Living in Qatar: What You Need to Know

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If you live in Milwaukie and have just been offered a job as an English-second language (ESL) teacher or a position as a chemical engineer at the Laffan Refinery in Qatar, start doing your research. Learn about the people, the culture, and the religion of this interesting Arabic country before you arrive.

Country facts and figures

  • The capital city is Doha.
  • The currency is the Qatari rial.
  •  The population of Qatar is 2,169, which is about the same size as Houston. About 60 percent of the people live in Doha, with the remaining 40 percent in small villages.
  • The predominant religion is Sunni Muslims at 77.5 percent. Christians, are the second largest group with 8.5 percent. The third largest religion is the Shi’a Muslims at just 4 percent and the remaining 10 percent are classified as other.
  • The GDP is $93,714USD.

If you are planning to move to Qatar for business make sure you master the business etiquette beforehand. It is important to read about all the aspects of life in Qatar. Even so, be prepared for a culture shock.

Signs and symptoms of culture shock vary from person to person. Indications to watch for include being critical of local customs, traditions and ways of doing things, longing for home, sleeping a lot and being bored.

Cost of living


Start with the cost of living. Some things in Qatar will be much cheaper, while others will be more expensive. The average one-bedroom apartment in America, for example, costs about $1,000 a month. In Doha, however, expect to pay about $2,433. Similarly a bottle of beer costs about $11 in Qatar, while in the US it is about $5.

Groceries in the US are 28.13 percent higher than in Qatar so you can expect to save money on food if you do your own cooking – or hire someone to do it for you. The average disposable income after tax in Qatar is $3,323 a month, while in the United States it is $2,670.

If you are on an expat salary, you can expect a higher standard of living than in your home country. Additional perks include being able to afford a maid, a cook and a car and driver.

The reason many expats work in Qatar is that while the cost of living is high, they still earn more money than they would make in their home country.

Getting a visa

While you can go in as a tourist, if you want to get a job you have to have a work permit. There has been some trouble with fake work permits, so the best idea is to go to the embassy yourself rather than going through an agency.

A large percentage of the workers in Qatar are expatriates, so the chances of finding employment are good. Use online job boards as a starting point. If you are offered a position, make sure you have all the necessary paper work – passport, visa, work permit – in order, before heading to the airport.

Dealing with bureaucracy in any country can be difficult, and it is worse when you don’t speak the language or understand the customs. If possible, get your employer to help you process the forms and meetings with immigration.


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Healthcare is another concern when moving to another country. In Qatar, health care is highly subsidized, but you will have to register for a health card. This care entitles you to subsidized prescriptions and free emergency treatment.

To obtain a health care card you will need a copy of your passport and resident permit, copies of your Qatar identification card and two passport photos. There is also a fee for the service.

People might also want to take out travel insurance and private health care as well. This insurance should – and read the policy carefully – include medical evacuation to your country of origin in case of an accident or serious illness.


With a mixture of Iranian, Indian and African influences, the traditional food found in Qatar is truly mouth-watering. Try a showarma (spellings vary) which is grilled lamb or chicken. Or order some hummas, made of chickpeas. Taboulleh, a salad made with a base of cracked wheat, is another stable.

Those who enjoy the local cuisine may want to take a cooking class to learn how to make it at home. Another option is to get your maid/cook to teach you how to prepare traditional dishes.

But what about western food? Don’t despair as the die-hard accidental tourists can get their fast-food hit at Dairy Queen, Arby’s or KFC.

One word of caution: don’t try to order bacon with your eggs or ham steak for dinner as pork is a prohibited meat in the Muslim world.

For those who like to imbibe wine or spirits, be prepared to jump a few bureaucratic hoops. Alcohol is available only at 4 and 5-star hotels or from a government controlled store – and it is expensive. To buy liquor you will also need to get a permit – sort of like a driver’s license – to prove you are a foreigner.


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While North Americans have their traditions – Sundays, Christmas and Easter – the holidays in Qatar are Muslim based. Replace the church bells with the call-to-prayer that happens five times a day. Check the link so you know when to expect when the mullah (religious leader) starts with Allahhhhhh.

Friday is like Sunday in the Christian world. It is the holy day when the men dress in their finest and go to the mosque to pray. Mosques are separated into areas for the men and others for the women. The majority of the women, however, stay home to cook the Friday meal.

No matter what anyone tells you, absolutely nothing – except experience on the ground – can prepare you for the month of Ramadan. During this holy period of fasting – which is lunar and changes by about thirteen days a year – no food or drink can pass a Muslim’s lips between sunup and sundown. Prayers – which are said five times a day – are optional, but fasting is not.

Feasts are prepared for sundown and as soon as the mullah issues the call everyone digs in. There is another big meal eaten between midnight and one o’clock in the morning. The women then get up early to prepare a breakfast that has to be consumed before the dawn call to prayer.

The end of the month of fasting is celebrated with the Eid el Fatar (feast of the breakfast) which lasts for three days.

Even though you are a foreigner, eat and drink behind closed doors during the fast. In the Middle East expatriates often take their annual leave during Ramadan.

The sheep killing festival – like Ramadan – is only truly understood by personally experiencing it. The festival relates back to the old testament when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son but was then spared and the son was replaced by a sheep to be slaughtered. The four day festival ceremonies are very clearly laid out and the festival ends with the Eid al Adha (feast of the adornment).

Gender culture

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The operative word for women in Qatar is modesty. And don’t even think about packing a bikini or shorts.

Always make sure your shoulders are covered and don’t expose your knees. Wrap a fashionable scarf –known as a hijib- around your head and it will further reduce the catcalls.

Western women don’t have to wear a burka – a long black robe that covers the woman from head to toe except for the eyes. However, the less skin you show, the less harassment you will get on the street.

Qatar juggles tradition with the modern world. The social mores and rules are slowly relaxing and now about 15 percent of the women in the country work at paid jobs. Historically, they were limited to teaching or nursing, but that is expanding to banking, insurance and working in government positions.

Expatriate women are not allowed to work unless they can get a work permit and an approved job. Fortunately – unlike Saudi Arabia next door – women are allowed to drive and can have a bank account.

When it comes to gender roles, the man is the head of the house: no exceptions. So even husbands who are the most submissive men on the face of the earth have to front up and act macho in front of the locals.

Single expat men can forget about finding a girlfriend in Qatar as the young women are kept in purdah (literally “behind the curtain”). Dating is discouraged and all arrangements have to be made through the father and cross-cultural relationships are frowned upon.

The best option for both sexes is to check out the expat dating scene.

Learn a few words of Arabic

Nothing makes locals happier than tourists and/or expats who try to learn a few words of their language as it helps break down cultural barriers. Unless you are a polyglot, your Arabic will likely be non-existent to limited. Here are a few words to get you started.

Salam – hello

Kaifa haloka/ haloki ( female) – how are you

Ana bekhair - I’m fine.

Kam howa thamanoh? – How much does this cost?

Min fadlika - please

Shokran – thanks

The best way to approach living in Qatar is to look at it as an adventure. It will be a cultural challenge, it may drive you to distraction at times; it will help develop your character. But best of all, it is a cultural experience you wouldn’t be able to have in Milwaukie.