Moving to Qatar: A Relocation Guide for New Expats
The small but wealthy Middle Eastern country of Qatar has become an increasingly popular destination for expats from around the world. Drawn by Qatar’s rapidly growing economy, high salaries, and tax-free incomes, many professionals in fields like energy, aviation, and construction make the move each year.
However, adjusting to the culture and climate of this conservative Gulf country takes preparation and research. This guide covers key factors to consider when Moving to Qatar, including visas, housing, schools, employment, transportation, and daily life for expats.
Getting a Residence Permit
The first major step for Moving to Qatar long-term is securing the proper visa and residence permit. The main options include:
- Work visa – Requires employer sponsorship and issuance of a work permit. Valid for length of employment contract.
- Family visa – For dependents of someone working in Qatar. Spouses and children under 25 qualify.
- Investor visa – For business investors spending significant capital in Qatar.
- Student visa – For those enrolled full-time at a Qatar university or school.
You’ll need to provide documentation like passport copies, health checks, police clearance certificates, education credentials, and proofs of relationship for family members. Processing times range from 2 weeks to several months.
Import Regulations and Customs
Most personal effects like furniture, clothing, appliances, and household items can be imported duty-free when moving to Qatar. However, there are restrictions on items like electronics, luxury goods, and alcohol.
New items still in boxes can incur customs duties. It’s best to ship used personal belongings only. A relocation company can advise on import regulations and required documents like a detailed inventory.
Prohibited items include drugs, weapons, pornography, pork products, and religious literature contrary to Islam. Failure to declare prohibited items can lead to their confiscation and fines.
Finding Housing in Qatar
As a major expat destination, Qatar offers diverse housing options to meet any preference and budget. Rental rates vary significantly based on location:
Compounds with amenities like pools, gyms, and restaurants are popular with expats but cost more. Standalone villas also command premium rents but provide privacy.
Apartments are cheaper but can feel cramped. Having an agent help with your housing search is useful for negotiating contracts and payments. Be prepared to pay five percent of annual rent upfront as a deposit.
Healthcare and Insurance
Qatar provides high-quality healthcare through its network of public HMC hospitals, private clinics, and international facilities. Health insurance is mandatory for expats in Qatar.
Public HMC hospitals like Hamad General cater mainly to Qataris and low-income expats. Wait times can be long. There are also private clinics that expats must pay for out-of-pocket or via insurance.
Insurance plans range from basic emergency coverage to comprehensive premium policies covering complex care like cancer treatment or medical evacuation. Employers usually provide health insurance.
Schools and Education
Doha is home to dozens of K-12 international schools following various curriculums like British, American, IB, and Indian. Average tuition ranges QR 35,000 – 75,000 annually.
Top picks include Compass International School, Doha College, American School of Doha, and Park House English School. IB programs and STEM focused schools are available too.
Admissions are competitive so research and apply early, up to a year in advance. Most expats choose international schools to align with education in their home countries.
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Working and Employment in Qatar
Qatar’s economy depends heavily on its oil and gas reserves but also has major industries like aviation, construction, and financial services. Unemployment rates are very low.
Popular fields for expats include engineering, healthcare, education, aviation, and management. However, Qatar has a sponsorship-based employment system. Foreign employees must have a Qatari sponsoring employer.
Self-employment, freelancing, and remote work for foreign companies is restricted. Understanding Qatar’s hierarchical business culture and showing deference to superiors is also key.
Daily Life and Culture in Qatar
As a conservative Islamic society, Qatar has cultural norms that expats should respect, like modest dress and avoiding public intoxication. Nonetheless, locals are welcoming and friendly to foreigners.
Making friends often happens through work colleagues or groups related to hobbies like sports, arts, and volunteering. Doha has a growing foodie scene with global cuisines.
Activities like dune bashing, desert camping, boating, and shopping at markets like Souq Waqif are popular on weekends. Parks and beaches provide recreation during the hot summers. Qatar is very safe with little violent crime.
Banking, Finance and Taxes
Opening a Qatar bank account is essential for payment of salary, bills, and everyday spending. Banks like QNB, Commercial Bank, and HSBC cater to expats by offering accounts in various currencies.
Groceries, utilities, transportation and housing are relatively affordable compared to other Gulf states. Restaurants and hotels can be pricey. Qatar has no personal income tax, making disposable income higher.
Be sure to show your residency visa when opening accounts, signing contracts, and making major purchases in Qatar. Some benefits are only for legal residents.
Transportation and Getting Around
While Qatar is small geographically, its road infrastructure is excellent. Owning a car is almost essential given the limited public transport options and hot climate.
Drivers licenses from some countries like the UK, USA and Canada can be converted rather than retaken. Be prepared for aggressive local driving habits like tailgating, speeding, and improper passing.
Public buses are mainly used by migrant workers. Doha recently opened an metro system that provides an air-conditioned option to avoid traffic. Taxis and ride shares like Uber are ubiquitous in cities.
Moving with Family
Relocating with children or spouse takes additional planning but Qatar offers amenities to support families like:
- Family friendly communities in compounds or neighborhoods like Al Sadd
- Parks, beaches, malls with entertainment like Villaggio Mall
- Education and recreation options for kids and teenagers
- museums and attractions like the Corniche, Katara Cultural Village, and Aspire Park
Networking with other expat families through schools or groups helps navigate family life abroad. Take advantage of activities that make relocating an adventure.
Women Moving to Qatar
Some conservative restrictions apply to women moving to Qatar. While local norms are shifting, familiarize yourself with:
- Dress code – Shoulders, knees and midriffs must be covered in public, not just mosques
- Social scenes – Bars and nightclubs are largely male domains – seek expat groups
- Romance – Qatar prohibits cohabitation and intimacy outside marriage
- Workplace – Professional Qatari women have good opportunities but some expats encounter bias
Resources like the Women in Doha Facebook group and Expat Woman can provide advice. Overall, expatriate women enjoy a high quality of life in Qatar.
Wrap it up
Moving abroad comes with hurdles to overcome. But Qatar offers lucrative benefits like tax-free incomes, modern amenities, and cultural adventures that appeal to many. Connecting with fellow expats provides invaluable insider tips for navigating life as a “Qatari.” With an open mind and spirit of understanding, Qatar promises memorable experiences.
Q: How much does it cost to live comfortably in Qatar as an expat?
A: Expect to budget about QR 20,000-30,000/month for housing, transport, food, entertainment etc. for a family.
Q: What are typical working hours in Qatar?
A: Government entities work 7am to 2pm Sunday to Thursday. Private companies are usually 9am to 5pm, Sunday to Thursday.
Q: Can I bring my pet dog or cat to Qatar?
A: Yes, pets are allowed but you must obtain an import permit in advance and show vaccination records upon arrival.
Q: Is it difficult for expats to purchase property in Qatar?
A: Yes, ownership of freehold property is generally limited to Qataris only. Expats usually rent.
Q: What are the best ways to meet people and make friends in Qatar?
A: Through work, joining clubs related to hobbies, places of worship, volunteering, and attending community events.