Qatar Halal Travel
Covid-19 Situation in Qatar
Qatar (Arabic: قطر; pronounced kut-ar) is a rich Arab state occupying a small peninsula extending into the Persian Gulf to the north of Saudi Arabia, east of Bahrain and west of the United Arab Emirates.
Many come to the Middle East seeking the mystic, traditional life of the Bedouins, wandering the desert with their life’s belongings on a camel’s back. Although tradition is still an important part of the Qatari ethos, the country has well and truly moved into the twenty-first century with the piercing glass skyscrapers of Doha, a booming trade sector and a new-found place in international diplomacy.
- Doha – capital
- Al Khor – northern city with a population of some 36,000, close to Ras Laffan LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal
- Al Shamal – this article covers the wider area of the northern municipality of Madinat ash Shamal
- Al Shahaniyah
- Al Wakrah
- Mesaieed – industrial town south of Doha, and 25 km south of Wakra, with recreational activities on the coast, including the sand dunes of Khor Al Udeid (the Inland Sea)
- Umm Salal Mohammed
- Al Shamal – the ruins of a deserted city and a fort built in 1938 by Sheikh Abdu’llah bin Qasim Al-Thani
Qatar has the world’s third-largest natural-gas reserves, behind only Russia and Iran. Its oil reserves are similar in size to those of the United States of America but will last much longer because its production levels are only one-sixth the rate of that country. By most accounts its people are the wealthiest in the world.
Because its Al Jazeera TV satellite networks broadcast throughout the globe in Arabic and English, Qatar is hugely influential in an otherwise very conservative region.
History of Qatar
There is evidence that shows the Qatar peninsula had been inhabited by Bedouin and Canaanite tribes from as early as 4000 BCE. While the museum houses a variety of artifacts including spearheads and pieces of pottery, there is little left of the structures that may have once existed. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings north of Doha give some idea of how these tribes may have lived. More recently, some sandstone buildings and mosques were discovered, piquing the interest of archaeologists as they seek to discover what still lays beneath the sand.
Emerging out of ancient history, Qatar was dominated by various Western and Eastern empires. The Ormus used the peninsula as a trading post and military port, until the Portuguese were able to extend their rule over the region. Neighbouring Bahrain eventually annexed the peninsula, until rebel movements and British intervention again made Qatar independent. Under pressure, Qatar became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1871 before becoming a British protectorate at the close of World War I. After a brief stint as part of the United Arab Emirates, independence was declared from Britain peacefully in 1971.
Since then, Qatar has transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for its pearling industry into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues, which enable Qatar to have the highest GDP per capita in the world. Qatar has become deeply involved in world affairs under the royal family, offering support in peacekeeping missions and UN-mandated wars such as that in the Gulf in 1991. Qatar also plays host to various world conferences, including those of the World Trade Organisation, the UN Climate Convention and various mediation bodies. It leaped onto the world stage with the development of the popular Al Jazeera news network and expansion of Qatar Airways to most of the world’s continents, and is rapidly gaining interest among foreigners as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup after already holding the Asian Games in 2006.
Qatar is a peninsula that juts into the Persian Gulf. Most of the country consists of low barren plain covered with dunes. In the southeast of Qatar lies the Khor al Adaid, an area with sand dunes and an inlet from the Persian Gulf.
Qatar is an absolute monarchy headed by the emir, who is from the Al-Thani family. While the country has rapidly modernised under the leadership of former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, questions remain on the treatment of migrant workers from other parts of Asia, which many human rights groups describe as exploitative and slave-like. As in most other countries in the region, calls for reform and more democracy on the one hand, and a rising islamist movement calling for a “purer” (i.e. more conservative) interpretation of the Qur’an and Islam on the other hand, are a major factor in domestic politics.
Oil is a cornerstone of the Qatari economy; it used to account for more than 30% of GDP, roughly 80% of export earnings and 58% of government revenues. Proven oil reserves of 15 billion barrels should ensure continued output at current levels for at least the next 20 years. Oil and gas have given Qatar the highest GDP per capita by most studies. Qatar’s proved reserves of natural gas exceed 7 trillion m³, more than 11% of the world’s total, making it the third largest reserve in the world. Production and export of natural gas are becoming increasingly important. Qatar manages to post very high surpluses each year, and escaped the Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed.
