Many come to the Middle East seeking the mystic, traditional life of the Bedouins, wandering the desert with their life's belongings on a camel's back. Although tradition is still an important part of the Qatari ethos, the country has well and truly moved into the twenty-first century with the piercing glass skyscrapers of Doha, a booming trade sector and a new-found place in international diplomacy.
- 1 Doha – capital
- 2 Al Khor – northern city with a population of some 36,000, close to Ras Laffan LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal
- 3 Al Shamal – this article covers the wider area of the northern municipality of Madinat ash Shamal
- 4 Al Shahaniyah
- 5 Al Wakrah
- 6 Dukhan
- 7 Mesaieed – industrial town south of Doha, and 25 km south of Wakra, with recreational activities on the coast, including the sand dunes of Khor Al Udeid (the Inland Sea)
- 8 Umm Salal Mohammed
- Zubarah - the ruins of a deserted city and a fort built in 1938 by Sheikh Abdu'llah bin Qasim Al-Thani
Qatar has the world's third-largest natural-gas reserves, behind only Russia and Iran. Its oil reserves are similar in size to those of the United States of America but will last much longer because its production levels are only one-sixth the rate of that country. By most accounts its people are the wealthiest in the world.
Because its Al Jazeera TV satellite networks broadcast throughout the globe in Arabic and English, Qatar is hugely influential in an otherwise very conservative region.
There is evidence that shows the Qatar peninsula had been inhabited by Bedouin and Canaanite tribes from as early as 4000 BCE. While the museum houses a variety of artifacts including spearheads and pieces of pottery, there is little left of the structures that may have once existed. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings north of Doha give some idea of how these tribes may have lived. More recently, some sandstone buildings and mosques were discovered, piquing the interest of archaeologists as they seek to discover what still lays beneath the sand.
Emerging out of ancient history, Qatar was dominated by various Western and Eastern empires. The Ormus used the peninsula as a trading post and military port, until the Portuguese were able to extend their rule over the region. Neighbouring Bahrain eventually annexed the peninsula, until rebel movements and British intervention again made Qatar independent. Under pressure, Qatar became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1871 before becoming a British protectorate at the close of World War I. After a brief stint as part of the United Arab Emirates, independence was declared from Britain peacefully in 1971.
Since then, Qatar has transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for its pearling industry into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues, which enable Qatar to have the highest GDP per capita in the world. Qatar has become deeply involved in world affairs under the royal family, offering support in peacekeeping missions and UN-mandated wars such as that in the Gulf in 1991. Qatar also plays host to various world conferences, including those of the World Trade Organisation, the UN Climate Convention and various mediation bodies. It leaped onto the world stage with the development of the popular Al Jazeera news network and expansion of Qatar Airways to most of the world's continents, and is rapidly gaining interest among foreigners as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup after already holding the Asian Games in 2006.
|Currency||Qatari riyal (QAR)|
|Population||2.6 million (2017)|
|Electricity||240 volt / 50 hertz (AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, BS 1363)|
|Emergencies||999, 112 (emergency medical services, police, fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Qatar is a peninsula that juts into the Persian Gulf. Most of the country consists of low barren plain covered with dunes. In the southeast of Qatar lies the Khor al Adaid, an area with sand dunes and an inlet from the Persian Gulf.
Qatar is an absolute monarchy headed by the emir, who is from the Al-Thani family. While the country has rapidly modernised under the leadership of former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, questions remain on the treatment of migrant workers from other parts of Asia, which many human rights groups describe as exploitative and slave-like. As in most other countries in the region, calls for reform and more democracy on the one hand, and a rising Islamist movement calling for a "purer" (i.e. more fundamentalist) interpretation of the Qur'an and Islam on the other hand, are a major factor in domestic politics.
Oil is a cornerstone of the Qatari economy; it used to account for more than 30% of GDP, roughly 80% of export earnings and 58% of government revenues. Proven oil reserves of 15 billion barrels should ensure continued output at current levels for at least the next 20 years. Oil and gas have given Qatar the highest GDP per capita by most studies. Qatar's proved reserves of natural gas exceed 7 trillion m³, more than 11% of the world's total, making it the third largest reserve in the world. Production and export of natural gas are becoming increasingly important. Qatar manages to post very high surpluses each year, and escaped the Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed.
