Qatar travel guide
The eyes of the world are on Qatar right now. In just forty years, this small Gulf state has been catapulted from one of the poorest countries in the region to the richest (per capita) in the world. Fuelled by oil and natural gas revenue, Qatar is developing at breakneck speed, and everything from universities to shopping malls, 5-star hotels to football stadiums (in preparation for the controversial 2022 World Cup) are springing up along the desert floor.
Modern Qatar is, for all intents and purposes, a city-state. Over half of the country’s population lives in and around the capital, Doha. Most other towns are Qatari Oil compounds – quasi-communities built for foreign workers. The country does also have its share of natural beauty. Gorgeous beaches line the western coast in places like Dukhan, and the spectacular dunes of Khor al-Adaid in the south complement the city’s many inorganic charms.
While the skyscrapers, malls and manmade beaches suggests that Doha is an understudy to Dubai, in reality Qatar remains a deeply traditional country, sharing far more in common with neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Thus, even as international hotel bars are permitted to serve alcohol, Qatari women are forbidden from entering them; and even as Qataris indulge in shopping sprees at Chanel or Dior, falconry and camel-racing remain popular pastimes.
Amidst this contradiction of custom and modernity exist a few notable spaces for reflection. The iconic Museum of Islamic Art, the Katara Cultural Village and the Museum of Modern Art give Qatar a cultural edge over some of its Emirate neighbours.
However, the country exemplifies the divide between haves and have-nots. Wealthy Qataris cruise around in the latest 4x4s, spending entire days in upscale shopping malls, while vast armies of immigrant workers serve as poorly paid staff or live six to a room as they build glittering skyscrapers. Paradoxical, challenging and hypocritical it may be, Qatar is never less than fascinating.
11,586 sq km (4,473 sq miles).
2,291,368 (UN estimate 2016).
197.4 per sq km.
Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani since 2013.
Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani since 2013.
Last updated: 19 May 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Around 20,000 British nationals live in Qatar, and approximately 130,000 visit annually. Most visits are trouble-free.
On 4 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. This has led to closures affecting road, air and sea routes between these countries and Qatar, as well as travel and residence restrictions affecting Qatari nationals. Restrictions on entry to the UAE have also been placed on certain holders of Qatari Residence Permits. These restrictions don’t apply to British nationals.
As of 6 June 2017, the land border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is closed. All flights between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain are suspended until further notice.
These measures are likely to lead to some disruption for travellers in the region. You should check with your airline before you travel. Direct flights to and from the UK aren’t affected.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Qatar.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 999 (police, fire and ambulance).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Around 20,000 British nationals live in Qatar, and approximately 130,000 visit annually. Most visits are trouble-free.
Although crime levels are low, female visitors should take extra care when travelling alone at night.
Only use registered taxis and don’t enter a taxi late at night unaccompanied.
You can drive using a full and valid UK driving licence for up to 12 months from the date of your arrival in the country, as a visitor or a resident, without the need to undertake a driving test. After this, you’ll need to apply for a Qatari driving licence and sit both theory and practical tests. If you intend to drive using an UK licence in Qatar, you should obtain an International Driving Permit before travelling.
Road discipline is very poor; speeds are high and minor accidents common. Qatar has very high fatality rate for road accidents. If you have an accident, stay with your vehicle. It’s an offence to leave the scene of the accident, but if no one has been injured and it’s safe to do so, you can move your vehicle to a safer place. You’ll need to get a police report for insurance purposes.
The driver and front seat passenger should wear a seat belt at all times. You must not use a mobile phone while driving. Even minor expressions of ‘road rage’ like rude gestures can attract significant penalties. Offenders may be fined, imprisoned and/or deported. You may be banned from leaving the country until your case has been resolved. More serious cases may take up to 6 months to be heard.
Excursions to the desert can be hazardous unless in a properly equipped 4 x 4 vehicle. Always travel in convoy with other cars, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone, and leave travel plans with friends or relatives.