In addition to the energy sector, Qatar also exports petrochemicals, cement and steel. Doha has a rapidly growing financial sector that is cementing itself as one of the Centres of trade and finance within the Middle East. The Qatari government has also outlined its plan to boost tourism and media businesses on the peninsula, creating new sectors to further increase Qatar’s profile. In addition, many foreign universities have set up outposts in Qatar, transforming Qatar into one of the main education hubs of the Middle East.
The climate of Qatar can be described as arid and unforgiving. In the summer, which runs from May through to September, the days are characterised by intense and humid heat, averaging 35°C but not unknown to peak at 50°C. In the winter, October to April, the days are much more bearable at about 20-25°C, with a nice cool evening down to around 15°C. If the heat is to be avoided, the best months to visit would be December and January.
Rainfall and storms in Qatar are extremely rare, forcing locals to retrieve water from newly-constructed desalination plants. However, huge sandstorms that envelop the peninsula are common in the summertime. These can be hazardous if not under shelter, and will descend the country into darkness as it blots out the hot sun above. There may also be disruptions to transportation and other services.
- Allen J. Fromherz, Qatar: A Modern History.
- Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud, The Corsair. A debut novel about 19th-century piracy in the Persian Gulf, and the very first novel by a Qatari author.
- Sophia Al-Maria, The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir. Written by a Qatari-American based in Doha, this is an entertaining account of a childhood spent trying to bridge the divide between Bedouin and American cultures.
Citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates do not require a visa to visit Qatar, and may use National ID Cards to enter the country.
Citizens of all European Union nations (except Ireland and the United Kingdom), plus the Bahamas, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Norway, Seychelles, Switzerland and Turkey are granted a free multiple-entry visa waiver on arrival, provided they arrive through Hamad International Airport, have a valid passport with a minimum validity of six months and a confirmed onward or return ticket. Visa waivers are valid for 180 days from the date of issuance, and entitle its holder to spend up to 90 consecutive days in Qatar.
Citizens of Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China (PRC), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Georgia (disambiguation), Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, the Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Rome/Vatican and Venezuela may obtain a visa waiver upon arrival in Hamad International Airport valid for 30 days from the date of issuance. This waiver may be extended for a further 30 days.
Citizens of Macau, Mauritius, Montenegro and Taiwan may obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days.
Citizens of Pakistan can obtain a visa on arrival valid for 30 days, provided that they hold a passport valid for 6 months, QR5000 in cash or a major credit card, and a confirmed return ticket.
Citizens of Iran travelling on business can obtain a visa on arrival at a cost of QR100 for a maximum stay of 6 days, provided they hold QR5000 in cash or a major credit card, return ticket, upper class hotel reservation and an invitation by a company that is certified by the Government.
Citizens of all nationalities who hold valid residence permits or visas for either the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Schengen Area, or the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council can obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation valid for up to 30 days. The visa may be extended online for 30 additional days.
Regardless of nationality, travellers who are in transit through Hamad International Airport do not require a visa if they depart within 24 hours and remain within the airport. Free transit visas, which are valid for up to 96 hours (4 days) and allow travellers to briefly visit Qatar, are also issued to all passengers of any nationality transiting through Hamad International Airport, provided that they travel with Qatar Airways.
For those needing visas, tourist visas are available online through the eVisa system. Visas are issued within four working days if all documents are submitted, and are valid for a stay period up to 30 days in Qatar.
For other visa applications, visa procedures can be complicated, as you will need a guarantor on the Qatari side, either a company or a government entity. Also Qatari embassies, unlike those of most other countries, are not entitled to issue visas, so someone in Qatar will have to file the application for you. 4/5-star hotels offer full visa service, for a price, if you book a room with them for the duration of your stay. Qatar Airways can arrange the hotel and visa for you, tel. +974 44496980 if you contact them in advance (a 7-day notice seem to be required). In this case, there also seems to also be a new regulation in place (2008) to either present a credit card or QR5000 at the point of entry – which should generally not be a problem, if you can afford the room. When booking with other hotels, you’ll need a guarantor in Qatar.
For longer stays, visas must be arranged by having a sponsor. Unmarried women under the age of 35 will have a hard time in procuring a visa for a lengthy stay, as the country seems to fear that their safety and well being cannot be guaranteed.