In addition to the energy sector, Qatar also exports petrochemicals, cement and steel. Doha has a rapidly growing financial sector that is cementing itself as one of the centres of trade and finance within the Middle East. The Qatari government has also outlined its plan to boost tourism and media businesses on the peninsula, creating new sectors to further increase Qatar's profile. In addition, many foreign universities have set up outposts in Qatar, transforming Qatar into one of the main education hubs of the Middle East.
As result of its oil and natural gas wealth, Qatar provides its citizens with one of the world's most comprehensive welfare states despite not levying any income tax on them.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The climate of Qatar can be described as arid and unforgiving. In the summer, which runs from May through to September, the days are characterised by intense and humid heat, averaging 35°C but not unknown to peak at 50°C. In the winter, October to April, the days are much more bearable at about 20-25°C, with a nice cool evening down to around 15°C. If the heat is to be avoided, the best months to visit would be December and January.
Rainfall and storms in Qatar are extremely rare, forcing locals to retrieve water from newly-constructed desalination plants. However, huge sandstorms that envelop the peninsula are common in the summertime. These can be hazardous if not under shelter, and will descend the country into darkness as it blots out the hot sun above. There may also be disruptions to transportation and other services.
- Allen J. Fromherz, Qatar: A Modern History.
- Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud, The Corsair. A debut novel about 19th-century piracy in the Persian Gulf, and the very first novel by a Qatari author.
- Sophia Al-Maria, The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir. Written by a Qatari-American based in Doha, this is an entertaining account of a childhood spent trying to bridge the divide between Bedouin and American cultures.
Citizens of all European Union nations (except Ireland and the United Kingdom), plus the Bahamas, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Norway, Seychelles, Switzerland and Turkey are granted a free multiple-entry visa waiver on arrival, provided they arrive through Hamad International Airport, have a valid passport with a minimum validity of six months and a confirmed onward or return ticket. Visa waivers are valid for 180 days from the date of issuance, and entitle its holder to spend up to 90 consecutive days in Qatar.
Citizens of Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China (PRC), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Georgia, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, the Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela may obtain a visa waiver upon arrival in Hamad International Airport valid for 30 days from the date of issuance. This waiver may be extended for a further 30 days.
Citizens of Pakistan can obtain a visa on arrival valid for 30 days, provided that they hold a passport valid for 6 months, QR5000 in cash or a major credit card, and a confirmed return ticket.
Citizens of Iran travelling on business can obtain a visa on arrival at a cost of QR100 for a maximum stay of 6 days, provided they hold QR5000 in cash or a major credit card, return ticket, upper class hotel reservation and an invitation by a company that is certified by the Government.
Citizens of all nationalities who hold valid residence permits or visas for either the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Schengen Area, or the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council can obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation valid for up to 30 days. The visa may be extended online for 30 additional days.
Regardless of nationality, travellers who are in transit through Hamad International Airport do not require a visa if they depart within 24 hours and remain within the airport. Free transit visas, which are valid for up to 96 hours (4 days) and allow travellers to briefly visit Qatar, are also issued to all passengers of any nationality transiting through Hamad International Airport, provided that they travel with Qatar Airways.
For those needing visas, tourist visas are available online through the eVisa system. Visas are issued within four working days if all documents are submitted, and are valid for a stay period up to 30 days in Qatar.
For other visa applications, visa procedures can be complicated, as you will need a guarantor on the Qatari side, either a company or a government entity. Also Qatari embassies, unlike those of most other countries, are not entitled to issue visas, so someone in Qatar will have to file the application for you. 4/5-star hotels offer full visa service, for a price, if you book a room with them for the duration of your stay. Qatar Airways can arrange the hotel and visa for you, tel. +974 44496980 if you contact them in advance (a 7-day notice seem to be required). In this case, there also seems to also be a regulation in place (as of 2008) to either present a credit card or QR5000 at the point of entry - which should generally not be a problem, if you can afford the room. When booking with other hotels, you'll need a guarantor in Qatar.
