Life in Qatar depends on where you are from. It has its own perks, troughs, ups and downs. Some advice that in order to enjoy living in the emirate you should open up your mind and be prone to changes in your habits and hobbies. Life in Qatar can also be a very thriving experience if you know how to make the most of it. After all it is a world-class travel destination with millions of tourists who flock to Doha, its capital, to see international performances or to attend seminars by global leaders.
Qatar boasts an excellent geographic, as well as strategic, location. It is located in the west of the Persian Gulf and borders the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to the south, Saudi Arabia to the south and west, Kuwait to the north and Iran to the east. Qatar's shape is a peninsula encircled by water from three directions, except for one - its natural border with Saudi Arabia. The emirate is one of the major hubs for economy and world trade and it has been influencing international trade since the 1990s. Qatar is connected with the Arabian Peninsula through a sizable stretch of land and with the world through great harbors and two international airports - Doha International and the newly opened Hamad International (HIA).
Qatar has mild winters that only last for three months. Summers in the gulf emirate are cruel and unbearable with temperatures rising above 46 C (more than 114 F). But, in general, you can enjoy the beach throughout the year. Dust and drizzling rain envelop Qatar during changes of seasons. However, windy and dusty conditions abate to allow for showers during winters. Overall, dreary weather is normal in Qatar.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Qatar is generally expensive. Since the country imports almost 90% of its foodstuff, as well as other commodities, you will have to pay more to get your favorite organic spinach or your creamy tofu. However, one of the perks of import/export industry in Qatar is that you will find everything you need, from a needle to the rocket, as they say in Arabic. So, take a deep breath and enjoy.
Qatar is endowed with an established construction industry. The country has many residential areas. However, those are concentrated in urban Doha with fewer scattered in the south. If you want a two-bedroom villa in a suburban residential compound, you will have to pay up to 12,000 Qatari riyals (current change 1QR=0,25€); however, if you opt for a high-rise apartment in West Bay or the Pearl (Qatar's sole man-made island), then you will have to add QR1,000 in exchange for a beautiful coastal view overlooking the Persian Gulf.
The country has one of the cheapest health insurances in the world. Many employees are eligible to receive health insurance from their employers. However, residents can apply for a health card for a QR100 fee that guarantees them to be part of the insurance provided by Qatar's Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). Qatar is also in the process of introducing an insurance umbrella that will cover all citizens and expats automatically under the name Seha, or health in Arabic. But things are going at a slow pace, although the first phase that covers only Qatari has already been completed. Admittance to emergency and maternity sections is free of charge, although you need to show your health card to the clerks and nurses to enjoy the free service.
Most people will say to you that driving in the emirate is like hell. Perhaps they exaggerate, but you need to see it for yourself. For example, try to drive your car at the weekend (Fridays and Saturdays) and you will find cars on the highway bumper-to-bumper. It's always difficult to find a parking space in Doha; however, you find some parking lots outside shopping malls - although some charge by the hour. Anyhow, since Qatar is very small and its streets are generally narrow, don't expect to have many spaces for parking.
Most schools in Qatar apply the British curricula. National schools are also in the process of being integrated with either the British system or the American diploma. In addition to schools and kindergartens, Qatar has top-notch universities; such as the Weill Cornell Medical School and Texas A&M. It also has one of the biggest educational communities in the region. It funds many scientific researches and expeditions due to the boom in oil money. Education in the emirate is very costly, if you take into account transportation, uniform and private tuition fees.
Qatar has a very good residence system. If you live in GCC countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, you could apply for a visa upon arrival at HIA. If you are coming from an EU country or from the United States, you could obtain a permanent visa in just one or two months. Most employers apply for change of visa on behalf of their employees in three months from their arrival.
Economy in Qatar is generally booming thanks to oil money and natural gas discoveries in the gulf. Having said that, job opportunities are not abundant just like the case in the UAE or Saudi Arabia because the country is small. In general, salaries are big and they are tax free. This serves as a pinpoint for expatriates who want to leave their homeland and come here to enjoy the financial boom in most sectors.
Qatar has a sharp contrast in its population of 2.8 million. You have the citizens who are a minority but they are the wealthiest in the country. You have the Western expatriates who are somewhat better-off. You also have in the bottom the laborers who serve you and who literally build Qatar and contribute to its construction boom, from the Indian cab driver to the Filipino maid to the Nepalese worker in the Laundromat. Let us not forget other expats like Arabs and North Africans who witnessed a sharp drop in the last two years as their job opportunities are dwindling on a year-to-year basis.
Let us not forget that it is a Muslim country with a very strict dress code. Qatari women wear black abayas with their heads, and oftentimes their faces, covered. Men wear white gowns and a headscarf known as ghutra. Qatari society is now campaigning for modest dress code among expats. Besides, if you are a man, a Qatari woman will not shake hands with you so please do not take offense. If you are a woman, a Qatari man may or may not shake hands with you. Showing affection in public places is not advisable, especially if your partner is not your spouse.
