new expats walk through its doors every day, making it a stage for intense public drama – both long-awaited reunions and the dawning of years of separation from loved ones.

My first week in Qatar is a permanent fixture in my memory, ineffectually filed under “try to forget”. Emerging from the airport into an oppressively sticky Doha night, I was at the centre of an emotional storm: overjoyed to be reunited with my husband, from whom I’d been separated for several months, but also desperately homesick and disorientated. I cried every day, at least once.

I was woefully underprepared. We only had a week to decide whether my husband should take the job offer – a not uncommon expat scenario. What little I did know about everyday life in Qatar, I had gleaned from the internet. Unfortunately, my forays into web forums and blogs produced fragmented information that baffled or worried me, sometimes both at the same time.

Luckily, a friend had moved out here a year before, and she filled in the yawning gaps. But not everyone is so lucky, a fact reinforced by the number of prospective expats who find my articles online and get in touch, all armed with the same basic but vital questions.

So, I thought I’d put together a list of some common areas of concern, and provide what answers I can. This information is provided with two caveats: firstly, that limited space means I can’t include everything; and secondly, that because administrative procedures alter constantly here, the information below will not hold forever.

Family visas

Firstly, not all expats are allowed to bring their families with them to Qatar. Only those earning more than 10,000 QR (£1,775) a month are able to do so, and recent rule changes mean that some women employed by private companies are finding that their applications to sponsor their families are being rejected. If this happens, you can ask your company to appeal.

Couples must be married to live together in Qatar, and you will not be able to bring your children to live with you if you are not married to your partner. Successfully sponsored spouses and children are brought into Qatar on a special entry visa, and are then required to begin the residence permit process within one week, which involves fingerprinting and medical tests for tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV. Your sponsoring company should guide you through the process.

Some companies will only process family visas when an employee has been in Qatar for six months, meaning that families are either separated for this period, or forced to do “visa runs” to neighbouring countries. Check with your company whether this will apply to you.

Education

Qatar’s enormous expansion plans ensure a steady stream of professionals moving to Qatar every week, usually bringing young children with them. The country’s schools are full, and the best ones have long waiting lists. The headmaster of a prominent British school, DESS, tells me that many companies are now struggling to recruit professionals from overseas because there simply aren’t enough school places for their children.

If you’re lucky and have time to plan your move, apply for a place as soon as you can. Many schools only accept applications for a short period each year, typically in January. If you apply outside this window, your child is likely to be put on a waiting list. Almost all schools hold formal assessments for children of all ages (my son was recently assessed for pre-school – he was two at the time). Some families fly children into Qatar specifically for assessments, which can be worth it if you can afford to do so.

One piece of good news is that given the constantly shifting nature of the expat population in Qatar, school places regularly become free throughout the year. It’s a waiting game. Some families choose to home school while they wait for a place.

Many companies include a school fee allowance in their expat packages, so it’s worth clarifying whether this will cover fees before you accept any job offer. Fees for British curriculum schools in Qatar range from around 30,000 QR (£5,285) to 51,000 QR (£8,985) per child per year, but you can usually add at least QR 2000 (£350) for one-off registration fees, and most schools make a separate charge for applications and assessments, which is not returned if your child fails to secure a place.

Health

Qatar has a well-resourced state health care system, Hamad Medical Corporation, which offers free emergency treatment to everyone who registers - expats included. It is increasingly under strain, however, with long waits for treatment now commonplace. This means that many expats opt for private health care, which can be expensive, particularly for maternity care and complex operations.

So, check whether your offer includes health insurance for you and your dependants and if so, what exclusions it has. It should be noted that the Qatari government is in the process of introducing a universal health insurance system, meaning that every company will have to provide insurance for their employees.

Driving

Imagine dodgems, but with real cars, petrol and no rubber bumpers, and you’re imagining Doha in rush hour. Driving here can be a huge challenge, but it’s a necessity, as taxis are under pressure, the bus system limited, and the city’s ambitious plan for a metro system is years from becoming a reality.

