Before planning a trip to any destination, it is important to know that you should not break the law of the country at any point of time, else, even the embassy may not be able to assist you. For this, it would be wise to keep yourself updated about the basic laws in the destination that you plan to visit or reside in. Here are some basic laws followed in the State of Qatar.
Qatar society, it is said, is not as liberal as the UAE or Bahrain, but is definitely more liberal than Saudi Arabia. Qatar applies Shari’a Law to all aspects of family law, inheritance and certain criminal acts. Being a traditional Muslim community, people will settle disputes based on Sharia court or Islamic court, applicable to Sharia Law or Muslim Law.
General rules applicable to expats in Qatar
Visitors can enter Qatar through two main border points at Sauda Nathil and Abu Samra if travelling by land, through Doha International Airport if travelling by air, and through ports of Doha and Mesaieed if travelling through sea.
Visitors from 46 countries are allowed to enter Qatar visa-free, while some are eligible for visa-on-arrival.
Qatar grants tourist and visit visas at border points for nationals of more than 33 countries. However, others will have to apply for it in advance. Visas issued at the border are mostly short-term Tourist Visas, which can be extended for another month, if required. Visitors who do not fall into the list of non-visa categories, will have to obtain a Tourist Visa in advance through their embassies.
Qatar has restrictions for HIV/AIDS visitors, and does not permit individuals with HIV/AIDS to live in the country. Medical exams are a must for all long-term visitors and residents. This information can be verified at http://www.qatarembassy.net/ before travel.
If you are a resident of a GCC country, you will be eligible for a single-entry visa-on-arrival. This visa will only be issued if your Residence Permit is valid for at least six months, and if your profession appears on this list.
When travelling from Qatar, all expatriate residents and some visitors are required to have exit permits. For your own comfort, it is best to confirm these requirements before starting your journey.
Qatar has restrictions for HIV/AIDS visitors and does not permit those affected with HIV to live in the country. Medical examinations are a ‘must’ for all long-term visitors and residents.
If you are unsure about the entry rules in Qatar, or if you need further reassurance, you can contact the embassy in Qatar. Also, consider checking with your travel company to ensure that your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
All expats should carry a copy of their passports with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and citizenship is easily available. Earlier, the employers were holding the passports of employees during their stay in Qatar. But, the 2009 Law has forbidden this practice, and employers are no longer permitted to hold employee passports, except for visa and immigration processing. The nationals carry their Qatari Identification Card for identification, rather than passports. Also, foreign nationals are not allowed to leave Qatar, without taking permission in the form of exit visas obtained by their employer / sponsor.
Visitors are charged taxes by the Customs General Authority for carrying certain goods at the point of entry. Carrying alcoholic drinks is strictly forbidden.
Items such as pens, watches, cameras, perfume, portable radio-cassette players, cosmetics and lighters are considered duty-free goods in Qatar. Visitors bringing in duty-free goods will have pay deposit for temporary importation, which is refundable on departure, usually 50% of value.
Certain other goods such as carpets, garments, accessories, clothing, chocolates, jewellery, are liable to duty. Visitors bringing in such goods may have to pay a deposit temporarily, which may be refundable on departure. However, people who are transferring their residence to Qatar, may be exempted from taxes.
Special permit is required for carrying firearms and ammunition. Among other prohibited items are knives, daggers and pornographic material. Taped video cassettes should be submitted for clearance by Customs before entering Qatar. Export of any antiquities or historical objects are not permitted, provided, an export permit has already been obtained from Director General of Museums, Qatar.
It should be noted that trafficking in illegal drugs can lead to mandatory death penalty in Qatar. Therefore, it is better not to get involved in drugs. Also make sure that you do not carry alcohol around with you. It is an offence to drink alcohol, or be drunk in public. Alcohol is available at licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and expats living in Qatar can obtain alcohol on a permit system.
Qatar law also prohibits importation, sale and purchase of electronic cigarettes and similar products. If found carrying such items, customs officials may confiscate such items by any means.
For bringing in pets into Qatar, you may have to first obtain an import permit from Ministry of Agriculture. While cats with proper documentations are permitted to enter without much hassles, certain breeds of dogs, particularly large dogs and breeds that are otherwise aggressive, are not allowed. Hence, application forms for import permit should be obtained from Ministry of Agriculture through a sponsoring employer. When submitting, a copy of pet’s health certificate and vaccination should be submitted with the application form.
All permanent residents in Qatar should carry an Identity Card with them according to Qatari law. The ID card is required for all dealings with Government ministries on daily basis. An ID card is often required for registration at clubs, bank accounts, schools, nurseries and so on. The ID card is not required for children below 18 years of age.
Qatari law does not accept dual nationality. The law mandates that Qatari nationals should only hold Qatari citizenship, and enter and exit on a Qatari passport. If the Qatari authorities get to know that you hold dual nationality, then you may have to renounce one of your citizenships immediately. Hence, dual nationality citizens should take this seriously into consideration before travelling to Qatar.
Short-term visitors will have to obtain a valid international driving permit, prior to their arrival in Qatar, and should not drive using their home country driver’s license. New and prospective residents should obtain their permanent Qatari Driving License immediately on arrival. Short-term visitors and business travellers also have the option to obtain Temporary Qatari Driving License, on presenting their home country license at any Qatar Traffic Police branch.
