What to Know Before Relocating to Qatar
Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (formally Doha International airport) welcomes an estimated 500 expats per week making the country extremely multi-cultural and diverse. Relocating to Qatar – or any country in the Middle East - can seem like a daunting prospect, so to help you with your decision here’s what you need to know about relocating to Qatar.
Work Residence Permit (Work Visa)
It is typically the responsibility of your sponsor to handle all paperwork required to obtain the Residence Permit on your behalf. When you first enter Qatar, your sponsor will arrange for a temporary visa which is then converted to a Work Residency permit. This process typically takes 2-4 weeks. You may not leave the country during the visa-to-permit conversion. Work Residence Permits are renewed each year by your sponsor.
Once you have received your Work Residence Permit you can access many other services and apply for further permits and licenses, sign a rental accommodation agreement, apply for a loan and the list goes on.
Another key benefit of the Residence Permit is that it allows you to personally sponsor your immediate family members - spouse, sons and daughters – to join you and live in Qatar.
Family Residence Visa
Firstly, not all expats can bring their families with them to Qatar. Only those earning more than 10,000 QR (Qatari Riyala) month are eligible.
Some companies will only process family visas when an employee has been in Qatar for six months, meaning that families can be separated for this period. Kingpin International will advise you where possible, as to whether this will apply to your situation.
Couples must be married to live together in Qatar, and you will not be able to bring your children to live with you if you are not married to your partner. Successfully sponsored spouses and children are brought into Qatar on a special entry visa and are then required to begin the residence permit process within one week, which involves fingerprinting and medical tests for tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV.
Effectively, the visa is granted under your sponsorship (assuming you have a valid Qatar ID and Residence Visa from your employer or private sponsor).
Because Qatar use the Kafala (sponsorship) system, every expat in the country is essentially linked to an employer, whether they be an individual or company. And as a result, an Exit Permit is required to leave the country – even in an emergency.
There are two forms of Exit Permits for expats; Single Exit Permit and Multiple Exit Permit. How this is handled depends on your sponsor. Some companies allow high-ranking employees, or employees whose role involves regular travel, to apply for an annual Multiple Exit Permit, meaning that they are free to come and go whenever they please.
Other companies, however, insist on individual applications for each trip. In most cases, this is handled well, with a 24-hour emergency service in place. Often companies who have a large expat employees base have separate departments to specifically deal with these requests.
Kingpin International would always recommend that you ask your prospective employer what procedures they have in place for emergency Exit Permits.
Due to Qatar’s enormous expansion plans and their national vision, a steady stream of professionals are moving to Qatar every week, usually bringing young children. The schools are generally full and the best ones have long waiting lists. But don’t be concerned, given the constantly shifting nature of the expat population in Qatar then school places regularly become free throughout the year.
Some families choose to homeschool while waiting for space, or some don’t move their children over until space is confirmed.
If you have time to plan your move once agreeing to employment, it is a great idea to apply for a place as soon as you can. Many schools only accept applications for a short period each year, typically in January. If you apply outside this window, your child is likely to be put on a waiting list.
Almost all schools hold formal assessments for children of all ages. On occasions, there is an assessment cost involved which is not often not returned should a child fail the assessment and not secure a place. All educational institutes are monitored by Qatar’s Supreme Education Council (SEC).
Weekends for most schools fall on Thursday and Friday with the most common working week in Qatar being Sunday to Thursday. It is also worth noting that some companies will include a school fee allowance in their expat packages; Kingpin International will advise accordingly at the start of the hiring process.
Qatar also has several universities ranging from local universities to branch campuses from foreign institutions such as Northwestern, University of Calgary and University College of London. A full list can be found here.
Qatar has a well-resourced state health care system, Hamad Medical Corporation, which offers free emergency treatment to everyone who registers - expats included. However, it is increasingly under strain with long waiting lists for treatment now commonplace. This means that many expats opt for private healthcare which can be expensive, particularly for maternity care and complex operations.
Most companies will include health insurance for you and your dependents as part of their compensation package.
It should be noted that the Qatari government is in the process of introducing a universal health insurance system, meaning that every company will need to provide insurance for their employees, regardless of their visa situation.
Accommodation is the one main expense when living in Qatar. An average four-bedroom villa goes for at least 13,000 QR a month, with those in sought-after compounds renting for up to 18,000 QR.
Meanwhile, a two-bedroom apartment in a glistening high-rise in West Bay or the Pearl, Qatar’s man-made island (pictured), will cost at least 12,000 QR a month. Some companies offer a housing allowance or cover three months’ rent when you first arrive; Kingpin International will advise you at the start of the recruitment process.
Aside from incredibly cheap petrol, many everyday goods are more expensive in Qatar than you would expect. Ninety percent of the country’s food is imported, meaning that even basic foods can be pricey.
You should also consider your annual travel costs. Although most employees are given a free return flight home every year, the cost of any additional flights will quickly start to bite, particularly around national or global festive periods like Christmas.
To answer the two most commonly posed questions first, yes women can drive and no, women do not have to wear an abaya (the full-length black - sometimes white - gown usually worn by Middle Eastern women).
However, women do have to dress modestly. This means covering of the shoulders, cleavage, midriff and knees. Some Government buildings have a stricter dress code requiring both men and women to cover up to their wrists and ankles, but this is not the norm.
Women under their husband’s sponsorship can enter and leave the country whenever they please, without the need for an exit permit. They are also able to work under their husband’s sponsorship, providing they register as a working woman with the authorities. This is completed by visiting the Labour Department to complete the application process.
Drivers who hold valid licenses from any country can drive a rented car in Qatar for a maximum of a week. After seven days, you will need to apply for an International Driver’s License (IDL), which is valid for up to six months. However, beware that as soon as you receive your residence permit your IDL will be void and you must apply for your Qatari driving licence immediately.
Conversion to a Qatari licence is straightforward for most licence holders - you will need to do an eye test - for some nationalities, including US citizens then you must take a Qatari driving test before taking to the roads.
Although you won’t find alcohol as widely available in Qatar as in, say, Dubai, it is still on offer.
Most five star hotels have licenses and they typically host several restaurants and bars apiece. There are also several members-only clubs, such as the rugby and golf clubs which serve alcohol.
Drinking at home is possible too. With their employer’s permission, residents can apply for an alcohol permit which allows them to shop in the country’s only off-licence, The Qatar Distribution Company (QDC). To apply for a license, you need a no-objection letter from your sponsor and pay a deposit at QDC, located Southwest of Doha.
You can only spend 10% of your basic salary on alcohol each month.
Qatar has a zero-tolerance approach to drink driving and public intoxication is a criminal offence. Brewing alcohol in Qatar is also illegal, nor can you bring alcohol out of the airport with you.
There's an increasing range on offer, but it’s strictly for home use only – it will not be served in any restaurant in Qatar.
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