For longer stays, visas must be arranged by having a sponsor. Unmarried women under the age of 35 will have a hard time in procuring a visa for a lengthy stay, as the country seems to fear that their safety and well being cannot be guaranteed.
Qatar is among the few Gulf states that officially accepts Israeli passports (with the necessary visas) and passports with evidence of visits to Israel.
Entry by air into Qatar has boomed in the last decade. Most people visiting the country will enter via Hamad International Airport (DOH IATA) near Doha. State-owned flag carrier Qatar Airways has secured a huge network of flights operating out of its hub in Doha to 124 destinations. In fact, it is of the very few airports in the world with non-stop services to all inhabited continents. Other major airlines also serve the airport, usually running a route between Doha and their own hub in the base country.
A taxi fare from the airport has a default tariff of QR 25.
By car (no longer possible)Edit
The only land route to Qatar is from Saudi Arabia. There are plans for a major bridge to link Qatar with neighbouring Bahrain, although these are constantly delayed.
Travel by car is not recommended. The roads between Qatar and other major cities/countries are poor. If you are travelling during the day, be cautious of speeding cars and trucks. Always wear your seat belt and do not speed over 50 mph (80 km/h). Travelling at night is risking your life, with poor visibility and semi-suicidal drivers.
By bus (no longer possible)Edit
You can travel to Qatar by bus from Saudi Arabia, there are fixed bus routes, within Qatar, although mostly used by men only. However, customs can take up to 4 hours especially at night. You will not be treated nearly as well as if you fly into Doha. Flying in costs only slightly more than a bus ticket.
Public transport comes in three forms in Qatar: buses, taxis and limousines, all of which are owned by government-owned Mowasalat (Karwa) apart from some private limousine companies. Within the capital, Doha, there's also a metro.
The bus service began in October 2005. Ticketing is handled using a Karwa Smartcard [dead link], which comes in three flavours:
- Smartcard Classic - Initial fee of QR30 with QR20 credit included. Journey prices vary, costing QR2.50 for a short ride. You must tap-in when you get on the bus, and tap-off when you get off to avoid a default QR30 penalty. Can be purchased in various retailers as listed on the Karwa website, but not on board buses.
- Smartcard 24 Limited - An initial fee of QR10 allows 2 trips on the bus (one return trip) within 24 hours of first tapping-in. You only need to tap-in, and should not tap-off. Can be bought on board the bus for travel in Greater Doha only.
- Smartcard 24 Unlimited - An initial fee of QR20 gives the user unlimited travel throughout Qatar within 24 hours of first tapping-in. Again, there is no necessity to tap-off. Can be bought aboard the bus.
A large number of routes criss-cross the country, with the network stretching north to Al Khor, west to Dukhan, and as far south as Mesaieed. Timetable and ticketing information can be obtained by calling +974 4436 6053.
By taxi or limousineEdit
The government-owned Mowasalat also runs the taxi and limousine service. The taxis are easily spotted due to their uniform light blue colour with a maroon top. The initial fare on the meter is QR 4, with an extra QR 1.20 per kilometre within Doha and QR 1.80 anywhere outside the capital. A trip to or from the airport has a single tariff of QR 25. To ensure you are not scammed, some precautions should be noted:
- For journeys within Doha the tariff should be set to '1', and those at night or outside of Doha should be set to '0'.
- Check the meter is not tampered; signs of a tampered meter include tape and strips of paper around the outside.
- By law, if a driver refuses to use the meter, the ride should be free.
- There are occasional reports of unruly drivers locking the taxi doors or refusing to open the trunk until extra payment is made. If such an occurrence happens to you, attempt to leave the car. If not possible, calling the police on 999 should cause the driver to become very cooperative.
The demand for taxis exceeds the supply and waiting times can vary greatly. Attempting to obtain one during morning business hours requires at least 24 hours notice, although even in practice this is unreliable, as the scheduled taxi often doesn't show up. At other times, it may take 90 minutes or more to get an on-call taxi, and hailing one on the street may be impossible much of the time. The only places where you are guaranteed to find a taxi are major malls, the airport and international hotels.
