Have You Ever Thought About Teaching in Qatar?
If you like beaches, desert culture, art museums, and a vibrant city life, then Qatar (pronounced KAH-tar) just might be for you. Qatar is both a peninsula and a small group of islands in the Persian Gulf. It is mostly flat land covered with desert. Doha, Qatar’s capital, added new hotels, museums, and other facilities for the 2006 Asian Games and there is new construction underway in preparation of hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
With over 330 international schools, this tiny (2.6 million, 11,586 sq. km/4116 sq. mi), oil-rich nation is a teacher’s paradise! Furthermore, education is highly valued, the literacy rate is very high, and K-12 education is mandatory. The government has been a new emphasis placed on languages and STEM education.
Foreigners and tourism as been encouraged during the last decade. In fact, only about one-quarter of Qatar’s residents are native Qatari (about 313, 000). The rest are guest workers from Iran, Pakistan, India, and other Middle Eastern countries. And the country hosts a major U.S. military base.
Once famous for its pearl industry, this has been replaced with oil as the country’s biggest income source. It is a high income country (highest per capita income in the world and a low unemployment rate of 0.1%) with the third largest natural gas reserves and oil reserves worldwide. It’s no wonder that high-rise offices and hotels dot the waterfront areas and luxury cars are seen everywhere.
With an increased openness to foreigners, Qatari women are awarded more freedom. In many ways they have more freedom than in the other Gulf states. Women may now refuse a marriage proposal and there are women officials in government. In 1999, women voted in a local election, the first females of any Gulf state.
Depending who you talk to, Qatar is looked upon as either a constitutional monarchy or an absolute monarchy. In 2003, the Constitution was approved via a referendum with 98% of voter support.
Qatar is located in Western Asia on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Its southern border is Saudi Arabia.
Daily Temperatures and Weather
Temperatures are more mild in the winter months, November through March. Near the coasts, humidity is generally high. July through September are very hot with slightly less humidity. There is a dusty wind (called the shamal) that blows during the spring/summer months from March through August. Sandstorms are more frequent at this time of the year, too. You can expect some rainfall in the winter months, but the rainstorms will be short.
What’s there to see?
The country’s most popular beaches include those at Jebel Fuwairet and Khor (north of Doha) and at Dukhan (west of the capital). If you want to tour the underdeveloped beaches in the southeast or northeast, you will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Umm Said boosts sand dunes that line up to the water’s edge. If you enjoy scuba diving or snorkeling, there are beautiful coral reefs off several of the popular beach areas. Oftentimes, you need to bring along your own snorkel and mask.
Camel racing is popular, and although gambling is outlawed, “forecasting” is allowed. Remember that taking a photo of a camel before a race is considered bad luck. Interestingly, a camel reproduction research center has been established in Qatar to genetically engineer the world’s fastest racing camel.
You can also book a tour for a desert safari or for sightseeing in the old towns of northern Qatar. All Doha tour operators offer overnight desert camping tours. Women traditionally take the western side of the tent; men take the eastern side.
There is a vast selection of goods ranging from traditional, colorful Sadew woven rugs (made from a mixture of camel and goat hair) and imported items from neighboring countries. Don’t be surprised to find many items made in India. Local markets expect to haggle for prices so don’t be too timid. One of the largest shopping malls is located on Al Comiche near the Doha Sheraton Hotel. This four-story mall is one of the largest malls outside of North America. Inside, you will find a supermarket, multiscreen theater, amusement park, ice-skating rink, bowling alley, food courts and a few Internet cafes. Shopping is available Saturday through Thursday.
Foods and Restaurants
The international deluxe hotels offer a wide range of dishes including Continental fares. Indian, Pakistani, and fast-food restaurants are very common. Regional specialties are worth sampling: rice and lamb dishes, seafood, fish, chicken, and kebabs. And don’t forget the delicate pastries topped with honey and nuts for dessert! Dates, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons are grown locally.
You will find most of the local dishes cooked fresh and highly seasoned. Coffee and tea are plentiful. Alcohol drinks are served only at a small number of licensed bars and to foreigners.
Don’t be surprised if other customers join your table; this is customary especially at busy times.
Greetings, Invitations to Visit
It’s common for Arab businessmen to hold hands with other males as a sign of friendship. Don’t withdraw your hand or feel offended or shocked by this behavior. It is polite and customary to say Salaam Alykum when greeting someone. This greeting precedes a handshake and a kiss on both cheeks.
It is customary to take off your shoes before entering a private home. When sitting, don’t sit so your soles of your feet are visible to the human eye. This is considered bad manners and an insult. When invited into a home, don’t be surprised if the women are separated from the men. Usually, women and men eat and socialize in different rooms of the house.