Qatar is among the few Gulf states that officially accepts Israeli passports (with the necessary visas) and passports with evidence of visits to Israel.
Entry by air into Qatar has boomed in the last decade. Most people visiting the country will enter via Hamad International Airport () near Doha. State-owned flag carrier Qatar Airways has secured a huge network of flights operating out of its hub in Doha to 124 destinations. In fact, it is of the very few airports in the world with non-stop services to all inhabited continents. Other major airlines also serve the airport, usually running a route between Doha and their own hub in the base country.
A taxi fare from the airport has a default tariff of QR 25.
The only land route to Qatar is from/through Saudi Arabia. Unless you are a citizen of one of the GCC countries, it is fairly difficult to obtain a Saudi visa. Tourism often closes at short notice for extended periods of time, and the visas are both confusing and costly. If you plan on driving from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other Gulf countries to Qatar through Saudi Arabia, you will need a Saudi transit visa in advance and documents proving your onward journey. There are future plans for a major bridge to link Qatar with neighbouring Bahrain, although these are constantly delayed.
Even if you do manage to obtain a Saudi visa, travel by car is not recommended. The roads between Qatar and other major cities/countries are poor. If you are travelling during the day, be cautious of speeding cars and trucks. Always wear your seat belt and do not speed over 50 mph (80 km/h). Travelling at night is risking your life, with poor visibility and semi-suicidal drivers.
You can travel to Qatar by bus from/through Saudi Arabia, there are fixed bus routes, within Qatar, although mostly used by men only. However, customs can take up to 4 hours especially at night. You will not be treated nearly as well as if you fly into Doha. Flying in costs only slightly more than a bus ticket.
There are no specific boat routes, but there are commercial freight boats coming into Doha from all over the world, as well as small commercial boats coming in from Dubai and Iran.
Public transport comes in three forms in Qatar: buses, taxis and limousines, all of which are owned by government-owned Mowasalat (Karwa) apart from some private limousine companies.
The bus service began in October 2005. Ticketing is handled using a Karwa Smartcard , which comes in three flavours:
- Smartcard Classic – Initial fee of QR30 with QR20 credit included. Journey prices vary, costing QR2.50 for a short ride. You must tap-in when you get on the bus, and tap-off when you get off to avoid a default QR30 penalty. Can be purchased in various retailers as listed on the Karwa website, but not on board buses.
- Smartcard 24 Limited – An initial fee of QR10 allows 2 trips on the bus (one return trip) within 24 hours of first tapping-in. You only need to tap-in, and should not tap-off. Can be bought on board the bus for travel in Greater Doha only.
- Smartcard 24 Unlimited – An initial fee of QR20 gives the user unlimited travel throughout Qatar within 24 hours of first tapping-in. Again, there is no necessity to tap-off. Can be bought aboard the bus.
A large number of routes criss-cross the country, with the network stretching north to Al Khor, west to Dukhan, and as far south as Mesaieed. Timetable and ticketing information can be obtained by calling +974 4436 6053.
By taxi or limousine
The government-owned Mowasalat also runs the taxi and limousine service. The taxis are easily spotted due to their uniform light blue colour with a maroon top. The initial fare on the meter is QR 4, with an extra QR 1.20 per kilometre within Doha and QR 1.80 anywhere outside the capital. A trip to or from the airport has a single tariff of QR 25. To ensure you are not scammed, some precautions should be noted:
- For journeys within Doha the tariff should be set to ‘1’, and those at night or outside of Doha should be set to ‘0’.
- Check the meter is not tampered; signs of a tampered meter include tape and strips of paper around the outside.
- By law, if a driver refuses to use the meter, the ride should be free.
- There are occasional reports of unruly drivers locking the taxi doors or refusing to open the trunk until extra payment is made. If such an occurrence happens to you, attempt to leave the car. If not possible, calling the police on 999 should cause the driver to become very cooperative.
The demand for taxis exceeds the supply and waiting times can vary greatly. Attempting to obtain one during morning business hours requires at least 24 hours notice, although even in practice this is unreliable, as the scheduled taxi often doesn’t show up. At other times, it may take 90 minutes or more to get an on-call taxi, and hailing one on the street may be impossible much of the time. The only places where you are guaranteed to find a taxi are major malls, the airport and international hotels.
