Expat Guide To Living in Qatar

Qatar

Qatar is a magnet for expats looking to boost their career opportunities and bank balances working in the oil and gas industries. The tiny Gulf state has a seemingly endless desert, pristine beaches, an abundance of exotic wildlife – and no taxes.

Take a trip to the coast or explore the dunes, and you’ll see flamingos, oryx, and falcons, with the seas lapping the sandy beaches home to thousands of bright species of fish, sharks, rays and coral.

Doha, the capital, is a loud, colourful city with a 2.4 million population – almost the entire Qatari population – and the host of the World Cup 2022

Fast becoming a financial hub, there are international expats here from around the world, including more than 8,000 Brits.

Living costs are low, salaries high, and substantial investments in the infrastructure mark Qatar as one of the most exciting places to live in the Middle East.

As an Islamic country, the laws are conservative, but the array of landscapes, food, culture and beautiful neighbourhoods lend a spacious and relaxed air even in the sweltering summers.

This guide to living in Qatar provides invaluable insights into the best places to live, finding work, and what daily life is like for expats in Qatar.

Why Move To Qatar?

The top reason most expats move to Qatar is for work. 

Qatar packs a financial punch that stretches way beyond the country’s small size tanks to vast oil and natural gas reserves lying beneath the desert.

The income per capita is among the highest globally, and the lifestyle these riches buy makes Qatar an extraordinary place to live.

The Qatari lifestyle for expats

Qatar is a sublime mixture of Arabic heritage and modernity. 

Qataris love luxury, and the breakneck speed of developments in Doha means that there are signs of lavish living everywhere you turn.

Vibrant nightlife, exceptional dining, respected museums and a thriving theatre scene are all part of everyday life in the capital.

While the police and clergy enforce strict Islamic laws in Qatar, they don’t necessarily apply to expats. 

Alcohol isn’t widely available but not banned if you’re a non-Muslim and aged over 21. However, you do need to remember that it’s illegal to be drunk in public.

Many gated residential communities, with spacious villas and apartments, often have bars and restaurants where expats don’t need to comply with the conservative laws.

Women need to dress modestly in public, but the law doesn’t require a traditional abaya headdress. Qatar is tolerant of all races, religions and faiths.

Note that you cannot wear swimwear at a public beach since the decency laws extend to all public spaces. However, wearing skimpy swimwear is OK at a pool in a private complex.

Costs and safety in Qatar

Qatar’s living costs are low compared with many developed countries and cheaper than many others in the Middle East. 

The lack of income tax also means that take-home pay is higher than the UK average, so that you have more bang for your buck on the same salary.

Qatar is a safe place to live, and the regime is all about stability and safety. The police here are evident and maintain low crime rates that are well below global averages.

Healthcare and education

The national language is Arabic, but English is the unofficial second language. Even if you only know a smattering of Arabic, you can get by without much difficulty.

Expat children attend international schools, and there are more than 65 private educational institutions in Doha, with a wide range of choices and fee structures.

Given the popularity of Qatar as a destination for expat families, there are often well-paid teaching roles in these international schools.

Healthcare standards are high, and the national health insurance scheme means that Qataris can access cheap treatment. However, waiting lists are long, so expats usually purchase private health insurance if their employment package lacks the benefit.

Visas And Residency For UK Expats In Qatar

Qatar has several different visa categories. The best options depend on why you are moving to the country and how long you wish to stay. 

Expats need tourist visas for short trips, but British nationals can pick them upon arrival or apply online in advance. 

The Hukoomi service is the Qatar e-Government portal, and you can verify your visa requirements with a simple search function.

Residence visas for Qatar

If you want to settle in Qatar for the long term, you’ll require a residency visa. Permits cover:

  • Family residence
  • Educational residence
  • Real estate visas
  • Return visas

For any of these permits, you’ll usually need to apply online and then complete some of the extra bits of paperwork on arrival, such as providing your passport for verification.

Applicants for residency must have a sponsor, either an employer in Qatar or a family member earning above a certain threshold.

Alternatively, they can be a property investor with a letter of reference.

You need to remain in Qatar while your visa is switched to a residence permit.

Family residence visas 

Family residence visas are for working expats who want to bring their family to Qatar, providing their employer acts as a sponsor for the duration of the work contract.

To bring family members to live with them in Qatar, expats will need:

  • At least six months of Qatari employment.
  • Their own valid Qatar ID.
  • A residence visa sponsored by their employer.
  • Income of at least QR10,000 a month (£1,983).

Education visas

Study visas are free, provided the applicant has a letter of invitation from an approved school, college or university in Qatar.

Real estate visas

Property investors can apply for a resident permit and will need:

  • A valid passport.
  • Proof of property purchase from a local real estate agent.
  • Certificate of good conduct.
  • A medical exam.

