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Most expats find that working in Qatar involves 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. Despite its distance from home, the Qatari workplace can feel familiar.
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 facts that most of Qatar’s residents are foreigners and jobs abound across both public and private institutions.
The petrochemical sector has been the largest magnet to 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 in anticipation of 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, not only for 2022, but for many years that follow.
It is important to note that Qatar, like other Gulf countries, has a plan to develop its local workforce by improving education and training, and this national strategy is called Qatarisation. 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.
Qatar has low unemployment rates, and a large factor limiting the number of unemployed foreigners is the difficulty in getting a Qatari work visa without a host sponsor.
Qatarisation is largely in the energy and industrial sector, yet this is no cause for alarm for expats. Qatar highly values skilled foreign employees 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, and for this, 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 the relevant experience and qualifications.
Job seekers have a wealth of resources at their disposal. Social media platforms such as Facebook are useful, not only for finding a job but also for reaching out to expats in Qatar.
Qatari, Arab and international online job portals are great, such as LinkedIn, Monster Gulf, Bayt.com, Indeed, Gulf Talent and ILoveQatar.net. Job listings are also available in Gulf Times, Qatar Tribune and The Peninsula newspapers.
While online job platforms are a good starting point, networking, making connections and being friendly can work in an expats favour. It’s often more about who you know than what you know. That said, the culture of ‘wasta’ 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, though be sure to 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, their reality has not been as promising.
One of the downsides of working in Qatar is the fact that changing jobs can be difficult. Employment contracts often have clauses which restrict employees from starting a new job in the country. Some employers feel these rules are justified because they invest time and money 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, but normally expats must complete their employment contract or have their job terminated by their employer to change jobs.
If contract terms are undefined, expats must normally complete five years with the same employer before being able to switch jobs. Otherwise, expats need a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their current employer (who also sponsors their visa) to agree to these conditions. In many cases, it is necessary to exit the country while applying for new sponsorship.
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. Working hours without overtime pay are 48 hours a week though only 36 hours during Ramadan. Instead of the regular two-day weekend that expats may be used to, workers are only entitled to one day’s rest per week.
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 so associated values hold strong in business settings.