There are many reasons why people choose to live the expat life in the small Middle Eastern country of Qatar. From job opportunities and low taxes to enjoying local festivals, basking on beautiful beaches, and the relatively low cost of living, these reasons soon add up.
However, if you’re planning to make the move to Qatar, you’ll have a long to-do list to check off. Whether you need to sort out school places for the kids or open a bank account, this to-do list can seem daunting. To make it easy for you, we’ve rounded up the 10 things you need to do during your first week in Qatar.
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1. Find somewhere to live
You will probably look for somewhere to live during your first week in Qatar. Many expats end up in Doha, the Qatari capital, because of the abundant job opportunities and amenities. In addition to the expat community here, foreigners can enjoy luxury malls, pristine beaches, museums and restaurants, and more. Within Doha, there are plenty of suburbs that appeal to expats, such as Al Rayyan and Madinat Khalifa. The latter is popular with families due to local schools and nurseries.
Although Qatar is opening up its property market to foreigners and expats can get mortgages now, buying is not a popular choice. As such, most new arrivals rent an apartment or standalone villa in Doha. If you’re looking for something short-term, you could check out an online accommodation portal such as Airbnb.
Although the process for renting is quick and easy, it does need a lot of paperwork. Be careful to read the rental contract carefully, because there are usually very strict points about what you can or cannot do. In addition, you will usually have to provide a post-dated check that covers the entire period of your rental contract. As of 2021, expect to pay around QAR5,000/month for a studio in a good area of Doha, though high-end properties can range up to QAR15,000/month.
2. Register with the local authorities
All expats living in Qatar need to hold a valid Residence Permit (RP). This local ID will allow you to do everything from renting a house and opening a bank account to buying property and getting a mobile phone. This credit-card-sized ID will show your photo, name, birthday, and unique 11-digit number. For foreigners, it also includes your nationality and occupation. You should try to get your RP during your first week in Qatar.
Luckily, this is usually quite easy because your employer should handle most of the formalities. However, because you must have a contract with a Qatar-based company to get an RP, you should look for a job before you move. Your employer will then sponsor your work permit and begin the process of getting your RP.
3. Sort out your healthcare
New arrivals in Qatar might be surprised to find out that the country has a robust healthcare system that ranks within the world’s top five for quality of care. As such, all residents here can access free or subsidized healthcare through the public system. Expats can access Qatari public healthcare, though many choose to use the private system instead. Global health insurance providers operating in Qatar include:
For more information, read our article on health insurance in Qatar.
It’s not just health insurance you need to consider during your first week in Qatar. As in many countries, Qatar has many different types of insurance policies available for different needs. In Qatar, only social security insurance is required by law. However, if you have a car, for example, you must have car insurance too. You’ll also find a range of other covers in Qatar, including home and contents, life, accident, travel, and commercial insurance, among others.
4. Open a bank account in Qatar
During your first week in Qatar, you will probably have to rely on cash and credit cards to pay for most things. This is because it may take a few weeks to open a local bank account. Nevertheless, it is quite easy to open a bank account here. You just have to show documents such as your passport and visa, a letter from your employer, your Qatar ID, and an application form.
The country’s main financial institution is the Qatar Central Bank. As such, it is responsible for Qatar’s banking system and policies. However, there are a total of 20 commercial banks here, including 12 national banks and eight international banks. Many expats choose well-known international banks such as HSBC Middle East, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered, or Barclay’s. While Qatar does not have fully mobile banks like Europe, mobile and online banking is popular. Indeed, you’ll find most banks offer full-service apps and online portals to make local banking easy.
5. Find a job
For expats, it is usually best to find a job before you move to Qatar. This will make things a lot easier during your first week in Qatar, as you will be able to get your RP, find an apartment, open a bank account, and do all those other important things to set up your life here. Just remember to tailor your CV and interview style to suit Qatari employers. Be aware, too, that despite being fairly international, Qatari business culture is quite conservative and hierarchical, so pay attention to local idiosyncrasies.
Luckily, there are plenty of jobs available and you should be able to find something that suits. Oil and gas is the biggest industry in Qatar—and the country’s biggest employer. But, the manufacturing, finance, insurance, and real estate sectors are very large, too. In addition, there is a growing hospitality industry that values experience. Although the average salary here is QAR13,000/month, this can vary greatly depending on your company and position.
6. Figure out how to get around
During your first week in Qatar, you will quickly realize that most people get around by car. Because of the hot climate and still developing transport infrastructure, many residents have their own car and choose to drive. But, of course, there are some public transport options if you are so inclined.
Qatar Rail owns and operates all the country’s railway lines. As such, they are also responsible for the Doha Metro and Lusail Tram. The Doha Metro has three lines that run across the city and even runs to Hamad International Airport. Another company operates the Msheireb Tram, which operates a loop through the downtown city center. In addition, Mowasalat—the national transport company—runs buses and taxis. As such, these are a good option for getting around Doha and neighboring areas.
7. Get yourself connected
During your first week in Qatar, you may well be setting up your new home. As such, you will need to connect utilities like electricity and water. This is relatively easy because in Qatar, one company—Kahramaa (the Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation)—manages both electricity and water. As such, you can just go to a Kahramaa customer service center, fill out an application form, and pay QAR2,000 to set up your connections. You will also have to provide your Qatar ID, tenancy agreement, Kahramaa reference number, and current meter readings.
You will, of course, also have to organize a local mobile phone. This will also be fairly straightforward because there are only two operators in Qatar—Ooredoo and Vodafone. Both companies allow you to apply for mobile phone contracts online. However, they also offer internet and TV connections, and you can get all three bundled together at a discount.
8. Get the kids in school
Moving with the family in tow? Then your first week in Qatar may involve finding a good school for the kids. Although Qatar has a good education system, almost all expat kids attend private or international schools. This is because the public schools teach in Arabic and are usually very difficult for foreigners to access.
But, because private schools can set their own curriculum, many use English as the language of instruction. And, international schools often follow the curricula from the US, UK, or France, for example. As such, your kids can receive a similar style of education as they would back home. Many international schools in Qatar also offer the widely respected International Baccalaureate program, which is a great option for students looking to go on to higher education.
9. Learn the local language
Arabic is the official language of Qatar. But, English is very widely used. As such, most expats should have no trouble with the language here. Indeed, because of the country’s international makeup, it is common to hear many languages every day.
Nevertheless, it can be useful to look into learning basic Arabic during your first week in Qatar. For example, you could hire a tutor, join classes, or try online courses or apps. If you want to learn the language formally, then you could take classes at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies or Qatar University. If you just want to pick up a few basic phrases to ease your way, try Rocket Languages, ArabicPod101.com, Duolingo, Berlitz, or Rosetta Stone.
10. Get out there and explore Qatar
Familiarizing yourself with the local culture and etiquette before you arrive in Qatar can be a great way to ensure your first week goes smoothly. After all, the country’s cultural norms may be quite different from what you are used to at home. But, as a guest here, you should respect these and try to acclimatize with them. A good rule of thumb when meeting your new neighbors is to avoid discussing sex, religion, and politics.
However, don’t let the fear of cultural missteps stop you from getting out and enjoying your new home. After all, you only move to Qatar once! There’s a surprising number of things to do in this tiny country, from beautiful beaches, local festivals and holidays, and, of course, plenty of first-rate shopping opportunities!