Return visas

Unlike many countries, Qatar has a return visa and an entry visa system managed by the Ministry of the Interior.

If you want to leave for over six months and then re-enter, you will need a return visa, even if you’re a resident.

From the sleekest of skyscrapers to palm-fringed beaches, there are some incredible places to live in Qatar. 

Most expats choose to live in Doha, with luxury shopping malls and the blue waters of the Gulf Sea within easy reach. However, if you like culture, you can enjoy plenty of museums, restaurants and events, including the Qatar Open Tennis tournament.

Some of the best expat neighbourhoods are:

  • West Bay, which has many contemporary apartments in high-rise blocks and sumptuous private villas. West Bay is an expensive Doha neighbourhood, home to lots of excellent hotels and fine dining experiences
  • Al Waab is excellent for families. It’s a little quieter than some neighbourhoods but still close to shopping malls and entertainment. New developments are opening all the time. Local international schools and green spaces are ideal for children.
  • Abu Hamour is popular with younger expats and professionals looking for a livelier place. However, there are still a few prominent international schools nearby, while you can explore the vast Safari Mall and several open-air markets

Outside Doha, you won’t find as many UK expats, but foreign nationals do move further out, particularly if they need to live close to a regional hub in the oil or gas industries.

Al Rayyan is about 10 kilometres from Doha and a peaceful suburb with Education City home to Carnegie Mellon and Georgetown university campuses.

Umm Said is on the eastern peninsula, about 45 kilometres from the capital, and a commercial centre with oil refineries, steel manufacturing and petrochemical plants. There are some fantastic beaches, but it’s primarily an industrial zone.

Cost Of Living In Qatar

Qatar is a cheap place to live, and given the lack of income tax and low-cost government utilities, it’s an affordable country. 

Petrol is cheap, but some groceries are becoming more expensive as western brands become more popular.

Overall, Qatar is 41 per cent cheaper for consumer goods, and restaurants are around 76 per cent less expensive than in the UK.

However, rents are high depending on where you wish to live; the most exclusive neighbourhoods in Doha are pricey and reach a third higher than in the UK.

Here is a list of general living costs, with the average in Qatar compared to the British standard.

ExpenseAverage Qatar Cost (QR)Average Qatar Cost (£)Average UK Cost (£)
Rent per month for a one-bed city centre apartment5,479 QR£1,092£750
Rent per month for a three-bed non-central property7,073 QR£1,410£964
Monthly nursery fees2,751 QR£548£931
Annual private school fees35,942 QR£7,166£13,157
Monthly gym membership395 QR£79£31
Monthly broadband323 QR£64£31
Litre of fuel1.71 QR£0.34£1.26
Monthly public transport pass150 QR£30£65
Loaf of bread5.01 QR£1.00£0.98
Cup of coffee17 QR£3.39£2.75
Meal for two200 QR£40£50

The average monthly net income is 11,329 QR, or £2,259, compared to £1,951 as the British average.

Getting Around In Qatar

People in Qatar tend to avoid walking given the heat, mostly travelling on buses or taxis for everyday trips.

The bus network runs from Doha throughout Qatar, managed by the government organisation Mowasalat. You can check the timetables and routes on the Mowasalat website.

Taxis are also popular, and you can flag one down on the street or queue at a taxi bay at the nearest hotel or shopping centre.

There are several taxi firms – the most popular are Careem, Uber and Karwa. 

Expats can download an app for any of those carriers and book a taxi online. 

You also have the option of using the Qatar Integrated Railways Project with four metro lines in the capital, a tram route to West Bay, and a high-speed line to Lusail.

For flights, the only option is Hamad International Airport, but domestic flights aren’t available given that the country is only 563 kilometres coast to coast.

Driving in Qatar

The other transport option in Qatar is to hire or buy a car. Driving itself is simple, as Qataris drive on the left, and nearly all vehicles are automatic.

However, the traffic in Doha can be heavy, and the jams are notoriously chaotic.

It’s also essential to remember that rude behaviour is an arrestable offence, so it’s wise not to try driving if you’re prone to annoyance or road rage.

You can use a British driving license for up to a year but should apply for an International Driving Permit before arriving in Qatar. Then, after 12 months, you must apply for a Qatari permit, which involves a theory and practical test.

Qatar has speed cameras, so while it might feel like the locals drive recklessly, expect a fine if you go over the limit.

Other road hazards include sandstorms, roaming camels and the glaring sun, so it’s only advisable to drive if you’re very confident.

Finding Work As An Expat In Qatar

To move to Qatar and take up a job, you’re going to need a formal employment offer in place to begin the visa application process. In addition, you’ll need a residency permit and an employer to act as your sponsor.

Expats need a temporary visa to travel, and then the rest of the formalities are sorted out in person.

