Most expats find that relocating to Qatar for work is a surprisingly smooth transition. Foreigners make up most of the population and although Arabic is the official language, English is commonly spoken in business settings.
On the one hand, colleagues and clients from all over the world mean that the business culture in Qatar is eclectic. On the other hand, diverse cultures may clash with things like communication styles, and, of course, Arabic work culture has its own set of norms.
Expats should educate themselves about doing business in Qatar but shouldn't expect too much to happen too quickly. Being patient, sensitive and aware of the effects that cultural differences can have on office life will smooth the transition.
Job market in Qatar
Qatar appeals to workers from all over the world, illustrated by the fact that most of Qatar’s residents are foreigners and jobs abound across both public and private institutions.
The petrochemical sector has been the largest drawcard for expats, though this is slowly changing. The Qatari monarchy has stressed economic diversification and growth in other industries. Construction and real estate continue to grow, and there has been massive investment in improving infrastructure and the tourism sector for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Over 1.5 million jobs are open to foreign employees in Qatar, and this is expected to increase as the expat job market expands.
That said, prospective expats should be aware of Qatarisation, whereby a Qatari national with equally strong qualifications and performance ratings is likely to be given priority over an expatriate. Qatarisation also explains the lengthy work permit process.
Qatarisation is most prevalent in the energy and industrial sector, yet this shouldn’t be cause for alarm for skilled expats. Qatar highly values foreign employees with the right expertise, who can contribute to these sectors and also aid in training and upscaling the local workforce.
Finding a job in Qatar
To work in Qatar, expats will need a work permit, for which they have to secure a job before arriving in the country.
Many expats are transferred from their company overseas and do not need to actively search for a job in Qatar. Still, it shouldn’t be too difficult for foreign hopefuls with the right qualifications to get a job, especially if they have experience in the construction, oil and gas industries. What’s key is to have a strong CV with relevant experience and qualifications.
Job seekers have a wealth of resources at their disposal. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are useful, not only for finding a job but also for reaching out to other expats in Qatar.
Qatari, Arab and international online job portals are great, such as Monster Gulf, Bayt.com, Indeed, Gulf Talent and ILoveQatar.net. Job listings are also available in Gulf Times, Qatar Tribune and The Peninsula newspapers. The Hukoomi portal and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs website can also be very useful.
While online job platforms are a good starting point, networking and making personal connections can also work in an expat’s favour; it’s often more about who they know than what they know. That said, the culture of ‘wasta’ (loosely, ‘who you know’) has been linked to issues of nepotism and corruption in the past, and relatives or friends have been favoured over someone else with greater experience. So, while networking is useful, do be aware of both the pros and cons.
International recruitment agencies and relocation firms are a good option, but expats should always do independent research on the jobs these agencies promote. There have been reports of recruitment agencies overselling jobs, mainly to lower-skilled job seekers, and inflating the expected wages. When these expats arrive, the reality is often not as promising as expected.
One of the downsides of working in Qatar is the fact that changing jobs can be difficult. Employment contracts often have clauses that restrict employees from starting a new job in the country. Some employers feel these rules are justified because they invest time and money in bringing foreign workers into the country.
Qatari labour law means jobs can only be changed under certain conditions, and employees cannot conduct any work for another employer while they are under contract, whether it’s paid or unpaid, including outside of normal working hours.
That said, it has become easier to change jobs in Qatar with amended labour laws. Employees can now freely cancel employment contracts with one month’s notice if they were employed for two years or less, and two months’ notice after two years, though these rules are new and some employers may not abide by them.
Work culture in Qatar
Working in Qatar is not without its challenges. The salary packages are attractive and tax-free living is tempting, but employees in Qatar work notoriously long hours to earn their riyals. The workweek is usually 48 hours a week, though only 36 hours during Ramadan. A typical workweek is usually from Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday off. That said, some businesses do open on Fridays, in which case they usually only work half days on Thursday.
Though expats from across the world bring their cultures into the workplace, culture shock in Qatar may be experienced. It's important to understand that Islam is the predominant religion, and associated values hold strong in business settings.