It is an offence in Qatar to drink and drive, and there is zero tolerance for it. Driving under the influence of alcohol is punishable by a custodial sentence of between one month and three years, a fine of QAR10,000 (approx £2,100) to QAR50,000 (approx £10,500), or both. Offenders may also be deported.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected, and there have been occasional arrests. You should make careful enquiries before entering these waters or visiting ports.
Regional tensions may also affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.
Take care when travelling by Dhow, as the safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available.
Regional developments continue to have an impact on local public opinion in the region. You should be aware of local sensitivities on these issues. You should follow news reports and avoid public gatherings and demonstrations. There is the potential for increased tension on Fridays.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Qatar. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region. These include references to attacks on western interests, including residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping centres and mosques. You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Local laws and customs reflect the fact that Qatar is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK. You’re strongly advised to familiarise yourself with and respect local laws and customs.
In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 16 May and finish on 14 June.
Be aware of cultural sensitivities when filming or photographing people and religious, military or construction sites. Some visitors attempting to film or photograph in sensitive areas have been arrested. If in doubt, seek permission. If you’re working as a journalist, you’ll need to get permission from the Qatar News Agency (QNA) to film or photograph as part of your work and enter the country on a visiting press permit. This permit will clear technical equipment like cameras through airport customs and provides other necessary information.
Importing drugs, alcohol, pornography, pork products and religious books and material into Qatar is illegal. All luggage is scanned at Doha Airport Arrivals Hall. DVDs and videos may be examined and censored. Penalties for drug offences are severe, often resulting in prison sentences.
It is an offence to drink alcohol or be drunk in public. Alcohol is available at licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and expatriates living in Qatar can obtain alcohol on a permit system. Don’t carry alcohol around with you (except to take it on the day of collection from the warehouse to your home).
Qatar law also prohibits the importation, sale and purchase of electronic cigarettes, liquids and other similar products (eg electronic shisha pipes). The law applies regardless of quantity and intended use. Customs officials may seize and confiscate any such items found entering the country by any means, including in passengers’ luggage or sent by post.
You should dress modestly when in public, including while driving. Women should cover their shoulders and avoid wearing short skirts. Any intimacy in public between men and women (including between teenagers) can lead to arrest.
Homosexual behaviour is illegal in Qatar. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Financial crimes, including fraud, bouncing cheques (including post-dated and ‘security cheques’) and non-payment of bills (including hotel bills) can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine in Qatar. Bank accounts and other assets may also be frozen. You may also be liable for cheques that have been signed by you on behalf of a company.
If you have unpaid loans or financial commitments you won’t be able finish your employment in Qatar and exit the country. Any debt will need to be settled in full before your residence permit will be cancelled and your exit permit issued.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you should contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You can get a free 30-day tourist visa-waiver on arrival in Qatar. If you hold one of the other types of British passport, you must get a visa before you travel.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Qatar.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Qatar. However, ETDs are accepted for airside transit and exit from Qatar.
Living and working in Qatar
Under Qatar sponsorship laws, an employee wishing to change from one sponsor to another must get a No Objection Certificate (NOC). A sponsor is not obliged to give an NOC to an employee. Without an NOC, an employee must leave Qatar at the end of their employment, and may not return to work in Qatar for 2 years.
If you are applying for a residence permit, you will have to undergo a medical test including blood tests and a chest X-ray. The tests screen for diseases including, but not restricted to, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and C. Testing positive may lead to further tests and possible deportation.
Some prescribed and over the counter medicines that are available in the UK may be considered controlled substances in Qatar. If you need to bring in controlled/prescription medication into Qatar, make sure you carry it in its original packaging, accompanied by your prescription and an official letter signed and stamped by your doctor stating the type of medication and why it’s required.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Emergency medical treatment is excellent but can be expensive. Routine treatment is available but expensive for visitors. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.