If offered a certain food or drink, it is important that you accept it. If not, this behavior is seen as rude. Don’t drink or eat with your left hand as this is considered “unclean”.
Be careful if you admire any of a native host’s possessions as they may feel it necessary to offer it to you. Try making general compliments instead. It is appreciated, but not expected for you to bring a gift if you are invited to a native Qatari’s home. However, don’t give artwork or photos that show women.
Qatar Telecom sells prepaid Q-cards for 30 and 50 riyals to be used in public telephones. There are English prompts on the public phones. Calls from hotel rooms are double so it is best to find a public phone at a shopping mall to use.
Several Internet cafes are available for use in larger shopping malls. If frequenting a hotel, there is usually an added Internet charge.
Two English newspapers (The Peninsula and Gulf Times) are published daily (except Fridays).
Safety and Health
There is a low incident of crime throughout the country. However, you should still be observant.
The overall health and sanitary conditions are higher in Qatar than most other Middle Eastern countries. It is still best to peel fresh fruit and raw vegetables before eating. Check to ensure that meat is fully cooked and avoid local dairy products and tap water. Drink packaged drinks or boiled water.
There are reputable medical and dental facilities in Qatar, but few clinics and hospitals outside the capital. It is advised to use sunscreen and to wear a hat.
Judicial corporal punishment is common. Alcohol consumption, illicit sex, homosexuality, apostasy, proselytizing, and blasphemy are severely punishable. There is no exception for foreigners so obey the country’s laws.
In June 2017, several Arab countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya) cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar as they viewed Qatar as embracing extremists. It is yet to be seen the impact of this action.
Women need to dress modestly in public with loosely-fitted clothing, typically at least elbow-length sleeves and skirts below their knees, or they can wear slacks. You will notice that Qatari women are seldom seen without a veil.
For men, long-sleeve shirts and long pants will be appropriate in any setting. Short sleeves are acceptable in informal situations like sightseeing or shopping.
Passports, Visas, and Sponsors
American and Canadian citizens need a passport and a major credit card upon entry to Qatar. Three-week visitor visas are issued at the airport when arriving. The fee must be paid by credit card.
If you plan to work in the country, you will need a work visa. And if you have any family members who plan to accompany you while you reside in Qatar, they will need a visa as well. You will need a Qatar national to sponsor you. Usually, this is your new employer. (Then you can sponsor your spouse and children.)They will apply for a certificate for you which will be stamped onto your passport before entering the Doha Airport. The same applies to your family members.
Then you need to apply for residence after entering the country. This process typically takes two to six weeks. A residency visa is good for two years, although sometimes it is granted for only six months at a time. You will need to renew your visa before it expires; allow one month’s time. Your employer can help with this process as the form needs to be filled out in Arabic and includes specific documents and payment. There are also special requirements for an HIV and TB test and fingerprinting for the residence application. Your employer will again help you through this process and submit the results of your medical exam, fingerprints, and your passport for residency application. These requirements are subject to change so it is best to consult the embassy of the country in which you presently reside.
The international airport (DOH) is 3 miles (5km) south of the capital. The flights are generally booked so if you are traveling, get to the airport early as overbooking is known to happen. Confirm any travel plans early.
Taxis, local buses, and chauffeured cars are standard means of transportation. Taxis have yellow plates and are not metered; negotiate a fare before you get in the vehicle. There is no need to tip a taxi driver as the tip is already factored in the quoted fee. Bus stops are marked well for the large green and white city buses. Expect to buy a bus ticket from the driver.
You can also rent a car, usually with unlimited mileage. However, the driving will be undoubtedly different than what Westerners are accustomed to… roundabouts are plentiful, drivers exceed speeds, etc. Driving around the city area is routine; the roads to Saudi Arabia are usually restricted to foreigners and the areas away from the city center as mentioned earlier are better navigated by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Additional Facts to Know
The Qatari riyal is a stable currency. American dollar bills are easily exchanged without an added fee at the many private exchange offices. ATMS are easy to find.
The only tax you will see is the visa tax; all other fees throughout the country have the tax included. A 10% fee (tip) is added at restaurants. However, the government authorities are considering adding a tax on junk foods and luxury items.
Punctuality is highly valued so be on time for appointments, etc.
Islam remains a strong influence on Qataris’ lives. (There are Christian churches attended by foreigners.) Don’t eat or drink in public before sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. Don’t enter mosques without permission as most are not accessible to non-Muslims.
Don’t photograph people and especially women without permission. Don’t take photos of military, police or firemen; this is against the law.
For More Information
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