Taxis can be booked and summoned by calling +974 4458 8888.
An alternative to taxis and buses would be to use a limousine service, which will send an unmarked limo car to your location. They are expensive, but luxurious taxis with an initial fee of QR 20, but do not always feature a meter.
International limousine services, such as Uber, Careem, and Lyft are available in Qatar. The apps allow for quick and easy summoning of a driver.
Occasionally, a local driver may offer you a lift if they see you waiting on the side of the road. It is customary to offer some money at the end, though usually they will refuse to take it. A driver offering a lift will slow down and flash their headlights at you; they can be summoned with a wave in response. Although the practice is safe, it is not advisable for solo women.
You can hire a car with local car rental companies. Plenty of them are located near the airport and Doha city Centre, or else ask your hotel for some advice.
Arabic is the official language of Qatar although the majority of residents do not speak it. Expatriate workers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines far outnumber native Qataris, particularly in Doha (where the proportion of foreigners is about 90%), many of whom have a very limited knowledge of Arabic. English serves as the lingua franca, and most Qataris speak it to communicate with the foreign workers who work for them. English is the most common second language, and most locals will be able to converse in at least basic English. Among native Qataris, the dialect of Arabic that is spoken is the Gulf dialect. You may encounter foreign labourers speaking diverse languages such as Afrikaans phrasebook, Chinese phrasebook, Japanese phrasebook, Hindi phrasebook, Urdu phrasebook, Filipino phrasebook and Thai phrasebook. While you can get by just fine in Qatar with only English under your belt, your hosts and any other locals you may meet will be very impressed and appreciative if you can recite a few basic Arabic phrases.
For a comparatively small peninsula in the Middle East, there is quite a lot to see in Qatar.
The history-seeker will not be disappointed, with an assortment of ruins, cave art and museums to keep the mind wandering. Most famous is the archaeological site of Al Shamal, where there are the remains of what was once a thriving port city. An early 20th century fort on the site still stands as a museum, a testament to a bygone era. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings in north-eastern Qatar are a remarkable site of 900 petroglyphs that are believed to date back to ancient tribes who inhabited the peninsula during the 15th century BCE.
A number of forts and towers exist around the country; most of them have also been restored as museums. The Barzan Towers stand at the edge of the town of Umm Salal Mohammed, erected to safeguard the country’s rainwater basin. Another defensive watchtower stands in Al Khor. The popular Al Koot Fort is located in the heart of the capital Doha, with a wide variety of traditional handicrafts within. Others structures include Marwab Fort, Al Thughab Fort, Al Shaghab Fort, Al Rakiyat Fort, Al Wajbah Fort and the ruins of Al Yussoufiya Fort, Umm Al Maa Fort and Al Ghuwair Castle.
While the National Museum is closed for renovations, there are a number of other museums across the country that specialise in history. The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Al Shahaniyah is the Sheikh’s collection of relics, artefacts and art from Qatar, the Middle East and around the world.
- The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
- Souq Waqif : the traditional old marketplace of Qatar. Has many good restaurants, especially at night time. Also sells many national products – bargaining is recommended.
- The Pearl : a man-made island connected to Doha by a bridge. You can find a big variety of restaurants and shops, mainly in the high range.
- Villaggio Mall: a spectacular Venetian style shopping mall with a canal and gondolas as well. A huge variety of shops from casual to luxury.
- Mathaf : The Arab museum of modern art
- Katara : Cultural village which is home to many international and Arab restaurants, a beautiful beach, and holds many cultural events. Definitely a place to see.
- Aqua park : Aquatic Funfair.
- Qatar Mall: A huge meal with a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
- Aspire park: A beautiful park next to Villaggio mall, it is reserved for families only on the weekend, visiting in the winter months is recommended.
- MIA park: A beautiful park next to the museum of Islamic art , single people are allowed in, visiting in the winter months is recommended.
The national currency is the Qatari riyal, denoted by the symbol “ر.ق” or “QR” (ISO code: QAR). The riyal is pegged to the US dollar at the rate of QR3.64 to US $1. One riyal is divided into 100 dirham, with 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 dirham coin denominations. The riyal is available in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 banknote denominations.
