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Interview with Helen – an Australian expat living in Qatar

Updated 12 Jul 2012

Helen is an Australian expat living in Doha with her husband, Kim, and their little Maltese dog, Suzie. Having lived in Dubai before moving to Qatar, Helen admits that she enjoys life in Qatar more than she did living in the UAE. With a bird’s-eye view and a humorous twist, she shares her insights into life as an expat in the Middle East.

Learn more about expat life in Qatar in our Expat Arrivals guide to life in Qatar, or read more about expat experiences in Qatar.

Helen Sach - An Australian expat in QatarAbout Helen

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Doha, Qatar

Q: How long have you lived in Qatar?
A: Two and a half years.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Just my husband, Kim.

Q: Why did you move to Qatar; what do you do?
A: Husband is a Corp Safety Manager. I am an Interior Designer/Exec Secretary/Trainer but haven’t worked since moving to the Middle East – we also had two years in Dubai before moving to Doha.

About Doha

Q: What do you enjoy most about Doha? How’s the quality of life?
A: Doha is much quieter than Dubai, thankfully, from our perspective, as my husband Kim works six days a week and likes to relax on his only day off, Friday! So not much time for doing other things! The Qataris are very friendly, and especially to us Australians in my own experience, so living here is very settled and happy for us. Doha does have entertainment in the various hotels and many restaurants and shopping centres. There are also interesting drives around the country (in just two hours) to see wildlife, ruins and small villages, to name a few! Our villa is centrally located, so it is easy to get anywhere, which is a plus!

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Oh, the green of flora and fauna in Australia! We have lots of dust, dirt and sand here, but I must say that the Emir is trying his best to green Qatar as well, and many parks have opened and been landscaped since we moved here. Oh, and family and friends I miss too of course, which is a given when you live overseas.

Q: Is Doha safe?
A: Extremely – not a worry in the world. I have never felt safer as I do at any time of the day or night here in Qatar!

About living in Qatar

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Doha as an expat?
A: West Bay is the MOST expensive but beautiful! We live in Al Sadd, which is very central to the whole of Doha and reasonably priced. Doha is building everything in the run-up to the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2022, so there are many villas, flats and apartments to choose from with varying rents. You can also purchase certain villas, apartments, etc., here in Doha! Renting or buying is quite expensive, so be prepared to pay a good chunk of your salary for that unless you are fortunate enough to be either accommodated by your sponsor or get a generous living allowance!

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Doha?
A: It varies hugely. From labour camps for those poor workers who toil away in the heat of Doha to the posh and expensive apartments and villas in The Pearl or mediocre flats and apartments for the not-so-well-heeled! Rents vary from a few thousand riyals a month to upwards of 40 or more a month – depending on where you live!

As an aside, the amount of money we spend on rent here in Doha in our three-bedroom villa would allow us to live in a mansion on the Gold Coast in Australia! Sad but true.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Qatar compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Most food is imported, and I am happy to say that we get quite a lot of fruit, veggies and groceries from Australia. But overall, food is very expensive. Petrol, or gas as you may call it, is very cheap compared with Australia, of course, as Qatar produces oil and gas. There are no taxes here in Doha either, so compared with Australia for buying furniture and electrical goods (and some usual brands like LG, Samsung, etc.) it is quite cheap. Clothing is also cheap in the supermarkets and some UK department stores, but there is also the outrageously expensive designer labels catering mostly for the Qataris! However, I have to say that even those things are still cheaper than in Australia! Cars are also cheap to either rent or buy, and there is a good variety of brand-name cars to choose from.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The local Qatari people I have found to be friendly and always interested in us Australians and our country. Many of them have travelled down under, so they know a bit about our culture and enjoy relating tales of their travels. They are also very helpful in explaining things about their country and culture too. I am much happier here in Doha than I was in Dubai. It is my humble opinion that the Qataris are much more tolerant of the expat community than the Emiratis will ever be!

I have made several friends with locals, but their culture requires them to keep their distance a bit, so I wouldn’t at this point call any of them ‘close friends’. But you never know in the future!

