What makes Qatar a unique country to travel to?
Qatar is an hereditary constitutional monarchy governed by the ruling Al Thani family in consultation with a council of ministers, an appointed advisory council,and an elected municipal council. Qatar’s first written constitution was adopted in 2005. Islamic beliefs and tribal traditions provide an important foundation of the country’s customs, laws and practices. Located on the Persian Gulf, Qatar is a dynamic, rapidly developing country that is among the wealthiest in the world by per capita income. Tourist facilities are available.
The crime rate in Qatar is generally low. A large police presence is apparent to travelers throughout the country. Incidents of violence are rare but have occurred more frequently in recent years as Doha’s population and economic pressures on expatriate workers have increased. Local and third-country-national young men have occasionally verbally and physically harassed unaccompanied expatriate women. Reports of petty theft are infrequent but have been growing, including ATM and credit card theft, purse snatching, and pickpocketing. Travelers should not leave valuables such as cash, jewelry, and electronic items unsecured in hotel rooms or unattended in public places.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Qatar, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. It is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings; well-marked signs will usually inform you. Driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in Qatar, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Qatar, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you go.
Criminal offenses are punished according to Qatari laws, which in some cases are based on Islamic law and sometimes more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Qatari laws, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, deported, or subject to a ban from departing Qatar. Travel bans are not lifted until both parties resolve a dispute and the case is abandoned or, if not, until the matter is resolved by a court, which may require months to process the case. Qatari law enforcement authorities have detained potential witnesses or relatives without charges or access to legal counsel during the investigation of a crime.
The U.S. Embassy in Doha cautions U.S. citizens that Qatari police have arrested U.S. citizens suspected of or witness to a crime, including traffic accidents involving injuries to pedestrians or the occupants of other cars, traffic arguments, slander, and a variety of lesser offenses. Once an arrest has been made, the Qatari Police have no independent authority to grant a release, an authority reserved solely for Qatar’s Public Prosecution and Courts. As a result, arrested U.S. citizens, regardless of the charges, often spend one or two nights in jail awaiting a hearing with Qatar’s Public Prosecution or the appropriate court.
Qatari law enforcement authorities do not routinely notify the U.S. Embassy in Doha of a U.S. citizen’s arrest and, for more serious crimes, may not allow a U.S. Embassy official to visit an arrested U.S. citizen until the initial interrogation is completed. Upon arrest, U.S. citizens should ask to speak to the U.S. Embassy immediately, and if not allowed, request that a friend or family member notify the U.S. Embassy through the contact information below.
Incidents involving insults or obscene language/gestures often result in arrest, overnight imprisonment and/or fines whether the incident occurs between private parties or involves officers of the law. Insulting someone in public is considered a punishable offense. Drunk driving, public intoxication and other alcohol-related offenses are treated with severity and will result in arrest, heavy fines, imprisonment, or expulsion from the country. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Qatar are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Good modern medical care and medicines are available in Qatar. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Safety and Security
Incidents of violence are rare in Qatar, although attacks against Western targets have occurred. To provide for public security, a large police presence is deployed throughout the country. U.S. citizens in Qatar should maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take appropriate steps to bolster their personal security at all times. U.S. citizens should also avoid visiting labor or work camps, where unrest can occur because of local working conditions or labor grievances.
The Department of State remains concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests worldwide, including the Middle East. Both historical and recurring information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan strikes against Western targets and these attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics to include assassination, kidnapping, hijacking, and bombing.
Increased security at official facilities has led terrorists and their sympathizers to seek softer, less fortified targets. Other locations of potential concern include any venue where U.S. citizens and other foreigners are known to congregate in large numbers, such as public assemblies, sporting events, restaurants, residential areas, clubs, places of worship, schools, hotels, etc. The Government of Qatar occasionally provides security for such locations and events, but to varying degrees. In most instances, the Embassy cannot gauge the appropriateness of security for a given event before it starts. The Embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens to avoid large crowds and demonstrations whenever possible.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Qatar, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Qatar is provided for general reference only and is subject to change at any time. Current traffic regulations may be obtained through the Ministry of Interior’s Traffic Police.
Short-term visitors should obtain a valid International Driving Permit prior to arrival and should not drive in Qatar on a U.S. driver’s license. New and prospective residents should obtain a permanent Qatari Driving License immediately after arrival. To obtain a Qatari driver’s license, U.S. citizens need to pass a driving exam, including a road test. Short-term visitors and business travelers can also obtain a Temporary Qatari Driving License by presenting their U.S. driver’s license at any branch of Qatar’s Traffic Police.
Traffic accidents are among Qatar’s leading causes of death. Safety regulations in Qatar are improving, thanks to a more stringent traffic law adopted in October 2007 and a country-wide traffic safety campaign. However, informal rules of the road and the combination of local and third-country-national driving customs often prove frustrating for first-time drivers in Qatar. The combination of Qatar’s extensive use of roundabouts, many road construction projects and the high speeds at which drivers may travel can prove challenging. The rate of automobile accidents due to driver error and excessive speed is declining but remains higher than in the United States. In rural areas, poor lighting, wandering camels and un-shouldered roads present other hazards.
Despite the aggressive driving on Qatar’s roads, drivers should avoid altercations or arguments over traffic incidents, particularly with Qatari citizens who, if insulted, have filed complaints with local police that resulted in the arrest and overnight detention of U.S. citizens. Drivers can be held liable for injuries to other persons involved in a vehicular accident, and local police have detained U.S. citizens overnight until the extent of the person’s injuries were known. Due to its conservative Islamic norms, Qatar maintains a zero-tolerance policy against drinking and driving. Qatar’s Traffic Police have arrested U.S. citizens for driving after consuming amounts of alcohol at lower levels than legally allowed in the United States.
Any motor vehicle over five years old cannot be imported into the country. For specific information concerning Qatari driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact either the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, D.C. or the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in Houston, Texas.