Taxis can be booked and summoned by calling +974 4458 8888.
An alternative to taxis and buses would be to use a limousine service, which will send an unmarked limo car to your location. They are expensive, but luxurious taxis with an initial fee of QR 20, but do not always feature a meter.
Occasionally, a local driver may offer you a lift if they see you waiting on the side of the road. It is customary to offer some money at the end, though usually they will refuse to take it. A driver offering a lift will slow down and flash their headlights at you; they can be summoned with a wave in response. Although the practice is safe, it is not advisable for solo women.
A metro opened in 2019 serving Doha and its suburbs. You can travel from point A to B for QR2 per person per trip or buy a day pass for QR6. However, if you are planning to use the metro very frequently, you can buy a metro card for QR30. Free metro link bus services are available from/to metro stations to/from nearby destinations. The metro opens at 06:00 and closes at 23:00.
You can hire a car for about US$20 per day with local car rental companies. Plenty of them are located at the airport and Doha city centre, or else ask your hotel for some advice.
Arabic is the official language of Qatar although the majority of residents do not speak it. Expatriate workers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines far outnumber native Qataris, particularly in Doha (where the proportion of foreigners is about 90%), many of whom have a very limited knowledge of Arabic. English serves as the lingua franca, and most Qataris speak it to communicate with the foreign workers who work for them. Among native Qataris, the dialect of Arabic that is spoken is the Gulf dialect. You may encounter foreign labourers speaking diverse languages such as Afrikaans, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog and Thai. While you can get by just fine in Qatar with only English under your belt, your hosts and any other locals you may meet will be very impressed and appreciative if you can recite a few basic Arabic phrases.
For a comparatively small peninsula in the Middle East, there is quite a lot to see in Qatar.
The history-seeker will not be disappointed, with an assortment of ruins, cave art and museums to keep the mind wandering. Most famous is the archaeological site of Zubarah, where there are the remains of what was once a thriving port city. An early 20th-century fort on the site still stands as a museum, a testament to a bygone era. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings in north-eastern Qatar are a remarkable site of 900 petroglyphs that are believed to date back to ancient tribes who inhabited the peninsula during the 15th century BCE.
A number of forts and towers exist around the country; most of them have also been restored as museums. The Barzan Towers stand at the edge of the town of Umm Salal Mohammed, erected to safeguard the country's rainwater basin. Another defensive watchtower stands in Al Khor. The popular Al Koot Fort is located in the heart of the capital Doha, with a wide variety of traditional handicrafts within. Others structures include Marwab Fort, Al Thughab Fort, Al Shaghab Fort, Al Rakiyat Fort, Al Wajbah Fort and the ruins of Al Yussoufiya Fort, Umm Al Maa Fort and Al Ghuwair Castle.
The National Museum is housed in an impressive "desert rose stone" shaped building. There are a number of other museums across the country that specialise in history. The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Al Shahaniya is the Sheikh's collection of relics, artefacts and art from Qatar, the Middle East and around the world.
Culture and traditionEdit
Nature and the landEdit
- The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
- Souq Waqif: the traditional old marketplace of Qatar. Has many good restaurants, especially at night time. Also sells many national products - bargaining is recommended. Closed from 12:30 until 15:30, although in practice most shops don't reopen until 16:00
- The Pearl: a man-made island connected to Doha by a bridge. You can find a big variety of restaurants and shops, mainly in the high range.
- Villaggio Mall: a spectacular Venetian style shopping mall with a canal and gondolas as well. A huge variety of shops from casual to luxury.
- Mathaf: The Arab museum of modern art
- Katara: "Cultural village" which is home to high-end international and Arab restaurants, a high-end shopping mall, a beach, an opera house, an amphitheatre, and an exhibition hall. It holds many cultural events. See the two small mosques.
- Aqua park: Aquatic Funfair.
- Qatar Mall: A huge mall with a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
- Aspire park: A park next to Villaggio mall, it is reserved for families only on the weekend, visiting in the winter months is recommended.
