Culture and Etiquette in Qatar

Culture and Etiquette in Qatar

Qataris are a hospitable people and welcoming of the growing expat population.


Being a Muslim country, local traditions and practices still prevail and foreigners are expected to be considerate of the culture. Commercial Bank is happy to share a few tips on culture and etiquette as you make Qatar your home.

Doha is a safe, family-friendly place to live, with a low incidence of violent crime. Single women don’t need to be particularly concerned when moving around the city late at night. However, common sense always applies. In turn, public drunkenness, obscenities, lewd hand gestures and public displays of affection, can land you in  serious trouble.

Expats are expected to dress in a style appropriate to the Islamic culture. Women don’t need to wear the Abaya (a long black robe which covers the clothes worn underneath) or Hijab (head scarf).

The general rule is that when in public a woman's clothing should cover the shoulders, upper arms and knees. The dress code in hotels or private clubs is more relaxed.

For men, long trousers or long shorts and a shirt are fine. Qataris don’t take offence when a non-Qatari wears the national dress; a long, flowing white garment called the thobe and the headdress called the gutra. It’s very rare to see non-Arab men wearing the national dress, but it does happen.

The expat community is diverse. The office, social media, bars and private clubs are good places to make new friends. There are also clubs for a range of interests such as scuba diving, Latin dancing, yoga and a lively art, music and film scene.

Qataris are curious about other cultures and they do socialise with expats but take their time becoming familiar with you. Especially in business, Qataris prefer to deal with those they know.

When it comes to greeting, not all Arab men and women will shake hands with those of the opposite sex; so wait to see if they extend their hand first. A hand on the chest is another form of greeting. You may see Gulf men rubbing their noses when they see each other, which is a traditional greeting.

Family takes a high priority in Arab culture and asking after a Qatari’s family and children is good. Just avoid asking after a man’s wife or sister directly. Religion and politics are sensitive topics. Qataris will not tolerate criticism of their Emir, which is punishable by imprisonment.

The work pace is slower than what Western expats may be used to. Life in Qatar is never rushed and you should never appear to be hastening anyone.

Plan how and when you take care of your banking or Immigration affairs as Government ministries and banks work shorter hours. Many businesses work two shifts and are closed between 1 and 4pm.

Women are allowed to drive and you will quickly learn “the real rules of the road” after a few weeks behind the wheel. It’s part of the fun of living in Qatar!

Qatar follows Shariah Law, so alcohol, pornography, pork products and narcotics cannot be brought into the country and your luggage will be searched on arrival.

During the Holy Month of Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims. Non-Muslims are also expected to refrain from eating in public although a number of five-star hotels cater to non-Muslims during those times.

There are restaurants for every taste in Qatar. You can judge whether or not to leave a tip but service and hospitality staff are not paid well so the tip will definitely be appreciated!

Arabic is the official language of Qatar while English is commonly used. A Qatari will note your effort in trying to use some Arabic words like “Shukran” (thank you). You may hear the phrase “Inshallah” or ‘God willing’, used a lot. It sometimes, to the dismay of the listener, conveys the speaker’s intention of not seeing through with an action!

Liquor license

Qatar is an Islamic country and even though the country and its citizens are welcoming to all nationalities, expatriates should take care and be considerate so as not to offend the country's religious or cultural beliefs. This is even more so during the Holy month of Ramadan.

Alcohol is not illegal in Qatar, but its sale and consumption is controlled. The following laws apply to alcohol and its consumption:

  • It is illegal to import alcohol into the country. All luggage is scanned at the arrivals hall of Doha International Airport
  • It is an offence to drink alcohol or to be drunk in a public place. Those who are caught breaking this law can be deported, fined or receive prison sentences. Muslims caught drinking may be subjected to corporal punishment
  • Alcohol should not be transported within the country, except to take it home from the warehouse on the day of collection
  • It is an offence to offer alcohol to Muslims and minors
  • It is illegal to sell, donate or give away alcohol

Buying and Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol is not banned in Qatar. It is available in licensed restaurants and hotels, which may sell alcohol to adult, non-Muslim customers in restricted areas. Residents must show their Qatar ID card to be granted entry to a licensed venue.

Further, non-Muslim expatriates living in Qatar are also allowed to buy alcohol; however, they can only do so once they have applied for and received a liquor license.

The Qatar Distribution Company is the sole importer and retailer of alcohol in the country. QDC runs two shops in Qatar, including one at The Pearl, which are the only places where alcohol can be purchased. They offer a wide range of beverages, but only those who hold a liquor license can make a purchase. Any alcohol that is bought at a QDC store must be hidden from view and taken straight home.

Qatar Distribution Company

Near Qatar Technical College, Street 668, Al Maamoura, Doha
Tel: +974 4469 9412
+974 4405 3333
 See Map

Applying for a Liquor License

Alcohol permits are administered by the Qatar Distribution Company and application forms are readily available at their stores. Patrons have to display their permit when they enter the store. In order to apply for a liquor license, the applicant needs to present the following documents:

  • A completed application form
  • Passport and residence visa copy
  • Qatar ID copy

A letter, in English, from the applicant’s sponsoring company. Letters written in Arabic are only accepted if they are accompanied by a stamped translation. Most companies’ HR departments are aware of the requirements of a liquor license letter.

The company letter that is required is not just a simple salary certificate letter like the one needed for opening a bank account or applying for a visa. The company letter for a liquor license is much more detailed. It must be addressed to the Qatar Distribution Company, be stamped and signed by an authorised person within the company, and include the following information:

  • The applicant's position within the company
  • The applicant's basic salary. The word 'basic' has to be used. To get a permit, applicants must have a minimum basic salary of QR 4,000 or USD 1,100
  • Whether the applicant receives an accommodation entitlement or has free accommodation
  • The applicant’s marital status

All applicants have to pay a returnable deposit and declare their religion when applying for a liquor license. Only non-Muslim expatriates are allowed to apply for a liquor license.

Drink Driving

Qatar has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol. Drunk driving offenders are punished by custodial sentences that can range from one month to three years, a fine, or both. Those caught driving under the influence may also be deported.

Once a police case has been filed against an individual for a drinking- or driving-related offense, the person isn’t allowed to leave the country until the case has been addressed and resolved by the courts. Most cases tend to be straightforward, but more serious cases can take up to six months to go to court.