It is fairly straightforward to change major world currencies within Qatar, along with the currencies of Bahrain, Saudia Arabia and the UAE. Rates are fairly similar between banks and moneychangers, with a large concentration of moneychangers near the Gold Souq of Doha. Banks are abundant across Doha, with branches in the larger cities as well. Travellers cheques are accepted by the major banks.
Shopping in Qatar
Qatar has many malls in which regular international brands such as H&M, Zara, and Mango. The biggest malls are Mall of Qatar, Festival City, and City Center. Middle eastern and local brands are also present
The pearl has luxurious brands from all over the world. It is the premium luxury shopping destination in Qatar.
Blue Salon has huge sales twice a year where you can pick up Armani, Valentino and Cerutti suits for half price. There are many things to buy here but be wary of cheap pearls that have a high possibility of being fake. The many skilled tailors in Qatar make it a good place to have clothes made-to-fit.
The souqs in the Centre of Doha also have a lot to offer, although the goods are usually of cheaper quality than those of the malls. Prices are usually negotiable, so practice your bargaining skills. Souq Waqif (The Standing Souk) is the most interesting of the souqs; it has been renovated to look as it did 50 or 60 years ago. You can buy anything from a turban to a pot large enough to cook a baby camel in!
A great activity for tourists is simply to experience the nation’s tradition. The traditional Qatari way of life was simple: Bedouin nomads wandering the desert with their camels, and fisherman scouring the ocean floor for pearls to trade. While these two lifestyles are mostly extinct on the peninsula, the government has taken some measures to preserve their traditions for future generations to experience.
Many tour companies run desert expeditions by both four-wheel drive and camel. Some may just be for the day, while others can go for up to a week with trekkers camping overnight in a Bedouin tent. The one day “dune-bashing” tours simply involve speeding over the desert’s endless dunes in a Landcruiser.
The pearling tradition has existed as far back as 2000 BCE, when Mesopotamian records speak of shining “fish eyes” imported from the Gulf region. While the industry went bust after the discovery of oil, a large festival is held each year to celebrate the tradition. The Qatar Marine Festival in Doha often includes a huge sea expedition by various dhow boats to find oyster beds on the ocean floor. Other activities at the festival include a musical performance, a seal show, a sandsculptor’s expedition and a water, light and sound show.
Many companies offer shipwreck diving for tourists, which can be organised from Doha. Popular diving sites include the man-made Old Club Reef and New Club Reef just out of Mesaieed, Qapco Reef, the M.O. Shipwreck and the Al Sharque Shipwreck.
Other popular watersports include kite-surfing, driving jet-skis, surfing and chartered fishing expeditions.
Qatar has seemingly endless options for food, much of it excellent. If you would like European cuisine in a fancy setting, visit a hotel like the Ramada or the Marriott, both of which also offer excellent sushi and the choice of having alcoholic drinks with your meal (the only restaurants in town that can do this are in the major hotels), but at a steep price. Authentic and delicious Indian and Pakistani food is found throughout the city, ranging from family-oriented places to very basic eateries catering to the Indian and Pakistani workers. You may attract some curious stares in the worker eateries, but the management will almost always be extremely welcoming, and the food is very inexpensive.
Middle Eastern cuisine is everywhere as well, and in many forms—kebabs, breads, hummus, the list goes on. It can be purchased on the cheap from a take-out (many of which look quite unimpressive, but serve awesome food) or from a fancier place, like the wonderful Layali (near Chili’s in the ‘Cholesterol Corner’ area) that serves gourmet Lebanese food and has hookahs with flavored tobacco. Refined Persian cuisine is available for reasonable prices in the royally appointed Ras Al-Nasa`a Restaurant on the Corniche (don’t miss the cathedral-like rest rooms). Traditional Qatari food is, however, surprisingly hard to find in restaurants, and is largely confined to the homes of locals. As Qataris have a strong culture of hospitality, if you have Qatari friends, being invited to their homes is generally the best chance you’ll get to sample the local cuisine.
Don’t be afraid to venture into the souqs looking for a meal; it will be a unique experience in an authentic setting, and although some of the places you see may look rundown, that’s just the area in general, and the food will be probably be quite good. Many of the restaurants in the souqs (as well as the shops) shut down during the afternoon hours. If you are in a funny kind of mood, you can try a McArabia—McDonald’s Middle Eastern sandwich available only in the region.