You can move with your family, but the same employer will need to help with an annual renewal process.

Most expat roles in Qatar require at least a university degree, although there are often vacancies in specialisms with alternative qualifications, such as:

  • Lawyers and solicitors
  • Doctors
  • Teachers

Foreign workers need to bring their qualifications and have them notarised by the Ministry of External Affairs.

Several recruitment agencies offer UK expat jobs in Qatar, so the best place to start looking for work is online – try:

You can use job fairs and networking events to scout out potential career opportunities.

Businesses in Qatar also use local newspapers such as the Gulf Times and Qatar Tribune for advertising positions

Education In Qatar

Just about every expat in Qatar lives in the capital Doha, so most schools are based in the city.

Bear in mind that Qatar is a small country with a huge expat population, and waiting lists for the best schools are long.

Public schools are free but challenging for expat children. Teachers segregate boys and girls while lessons are in Arabic. 

International schools in Qatar offer a wide range of opportunities for every age group. Popular schools include:

Some start from kindergarten through to IGCSEs or International Baccalaureate exams, whereas others cater to smaller age groups.

Costs of private international schools can be steep – but they teach in English, follow the UK, American or IB curriculums, and tend to be of a very high standard.

Average costs are from QR 29,000 to QR 80,000 a year (£5,763 – £15,899).

Culture And Laws In Qatar

It’s best to get to grips with a few social norms and etiquette to live in an Arabic country, given how vastly different the culture is from that in the UK.

While social inequality is still an issue, the government has introduced sweeping social welfare reforms and accessible healthcare, alongside housing grants and subsidies to help lower-income families, so things are changing.

However, it remains illegal to be a gay man in Qatar, and if convicted, sentences can include a three-year prison term and a fine.

Campaigning or protesting for LGBT rights is not permitted, and same-sex marriages are not legally recognised.

A few other things to be aware of include:

  • Alcohol is not illegal in Qatar for non-Muslims, although there are only a few licensed bars where you can drink – most are international hotels.
  • It is unlawful to be drunk in public, but given that most bars are found in expat zones or residential communities, that isn’t a commonly policed offence.
  • During Ramadan, most restaurants will close, and you shouldn’t eat or drink in public between sunrise and sunset, even if you aren’t Muslim.
  • If you’re single, the rules for men and women to meet in public are strict. For example, you can’t meet without a chaperone and only date a Qatari if you intend to marry them.

Most expats in Qatar live in residential compounds. That means that you’ll usually socialise primarily with other foreign nationals, but if you put in some effort to learn a little Arabic, it can be a great way to meet locals. 

Be mindful that you should never point your finger, but use your palm to gesture, and religious law forbids touching between men and women. 

Body language is a big deal here, so it’s wise to be careful about hand signals, raising your eyebrows and raising your voice; all can mean something other than perhaps you intend.

Clothing in Qatar is conservative, and women should always avoid revealing clothes and cover their shoulders and knees. 

Rules around dress apply even to beaches, but the resorts and hotels are far more flexible, and bikinis and swimming costumes are permitted.

Expat Guide To Living in Qatar FAQ

Is Qatar safe for British expats to Live?

Although many British expats think that the Middle East is volatile, Qatar is safe. 
 
Crime rates are low, residential compounds have excellent security, and you’ll see numerous guards in all the public spaces.
 
The only risk is the traffic – accidents are common.

What language is spoken in Qatar?

The official Qatari language is Arabic. However, given the country’s colonial history, you’ll find that English is the second most common language and is widely used in international businesses.
 
It’s worth learning some basic Arabic to make friends and get around; you can give a warm welcome to your new neighbours using Hala, a casual hello.

Can British expats buy property in Qatar?

You can buy a property in Qatar as a foreign national, and the government is loosening some of the previously strict rules to encourage expat investment in the country.
 
Most UK expats purchase a home in The Pearl, Al Khor, Lusail or West Bay Lagoon, all offering freehold residential homes.

How easy is it to get a Qatari Residence Visa?

Applying for a Qatari residence permit is complicated if you’re trying to do it yourself. 
 
If you are applying for a work permit, you’ll need a confirmed job offer, whereby the employer acts as your sponsor. 
 
That means the process is pretty simple. Employers are familiar with the residency permit application process, and they’ll deal with most of the paperwork.
 
The cost for a residency permit is QR1,000 a year (£199).
 
You’ll need to travel to Qatar on a single-entry visa and then remain there while the documents are processed.
 
Expats moving to Qatar will need to have a medical exam, provide their fingerprints, and undergo checks to verify their identity and background. 

How long does it take to get to Qatar from the UK?

You can fly to Qatar directly from London Gatwick or Heathrow airports in just under seven hours.

Below are links to other country specific expat guides:

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