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Photo: Nono Fara

Velvet Garvey shares her favorite rules of expat life in Qatar.
1. No public displays of affection

Kissing, hugging, and some places even holding hands. You might get away with linking arms, but that’s about it. The exception is when greeting: In Qatar, men and women greet friends of the same sex with three kisses on the cheek.

It’s not uncommon for people to call the moral police and dob on anyone seen breaking this rule. The result is jail time.

All media abide by these policies, too. Models in magazines often have clothing drawn on, and any sexy-time scenes in movies are censored, especially if the characters aren’t married. Ever tried to watch The Reader in the Middle East? Yeah, that movie made no sense to me.

2. No shoulders

And no knees either. This one is tricky and has caused a lot of debate recently as public consensus becomes more lax. However, even though you may see the occasional pair of hot pants, expats are expected to dress modestly in all public areas, even in 40°C temperatures.

You need permission from your employer in the form of a letter if you want to buy a car, take out a loan, or rent an apartment.

If you’re found to be scantily clad you could be fined or, at the very least, security will ask you to leave the mall/office/souq you’re in. If you escape these guys, don’t think you’re in the clear. Locals especially don’t take very kindly to women flouting the dress code — expect some very unfriendly stares. As I always say, you don’t make friends with spaghetti straps!

3. No travel abroad without your boss’s permission

Ah, the exit permit. If you want to travel outside the country, you first have to arrange for the company you work for — your “sponsor” — to grant you an exit permit, which you must present at customs with your passport. No permit, no travel.

You also need permission from your employer in the form of a letter if you want to buy a car, take out a loan, or rent an apartment.

4. No booze

Well, kind of. Alcohol is served in hotels of 4 stars and above. We’re allowed to purchase booze for private consumption at home, but you need — you guessed it — a letter from your employer giving you permission to get a license first.

There’s only one store in Qatar that sells alcohol, and once inside you can only spend 10% of your monthly wage. Once the booze is bought, you must travel straight home, do not pass go, and do not distribute it to anyone else. This all sounds pretty strict but, to be honest, we’re lucky we’re allowed to drink at all. Our neighbours in Saudi Arabia aren’t so fortunate.

5. No phones at the gym

I go to a women-only gym. Just to get in the front door, I have to hand over my mobile phone and go through an LAX-style security screening while my body and bag are searched for hidden cameras or phones.

In areas that are for ladies only, women remove their veils and abayas, opting for more activity-appropriate clothing. Can you imagine trying to do a spin class in a floor-length skirt? Ergo, all photo-taking devices must be checked at the door.

6. No nudity in the change rooms
Throw the finger, and you’ll get arrested.

Even when you’re in a women-only changing room (such as at the pool), you’ll undress in a separate private cubicle. Signs state that others around you may find nudity offensive.

7. No sick people

If you want to live here, you have to be healthy. Expats applying for residency in Qatar must first pass a medical test that screens for tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV.

You’d think that, in a country where around 80% of the residents are expats, they’d have streamlined this process, but no. The day I went for my medical tests involved being herded into a crowded room, standing in a queue for 3 hours without instruction, and getting yelled at in Arabic. Not the funnest day out.

8. No flipping the bird

Forbidden in Qatar. The most obvious place where this is a problem is on the road, because traffic in Doha is absolutely horrendous. Throw the finger, and you’ll get arrested.

Actually, I’d say no hand signs in general while driving. Most expats have a strict ‘hands on the wheel at all times’ policy, because if you so much as wave a thank you to someone it could be misconstrued as a gesture of disrespect.

9. No complaining

My personal addition. Despite the initial inconveniences of the above rules, once you get used to them they have very little impact on daily life. And life here is good — the weather’s nice, we don’t pay taxes, and the culture seems to have mastered the work/life balance.

If nothing else, it’ll help you kick the booze habit.

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About The Author

Velvet Garvey

Velvet is an Australian writer and editor who gave up Bondi Beach for the sand dunes of Qatar. She offers observations and newbie tips on her blog Must Love Dust and never leaves home without a scarf.

  • Christophe Bodin

    Charming, I am moving there, NOT.

  • Priyanka Kher

    These sure are some rules, but looks like you’ve made your peace:) Loved number #9 and how this ended on a positive note. Have fun!

    • Velvet Garvey

      Thanks Priyanka. I think the sooner people make peace with it, the sooner they can start appreciating all the opportunities that life in Qatar offers :)

  • Jessica Wiler

    and they probably don’t sell pork either, do they? I used to live in Kuwait, your article reminded me a lot about my times there, especially having to get all my blood tests done, etc. Definitely not fun at all!

    • Tom Marion Wiler

      disgusting…living it every day, is really a drag!!!

    • Kathy Duckart Elliott

      Actually, they do sell pork now. You can only buy it in the ‘pork room’ at the liquor store for now, though!

  • Manila Citizen

    Well, they’re very strict when it comes to things that other nations are not really into. Just for example, there’s an issue of unjust detaining of converts from Islam to Christianity.

  • Xavier Moya

    probably a very interesting country to visit but before going there and thinking about all that above, I think I’d choose another destination where things are easier…

  • Danilo Rodrigues

    Just like Dubai. But Dubai is more open… Qatar sucks.

  • kooki

    I currently live in Qatar and find the rules less invasive than Switzerland where I lived before. In Switzerland you can eat pork and drink yourself under the table- all while wearing a spaghetti straps but there are rules (strictly upheld by the neighborhood watch who will get the police on you if required, who will, in turn, respond with earnestness and eventually fines) on when you can mow your lawn and wash your laundry.

    • Mohammead Manazil

      I wish you all the best ewerey day for drink

  • Kamal Raja

    Well but qatar goverment whant think fainal excit

  • Mohammead Manazil

    Good goverment whant to think labour life but in gatar labour life werey bad

  • ni

    I’m living here for 3 years and the worse thing is the disrespect I’m seeing from americans and europeans to Qatar by it self as an Islamic country. If you don’t like it don’t stay here, easy, go away…. return to your country…..

  • Paul

    No signs of affection in public? Is this the same as it is in Dubai, where Indian men openly hold each other intimatelly and gaze into each others eys, when they are not walking around holding hands? It would be found unacceptable in most Western societies, yet in a place where it is supposed to be strickly illegal, the police just walk past and ignore it. I am shocked by very little, but was shocked by the extent that signs of affection in public of a shocking nature are evident in Dubai, in a manner that would be scorned in Western societies. Talk about saying one thinmg and doing another!
    Is Qatar the same?

  • terry

    I am gay here in Qatar putting light make up and dress woman dress becoz they told me already looks like girl even my voice is girl voice I go work like woman is this a problem but my employer allow me already coz I am look like girl plz advice if this one is OK now here in Qatar plz

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