Drivers who hold valid licenses from any country can drive a rented car in Doha for a maximum of a week. After that, you will need to have an International Driver’s License (IDL). This will keep you legal for up to six months. Beware, however – as soon as you receive your residence permit, your IDL will be void, and you have to apply for your Qatari driving licence immediately.

If you didn’t manage to get an International Driver’s Licence before leaving the UK, you can apply for a temporary licence in Qatar. This however is also only valid until your residence permit is processed. Conversion to a Qatari licence is straightforward for British licence holders (you just need to do an eye test) but some other nationalities, including US citizens, have to take a Qatari driving test before taking to the roads.

As an aside - if you’re frightened at the prospect of driving on Doha’s roads (most of us are) I wholeheartedly recommend taking defensive driving lessons.

Exit permits

Qatar uses the Kafala (sponsorship) system. This means that every expat employee brought into the country is linked to a single employer. In practice, this means that they decide when you are allowed to leave the country, even for emergency visits home.

How this is handled depends on the employer. Some allow high-ranking employees to apply for annual “multi-exit permits”, meaning that they are free to come and go whenever they please. Other companies, however, insist on individual applications for each trip. In some cases, this is handled well, with a 24-hour emergency service in place. Other employees are not so lucky. I’ve heard of people not being able to attend family funerals because their sponsor was on holiday when they needed permission to leave. For this reason, I recommend that you ask your prospective employer what procedures they have in place for emergency exit permits.

Women’s rights

To answer the two most commonly posed questions first: yes, I can drive, and no, I don’t have to wear an abaya (the full length black gown usually worn by Qatari women). I do however have to dress modestly, which, according to a grassroots campaign recently adopted by the Qatari Tourism Authority, means covering my shoulders, cleavage, midriff and knees. I have heard recently that government buildings have now introduced a stricter dress code requiring both men and women to cover up to their wrists and ankles, but this is not the norm.

Women under their husband’s sponsorship can enter and leave the country whenever they please, without the need for an exit permit. They are also able to work under their husband’s sponsorship, providing they register as a working woman with the authorities.

Accommodation

The cliché of an expat knocking around in a cavernous villa big enough for a football team is certainly a true one, but you’ll have to be prepared to pay for it. These days, an average four bedroom villa goes for at least 13,000 QR (£2,291) a month, with those in sought-after compounds renting for up to 18,000 QR (£3,172). Meanwhile, a two bedroom apartment in a glistening high-rise in West Bay or the Pearl, Qatar’s man-made island, will cost at least 12,000 QR (£2,115) a month. Unless your employer gives you a generous housing allowance, this sort of rental will eat into even the most appealing tax-free salary.

Cost of living

While we’re on the subject of that impressive salary - remember that you’ve got to live on it as well as save it. Aside from incredibly cheap petrol, many everyday goods are more expensive in Qatar than in the UK. Ninety per cent of the country’s food is imported, meaning that even basic foodstuffs can be pricey. And enjoying yourself in your free time can add up, too - the cost of entertainment and cultural pursuits rose a whopping 8.7 per cent last year alone. Also consider your annual travel costs. Although most employees are given a free return flight home every year, the cost of any additional flights will quickly start to bite. For example, one return economy flight to Heathrow with Qatar Airways costs around 4,000QR (£705) this June.

Alcohol

Although you won’t find booze as widely available here as in, say, Dubai, it’s still on offer if you know where to look. Most five star hotels have licenses, and they host several restaurants and bars apiece. There are also a number of members-only clubs, such as the rugby and golf clubs, which serve alcohol. Drinking at home is possible too. With their employer’s permission, residents can apply for an alcohol permit which allows them to shop in the country’s only off-licence, QDC. You can only spend 10 per cent of your basic salary on alcohol each month (which in practice is far more than we’ve ever needed). It’s worth noting too that Qatar has a zero-tolerance approach to drink driving.