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Working in Qatar

Working in Qatar is a surprisingly smooth transition for most expatriates relocating from the Western world. Foreigners make up nearly 85% of the emirate’s population, and English has even usurped Arabic as the language of employment; thus, office environments may feel eerily familiar despite their distance from home.

The lure of a tax-free income is hard to resist, and even though the glory days of supremely fat wages and endless benefits are over, there are still many reasons why working in Qatar is appealing. The country has enjoyed a booming period of growth over the last decade which is expected to continue, largely thanks to its rich reserves of liquefied natural gas and in spite of the recent economic downturn.

Since the global recession, the unemployment levels have improved with only 1.1% of the population unemployed. In terms of banking, finance and mining, the global crisis appeared to be a mere blip on the radar, with many sectors reporting growth overall during 2010. With the economy holding strong, opportunities for those with specialist skills are abundant, particularly in the gas, oil, finance and construction sectors, and frequently in management or executive roles.

Expatriates aren’t generally allowed to become part of the permanent population. Foreign workers are dealt with in a fair but controlled way, paid and treated well, and at the end of their time in the region, thanked and rewarded for their efforts. On the other hand, the government is conscious of the need to provide decent jobs with career paths for their own young people, who are increasingly educated and aware of the attractions of the outside world – many attend universities in the USA or UK. Having made major investments in education and social welfare, they hope that eventually Qatar will become almost self-sufficient in terms of labour.

Most expatriate workers are male. Their wives often have a restriction in their passport which prohibits them from working. Should the wives wish to work, they must obtain their own sponsorship and work visa, but employers tend to be biased against giving work visas to women. Women are often offered work (illegally) and, while this isn’t a major crime, it can result in the company being fined and the woman losing her job. Women are generally safe in the workplace, with little sexual harassment because of the severe punishments for this. The influx of female ‘tourists’ (i.e. prostitutes) from eastern Europe in recent times, however, has reduced the level of respect that foreign females hitherto enjoyed. Women should also be careful not to be too friendly towards Arab men in the workplace, because this can be misunderstood as flirtatiousness.

Most job placements won’t require you to speak Arabic, however it does pay to learn a few greetings and pleasantries before you arrive. All workers are entitled to one month’s paid leave per year, a flight home at least once every two years and a bonus equal to one month’s wage for every year of service worked. In addition to this, some international companies offer paid furnished housing and utilities, medical insurance, tuition fees for dependants, as well as share option schemes. Your employer will normally look after some or all of your relocation costs (including flights for you and your family) and will pay for all necessary residence visas and work permits when you arrive.

The working week in Qatar tends to vary between 40 and 48 hours, depending on the particular company’s policy. Office hours are usually from 8:30 or 9 am to 5:30 or 6 pm. There are no differences in time keeping between summer and winter. In the month of Ramadan, the working day is reduced to six hours and legally this should apply to all staff, but many companies only apply it to Muslims, who fast during daylight hours.

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