A great deal has been written and published widely about moving to live in Dubai, but much less is known about what it’s really like to live as an expat in Qatar.
The sovereign Arab state is following hot on Dubai’s heels in some senses, for example, the numbers of new expats arriving daily in Doha is on the sharp increase, and Qatar is becoming known as a destination where expats can earn a very decent salary and have a high standard of living.
However, because less is known about what it’s really like to live in Qatar, some newly arrived expats really struggle to adjust to the realities of life so far away from home. In this report, we’re going to share 7 top tips from British expats who are already settled in Qatar, and who have been through everything you’re enduring right now!
The good news is that the lifestyle achievable for every member of the family is high. The bad news is that bureaucracy and rules change so often that any advice relating to visas, healthcare, education etc., needs to be rechecked for validity often! Beyond this summary, however, there is an awful lot to get to grips with.
1) Don’t bank on your family being able to live with you in Qatar…
If you’ve been offered a well-paying job in Qatar, giving your career a much-wanted boost and offering you the chance to get ahead, chances are there’s a part of you that wants to jump at the opportunity. However, before you do you need to know that if you have a partner and/or children, they might not be able to accompany you on your assignment.
If you’re unmarried you won’t be able to live with your partner, and your children won’t be able to accompany you if you’re not married to your partner either.
Additionally, a recent change to visa rules has seen cases of women who have been offered a job in Qatar being refused when they apply to sponsor their families to join them.
If you’re going to be earning less than 10,000 Qatari riyal (which is just shy of £2,000) a month you’re not allowed to sponsor your family to join you either.
And finally on this point, because of the hard work and complexity associated with sorting out multiple visas for an entire family, some companies won’t offer family visas until their employee has been with them for 3, 6 or even 12 months.
In summary, therefore, before accepting a job offer to Qatar ensure you can sponsor your family, or ensure that you and they can endure a period of enforced separation. For some, this is an unpalatable reality.
2) The residency process isn’t that bad!
Looking at the residency process on paper it seems complex and unfathomable. The good news is that the reality of it is not that bad. And because the numbers of expats arriving every day are somewhere in the region of 500, government departments and associated offices are getting better at the smooth processing of paperwork.
Don’t stress about the residency process. You will find it’s a smooth – albeit dull – experience! Expect to have tests for tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV and be fingerprinted – and expect to have to produce every single piece of paperwork you can think of from marriage and birth certificates to bank statements and rental contracts.
Get the agreement in writing in advance from your sponsoring company that they will walk you through the process, and assist your family in the same way if/when they join you in Qatar.
Finally, if you do find you’re on your own and having to go it alone, just ask any expat you meet to help you! Everyone who wants to remain beyond a visit visa has to go through it, and so they will be able to tell you where to start. After that, each step is a logical one, and you’ll find you get through it!
3) Getting your child into school could prove very, very difficult so have a plan B.
If you want to make money, go and open a really good international school in Qatar – you will be full before you’ve even laid the foundations! Private international school places are in short supply, waiting lists are long, fees are high and competition is so intense some families planning on moving to Qatar fly children in and out for mandatory assessments well in advance of their relocation to ensure their child has a school place for when they move to Qatar.
You will need to be acutely aware of the challenges facing you if you want to get your child into school – any school – let alone the best school…
Having a plan B is critical – from homeschooling to sending your child to boarding school in another nation, or even leaving them (and your spouse) back home to remain at their current school.
Qatar is aware of this issue – expect to see more international schools opening their doors in years to come. But in the interim, the problem is a serious one, and it is reportedly affecting many expats’ choices about whether they should move to Qatar or not.
4) The much talked about compulsory health insurance scheme is not in place…yet. But it will be!
Whilst Qatar offers free healthcare to all who register, it is a system under strain, meaning that all who can afford to have insurance in place instead. But this can be very expensive!
Additionally, the Qatari government has plans to introduce a compulsory health insurance scheme – and whilst it hasn’t come into play yet, it will. This means that all companies will have to offer some form of health insurance scheme for all employees.
You need to be aware of this because you need to ensure that your company will pay towards medical expenses/health insurance in the interim otherwise you could face a massive bill if you want to insure your entire family.
Additionally, it will be worth asking your company what their plans are with regard to the soon-to-be-mandatory health insurance scheme. Just make sure you and your family’s health are covered before moving to Qatar because other than for very minor ailments, the public, free health scheme shouldn’t be relied upon by expats.
5) You will need an international driving license to drive in Qatar.
Whilst you can rent a car for a week, if you’re in Qatar for longer you’ll need an international drivers license – and then if you’re applying for residency, you will have to get your Qatari driving license.
This, of course, results in more paperwork and bureaucracy – but that’s truly the least of your worries. Getting around Doha is very stressful and dangerous.
The public transport system is overburdened, taxis are scary and can be unpleasant, and the roads are quite literally lethal.
Britons often joke about the bad driving on the continent in Paris or Rome for example, but until you’ve seen Doha’s roads in rush hour you’ve yet to see the true reality of horrifically dangerous driving.
There is no way around this issue. Be prepared. The only good thing about Qatar’s roads is that there is a zero drink-drive tolerance.
6) The cost of living can eat up even the most attractive expat salary
Almost everything in Qatar costs more than you think it will – with perhaps the exception of petrol. As most food is imported a lot of it is expensive, alcohol (where it is available) is expensive, rent is expensive, school fees and insurance are expensive!
If you possibly can, come to Qatar for a week or so before accepting any job offer – then you will get as good an idea of what things cost before negotiating your expat salary package.
Some employers factor in things like school fees, a rent allowance, a single flight home once a year and so on…but some don’t. So, don’t sell yourself short – make sure you negotiate a very good salary in order to enjoy a decent standard of living and have some leftover to save.
7) Finally, don’t think you can just come and go as you please.
One of the biggest shocks for some expats is that they can’t just leave Qatar when they want to. They can only leave with the permission of their sponsor – which is invariably the company they are working for.
This means that you can’t decide you hate your job and flee, you can’t leave behind a failing expat experience on a whim and leg it home, and more worryingly perhaps, should an emergency arise back in the UK for example, you can’t necessarily sort your exit visa out quickly enough to enable you to attend to any issue.
Discuss the policy your employer has in place regarding this issue. For some they are granted a multi-exit visa, for others they have access to an emergency contact should they need an exit visa at short notice.
Don’t leave this issue unexplored.
To conclude, Qatar can be a fantasist place to live, work and bring up children: it certainly offers many expats significant career breaks and salary prospects. However, it is a destination that presents many challenges.
If you’re the sort of person willing to roll with it and adapt and explore, Qatar could be a great posting.
If on the other hand, you like an easy life similar to that which you enjoy in the UK for example, Qatar could be a step too far.
Consider an exploratory visit ahead of a commitment to relocate.