Expats moving to Qatar will experience an independent and modern nation on the Arabian Gulf, with beautiful beaches and a breathtaking desert landscape. Arabian culture and religious tradition are still prevalent in everyday life, offering most foreigners an interesting contrast to their home country.
Located at the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar has a population of about 1.9 million, 70% of which live in the capital. Its big expatriate community makes up a major part of the population.
However, for expats used to a cooler climate, moving to Qatar also means facing the subtropical, often humid, weather. In summer, temperatures can rise up to 50°C, making life outside unbearable. Fortunately, public buildings, shopping malls, hotels and indoor sports facilities are all air-conditioned.
Expats often find work in the petrochemical industries, as well as the gas and petroleum sector. After all, revenues from oil and gas account for more than 50% of its GDP and make it the country with the highest per capita income in the world.
The government is trying to invest in non-energy sectors too. However, with its vast oil reserves, it can continue its usage and export for decades to come at its current speed, creating and maintaining work opportunities for expats moving to Qatar.
Qatar’s high GDP and small population allow the country to finance social insurance programs without demanding any financial contributions from its citizens. Unfortunately, expats moving to Qatar are not eligible for these services and have to rely on company benefits or private insurance.
Expats from Western countries are sometimes surprised to encounter a political system very different from what they may be familiar with. Qatar is an absolute monarchy. Its power currently lies with the Al Thani family and is passed on to a male heir after consulting all members of the ruling family.
The country’s legal system is based on codes of Islamic and civil law. However, when compared to other Arab countries, expats moving to Qatar will find that their new home is relatively liberal. A good example is the sale of alcohol, which – although strictly forbidden by Shari’a law – has been tolerated since 1995, albeit in limited quantities only.
In Qatar, public transport is still relatively new and rather limited. Buses cover about 35 routes, offering passengers a cheap mode of public transportation.
Most expats and Qataris, however, prefer to use their car to commute. This means they don’t have to wait in the hot sun. However, with plans for future air-conditioned bus stops and reasonable fares, buses may become more attractive soon.
While rental cars are comparatively cheap and easily available, driving in Qatar is somewhat of an adventure. This is especially the case if you are used to more moderate traffic conditions. Although the Qatari government is trying to implement stricter traffic rules, accidents remain very common.
Those who prefer not to throw themselves into the country’s crazy traffic often use taxis as a popular alternative. It is best to build a personal relationship with a few good taxi drivers soon after moving to Qatar, who will be happy to hand out their number and pick you up when needed.
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