Qatar, and its capital city of Doha, is fast becoming another popular location for expats in the Middle East. Foreign workers flock to Qatar from all parts of the globe to work in sectors such as oil, IT and construction.
It’s important that you think about certain financial factors before you travel, to ensure you settle in well when you first arrive. Think about banking; whether or not you keep your UK bank account will depend on a number of factors. You may think that having a bank account in the UK will be useful for paying bills, and other existing UK financial commitments. However, if you are interested in becoming a UK non resident, closing your UK bank account will be very important in showing your lack of UK ties.
The useful solution to your new banking needs may very well be taking out an offshore bank account. Most offshore bank accounts are perfectly suited to expatriates. With an offshore bank account you will be able to use multiple currencies, which is ideal if you are still going to be using Sterling, perhaps for use with existing commitments back in the United Kingdom.
Another important financial aspect to think about is your pension. As an expat living and working in Qatar, you will be able to transfer your UK pension into an offshore pension transfer known as a QROPS (Qualified Overseas Pensions Schemes). The QROPS enables you to free yourself from purchasing a UK annuity, and also creates a number of other financial and tax benefits.
When you’re in Qatar, managing your international finances could prove to be tricky if you shoulder the burden entirely yourself, so for this reason it’s advised that you find an Independent Financial Adviser. An IFA will be able to help you plan your finances, both for the present and for the future, and they will be able to give you more information on how you can utilise QROP Schemes and other financial products.
Of course, you can also aid your transition before you leave by exploring the wealth of information we have here on Which Offshore. Our international news section regularly covers expat matters in Qatar, as do other sections of the site. Click here to find all our Qatar Expat articles.
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To legally work in Qatar you must be in possession of a residence permit. This permit will only be issued if you have been offered a job in Qatar by an employer, or sponsor. Your sponsor will then obtain the residency permit for you. To complete this procedure you will have to undergo medical examinations, take a blood test and also offer a finger-print sample. It is likely that your new employers will have a department that assists expats with these procedures to ensure a smooth transition for their new employers.
Most of the westerners who travel to Qatar for work are usually employed under the proviso that they have specialist skills that are not found amongst the Qatar natives, you will not be able to travel to Qatar with the intention of finding work, you must secure the job first. There many forums and agencies on the internet that advertise positions for wannabe expats. Women are free to join the ranks of Qatar’s expats however their options will be more limited than that of the men, female roles are traditionally only in fields such as healthcare, teaching and admin.
Since Qatar is a Muslim country its business culture follows suit and may be quite different to that which you are used to back in the west. Arabic is the national language but fortunately English is widely spoken, especially in the business world, however if you make the effort to learn a few simple Arabic phrases then this will no doubt endear you to your new colleagues. The Arabs enjoy doing business in a personal and friendly way, always take the time to engage in small talk with your new associates, avoid jumping straight into the business side of things. It’s little things like this that will help you establish a warm working relationship with the Qatar faithful. Strong eye contact is a must.
When having business cards printed have one side in English and the other in Arabic. There are also a few things to take note of, for instance in Arab culture if you were to compliment an item owned by another person they may then feel compelled to offer the item to you. Avoid asking people about female members of their family and be prepared for meetings to be disrupted by personal calls, the families of Qatari’s will always be more important than their business arrangements.
Arab business folk tend not to put great emphasis on timekeeping and punctuality, but as a foreigner you should always try and be on time, just don’t get frustrated if you are made to wait. Always appear patient and calm, a ten minute meeting can often turn into half an hour and this should never be a problem.
Expat accommodation in Qatar is often something that is included in your employment contract, either completely free or at a subsidised rate. Often this comes in the form of nice apartments in special housing compounds that house a host of fellow expats. These compounds will have a number of leisure facilities including a gym, swimming pool, sports areas and children’s areas. They are also handily located near expatriate places of interest such as schools and the city centre.