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Doha?
A: Not for me in Dubai. I am used to working most of my life and when we moved to Dubai, I found it very difficult to meet people there. I joined a women’s networking group, but they had all been together for a few years, so it was hard to break into their so-called ‘circle’ – in the end, I gave up. Dubai expats exude a certain kind of aloofness – totally different to Doha, I am pleased to report!

I joined the Qatar Professional Women’s Network here and have made friends from all over the world and enjoyed many happy get-togethers and celebrations. It’s quite different here to Dubai, I think, because there is less to do than in Dubai, so people tend to be more friendly and welcoming.

About working in Doha

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Qatar?
A: My husband is the breadwinner here in Doha. I am so very keen to get out there and work but have resigned myself to the fact that my Interior Design career is on hold while we are in Doha. The companies here all want experience either here or in Dubai and contacts, contacts, contacts, which I of course do not have. However, I have an idea about either training or working as a secretary and because I am under my husband’s sponsorship (of course we all are as women living in the Middle East! Haha!), hopefully employment for me won’t be a problem. You are favoured as a prospective employee if you are under your husband’s sponsorship, as it is easier for the employer to get a work permit.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Doha? Is there plenty of work?
A: Plenty of work here in Doha for all due to the building boom in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in 2022!

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Hugely! You cannot change employment on a whim here in Doha. If you are lucky and can get an NOC (No Objection Certificate) from your present employer, you might be able to change; however, if you cannot get the NOC, you are stuck where you are. All companies are owned and often managed by Qataris, so their idea of business is not the same as in the Western world. There are many different nationalities working here too, and some do not have a great command of English, so it is often difficult to communicate at times.

My husband relates tales of woe in meetings(he is a Safety Manager for a project management company),  particularly where participants have their own 'culture of work' and refuse to listen or perform as expected! Such is life in Doha!

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move? 
A: No, not from Dubai to Doha, but we did use Crowne from Australia to Dubai.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My husband had never travelled outside Australia, and in Jan 2009 I put him on the plane on his own headed for an unknown city and country, Dubai, UAE, on the other side of the world. He was put into temporary accommodation – an enormous hotel apartment in which he kept insisting he rattled every day because it was so empty of normal home comforts and of course, no me to cook meals, etc. He adjusted reasonably well, and as he is the kind of person who makes friends easily, adapted to the working environment successfully too. He was however extremely relieved when I joined him in March 2009, and we then rented an apartment and found a little Maltese to rescue and complete our family life in the Middle East.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: My two adult sons remain in Australia with their families and friends.

Q: What are the schools like? Any particular suggestions?
A: Apparently the schooling here in Doha is a bit of a mixed bag as well, and I have heard that it is difficult to get your children into schools if it is on short notice. So get in early! Doha College, which is close to our compound, has a very good reputation, and I am sure there are others too. There are many international schools and universities here, so there are many to choose from.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Qatar?
A: The Emir has decreed that every resident, being expat or local, will have access to good quality healthcare. We are fortunate to have some contribution to private healthcare through my husband’s employer, but we also contribute as well. The public system has its good and bad points. My husband has a number of serious health concerns, so we were thrust into the public health system prior to receiving private healthcare cover. 

I must say that overall he has been well looked after, but our biggest gripe would be that at this point, the Hamad Hospital has not come to grips with what an 'appointment system' really means – since they recently instigated this method of dealing with public patients, it is totally disorganised and my husband still waits for at least a couple of hours to be seen by a doctor. If he/she is lucky. Other nationalities have no idea of what ‘queuing and waiting for your turn’ means, so it’s a free-for-all invariably.

Actually I think the worst part of the whole system is that some local Qataris will walk into the hospital (or anywhere, for that matter) and push their way through ahead of anyone and everyone. They do not wait for their turn, which shows their utter arrogance, which is both very rude and irritating, to say the least!

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: I don’t think anyone can really prepare themselves for living in the Middle East – aside from perhaps learning how to speak Arabic – but then there are so many different dialects, as with lots of other languages. It certainly is a culture shock if you are used to the Western way of life, but I have to say that it is also the most amazing experience that you will be privileged to have so – as we say in the land of Oz – suck it up, get over it and on with it, and most of all, enjoy and soak in all that is a peaceful, friendly and fascinating Arabic experience in Doha, Qatar! Good luck!

~ Interviewed July 2012

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