Qatar is a small, but extremely important country on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Although this beautiful strict Muslim country has a total population of just 1.8 million people, only 280,000 of those people are actually Qatari citizens. The country has the third largest gas and oil reserves in the world which has led to the country becoming amazingly wealthy and a large number of foreign companies having bases there. Although it is a strict Muslim country they are friendly people used to the large expat business population that surrounds them. However, as they follow strict Sharia law, it is important that you respect and follow their unique business etiquette.
It is important that you are always respectful towards Islam when trying to conduct business in Qatar. Most Qataris follow the extremely strict “Wahhabi” form of Islam. This means that it is important to never forget how linked business and religion are in the country. Because of this conservative nature, companies are extremely hierarchical and all decisions are made by top management. The junior members have no decision making power, so this can lead to negotiations taking a long time as information passes up and down the levels.
Qataris also prefer to do business with people that they know. This is so that they know they can trust them. Because of this, meetings do not get straight down to the point. Instead there will be a lot of informal discussion. The family is extremely important in Arabic culture so it is polite at this point to ask about the well-being about of your counterpart’s family. It is important not to ask directly about any female members of the family though. This informality can lead to a further delay of the decision making process.
When greeting someone both men and women should always shake hands with the most senior person in the room first. Qataris are also extremely fond of titles so it is important to use a first name and any personal or professional titles a person may have.
Although Qatar is a conservative country, it is much more tolerant than its close neighbour Saudi Arabia. Foreign women are not required by law to wear the ‘Abaya’ full body cloak and all women can drive cars. The key to dressing in Qatar for both men and women is modesty. Ensure that the majority of the body is covered when in any business setting and in almost all public settings as well.
Partly due to the heat, life moves at a much slower pace in Qatar. Punctuality is not particularly important in Qatar. Meetings are often changed at very short notice and although it is polite to be on time for a meeting. It is likely that your counterparts will be a bit late.
Although English is widely spoken especially among business men, Arabic is still the country’s official language. As they have their own unique culture and customs it will be very much appreciated if you at least learn a few phrases of Arabic such as “thank you” = “Shukran”. However, it would be best to find out before your meeting if they speak English. If they don’t speak English you will need to hire a translator in order to conduct your negotiations. It is also standard practice to have all documents in both Arabic and English.
Gift giving is common in Arabic culture and is much appreciated. If you do give a gift then you should make sure that it is of high quality, expensive and not alcohol, pork or anything else that is offensive to Muslims. High quality traditional perfume is a very good choice.
Qatar is a wonderful and interesting country to visit and do business in. It can also be quite overwhelming for western visitors who are not used to Muslim and Arabic culture and customs. But as long as you remember to be modest, respectful and are flexible with your time you should have a successful business venture in Qatar