Newbies Guide to Doha
Families who have just arrived in Doha and are still adjusting to the desert heat and humidity will find it helpful to know that there is an end to the misery! Doha can hit you like a hot blow dryer to the face if you arrive in the mid-late summer, but rest assured that by October the humidity will lessen. From late October on, Qatar’s weather is typically a smooth sail of pleasant temperatures, give or take a dust storm here or there. Then again we do live in the desert, so that’s to be expected, isn’t it? At Doha Family, we find that a bit of flexibility and patience, as well as a touch of adventure, will go a long way to ensuring you enjoy your stay in Qatar. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips and guidelines to understanding expat life in Doha and making the most of your time here.
We all know that it’s hot here, but there are a few things that might not be as immediately evident, for example, everything is air-conditioned—malls, restaurants, cafés, offices, theatres, etc.—so get ready for an arctic air conditioning blast! Even in the winter, public places in Qatar can be quite cold. We recommend that you always bring a light sweater when you go out in case you get the chills, but then again if it’s a summer day with over 45 degrees temperatures, you may find yourself welcoming the cool indoor air.
Also, Qatar is gusty, and it tends to be windy all year long, which can be quite pleasant when it’s 27 degrees but not as nice when it’s 47. If you want to hit the beaches or go camping in the desert, make sure you bring sturdy gear. And speaking of the wind, along with it comes dust, which affects the air quality in Doha. This is important to bear in mind for those who suffer from asthma as the sandy, dusty air can be problematic for those with compromised lung capacity.
The humidity in Qatar during the summer months can be overwhelming. Luckily though it only lasts for three to four months and by November, the weather is lovely. If you come from a country that tends to be very cold in the winter, think about summer in Doha as the mirroring image of that: you will have to spend most of your time indoors, but the winters are glorious outdoors.
Cost of living and cheap alternatives
You might have heard it, and unfortunately, it’s true: Doha is expensive. From housing costs to daily shopping, you can spend a pretty penny just living day-to-day here. However, if you try to live a little adventurously, you will find that you can save money here.
Doha is home to a variety of sophisticated hotels and restaurants; however, you will spend of hundreds of Qatari Riyals eating there. Save luxurious venues for a special occasion—by the way, the Entertainer or My Book Qatar are great sources for two-for-one meal bargains. There are other options for eating out in the city that won’t break the bank. There is, in fact, a huge array of delicious, ethnic restaurants in Doha. The South Asian population here is prolific, and the cuisine choices are endless: from higher-end restaurants to hole-in-the-wall, tiny family-run establishments, reasonably priced venues with delicious, fresh food, are bountiful. Be adventurous and discover them! Doha is becoming quite the scene for food, so why not make the most out of it.
For eating at home, there are many food shopping choices in Doha, from Carrefour to Monoprix, however thinking outside the box will reveal so many other choices that will save you money. Al Meera is a successful supermarket chain that is opening new branches regularly in and around Doha. Depending on the branch, you will be able to find fruit and vegetables that are much fresher compared to those available at some of the other chains. The Central Market is also a great destination for fresh produce. Yes, it’s a little more rustic, but during the farmers market season (typically early November to late April) locally grown fruit and vegetables will be sold at a fraction of the prices of a grocery store. Farmers tend to sell in bulk so shopping with a friend or neighbour might be a good idea. Also make sure you bring small change with you, as well as reusable grocery bags. For more information about the Central Market, you might want to check out our recent review. If the market is too far away, home delivery options are available as well. Read more about home delivery options here.
Moving around Doha
Driving is still practically the only way to move around the city, as the Doha Metro is not expected to open to the public for another two years. While still relatively low compared to other countries in the world, petrol prices continue to rise in Doha. The government heavily subsidised the cost of petrol in Qatar until, at the beginning of 2016, the price of gasoline increased practically overnight by over 30%. Last April, the Ministry of Energy and Industry announced that the price of petrol would fluctuate on a monthly basis, so you can reasonably expect it to continue to rise with the unstable global market.
If you plan on driving in Doha, you might want to bear in mind that this is a small city with a big traffic problem. The city has grown tenfold in the past few years, and this has created a traffic jam on the roads. New construction projects popping up every week and ever-changing road patterns to accommodate the construction make establishing a driving routine very difficult. Be prepared to test your patience on the roads and don’t let the road hogs get you down. Invest in a good mp3 music player, podcasts or even audio books. For children, fun music and an enthralling audio story, plus a good snack or two, will go a long way when you have a 30- to 45-minute drive ahead.
If you have the option, consider carpooling with a colleague. The conversation might be just what you need to decompress a bit and look at the world from a different point of view.