Drivers should avoid arguments on roads over traffic incidents, particularly with Qatari nationals. Drivers can be held liable for injuries caused to another person involved in a vehicular accident, and there have been instances when local police detained expats overnight until the extent of injuries to other person is known.
Any motor vehicle that is over five years old cannot be imported to the country. For further information and policies regarding driver’s permit, road tax, vehicle inspection and mandatory insurance, contact the Qatar Embassy.
Further, Qatar adopts zero-tolerance policy against drinking and driving. Offenders will be detained, fined and banned from driving.
Non-payment of Bills / bounced cheques
Non-payment of bills, or bounced cheques, can lead to imprisonment / fine in Qatar. Bank accounts and other assets may be frozen too. You are also likely to be answerable for cheques that have been signed by you on behalf of a company. Hence, care should be taken to avoid landing in such situations.
In case you have unpaid loans or financial commitments, you cannot finish your employment in Qatar and exit the country. Any debt will have to be settled in full before your residence permit will be cancelled and your exit permit issued.
Smoking / alcohol / drugs
Alcohol consumption in Qatar involves several restrictions. Luxury hotels can sell alcohol to their adult non-Muslim customers. However, expatriates will have to obtain a permit to purchase alcohol for personal consumption. To obtain a permit, a letter from employer, signed and stamped by authorized person in the company, stating your position, basic pay, accommodation, religious affiliation, marital status, valid passport, residence permit and a deposit are required.
The Qatar Distribution Company is permitted to import alcohol, and operates the only liquor stores in the country. Alcohol can also be purchased on-premises of certain clubs and hotels. Drunken driving, public intoxication and other alcohol-related offenses are taken seriously and can result in imprisonment, fines, or even deportation.
Penalties for possession, use and trafficking in illegal drugs, are severe in Qatar, and offenders will have to undergo long-term imprisonment and pay heavy penalties.
Behavior / Dress code in Qatar
Islam and tribal traditions form strong foundation for Qatar’s customs, laws and practices. Expatriates are expected to be sensitive to Islamic beliefs and practises. Qatar does not permit dressing in a revealing or provocative manner, including wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter tops and shorts. Western bathing attire is acceptable only at hotel pools and beaches.
Incidents such as getting involved in foul language/gestures or insults can often result in arrest, overnight imprisonment, and/or fines, irrespective of whether the incident occurs between private parties or officers of the law. Insulting somebody in public is also considered a punishable offense.
Homosexuality is illegal considered a criminal offense in Qatar, and those convicted may be subjected to lashings, imprisonment and/or deportation. Also, intimacy in public between men and women, including teenagers, can lead to arrest.
Islamic Law (Sharia)
Expatriates in Qatar will be subject to Qatari law, which is heavily predicated upon Islamic Law, involving heavy penalties which would be considered a misdemeanour in any European state. Violators of Qatari law may be subjected to a ban until the dispute is settled, which can take months for settlement. Local authorities may detain anyone considered to be potential witness, and the relatives of persons of interest, for the entire duration of investigations, without charge or access to legal counsel. Once arrested, the Qatari police will not be in a position to release a suspect until ordered to do so by the Public Prosecution and Court Service.
Women in Qatar may vote and run for public office. Women in Qatar hold leadership positions in several ministries / supreme councils. Women are allowed to go out and drive without any male companion. Although, Qatari women wear the abaya, there are no formal restrictions for expat women, although dressing modestly is a must.
The Qatari government uses Sunni law as the basis of its criminal and civil regulations. Religious tolerance is guaranteed to a certain extent. Expatriates are allowed to affiliate with their faiths, and are allowed to follow Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Bahai, provided, they are religious in private, and do not offend public order or morality.
Religious practice and religion are sensitive issues in Qatar. Hence discussing religious matters in public should be treated with care and sensitivity. Proselytizing is illegal in Qatar. Qatari law considers it inappropriate to attempt conversion of a member of one religion into another, or sharing one's faith with a person of a different faith. Such practices are considered as violations of Qatari law, and may involve deportation or imprisonment.
Also, charitable activities of any kind require approval from Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities (QACA).
Qatar is comparatively a trouble-free nation, with low incidence of crime. However, it is better to be aware that there is the threat from terrorism that is otherwise seen in the region.
There have been occasional verbal and physical harassment against expatriate men, or unaccompanied expatriate women. Reports of petty theft are not very frequent, but, travellers are cautioned not to leave valuables such as cash, jewellery, and electronic items in unsecured hotel rooms or unattended public places.
Purchase of counterfeit and pirated goods are not allowed, although they are widely available.
There is a strong police presence in Qatar, and incidents of violence or crime are mostly restricted to areas that are heavily populated by menial worker expat population. The biggest criminal offence that expats face here is the encounter in the form of counterfeit and pirated goods, imported in large quantities from South-East Asia.
If an expatriate becomes the victim of a crime abroad, local police or nearest embassy or consulate can be contacted. Criminal offenses are liable to severe punishment according to Qatari laws, and in most cases, they are more severe than in home countries.
If any local laws in Qatar are violated, nothing can prevent an arrest or prosecution. Hence, it is important to know what is legal and what is not, wherever you go.
For any emergency assistance, contact Qatari Police by dialling 999 from any telephone in Qatar.