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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to Qatar

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  • Juan Garcia

    The Persian Gulf is a long way from home, so I was especially glad to discover this super expat community for Doha.

Relocating to Qatar

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.

Qatar’s Economy

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.

The Political System

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.

Getting Around Qatar

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.

Visa Requirements for Qatar

Those entering the country via Qatar Airways may be able to receive a 14-day tourist visa upon arrival at the airport. This applies to tourists from over 33 countries, including the USA, Canada, Germany, and Iceland. However, for most expats moving to Qatar a tourist visa is not sufficient. Additionally, changes to visa regulations can occur on short notice. Make sure to always check with your airline and/or embassy for up-to-date visa information.

Business and Work Visa for Qatar

Expats who visit Qatar for meetings or to set up a business can enter the country on a business visa. A Qatari company should organize this visa, which is valid for two weeks and may be extended for another two weeks.

However, most expats do not travel to Qatar for short visits but in order to live and work there. Before entering the country, they may need to get police clearance from their home country, also referred to as “Certificate of Good Conduct”. The employer in Qatar then arranges for their work visa and residence permit to be processed. Before a visa is approved it has to be reviewed by the Ministry of Interior.

Family and Visit Visa

In Qatar, foreign workers can sponsor their family as soon as their work visa and residence permit are in place. As this process can take some time, many expats go ahead and arrange for their family to follow once everything has been organized.

To apply for their family’s visas, expats have to visit the Expatriate Affairs and Unified Services Centers. They have to turn in their completed application form together with all relevant documents:

  • Approval letter from work
  • Bank statement documenting their salary for the last six months
  • Marriage certificate
  • Children’s birth certificates
  • Education certificates
  • Passport photos

Spouses and children can stay in Qatar for up to six months on this visit visa. However, other relatives may stay for up to three months. Please remember that this visa is only valid for an initial period of one month and must be renewed afterwards.

Exit Visa for Qatar

All expats need an exit visa before leaving Qatar. They need the permission of the sponsor, and sometimes even an additional guarantor agreeing to repay all of the applicant’s debt if necessary.

The Qatari government offers an online service to submit all application forms. However, applicants may also complete their forms the old-fashioned way. This may be helpful for expats who are not fluent in Arabic. As the application should be in Arabic, those expats may want to find a translation service.

Women and children can be sponsored by their husband or father and do not require an exit visa. The government agency responsible for this kind of visa is the Al Gharaffa Immigration Department. Several visa application forms are also available for download from the Ministry of Interior.

Mandatory Health Check

Expats should use the first weeks of their stay to get their medical checkup. It usually includes a blood test and a chest x-ray.  In the end, fingerprints are taken, and the applicant has to pay a fee. The medical checkup is supposed to ensure the patient does not have any communicable diseases and is able to do the work they have been assigned. For this checkup, expats must visit the Doha Clinic on Al Mirquab Al Jadeed Street.

While most expats undergo the checkup after arriving in Qatar, some have to get their medical clearance before entering the country. This applies only to expats from certain countries, such as Saudi Arabia or Oman.

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  • Juan Garcia

    The Persian Gulf is a long way from home, so I was especially glad to discover this super expat community for Doha.

  • Amarilis Castillo

    I loved the InterNations expat gatherings in Doha, and I hope we'll have another opportunity to meet up at 'La Villa' or the golf range.

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