In recent years Qatar has begun to encourage foreigners to buy property on its sandy landscape, with luxurious new homes being developed specifically for this purpose. If you do buy a property in Qatar then you will be given permanent resident status. Prices differ from property to property, depending on the usual factors of size, amenities etc.
Doha has recently made strides with its public transport system, where previously there was nothing there is now a good bus service and a wealth of taxis, there are also plans to implement a metro system.
Similarly to accommodation perks some companies offer employees the free use of a company car, complete with a personal driver. If you have a motor vehicle that is less than five years old you are permitted to take this vehicle with you to Qatar. Of course to drive in Qatar you will need a Qatari drivers license, if you are already in possession of a drivers license from your original country then you may simply have to take a brief written test and a sight test to have it converted into a Qatari license.
Be aware that actually driving on the roads of Qatar may be a drastically different experience than what you are used to back home. Traffic accidents are actually the number one cause of fatalities in Qatar, driving etiquette doesn’t exist and drivers regularly career through the streets at breakneck speeds. The sudden appearance of wandering camels also poses a dangerous obstacle. If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a traffic accident then you must always remain at the scene of the accident otherwise you will not receive any insurance payments.
Healthcare services in Qatar are generally of a high standard. To use the public service you will need to have on you your health card, which is issued to you once you gain you residency permit. You will then have access to the public health service found in Qatar, which is very reasonably priced for expats, and free for natives. There is also the private option where fees will vary for different procedures. Private health is of a very high standard.
There are many options for expats travelling with children, the Qatari schools themselves have very high standards of teaching, but if you would feel more comfortable with your child being taught their own curriculum then there are also a number of excellent international schools. Qatari education consists of six years of elementary school, three years of prep school and then three years of secondary education. The secondary stage is not compulsory. If you are working in Qatar’s public sector then your child will qualify for free education in Qatari schools, however the bulk of expats still choose to place their children in the international schools.
The popular international schools include: Qatar International School, Doha English Speaking School, American School. These schools will follow either an American or British curriculum. Fees for these schools can be quite high but again you may find that these costs are covered by your employer. For very young children there are also a number of nurseries with English speaking staff.
Qatar, like all of the Arab states, is a Muslim country and thus there are many practices and codes of conduct that will be very different to what goes on in the wild west. Alcohol is not to be consumed anywhere except for the specially licensed bars and restaurants found in hotels. Pork products are also strictly forbidden. Refrain from making public displays of affection and be aware that homosexuality is completely forbidden. You should always dress in a modest manner, and refrain from acting loud or boorish. Avoid using your left hand wherever possible, it is seen as unclean.
During the holy month of Ramadan these Muslim sensibilities are amped up even more so always be respectful of these religious times. For leisure time Qatar has more on offer than neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Sport is especially prominent in Qatar, with many top events being held here, tennis and golf being the most popular. There are host of sporting centres where you can go to enjoy yourself and indulge in a spot of exercise. Whether your sport is football, golf, tennis, swimming or even camel racing there is always somewhere to have a go, often in the expat compound where you may live.
Away from sport there are many other attractions to help pass the time, just outside Doha lie fabulous beaches and long stretches of desert sand where you can take trip to with the family for a some nice relaxation time. On the beaches you can take a dip and even go scuba diving
Children will also have lots to do in Qatar, there are many theme parks and museums, including the National Museum of Qatar which is full of lavish art, historical artefacts all enclosed in a huge Arabian palace. If that doesn’t interest the little ones then whisk them to Aladdin’s Kingdom, a fantastic theme park with roller coasters and rides that will delight children and adults of all ages.
Of course it wouldn’t be the Middle East if there wasn’t anywhere to spend money so all you shopaholics will be pleased to know that Doha is packed with all the big western shops and boutiques you will be familiar with, as well as traditional souks and markets.
Visit the Qatar Embassy website at http://www.qatarembassy.info/ for further information.