Living in Qatar: Best and Worst Bits

Expat life in Qatar

Qatar is seldom out of the news these days, which may be why it’s garnering so much interest from would-be expats.  Whether it’s positive headlines about the Middle Eastern state’s incredible emergence and development in just a few short decades, or disturbingly shocking headlines about migrant worker deaths, Qatar has a lot of stories to tell.

Ask expats who already live and work in Qatar about what life’s like and you’ll likely end up with an equally mixed bag of reactions.  The living’s good and easy if you look at base line salaries – but it can be frustrating and restrictive when you consider residency rules and cultural differences…

So, if you’re wondering whether living and working in Qatar could be right for you, and you’re interested in reading a summary of Qatar’s best and worst bits, read on.  We also have further Qatar resources, referenced at the bottom of the report.

Qatar is becoming an expatriate hotspot: it’s estimated that up to 500 new expats arrive in Doha’s airport every single day.  So, living in Qatar what are the best and worst bits that an expat can expect to experience!

The Best Things About Living in Qatar

1) Income is earned tax-free – this can make any expat salary go an awful lot further!  What’s more, expat employment packages often include health insurance, money towards education funding and even a flight back home once a year.

2) Qatar is relatively liberal – women can drive, you can buy alcohol for at-home consumption if you have a licence approved by your employer, you don’t have to adopt Muslim dress (although you have to dress ‘modestly’ and ‘appropriately’), and married expat men and women can both sponsor spouses and children depending on which one has been offered a job in Qatar.  This makes living in Qatar easier for British expats compared to living in some other much stricter Arab/Muslim destinations such as Saudi Arabia for example.

3) The weather and the combination of that and air conditioning are beloved by most expats – particularly those from northern climes!

4) Expats in Qatar have a good social life and are generally (there’s always the exception!) supportive of fellow expats.  This can mean you make firm friends fast, and are eased into and through any of the more challenging aspects of your new life as an expat living in Qatar.

5) The sovereign Arab state is a great place to explore – rich in history and culture.  Additionally, because of its geographic location it’s a great place for expats to be based if they want to explore the likes of northern Africa and the Middle East too.

The Worst Things About Living in Qatar

1) The cost of living is high!  According to the latest stats, a lack of housing in the state’s capital city of Doha has lead to double-digit increases in rental rates being charged in the latest quarter of 2013.  Add to this the fact that 90% of Qatar’s food is imported and you have a firm basis for a very high cost of living!  This can eat into even the most handsome salary package.  Expats are advised to make themselves fully aware of the cost of living before negotiating a salary so that they ensure their income will meet their lifestyle aspirations.

2) You have to cut through sometimes complex bureaucracy and red tape to get a residency visa to allow you to live in Qatar – and then you also have to have permission to leave!  All foreign residents are sponsored – usually by their employer – and your sponsor is responsible for granting you an exit visa too.  This can make some expats feel like virtual prisoners in Qatar as they are not free to come and go as they please.  In practice the restriction doesn’t usually have any bearing on daily life – but as a concept, having to ask permission to leave is unpalatable for a lot of expats.

3) Driving in Doha is more dangerous than any expat can comprehend until they experience it.  The streets are literally lethal because of the horrific driving style in Qatar.  What’s more, public transport is overburdened and few expats utilise it, taxis are in high demand and not always pleasant to use, and the only reliable way to get around is by your own means.  However, drivers drive offensively and aggressively and there is nothing any expat can do to get around it.

4) International school places are in very, very short supply and this can mean that some expats relocate with their children and are left in limbo for a long time with their children having to be home schooled for example.  Additionally school fees are high – especially if you’re not used to having to pay school fees!

5) Some people say that Qatar is a poor pretender compared to Dubai.  It certainly doesn’t have as good a social/night scene, it’s harder to get hold of alcohol, (something many expats have an issue with), pork is difficult to procure, (again, some people have issue with this), and everything Doha does, Dubai does better.  If you think you’re getting in on a new and emerging Dubai, think again.