Al Khor, Qatar Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Al Khor, Qatar

Al Khor, Qatar 02/04/07

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. As expat have lived in London, UK, Milton Keynes, UK, Calgary, Canada, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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2. How long have you lived here?

11 months.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Spouse.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Overnight - about QR3000 to Europe (CAD$1000) with connections to US. Qatar Airways, will have direct flights to New York by the end of 2007.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We live in a lovely large 4 bedroom villa with a large garden. Depending on seniority, family size, employer and luck you may be in a two or three bedroom apartment or a house of different age and size. Transit housing is pretty basic, but comfortable, depending on your standards. The community has a very good maintenance service and I am on pretty good terms with a fair number of the guys due to regular plumbing, electrical, and maintenance issues. My husband works at Ras Laffan which is about 35 minutes away, but can take up to 90 minutes when there are security issues. He also works in Doha which is about 1 hour away - from one end of Doha to the other can take a long time.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We have two shops in the community and the prices are pretty much the same as anywhere else in Qatar, but the selection is just not that great if you are Western. There are various shops in Al-Khor with about the same prices and selection as Doha, which is a lot more expensive than Canada. If you want fresh food i.e. no processing, the prices are GREAT, but any processing sky-rockets the price. Relating to Qatar, if you see something you need, you need to buy three times what you need as you may not see it for months, till the next shipment arrives. This is not for weird things, but everyday things like Rice Krispies, 60 watt light bulbs, ladies sanitary items, etc. If you like a particular brand, you can pretty much forget it - I have managed to get Kleenex toilet paper exactly twice.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Vitamins, warmer inside clothes, laptop - it is freezing in the house in winter due to tiled floor, high ceilings, no heating, large rooms - but most things are available here, you just have to know where to look. Maybe books, as they are super expensive here, but I have now started reading e-books, so wish I had shipped an e-book reader.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

We have KFC, Hot Chicken, DQ, Pizza Hut, Papa John's in Al-Khor, all of whom deliver. Various ethnic restaurants in Al-Khor. Each club has a delivery menu and each month there is a new meal schedule of three course meals - two firsts, two entrees, two desserts, 6 days a week for about CAD$6/US$5, so it is substantially cheaper than eating out of the community. Just be prepared to have a slight twist on the meals i.e it might sound Western, but it is prepared by an Asian who has no idea how it is supposed to come out. You can eat outside at the clubs over-looking the pool which is lovely.

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Daily Life:

1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Qr20 per hour (CAD$7.50), but be aware you need to tip and at least provide cool drinks in hot weather to gardener, maintenance workers, etc. This can really add up.

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We have never had any problems, but tend to pay cash at smaller shops and restaurants. Be aware that you can earn frequent flyer miles on your credit card and when you are furnishing a home this can be very valuable - we have enough for one long haul flight and one middle distance flight already.

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3. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Roman Catholic services weekly in the community.

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4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Three fairly good local papers for QR2 daily. Local papers are available to read at all three clubs, with expat papers at the main club including Indian, British, Malaysian, etc.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Some basic knowledge of Indian languages would be more helpful than Arabic, I think, as I have very little contact with locals, but some would be helpful as they can be really sweet to you.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Most places seem to have ramps and at least some toilet facilities, but have no idea on housing. Pavements/sidewalks in Al-Khor itself are dire and in constant stare of construction.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Left side.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There is a bus to Doha - remember no lines, so you have got to be fairly aggressive - for the ladies for shopping once a week and for families three times a week. The public bus service to Doha leaves from the community gate. There is an hourly (8am to 10pm) community bus which goes to the local hospital during the day as part of it's route. You generally ask locals for the name and phone number of a 'taxi' (be prepared for no a/c or seat-belts,) otherwise there is only one very under-supplied taxi service and then expensive limo services. No trains.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We decided you had a choice between big and bulky for protection (ie Hummer) or small and nippy to get out of trouble, so we bought a little all-wheel drive Subaru Imprezza which we LOVE. It cost us QR64000 (about CAD$22000), but we had to order it and wait three months for it to arrive. We are both pretty big, but there is plenty of room for us, but sometimes we wish we had more trunk space as you are expected to take home most purchases other than furniture. The a/c, even in 45C., works like a charm and it has got us out of so many tight spots you have no idea. You have to have almost all cars serviced every 5000km which means after the first basic service it needs to stay overnight in Doha which can be a big pain - the population has grown so quickly and they cannot keep up with the number of cars needing servicing, so even basic services can take 4 hours. Be sure and read Marhaba before you buy a car - it has all car dealerships and warnings as to procedures.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

