Imagine living in a world where Monday is no longer the start of the week but rather Sunday is. Where the sound of church bells ringing on a Sunday are replaced with call to prayer five times a day and a broadcast sermon on Fridays. Where men wear white and women wear black. Where the sun shines every day but when it rains, the city is at a standstill. And where everything is beige! Welcome to the Middle East. Or more specifically in my case, Doha, Qatar.
None of this was really new to me or my partner having visited the Middle East frequently before. But it still catches you off guard the first time you hear call to prayer cutting through the silence of the night. I remember, because it was our first night in Doha. We had arrived on a hot and sweaty evening and all I kept thinking was, ‘how am I going to survive this heat with my shoulders covered?’ And after we had been shown to our new accommodation and managed to figure out a few of the basics to our new home, we got ready for bed at 3am… and there it was. An undeniable reminder that we were no longer at home.
So, where exactly was I? Well I was on a peninsula in the middle of the Arabian gulf. Qatar’s only land border is shared with Saudi Arabia. It’s a tiny peninsula, especially when compared to the mammoth expanse of it’s only land neighbour! I often got asked, ‘Was I close to Dubai?’ Answer: yes, an hour by plane. Is it anything like Dubai? Answer: NO!
Facts about Doha
- It has a population of 2.6 million
- 80% of the population is foreign (not Qatari)
- Capital city- Doha
- Currency is riyals
- It is the host for the 2020 FIFA World cup
- It’s main source of revenue is through Oil and Gas
- The country is governed by civil and Sharia Laws
- It will cost you 100 riyals (£20 as of June 2016) to enter the country on a visit visa.
I read countless blogs, websites and whatnot on what to expect in Doha but many of them hadn’t been updated or missed a few bits and bobs. So I thought I might fill in some of the gaps here.
Facts about Doha for Expats
- It’s not very big and is structured on circular ring roads.
- Although a small city, the traffic will take you ages to get from point A to point B (this can be worse if the Sheikh or Emir have to pass your location, in which case you could be at a standstill for 20-30mins until they pass).
- You will need to have a car or a driver to get around. If you do want to drive yourself you will need a letter from your employer. Additionally, be prepared to visit the driver’s license permit office at least 3 times before you get your permit. Things aren’t as efficient as back home. If you’re American you will have to sit a test (yeah, they’re not your biggest fans out here-sorry).
- So things aren’t as organised or efficient as back home… This can be incredibly annoying, especially when you have stayed in all day waiting for a delivery or maintenance only to have them show up 3 -4 hours after they said they would. Go with the flow or it will drive you mad.
- There aren’t enough taxis in the city to service the population so there are a lot of private drivers up for grabs. Uber works out here as well. Karwa taxies are the cheapest but even they will try and haggle with you or rip you off if they think you are new to the city- they are meant to go by a metre)
- It is hot, really hot in the summer. As a result there isn’t a lot to do outside. Most people spend time in shopping malls or hotels until winter comes.
- Winter doesn’t last very long but is noticeably cooler, especially in the mornings and at night. You will need a thick jumper or cardigan.
- Food is more expensive here and not fantastic at the best of times.
- You do need to cover up ladies and gents but not if you are in a hotel. Some hotels do still request that your attire is modest to respect other patrons though. Ladies you do not need to wear an abaya (the black cover) or a shayla (the hair cover).
- Alcohol is only served in the hotels and at the Rugby club which holds a liquor permit I believe.
- To buy liquor you need a letter from your employer and a deposit of 1000 riyals (about just under £200). You get your deposit back upon returning your license permit card.
- Doha News and Qatar living will be your new best friends
- The shopping is not fantastic- just go to Dubai for that. It’s what everyone else in the region does including the Qataris.
- If you do choose to shop in Doha, the rule is, if you see it and like it, buy it! Most likely if you go back it will lost and gone forever (or when they decide to get another shipment which really could take forever!)
- Toiletries- ladies- tampons are a rare here. Stock up before you come!
- It gets dusty here which can affect visibility when driving, the cleanliness of your home and your breathing. Asthmatics beware!
- It costs 100 riyals (about £20) every time you enter the country on a visitor visa.
- Once you have employment here, you will need to get an exit visa to leave the country from your employer (usually around 10 riyals).
You can find some other resources here which I read and helped me to settle into Qatar.
I think one of the hardest things about moving to a different country is managing the expectations you had for the move. Undoubtedly everyone gets that ‘Oh s*&% what have I done?’ moment. For me there were a number of times I had that feeling in the past year. But I realised it was mostly down to not having my expectations met for my move. I thought I would be able to enjoy being outside more with the weather being so warm. Nope- it’s usually too hot to do anything outside without sweating profusely and when there is a breeze you have to weigh up how much you enjoy the breeze, with how much you enjoy having dust or sand all over your face (no joke!). I also didn’t realise how much my style of clothing affected my moods. I’m not a vain person but I think I do express myself through my clothing. With the restricted dress code , I needed to revisit how I can be me in my clothes whilst still respecting the culture of this country.
You’ll never really know how a new country will affect you until you actually get there and live there. So my tip for those considering a move to Qatar would be this: if you enjoy a buzzing city, shopping, great food and an outdoor life, don’t come here. If you can cope with a lack of these things for a short period of time and supplement that by getting on a plane every two months to get your fix of a more balanced world then you’ll be ok. But that’s just my opinion. Take a look at journalist Victoria Scott’s website or follow her @Toryscott for more personal experiences of living in Qatar.