Capital city: Doha
Population: 2.1 million (Qatari Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics)
Government: Absolute monarchy
Currency: Qatari riyal (QR)
Main languages: Arabic, English
Main religions: Islam
The tiny gulf state of Qatar has risen to global prominence largely due to its vast resources of oil and gas. A small peninsula bordering only Saudi Arabia by land, it lies on the Persian Gulf. Although the country only officially gained independence from Britain in 1971, it has been effectively been ruled by the Al-Thani family since 1850, with the current Emir His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani taking office in 2013.
With a long cultural history, Qatar boasts relics from many of the great regional powers of the past including the Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Today it is a rapidly developing country with a transient population boosted by large numbers of migrant workers from all over the world. Governed by a combination of civil and Islamic law, the country is considered amongst the Middle East’s more liberal, with less restrictions on non-Muslim visitors and women’s rights than some of its neighbours.
Pastimes in Qatar depend largely on the weather, with the extreme summer heat generally putting a halt to most outdoor activities. When temperatures drop, Qataris enjoy their own traditional sports such as falconry, fishing, camel racing and horse racing, as well as embracing popular global sports like tennis and golf. The country is particularly passionate about football, and in 2022 it will become the first country in the Middle East to host the FIFA World Cup. Qatar also has its own brand of modern ‘sand sports’ including dune bashing and sandboarding, and a host of cultural sites and museums on offer, so visit the Qatar Tourism Authority website for more ideas.
Food and drink
Food culture in Qatar today is heavily influenced by its multinational population and there are a variety of restaurants serving international cuisine, with Indian and Turkish food amongst the most popular. Traditional Qatari cuisine shares some characteristic flavours with North African cooking, and often features seafood. In accordance with Muslim beliefs, meat is halal and until recently pork was banned, although it can now be bought for home consumption only. Coffee is very popular in Qatar, and fruit juices and smoothies are also widely available from street vendors. Alcohol is not completely banned, but is strictly regulated and can only be consumed in licenced bars and restaurants, or purchased at the Qatar Distribution Company by alcohol permit holders.
Arabic is the official language of Qatar, but English is taught in schools and widely spoken by business people and Qataris working in service industries. Signage and travel information is often displayed in both languages.
Qatari Arabic has some difference in both sound and dialect to the language spoken in other Gulf states, but it is considered mutually intelligible and most non-native speakers would struggle to detect the variations.
Qatar is known for its extremely hot summers. Temperatures can reach 50°C (122°F) in July and August and with humidity often high as well, air-conditioning is a must! In winter the temperature drops to around 15°C (59°F), but rainfall remains minimal – rarely reaching 20mm in a month. Qatar’s small size and flat terrain means that regional variation is minimal and the weather tends to be consistent for long periods of time.
Safety and security
Qatar is usually a very safe place to live and crime rates are very low. However, foreigners visiting the country are advised to take extra care when travelling at night and ensure they use licensed taxis to get home. Although foreign women are not obliged to wear the traditional Qatari abaya, they are strongly advised to dress modestly both out of respect for the beliefs of others and also to avoid any unwanted male attention.
It is also important to be aware of Qatari law. Although alcohol is available to expats, you must be 21 to drink and it is illegal to be drunk in public. Drug laws are extremely strict and if you require prescription drugs you are advised to carry a doctor’s note. Sexual relationships outside marriage are illegal and unmarried men and women are not allowed to live together in Qatar, regardless of their relationship. Homosexuality is also illegal in Qatar, while public displays of affection such as kissing or hugging can land even married couples in trouble with the police.