September 2015 saw us changing countries again when we moved from Jakarta, Indonesia to live in Doha, Qatar.
Being a new expat is lot like being a tourist in a country – we are discovering and experiencing new places for the first time, with the added stress that we need to make friends and settle in! In my post, I will highlight some tourist sites and overview living in Doha.
A few quick facts about Doha:
- In summer, it is very hot and humid as this is a dry, subtropical desert. Spring (March – May) and Autumn (September – November) are the best times to visit
- Doha is the capital city of Qatar with a population of about 1.5 million people.
- Arabic is the local language, but English is commonly used.
- Qatar is an Islamic country following Shariah Law.
- The country’s economy is largely built on its oil and gas industries.
Doha has a couple of great tourist attractions that are also enjoyed by locals. Please click on the links to read more about each one.
Some must-visit places are:
Apart from visiting these, you could also:
- Go Dune bashing in a 4×4 and take a trip to the Singing Dunes
- Visit Banana Island and the Anantara Resort
- Visit the seasonal bazaars and markets (food, clothes etc)
Doha has many great shopping malls too – below are my favourites:
- The Mall of Qatar – the newest one, it opened January 2017
- Villagio Mall
- Lagoona Mall
- Ezdan Mall & The Gulf Mall (adjacent to each other)
There are also numerous world class hotels with bars, lounges and restaurants. Eating out is almost a hobby here!
My best entertainment every week is:
Meeting up with my coffee group for a chat and a laugh!
If you are a new expat, I want to suggest that you join a coffee group, as you will discover so much about your new city through word-of-mouth. Plus, it is one of the best informal ways to meet people and make friends. (Please see my helpful links a bit further down.)
Friends are your family abroad.
The Qatar Olympic Committee’s website has a complete calendar of all the upcoming sporting events for the year.
Please find some more helpful links I have collected specifically for expats in Doha. They will point you to Communities to join, Coffee Groups, Schools, Dentists, What’s On and more.
Cost of Living
One thing we quickly discovered is that eating out and buying groceries here can get very expensive, as most of the fresh food and groceries are imported.
You will find that your biggest expense here is accommodation. Most properties are rentals and usually come unfurnished or semi-furnished. Serviced apartments or Residences, as they are referred to here, are becoming more popular by the day and most new hotels have some residences as well as hotel rooms available… at a price! Please have a look at this cost comparison on Numbeo for prices in Doha.
West Bay is a very convenient location for hotel Residences and Serviced apartments. The Pearl is a great place for villas and apartment rentals and may come semi-furnished. Depending on where you work it may influence your decision on where to stay, as peak hour traffic can be very slow. There certainly are great housing complexes/villas with gardens available too and usually accommodation is subsidised by the employer.
In Doha they drive on the right-hand side of the road. The taxi’s are okay, but we almost exclusively use Uber.
To take the public bus , you need a pre-purchased smart card, or pay a flat QR10 fee (Smart card rates are between QR3 and QAR7.
Qatar Rail is currently working on an integrated railway system that they hope will become the favoured transport system for all, to be completed by 2030.
A lot of expats do drive here. Petrol is cheap and cars can be bought second-hand for next to nothing. Most expats prefer to rent or lease a car, due to the stipulations of the law that requires you to be released from liabilities like cars and other possessions when leaving the country for good.
Traffic is hectic and I do not drive here! You are only allowed to drive a rented car here for a week on your country’s drivers license after which you are required to use an international driver’s license (IDL). Getting in IDL differs for some nationalities, so best have a look at the requirements on the government website.
Visas & Exit Permits
When visiting Qatar, some tourists can apply for a Visa on arrival at Hamad International Airport. For a stop over, you can also apply for a 24 hour Transit Visa. For both, please read more on the government website.
In Qatar, expats work under a sponsorship system, called Kafala. This simply means that every expat is linked to a specific employer and will get a Work Residence Permit (RP) from them. Expats on a Work RP must get an Exit Permit each time they leave Qatar, which must be arranged by their sponsor. This can be done online up to seven days before departure. Some expats can get a multiple Exit Permit.
Expats with a Work RP, who meets the requirements, can sponsor their families to come and live with them. Those who have a Family Residence Visa do not require an Exit Permit to leave Qatar.
When you leave the country for good, after working and living here, all debts have to be cleared. Non-payment of a debt is a criminal offense that could result in a prison sentence. The British Embassy made a handy checklist a few years ago, that you can download or print, about leaving the country for good.
Dresscode & culture
Please be respectful of another country’s culture and religion, always! You are a guest. So many people visiting here are dressed inappropriately (I am mostly referring to woman). Doha is NOT Dubai, and they are more conservative here. You have no need to cover your head or wear an abaya, but you do need to at least have your shoulders, midriff and knees covered up. Jeans and t-shirts are perfectly fine.
As this is a Muslim country, you will not find alcohol or any pork for sale in the supermarkets. Some hotels and restaurants do serve alcohol. The Qatar Distribution Company (QDC) is the only licensed retail outlet in Qatar for the distribution of wine & spirits. To apply for a license, you would need a no-objection letter from your sponsor and pay a deposit at QDC. You can also buy pork products at the QDC and consume it in the privacy of your own home.
Once we made friends and settled in, we have certainly been enjoying our time here in Doha. Traveling to the nearby countries, for weekends away, has been fabulous too!
I hope you found my quick overview about Doha helpful? Whether visiting or living here, Doha is an interesting place to see!
*My post contains affiliate links, but is not sponsored!