- MIA park: A park next to the museum of Islamic art, single people are allowed in, visiting in the winter months is recommended.
Qatar can be expensive (an espresso in National Library is QAR15), but it can also be very cheap (a good meal in a local restaurant is the same price). Touristy areas tend to be more expensive. Petrol is cheap.
Exchange rates for Qatari riyal
As of January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The national currency is the Qatari riyal, denoted by the symbol "ر.ق" or "QR" (ISO code: QAR). The riyal is pegged to the US dollar at the rate of QR3.64 to US $1. One riyal is divided into 100 dirham, with 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 dirham coin denominations. The riyal is available in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 banknote denominations.
It is fairly straightforward to change major world currencies within Qatar, along with the currencies of Bahrain, Saudia Arabia and the UAE. Rates are fairly similar between banks and moneychangers, with a large concentration of moneychangers near the Gold Souq of Doha. Banks are abundant across Doha, with branches in the larger cities as well. Travellers cheques are accepted by the major banks.
Qatar has many malls in which regular international brands such as H&M, Zara, and Mango. The biggest malls are Mall of Qatar, Festival City, and City Center. Middle eastern and local brands are also present
The pearl has luxurious brands from all over the world. It is the premium luxury shopping destination in Qatar.
Blue Salon has huge sales twice a year where you can pick up Armani, Valentino and Cerutti suits for half price. There are many things to buy here but be wary of cheap pearls that have a high possibility of being fake. The many skilled tailors in Qatar make it a good place to have clothes made-to-fit.
The souqs in the centre of Doha also have a lot to offer, although the goods are usually of cheaper quality than those of the malls. Prices are usually negotiable, so practice your bargaining skills. Souq Waqif (The Standing Souk) is the most interesting of the souqs; it has been renovated to look as it did 50 or 60 years ago. You can buy anything from a turban to a pot large enough to cook a baby camel in!
A great activity for tourists is simply to experience the nation's tradition. The traditional Qatari way of life was simple: Bedouin nomads wandering the desert with their camels, and fisherman scouring the ocean floor for pearls to trade. While these two lifestyles are mostly extinct on the peninsula, the government has taken some measures to preserve their traditions for future generations to experience.
Many tour companies run desert expeditions by both four-wheel drive and camel. Some may just be for the day, while others can go for up to a week with trekkers camping overnight in a Bedouin tent. The one day "dune-bashing" tours simply involve speeding over the desert's endless dunes in a Landcruiser.
The pearling tradition has existed as far back as 2000 BCE, when Mesopotamian records speak of shining "fish eyes" imported from the Gulf region. While the industry went bust after the discovery of oil, a large festival is held each year to celebrate the tradition. The Qatar Marine Festival in Doha often includes a huge sea expedition by various dhow boats to find oyster beds on the ocean floor. Other activities at the festival include a musical performance, a seal show, a sandsculptor's expedition and a water, light and sound show.
Many companies offer shipwreck diving for tourists, which can be organised from Doha. Popular diving sites include the man-made Old Club Reef and New Club Reef just out of Messaied, Qapco Reef, the M.O. Shipwreck and the Al Sharque Shipwreck.
Other popular watersports include kite-surfing, driving jet-skis, surfing and chartered fishing expeditions.
Qatar has seemingly endless options for food, much of it excellent. If you would like European cuisine in a fancy setting, visit a hotel like the Ramada or the Marriott, both of which also offer excellent sushi and the choice of having alcoholic drinks with your meal (the only restaurants in town that can do this are in the major hotels), but at a steep price. Authentic and delicious Indian and Pakistani food is found throughout the city, ranging from family-oriented places to very basic eateries catering to the Indian and Pakistani workers. You may attract some curious stares in the worker eateries, but the management will almost always be extremely welcoming, and the food is very inexpensive.
Middle Eastern cuisine is everywhere as well, and in many forms—kebabs, breads, hummus, the list goes on. It can be purchased on the cheap from a take-out (many of which look quite unimpressive, but serve awesome food) or from a fancier place, like the wonderful Layali (near Chili's in the 'Cholesterol Corner' area) that serves gourmet Lebanese food and has hookahs with flavored tobacco. Refined Persian cuisine is available for reasonable prices in the royally appointed Ras Al-Nasa`a Restaurant on the Corniche (don't miss the cathedral-like rest rooms).
