One of the most common searches that leads people to this site is Doha vs Dubai, a post I wrote shortly after I arrived in Doha in February 2015. Six months in, here’s a more thorough update on this tale of two cities.
I moved to Ruwais, Abu Dhabi, where I spent two years, in 2009. I moved from there to Abu Dhabi city, and then spent about ten months in England before moving to Dubai in 2012. So with four Middle Eastern towns and cities behind me, here are my thoughts on the Doha vs Dubai debate.
Lifestyle: It’s undeniable that there is more to do in Dubai, but since I wasn’t the type to spend my weekends skydiving or skiing, that doesn’t bother me a lot. Doha has plenty of malls and hotels too! If you think of Doha more like a medium-sized town than a capital city, you’ll get a good idea of what there is to see and do.
In terms of hobbies, you’ll find all the usuals in terms of gyms, yoga classes, water sports, cross-fit, sports clubs, book clubs, drama groups etc. The Corniche area is lovely to walk along and see dhows going in and out, and I go to Souq Waqif about once a week for food, shisha or a walk around when the weather allows. However, if clubbing is a big part of your social life, you are in for a bit of a shock in Doha – it’s not comparable to Dubai’s nightlife at all.
I would say that because the expat community in Doha isn’t as large, I was forced to get out of my comfort zone. In order to meet new people and make a decent circle of friends, I had to try new things. This can be a bit of effort, but overall I would say it has been very rewarding.
Qatari culture: Local culture is quite similar to Abu Dhabi, but not as liberal as Dubai. Rules around dress codes are enforced a bit more strictly, and PDAs are out of the question. Again, for me personally, it’s not a big deal. On the odd day I do wear a shorter-than-usual dress, I don’t get any hassle, but for the most part my mini-skirt days are behind me in any case!
I heard terrible things about Qatari people in the Emirates and I can categorically say it’s not true. I work with a lot of Qataris, and I’ve made several Qatari friends during my time here. I can tell you that they are a generous, good-humoured and intelligent people, working hard to find a balance between being progressive and holding true to their traditional values. I do find the cavalier attitude to human rights abuses here difficult to take, but realistically, it’s no worse here than it is in the UAE.
Cost of living: Rent, eating out and socialising are more expensive in Doha than Dubai, but I would say taxis, beauty treatments and groceries are cheaper. Salaries are higher in Qatar than the UAE, so overall I would say I can afford a better lifestyle here. Example: I paid AED4,000/month to live in a really nice apartment in the DIFC in Dubai – but for that price, all I could get was a windowless maid’s room, which got super depressing after a while. In Doha, I pay QAR7,000 per month, and for that I get a reasonable sizes one bedroom apartment including all furniture and bills, in an area that was once quite vibrant before West Bay and the Pearl were built. Today, it still has lots of places to eat out and shop nearby.
Career: Qatar is a great place to come for career development. If you’re smart and you get in with the right company, you can rise the ranks fast and in many cases, you can earn great bonuses. However, I have several friends who have horror stories about salaries not getting paid on time (or at all). Be careful, do your research, come out with a respectable company and you should be find. Of the bigger companies people travel here to work for, Qatar Airways has developed quite a reputation for itself, and it is wise to do your due diligence before you sign up with them. Oil and gas companies and government entities have the best benefits.
Frustrations: Of course, Doha has its frustrations. For a city with such a small population, the traffic is ridiculous. I have mostly avoided this by living within walking distance of work, but road rage is a problem here, and there is no public transport. The inshallah culture is strong here, which is often annoying for Westerners, and customer service in everything from utilities to restaurants is uniformly terrible. Take a deep breath and resist the temptation to swear or give the finger!
Moving to Doha?
This book answers the most common questions new expats in Qatar have, from the big things like what areas you should live in, where you should send your kids to school and women’s rights, to the little things like where you can order Thai food from on a Friday night, or get happy hour in.