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Qatar is a small finger of land protruding into the Persian Gulf from the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, lying east of Saudi Arabia, between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Continuously ranked as the safest country in the world by the Numbeo Crime Index, general crime may well be low, with even single women travelers feeling at ease here, but there are still laws and cultural restrictions travelers should be aware of to make sure they remain safe.
The fourth richest country in the world, Qatar is powered by expatriate workers, blue and white collar, from around the globe. The demographic is international and multi-cultural, with nearly 90 percent of residents being expatriates, added to by an increasing influx of tourists arriving on its shores.
Pickpocketing, even in the capital Doha is rare, as is ATM and credit card theft, but that does not mean that visitors should throw caution in the wind and leave their common sense at home. All you need is one bad person to ruin your trip.
There are some scams going around, such as people telling you that they have driven all the way from Saudi Arabia to look after their ailing mother/aunt/add alternative family member, but now have run out of money. This happens every so often in supermarket car parks or outside mosques, and is mostly aimed at Muslims, because charity is one of the pillars of Islam, and saying no is more difficult. If you are approached, offer food by all means, but not cash.
Women traveling alone may receive the occasional stare, but, on the whole, this is nothing to worry about. Cultural etiquette and local sensitivities ought to be respected in that women – as well as men – should dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees, avoiding anything too clingy. It’s not so much about the law but that you might cause offence to the locals. There is no need for an abaya or a headscarf (except if visiting a mosque), and you see plenty of women out and about in sports clothing coming from the gym, but again, let common sense prevail.
This also goes for traveling alone in taxis or walking out at night alone. While very safe generally, stay observant at all times.
In hotels and resorts, and their pools and beaches, the dress code is much relaxed, and bikinis by the pool, spaghetti-strap dresses in the restaurants and skimpy clothing in the gym are all fine.
During the Holy Month of Ramadan, however, it is not only forbidden to eat and drink – and smoke or chew gum – in public between sunrise and sunset, although attitudes are much relaxed toward tourists, but you should also dress more respectfully than you might otherwise.
It's considered inappropriate to take pictures of local women in Qatar without asking first, just as you would at home.
As long as you are 21 years and older, you are allowed to drink in licensed bars and restaurants, which are mostly found in hotels. However, you are only allowed to purchase alcohol and pork in a dedicated store for use at home if you are a resident and have a license, and pork products are not available in any public restaurant in the country. Please note that, should you be hiring a car, Qatar has a zero tolerance approach to drinking and driving, and to drugs, for that matter.
Import regulations are strict, you cannot bring even Duty Free liquor into the country, no drugs, nor pork, or too explicit magazines.
If you need to travel with a certain medication, please bring a note from your doctor, just to ensure no overzealous customs officer takes the drugs away from you on arrival in the country. And should you get stopped, be it by customs or police, for whatever reason, do not swear at them. Not advisable in any country, here it could land you in ever deeper trouble, tourist or not.
Homosexuality and any LGBTQ+ opinions, affectations, or activities are still illegal in Qatar. While you see many men walking hand in hand, any other signs of affection are discouraged, and it is best to keep who you are and whom you love somewhat under wraps while visiting. While rainbow flags have been allowed during the FIFA World Cup 2022, and LGBTQ+ visitors were officially welcomed, Qatar is a strict Muslim country and while most locals and residents will be tolerant and understanding, there are always some which might not be.
Avoid taking pictures of police or military sites.
Qatar is not a very pedestrian friendly country, as most people own cars, and the high temperatures make walking around rather unpleasant. But if you do walk around, please take extra care when crossing the road. People do not stop at zebra crossings, sometimes not even at red lights, while others make a sport out of scaring you half to death.
On that note, there is a good healthcare system in Qatar, but costs can be steep. Make sure you have got good insurance to cover you for all eventualities.
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Local expat Ulrike shares her tips on Qatari culture, places to visit, best time to go, and other important travel advice about this Middle Eastern state.
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