The transportation system in Qatar is still in its baby steps. If you opt for a taxicab, you could wait for 5-10 minutes to find a taxi driver according to traffic. The public transportation system used to be a state monopoly until recently. The state operator of Karwa taxi and buses, Mowasalat, privatized the taxi license which resulted in the inauguration of four official private taxi companies, including Al-Ijarah and Al-Million Taxi. Besides, there are a number of unofficial taxi operators and Limousine services. Bus stops are not frequent and you have to wait for 30-45 minutes for a bus.
There is always a lot of traffic in the morning due to commuting, so plan your journey 1-2 hours ahead. Try to avoid driving, or being driven, on feasts like Eid ul Fitr, Eid ul Adha, Qatar National Day, and Qatar National Sports Day. Interestingly, Christians only recognize Christmas and they are outnumbered in Qatar; so expect no congestions during the holidays.
The country is planning to initiate its metro system. The project includes three lines that will cover the entire Doha, in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosted in Qatar. However, so far the system is not fully integrated.
Alcohol was forbidden a few years ago in Qatar. A year ago, the emirate started to grant its expatriate population licenses to drink. Also, expats can obtain a license to shop at Qatar's only alcohol shop, QDC. According to the Qatari law, an expat has a limit of 10% of his or her salary to spend on alcohol. At the QDC, you could also shop for pork. Moreover, most five-star restaurants have license to sell alcohol.
Qatar has a long coast line that extends from Al-Wakrah in the south to the Pearl and Al-Khor in the north. Sea activities include, but are not limited to, paragliding, swimming, diving and fishing. These can be practiced throughout the year. Social activities are also abundant like get-together meetings for singles and women. Some get-together gatherings are conducted in coffee shops such as Starbucks.
Qatar is a dominantly Muslim country. The official religion is Sunni Islam, which is the religion of its citizens as well as many Arabs and non-Arab expats. There are small numbers of Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Muslim Shiites. Qatar is very tolerant toward other religions. The state has built a huge religious complex in Barwa village. It serves many Christian denominations like Orthodox, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Catholics.
Arabic is the official language of the state and it is widely spoken among citizens and expats since some newcomers are eager to learn Arabic and consider it fun. English is also widely spoken in governmental institutions, shopping malls and gathering places. Hindi and Urdu are mostly spoken by the Indian and Pakistani populations which are growing rapidly.
Qatar has a well-connected network of landlines and cell phones provided by the state operator, Ooredoo (formerly Qtel). The corporation has worldwide presence in Burma, Morocco, Iraq and Kuwait. Ooredoo also provides cable TV and Internet using high-speed fiber-optic cables. It is a little bit pricey, though. The other provider is Vodafone Qatar that boasts a steady growth and comparatively cheap prices for its Internet service. However, if you want a landline, a cable TV and a fast Internet connection without hurdles or service interruption, or even service denial, you should opt for Ooredoo's Mosaic bundles of 1 Mb, 10 Mb, and 20 Mb.
The country also has many cell phones retailers who boast their top-notch handsets for a relatively good price compared to other MENA region like Egypt for instance. You will find all the latest models from IPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy 6, to Blackberry Passport with its trademark widescreen display.
There is another provider of cable television, OSN, or formerly Dubai-based Showtime. OSN provides real-time coverage, brand-new entertainment shows and online viewing for a prepaid package of approximately QR5,000. So, sit back on your couch and relax.
Qatar's history dates back to 10,000-8,000 BCE. The earliest map of Ptolemy shows the tiny figure of Qatar as Catara, a name given to the ancient people of Qatar, probably to denote their love of water. In mid-18th century, the ancestors of the current ruling family, Al Thani, settled in northern and northwestern parts of Qatar. However, they then moved to Doha and Mohamed Al-Thani established modern Qatar. Ruins of Zubara citadel is a sightseeing phenomenon for many nowadays, along with many archeological sites scattered on the flat beige terrain of Qatar.
Qatar also boasts a huge amphitheater with advanced Dolby sound system in its surroundings. This is where all major and popular operas and ballets take place, like Verdi's Aida or Korsakov's Scheherazade. The huge complex of theaters is called Katara Cultural Village, as a reminder of the heritage of Qatar and as a link between the glorious past of the small nation and its booming future.
If you have an eye for Mother Nature, you can visit the scattered tiny islands to the north, such as Halul, and collect shells. Alternatively, perhaps, you can drive, or be driven, to the far north to sneak a peek at the dugong. Qatar has the second largest population of this sea mammal outside Australia.
If you have the stomach for a cultural retreat, do not miss annual events in Qatar's National Convention Center (QNCC) or Qatar Foundation; such as ARC 2014 (Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference).
The previous panoramic view gave a brief description of how to spend your time in Qatar by introducing many wonderful places where you should enjoy be hanging about. However, in the midst of the hectic life of Doha, residents tend to forget about their health and forget exercise, ending up with a couch potato physique. If you are scared of this image, get up and subscribe to any of the outstanding gymnasiums across Qatar. All gyms in Qatar provide a comprehensive bodybuilding program under the supervision of a skilled trainer. With flexible hours, you can go to the gym 3-4 times a week. Moreover, do not forget to eat well and always be moderate with food and exercise. Have a very pleasant stay in Qatar!