Traditional Qatari food is very hard to find in restaurants, and largely confined to the homes of locals. If you have Qatari friends, being invited to their homes is generally the best chance you'll get to sample the local cuisine.
Don't be afraid to venture into the souqs looking for a meal; it will be a unique experience in an authentic setting, and although some of the places you see may look rundown, that's just the area in general, and the food will be probably be quite good. Many of the restaurants in the souqs (as well as the shops) shut down during the afternoon hours. If you are in a funny kind of mood, you can try a McArabia—McDonald's Middle Eastern sandwich available only in the region.
There is one liquor store, Qatar Distribution Centre, in Doha. To purchase things there, you must have a license that can only be obtained by having a written letter of permission from your employer. You can only get a license when you have obtained your residency permit and you will need to get a letter from your employer confirming your salary in addition to paying a deposit for QR1000. The selection is good and is like any alcohol selection of a large supermarket in the West. Prices are reasonable although not cheap. Alcoholic beverages are available in the restaurants and bars of the major hotels, although they are pricey. Be aware, driving under the influence and public intoxication carry heavy penalties, including deportation, so be responsible. As far as non-alcoholic drinks go, be sure to hit some of the Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and juice stalls. They whip up some tasty and exotic fruit juice combinations that really hit the spot.
It is forbidden to bring alcohol in to the country as a tourist; at Hamad International Airport, customs x-ray bags and will confiscate any bottles of alcoholic drink. They will issue a receipt valid for two weeks to reclaim the alcohol on exit from the country.
The national drink of Qatar is the "Karak Tea", it is available in many roadside cafeterias and restaurants. The biggest and most famous place to offer the Karak Tea is Tea Time, which has branches all over Qatar. Ask your taxi driver for the nearest Tea Time to experience the traditional Qatari Tea.
A cheap hotel starts at about QAR130. A mid-range hotel is about QAR300.
Budget accommodation does not seem to exist in Doha. The only hostel  is very hard to find; even the taxi drivers at the airport may have to talk it over! It costs QR100 per night if you don't have YHA membership; QR90 if you do.
Education City is a new project in Doha funded by the Qatari Government through the Qatar Foundation. It is the home to Qatar Academy, the Learning Centre, the Academic Bridge Program (similar to a college prep school), as well as branch campuses of Texas A&M University (Engineering) , Weill Cornell Medical College (Medical) , Virginia Commonwealth University (Arts and Communication), Carnegie Mellon University (Business and Computer Science), Georgetown University (School of Foreign Service), and the latest addition to the fold, Northwestern University (Journalism)  [formerly dead link] and Faculty of Islamic Studies  [dead link] all located in Education City to the east of Doha in the Rayyan area.
In addition to this Education City is home to the Qatar Science and Technology Park, one of the only places in the Middle East undertaking research and development initiatives. The location of so many academics and students is very appealing for research focused organisations. Lastly, Education City is also home to the newly opened Qatar National Library building.
The College of the North Atlantic (based in Newfoundland, Canada), also maintains a campus in Doha in the northern section of the city, near the local Qatar University. The University of Calgary (Nursing) is also in Qatar.
You will need a work visa to be able to work in Qatar, and receiving one will require a Qatari sponsor to apply on your behalf. Similar to the neighbouring Arab Gulf countries, foreigners on work visas require an exit visa in order to leave the country, and receiving an exit visa requires the permission of your employer. Foreigners have been known to be denied exit visas because of disputes with their employers.
The work day starts quite early in Qatar. Do not be surprised by 7AM meetings!
In the summer, many small stores and Arab businesses will be open from 8AM-12PM and 4PM-8PM. During the "siesta", most people return home to escape the oppressive heat.
Qatar has begun to issue permanent residence visas, after the boycott by neighbouring countries; but foreigners who wish to stay permanently and have good relationships with locals of significant clout have been known to retire in Qatar while nominally on a work visa. Foreign women may obtain citizenship by being married to a Qatari man (though this does not apply to foreign men married to Qatari women), but otherwise obtaining citizenship is next to impossible for foreigners.
