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Once an impoverished pearl-diving centre, Qatar has flourished in the last century thanks to oil revenues. For the visitor, Qatar offers all the attractions of the Middle East, with unexpected luxuries such as air-conditioned tents and high-end resorts contrasting with souq markets and ancient ruins.
Whilst very different to driving in the UK, a little preparation will get you where you want to go. Road conditions can be a little difficult and motorists here drive fast but exercising caution will enable you to anticipate other drivers. Drive on the right hand side and hire a decent 4x4 for desert excursions.
Driving licences: most foreign travellers, including those from the UK, can use their own licence for up to one week in Qatar. International licenses can be used for six months and some drivers who have a valid work permit for the country can apply for a temporary or permanent Qatari license without taking another test. There are only a few nationalities, including British and Canadian, who can exchange their licenses this way so it's best to check this ahead of arrival.
Which side does Qatar drive on: the right.
Speed limits: generally these are marked very clearly but may vary slightly on different roads.
Motorways: 80/100 km/h (50/62 m/h)
Rural areas: National limit is 120 km/h (74m/h)
Built-up areas: 50/60 km/h (30/37 m/h)
Alcohol limits: it is illegal to drink alcohol before driving in Qatar. There is no limit as there is in the UK. Custodial sentences of up to three years, heavy fines or deportation may be imposed.
Driving age: 18 for a Qatari license. To hire a car, the same age restriction applies but you must have been driving for 1 year.
Seatbelts: seatbelts are required by law for both the driver and front passenger seat.
Mobile phones and GPS: you cannot use a mobile phone while driving. You may be fined a minimum of QR 3,000 ((521) or receive up to a one-year prison sentence.
Cost of fuel in Qatar: petrol prices here are consistently among the cheapest in the world as it is an oil-rich country.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are accepted for both.
Insurance: taking out an excess is advisable on car insurance in Qatar, as minor claims happen quite frequently.
Traffic and parking: most office and residential parking in the cities is underground, requiring a pass or permit which you can apply for if needed. There is pay-as-you-go parking in shopping malls and elsewhere and there is relative flexibility on the streets and usually plenty of spaces. Fines and penalty points apply for illegal parking but note that you won't receive notification by post so make sure you pay any fines off before trying to sell a vehicle.
Although Qatar has limited train travel at present, plans for a high-speed east coast and airport link rail network are fully underway.
Taxis can be found at ranks in most big cities and can also be pre-booked. Hail the green 'street taxis' for cheaper rates. Generally, fares are much lower than in Western countries. Because of this, many people prefer what's known as a 'limousine service', which is defined as a higher standard of unmetered taxi.
Qatar's public bus service is of a good standard in terms of air-conditioning, cleanliness and value for money, especially when compared with UK fares.
There aren't any ferry services as such in Qatar, although passenger boats operate between here and other countries in the Gulf such as Iran a few times a month at a much lower cost than European ferries.
Doha International Airport is the home of Qatar Airways and serves over 100 other countries, with flights going direct to both London and Manchester.
Qatar has a growing number of attractions in its impressive, modern cities and around the beautiful desert landscapes and pristine beaches. The capital of Doha fully embraces the new, with gleaming shopping malls and contemporary high-rises to rival Dubai. Souq Waqif on Doha's northern side tells a different story, harking back to older traditions of trade along the winding alleyways of the 19th-century marketplace. There are also more tranquil destinations such as Al-Khor in the north east, built on the site of a fishing village, with mangrove swamps and the intriguing rock carvings of Al Jassasiya only a short drive away. Discover the towering sand dunes of the beach at Khor Al Udaid or the golden sands at Dukhan and Fuwairit.
Festivals to watch out for in Qatar include:
- The annual Cultural Festival held in Doha every March
- Qatar National day, September 3rd (usually a 3-day holiday)
The weather in Qatar is usually hot and dry, with hardly any rainfall, especially during the summer months when thermometers can peak at over 40°C. The best times of year to visit are autumn and spring, when the temperatures are between 25° and 35°C. From March to August there is a risk of sandstorms.
Qatar has become a high-profile nation in recent years, with its hosting of the Asian Games in 2006. Sheikh Hamad's social reforms include women's right to vote. English is widely spoken because of the influx of ex-pats and there is a more open approach to tourism than other neighbouring Arabic countries.
Qatar Contact Numbers
International dialling/country code: 974
Emergency services: 999 for police, fire and ambulance
British Embassy: (974) 4496 2000 (located in West Bay, Doha)
The currency is the Qatari rial and it's easy to exchange at most banks, with the larger ones in the city accepting travellers' cheques. Charges at moneychangers in Doha's Gold Souq area do not differ greatly from banks.
Health & Safety
Compared to some of its neighbours, Qatar is quite stable and the crime rate is fairly low. Medical services are of a good standard but costly, so it's important to take out appropriate health cover. Doctors should be consulted 6-8 weeks prior to travel for individual advice but vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, typhoid and TB are recommended, with some areas requiring rabies as well. Drink bottled or sanitised water only and peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
As a largely Muslim country, it's important to remember some of the customs which may apply, particularly during religious festivals such as Ramadan, when it is illegal to drink alcohol in public. For female travellers, it is advisable not to wear anything too revealing away from the beach and try to cover arms and legs. Qatari people have a reputation for friendliness and as long as you are respectful you will receive a warm welcome.
Visas for Qatar
EU citizens are allowed a 2-week tourist visa on entry, along with most other nationalities. To work in Qatar, you need to apply through a consulate or already have a local sponsor, such as an employer. You can apply for residence visas through the Immigration Department, usually within six weeks of arrival, but may have to go through some health and identification checks.
Three-pin plugs are used in Qatar, both the British standard and the rounded Indian-style kind. Voltage is normally 220-240.
Shops typically open from 7am or 8am and often close at midday and re-open 4pm-8pm to avoid the heat. Weekends are Friday and Saturday so the new week commences on Sunday.
How are you?: Shlo-nik (male) or Shlo-nich (female)
I'm fine: Ib-khayr
Thank you: Shukran
Goodbye: Ma-a salama