Qatari customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning importation into Qatar of items such as alcohol, narcotics, pork products, weapons or weapons-related material (hand-cuffs, knives, laser sights, laser pointers, etc), or anything deemed pornographic or sexually-related by Qatari authorities. While importation of religious material for personal use is acceptable, importation of religious material for the purpose of proselytizing is not. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, DC,or the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in Houston, Texas,for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Islam and tribal traditions provide an important foundation for Qatar’s customs, laws, and practices. Foreign visitors are expected to remain sensitive to Islamic beliefs and practices and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter tops and shorts. Western bathing attire is acceptable only at hotel pools and beaches.
Religion and religious practice are quite sensitive issues in Qatar. Therefore, discussing religious issues, or answering questions about a religion, should be treated with care and sensitivity. Proselytizing is illegal in Qatar. Activities that Qataris might think are inappropriate could include attempting to convert a member of one religion to another, or “sharing one’s faith” with someone of a different faith. Similar practices can be deemed violations of Qatari law, with deportation or even prison time as a consequence. Accordingly, charitable activities, both religious and non-religious, must be approved in advance by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Pets entering Qatar require an import permit from the Ministry of Agriculture. Cats with proper documentation are allowed to enter with no difficulty, but some breeds of dogs, especially large dogs and breeds considered aggressive, are not admitted. Application forms for import permits may be obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture through a sponsoring employer. A copy of the pet's health certificate and vaccination record must be submitted with the application.
All U.S. citizens should carry a copy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. In the past, employers routinely held the passports of employees during their stay in Qatar. A new law passed in 2009 formally forbade this practice, and all employers are prohibited from holding employees’ passports, except for visa and immigration processing. Residents carry a Qatari Identification Card (Iqama) for identification in place of a passport. Foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, may not leave Qatar without permission in the form of exit visas obtained by their employer/sponsor.
Business and Employment Contracts: The written Arabic text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements under Qatari law. Before signing a contract, U.S. citizens and companies should obtain an independent English translation of the original Arabic to ensure a full understanding of the contract's terms, limits, and agreements. No U.S. citizen should work in Qatar or make a business arrangement without having seen and understood the full written contract. Verbal assurances or side letters are not binding in Qatar.
In the event of a contract or employment dispute, Qatari authorities refer to the Arabic language of a contract. Since a Qatari sponsor controls the issuance of exit visas, U.S. citizens will be unable to leave Qatar without their sponsor’s approval in the event of an emergency or employment or business dispute. Any U.S. citizen who breaks an employment or business contract may have to pay substantial penalties before being allowed to depart Qatar. Qatari law favors employers over employees, and Qatari sponsors have substantial leverage in any negotiations and may block the departure of the employee or bar future employment in Qatar. If a sponsor files a complaint against an employee who departed Qatar, the employee may be barred from returning to Qatar, even on a subsequent tourist or airport visa.
Transferring employment in Qatar requires the permission of the previous employer, which is discretionary, and is subject to approval by the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry of the Interior has denied employment transfers in the past, including ordering U.S. citizens deported and barred from re-entry to Qatar for two years. The U.S. Embassy has no standing in Qatar’s courts, cannot sponsor visas, and cannot mediate labor or business disputes. U.S. consular officers can provide lists of local attorneys to help U.S. citizens settle disputes, but ultimate responsibility for the resolution of disputes through Qatar’s legal system lies with the parties involved.
To obtain a residence permit in Qatar, the Government of Qatar usually requires foreign citizens to provide a police clearance certificate and authentication of educational degrees, certified true copies of civil documents (marriage and birth certificate, adoption paperwork, etc.), and occupational certifications from their home countries. Prospective residents can obtain a U.S. police clearance certificate in two ways: through a local or state law enforcement agency or through the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). In both cases, the clearance will be run through the National Crime Information Center, which contains all federal, state and local criminal records. Please visit the U.S. Embassy Doha website for more information. For authentication of educational degrees and occupational certifications, please visit the U.S. Embassy website’s Authentication page. This process requires several weeks, and the U.S. Embassy in Doha strongly recommends that prospective residents obtain a U.S. police clearance and any document authentications before they arrive in Qatar.
Residents have been barred from exiting Qatar while they have a current loan on account with a Qatari bank. Qatari banks have placed holds on residents’ accounts to ensure that all debts have been paid before residents may leave Qatar. To approve an exit visa, sponsors and Qatari immigration may check with an employee’s Qatari bank to verify any outstanding loans.