When driving in Doha, be wary of speed traps and cameras on the roads. You might think you are getting away with running a red light but in reality, most traffic signals have built-in cameras that will catch you. The tricky part is that you won’t get a ticket in the mail; in fact, you won’t get anything at all until you try to renew your car registration or attempt to leave the country. That is when those tickets will catch up with you, and you might end up having to pay thousands of Qatari Riyals in fines. If that happens, do check your supposed traffic violations carefully before you pay to be sure that they are correct: check the date, time and alleged violation to be sure that you are being fined correctly. This can be done on Hukoomi, Qatar’s e-Government portal. You can also register with Metrash to receive text messages whenever you are fined.
If driving is not for you, taxis in Doha are easy to find and relatively cheap. Even just two years ago, taxi prices in Doha were outrageous. The turquoise blue Karma taxis used to be almost impossible to reserve and hiring a driver would cost you QAR 50 for just one way. Then Uber came in the picture and revolutionised the taxi situation in Doha. Now there is even an app for reserving Karwa taxis.
At school and home
Doha has some amazing school choices, but good schools have historically been very difficult to get into. Think ahead if you have toddlers who will be of school age during your stay here. Do your research, ask questions, visit schools and ask about their admission guidelines in advance. The upside of the recent economic instability of Qatar is that schools have more spots open than in the past, so don’t give up.
As for parents, the truth is that Doha is a transient city for many expats. In the past couple of years, employment in Qatar has become more uncertain, so it is important to be sure you understand the terms of your employment and the worst-case scenario just in case. Being prepared for a possible sudden departure is also a good idea: have all of your paperwork in order and try to keep it organised. Even better, have electronic copies of everything. You will most likely never experience an emergency departure but having your belongings in order will help you find a little more sanity, so you have nothing to lose there.
A helping hand
Having a nanny or maid is almost the norm for families in Doha but finding the right person can be quite a task, especially if you are unfamiliar with the process. In general terms, you can rely on housemaid agencies or hire help yourselves. Agencies usually charge hourly rates, while monthly salaries for domestic workers vary greatly, as does the quality of help. If you decide to hire domestic help, get familiar with the guidelines and rules for sponsorship and do your research before you interview someone. Know your questions beforehand, for example, what you will expect of them, how many days a week and hours, extra pay, responsibilities. Be very clear and perhaps consider a two-week trial run. If you are sponsoring a domestic worker, bear in mind that you will not be able to leave the country when the time comes if you do not have a transfer for your employee. They must either have a new job or go back to their home country once you leave. If you are bringing a domestic worker from outside of Qatar, make sure you know the paperwork as it is extensive, particularly with regards to the medical requirements for legally working in Qatar. Knowing your rights as well as your employee’s is key to a fruitful and lasting relationship.
Living abroad can often test your flexibility and patience. Things work differently from what you may be used to, but then again that doesn’t just apply to Doha. Here, your logic might not seem logical, being punctual might not correspond to your notion of punctuality and tasks like opening up a bank account, establishing mobile phone service or gaining internet access might take longer than you would think. Arm yourself with patience throughout your stay in Doha, and you will find yourself much happier. Also remember to be a good role model for your children: if they see you showing patience and respect for a different culture, they will, in turn, learn to be adaptable.
Speaking of respect, don’t forget that Doha is in the Arabian Gulf, where the rules are different, and conservatism is the norm. Respecting the culture here is a must so refrain from wearing clothes that expose bare skin in public places and dress modestly, especially during Ramadan. Put it down to learning about another culture and turn it into a teaching moment for your family: learning about different nationalities, religions, beliefs, cuisine and cultures can be a great experience for children.
Caring for your health
Finding a general practitioner or a specialist can be stressful if you’ve just arrived in a new country, and cultural differences and language barriers do not help here. Luckily, there will most definitely be organised networks that can help you find a doctor that suits you. Your employer or insurance might have a list of preferred providers. If not, ask your local embassy or simply seek other parents or neighbours’ advice.
If you have the option, request a health card: health cards only cost QR 100 per person, and they allow holders to access free or subsidised services at their designated public healthcare facilities or hospitals. For private care, check your insurance policy for clinics and treatments covered. Although the public Hamad Medical Corporation facilities might seem a little intimidating for expats, their paediatric emergency centres (there are two of them in Doha) are quite effective and professional. Go during off-peak hours, for example early in the morning, to find parking easily and see a doctor quickly.
It’s also important to know that private clinics such as Al-Ahli Hospital are equipped to treat mild trauma, but you should head straight to Hamad General Hospital Emergency for major trauma such as car accidents and head injuries. Hamad General Hospital will accept and treat you without charge even if you don’t hold a health card, however, you will be charged for follow-up treatment if you don’t have a health card.
Summing it up
Doha is a hub of international travel, and many people take advantage of exotic destinations in proximity to Qatar during their stay here. If you book airfare at the right time, many of the airlines have sales throughout the year that make the price right. Take advantage of the opportunity to travel far, or don’t and stay local. Qatar is ripe for exploring. Inside and beyond Doha, there is a lot to do for families with a sense of adventure. The climate is also perfect for outdoor activities for most of the year so get out and about, instil a sense of adventure in your children and try something new. You will not regret it.