While waiting patiently for my family to land safely at Hamad International Airport earlier this week, it was fascinating to see first-hand the sheer number of visitors currently pouring into Qatar. Qatar has hosted several major sporting and cultural events this year, but right now the talk of the town is the Club World Cup. The current European Champions, Liverpool Football Club, kicked off the semi-final against the Mexican team, C.F. Monterrey, on 18 December. Fans from all over the world (including me!) attended the match at the amazing Khalifa International Stadium, a facility that has already hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships and is home to the national team.
Fans travelling to Qatar were in great spirits, which was fantastic to witness. Having spoken to many people on the night of the match, it became apparent to me that there was still a need to convey some key messages for those wanting to visit Qatar.
Getting into Qatar
Qatar operates a pretty generous Visa on Arrival (VoA) policy, which is being offered to nationals from more than 80 countries. There are two main categories of VoA which apply, depending on one's nationality:
- Category 1: Valid for 180 days from issuance, but visitors can stay for a maximum of 90 days at a time; and
- Category 2: Valid for 30 days, and which can be extended for a further 30 days. This is offered to 44 nationalities, including British nationals.
When entering the country, visitors may be asked to provide evidence of where they will be staying, as well as proof of return to their home country. Evidence of funds is typically not requested. A key point to consider is that while the authorities make every effort to process all arrivals as quickly as possible, long queues at immigration may occur, particularly, if you are arriving at night. There is, however, an option to expedite your waiting time by using a fast track service, which costs around £40.
Be aware that Qatar does not allow alcoholic beverages into the country. Pork and drugs are also strictly forbidden.
Once in Qatar
Qatar already has a vast foreign national population and, from my experience, is welcoming to people from different countries. That being said, Qatar is, on the whole, a relatively conservative country. As such, it's important for visitors to be aware of certain rules/norms:
- Drinking is allowed in many hotels, but not in public (Note that during sporting events, drinking alcohol is also permitted in dedicated Fanzones);
- Being intoxicated (particularly outside) could have serious ramifications;
- It is expected that all residents and visitors dress modestly; and
- Swearing and making rude gestures are taken very seriously by the authorities. It's best to take particular care when liaising with the police and other officials.
There are some other rules that the country imposes, but generally, people feel free to go about their business. Getting around is also quite easy (the new metro system is impressive) and the country offers many activities that visitors can enjoy.
Extending your stay
If you have had a great time in Qatar and want to stay longer, make sure you check the expiry date on the visa placed in your passport. Failure to renew the visit visa can lead to substantial fines (capped at QAR 10,000, roughly £2,200, per person), which you will have to pay before you can leave the country.
Visiting neighbouring countries
While in the region, many people like to see what else the Middle East has to offer. If you wish to visit UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Egypt, check online in advance in order to find the best route to get there, since there are no direct flights available. Travelling to one of these countries via Oman or Kuwait are good options.
The experience of the first Liverpool match in Khalifa International Stadium indicated to me that Qatar is on its way to host a fantastic 2022 World Cup. Recent sporting and entertainment spectacles have provided a good learning opportunity for Qatar, and visitors can expect to have a great time. Please ensure, however, that you are fully aware and sensitive to the culture and compliant with local rules and regulations—importantly, those surrounding immigration!
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