The emergency phone number for police, ambulance or fire department is 999.
Qatar is a significant contrast from the surrounding region, with no war, no conflict and minimal crime.
Western women travelling on their own sometimes experience staring from local men, along with other unwanted curiosity. However, this is more of an annoyance than a threat, and Qatar officials deal harshly with any complaint of harassment. If you want to fit in better with the locals and attract less stares, a long, black cloak and headscarf worn by local women called the abaya can be purchased at a variety of places in Doha.
Travelling on the roads is probably the largest danger to your wellbeing. Although being safer than most other Asian and Middle Eastern drivers, Qataris often ignore road rules and are intolerant of pedestrians attempting to cross the road. Be safe when walking near or over major highways.
Dust storms and sandstorms are another major issue, being common throughout the dry summer. These natural events can shroud the country in darkness and cause severe respiratory issues. If a sandstorm is approaching, immediately seek shelter or wear a facemask.
Qatar is not a gay-friendly country, and homosexuality is theoretically punishable by the death penalty (though rarely if ever enforced). Gay visitors are advised to be discreet about their sexual orientation and avoid public displays of affection.
Drink lots of water and take proper precautions for the sun, including clothing that covers your skin and sunscreen.
Tap water is potable, but most residents choose to drink bottled water just in case.
Mosques and the state museums have a dress code. For men, shoulders and knees should be covered. In practice this is not strictly enforced: you will be let in if your shorts show your knees, but short shorts are not acceptable.
Respect the Islamic beliefs of Qataris and Bedouins: While there is no legal requirement to wear the hijab, women shouldn't wear tube tops and skimpy outfits, although there is no strict rule and women are free to dress as they feel. It is absolutely acceptable for any nationality to wear the traditional Qatari clothes, the thobe.
Don't expose the bottoms of your feet to a Qatari when dining. Don't eat with your left hand either, since the left hand is seen as the 'dirty hand'. Similarly, don't attempt to shake hands or hand a package with your left hand.
If your Qatari friend insists on buying you something—a meal or a gift—let them! Qataris are extremely hospitable, and typically there are no strings attached. It is generally a custom to argue for the bill.
You can get by for a few days without a SIM card. Free WiFi is available at many of the museums and art galleries. Download the map of Qatar in Google Maps for when you are on the move and offline.
When calling from abroad, the country code of Qatar is 974. There are no city or area codes. When calling overseas while within Qatar, the international access code is usually 0. Qatari phone numbers now have eight digits. Previously, they contained seven, but this was changed by the government regulator in 2010. If you encounter a number with only seven digits, you can still use it by repeating the first digit. For example, a phone number that previously began with '3' would now start with '33'.
Qtel, a government-owned company, used to hold a monopoly over telecommunications in the country. Although this changed in 2006 when the Emir allowed new companies to be formed, competition is still weak with only two major operators:
- Ooredoo (formerly Qtel) - the "Hala" prepaid starter pack costs QR 50 with QR 25 of initial credit. International calls to most countries costs QR 0.66/minute. Has overall better coverage than Vodafone.
- Vodafone Qatar - prepaid sim packs start from QR 60 with an initial credit of QR 35. International calls to most countries costs QR 0.66/minute.
Qatar has a fairly efficient postal system run by Q-Post. There are dozens of post offices scattered across Doha, along with branches in many major cities. It costs QR2.50 to send a standard postcard to most Western countries. The price drops down to QR1-1.50 when sending a postcard domestically or to most nations within the Middle East and North Africa. Sending parcels can get costly, being counted per kilogram and by distance. A full list of rates and branch locations can be found on the Q-Post website. All mail to Qatar are typically sent to a PO Box, with no post codes used. Delivery to a street address is limited and is an optional service for an additional cost to PO box holders.
Addresses to Qatar should be formatted as:
- Name of recipient
- Name of company or organization if relevant
- PO Box xxxx
- John Doe
- Qatar Airways-I.T. Dept.
- PO Box 2250