QR300 per month for broadband, (CAD$100) can be dire, but okay. I lose email regularly in and out. Hackers are prevalent.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You cannot live here without a cell phone. Most people only have a cell for business and you cannot call a cell number from a normal local phone. There are almost no public phones. If possible wait for one of the periods when Qtel discount the package for your second family phone, but buy one on your first day in town. QR300 (CAD$100) for the Qtel sevice - you need a copy of your ID. You can generally buy a cheap phone from Carrefour or other vendors.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype - local Qtel services are SUPER expensive. Before you get internet hook-up, you can get cards for either cell or normal phones to make international calls.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes. Check latest copy of Marhaba magazine on arrival.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes, but you have to have a degree. Better in Doha.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Some people seem to ignore the fact that it is offensive to Muslims to display the body and as a result get a lot of stares. To be honest, they would be stared at in Canada if they dressed like that. A lot of the locals are almost totally covered up and appreciate you dressing very conservatively. My husband does not wear suit and tie to work, but equally does not wear denims.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy. We live about 40 minutes from Doha, but every time we go, I cough for about a week afterwards.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

My first day in our villa - after being in temporary flat for close on four months - we had an attempted break-in, and we have had things stolen from our garage. On complaining, many western expats said they had never heard of any thefts, but other expats acknowledged that petty theft was fairly common. Stealing of alcohol is prevalent in various communities. It is kept quiet. There are a large number of expat men working in Qatar, so, as a woman, expect to get stared at - regardless of looks, age or dress. Often when we go to Al-Khor town I am one of the only woman there of any race.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Community medical centre and dentist; okay, but not fantastic. Anything other than basics requires trips to Hamad Hospital in Doha - there is a hospital in Al-Khor, but the main clinics are held in Doha. Be prepared for long waits and take QR1 notes for slot machines for water. Your appointment time is also given to a number of other people, so come early. You will line up (and sometimes shove) for a number of different things which seem to change each time you go. We have been to Hospital 5 times and each times the route has changed due to road closures so allow time. Parking dire. Most people go to their own doctors on trips home. Some prescription drugs not available in country and it is up to you to get supplies from somewhere else. Stock up before you come!!

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

VERY hot and humid over July and August. Heavy rain can fall from December through March. This year cold with about three weeks at about 8C. Lots of wind year round. Sand storms that coat everything in sight. Fog which can linger for hours and reduce visibility.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are a number of schools in the community up to grade 12 in both British and Indian stream, and they bus kids into Doha for various other schools. There is also a Muslim centre.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Preschool and teddy bear club (limited baby-sitting) with fairly active toddler club with story-time.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

I think about 4000 in community from all over the world.

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2. Morale among expats:

Not bad, but a fair number ticked-off at companies not meeting terms of contract or changing contract once you are here. A number of depressed wives, house-bound and miserable.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

A number of the teachers - often single, or on single status - socialise and go out, but you must be very pro-active. A fair number of people go into Doha clubbing at the week-ends leaving kids to fend for themselves with small packs of kids wondering the community. There is a club for kids, but a number are not interested. Most people stick to own ethnic groups, and are pretty house-bound.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I don't think it is good for singles. You have to be very self-sufficient and really LIKE your spouse as you may be spending a lot more time with them than you are used to. I think it is better for families.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There are a number of gay men in the community, but it seems to be ignored as long as they are not trying to be active and are happy with celibacy.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Oh yeah. The workers in the shops, clubs and restaurants are often treated with contempt by others not of their race. This seems to be prevalent with teens in the clubs and has forced us out of the clubs at week-ends as we got sick of intervening.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Three clubs with pools, tennis, gyms, billiards, cricket, football and lots of games; Golf at Ras Laffan and beach club is 20 km away on a road with lots of trucks. Management periodically arranges business and cultural talks, bingo, dinner theatre along with sports and school events. Transport to events in Doha is arranged.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Imported carpets, dates.

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9. Can you save money?

Not a lot, other than the cost of housing, although we are having more holidays than normal as you REALLY need to get away sometimes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, but would hammer down contract 50 ways from Sunday.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter coat and boots, small ornaments due to dust-storms and cleaners.

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3. But don't forget your:

Autumn coat, raincoat, hat, sunglasses, books, laptop, ebook reader, umbrella, swimming costume, cool loose summer clothes (at least 7 outfits as you will want to change multiple times a day in summer) sports equipment. Air purifier preferably with sand storm setting. Swiffer!!

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

If new to a/c beware!! Do not sleep in a room with a/c on, just cool room before bed and have a/c on in adjoining room. Be careful of a/c when entering big hotels and malls from outside. Many people get sick due to a/c if they are not used to it. Asthma sufferers may be stressed. Persistent bad coughs can hang around for months at change of seasons. Plus size clothes in plentiful supply, but mostly British.

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