From island life to desert oasis: Making it in Qatar

Expat interviews
  • Maria in Qatar
Published on 2017-05-04 at 07:49
After spending time working with her parents, Maria took the opportunity to move to Qatar to join her husband and further her career. Originally from the Philippines, Maria hopes to return home in the future to raise her family, but, for the time being, she is enjoying life in Qatar with her husband. She tells about her life in Qatar.

Please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in Qatar, and what were you doing before you arrived? What brought you to Qatar and how long have you been there?

I am Maria Ingrid Buensalido, from Manila, Philippines. When I was in my home town, I was just a typical woman who balances her daily life between work and family. I am an accountant by profession and I was helping my parents with their humble business before I came to Qatar.

This will be my fifth year living in Qatar. I arrived here in 2012 to accompany my husband, who was already working in Qatar. After a month, I was able to secure a job as an accountant in a local company. Last year, I started my travel and lifestyle blog 'Wander with Mi' because I wanted to document our lives here, as well as our experiences in the places that we never thought we will visit.

What is the process to move to Qatar?

Initially, you need to find a company that will offer you a job and is willing to sponsor you, so you can get a resident/work visa. The length of the process of applying for a visa and documents required will depend on your nationality and occupation. The process is different (and more simple) if a family member who's already a resident in Qatar can sponsor you for a family visa. You will also need a medical exam and blood test to get a resident visa.

What has surprised you the most about Qatar?

The lifestyle of the people here. Being a conservative country, I thought that people stay inside their homes most of the time, but I was wrong. Be it expats or locals, they love to spend time outside with families or friends. They eat at restaurants, hang out at coffee shops, stroll the malls or engage in other sociable activities. I was also surprised when I learned that most of the malls close at 10:00pm during weekdays and at midnight during weekends, which is late compared to other countries.

What are the features of today's expat job market in Qatar?

I've heard that layovers are still rampant at some companies today, though there are still a lot of jobs available, particularly in medical, construction, hospitality and office fields. There was also a new law approved last year making visa transfers between sponsors easier, so I guess changing jobs won't be as much of a challenge any more.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Qatar, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

There are some companies which offer accommodation to their employees, which can vary based on the position. You can get a classy and sophisticated place if you belong to upper management, while decent, mid-range accommodation is available for those in the middle or lower level. Others receive a cash allowance for housing instead. If you are strict with your budget and want to stay within the city it may be a bit difficult for you to find accommodation in Qatar. In order to save money, some people share their place with friends or rent from those who sublease.

What are the year's biggest holidays in Qatar? What is some essential etiquette in Qatar?

It would have to be Ramadan and the 2 Eid Holidays. During Ramadan, most companies operate only for 6 hours in order to support the Muslim tradition of fasting. Then, during the 2 Eid holidays, employees are given 3 days off for each Eid, and it can be longer, especially if you are working in the government.

Qatar is a conservative country, so I guess the essential etiquette is to dress modestly.

How is the transportation system in Qatar? How do you move around?

Since petrol is cheap and it's easy to get a car through loans, most people here have their own vehicles. In terms of public transportation, there are buses and taxis available. There's also Uber and Careem now which makes getting a taxi easier. Qatar is also building their train system, which hopefully will start operating in a year or two.

My husband got a car, so that's what we use to get around. Whenever he is not available, I have a driver who I call every time I need a ride going to different places.

What do you do in your free time?

I work, blog and do household stuff during the weekdays, which I think I would be doing if I were in my home town as well. Then every weekend, or during free time, me and my husband just go out to unwind, eat out or meet friends.

Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

Definitely yes! There are various clubs and bars located inside the hotels where people can dance, watch performances, socialise, smoke and have a drink.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Qatar? How much does a bus ticket, a beer, and a loaf of bread cost?

Apart from petrol and utilities, the cost of living in Qatar is quite expensive, because food and most other items are imported from other countries. I've never tried riding a bus, but I believe it costs around QR 2.50 ($ 0.70), a loaf of bread costs QR 6 ($ 1.64) and beers cost QR 180/box ($ 49/box).

What is something that you would like to do in Qatar, but haven't had the opportunity to do yet?

I haven't explored Qatar yet, particularly those places on the outskirts of Doha. I've heard from some bloggers that great places such as beaches and forts can be found there, which hopefully I'll get to visit soon.

Share your most memorable experience in Qatar.

I don't want to sound materialistic, but my most memorable experience would be when I received my first month's salary. It was a great feeling, because that was the start of us being able to provide for our families, help other people, buy those things that we couldn't afford before, and gave us the opportunity to travel.

If you could do the move to Qatar over, what would you do differently?

I would have probably started my blog earlier. That was actually my biggest regret, since I'd already considered doing it before, but didn't pursue it because of fear. I love how blogging made me become more aware of what is happening around me and I love the fact that I get to meet different people.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

My family! I have lived with them for most of my life, and that's why it was a bit of a challenge when I moved here to Qatar.

What motivated you to create your blog 'Wander With Mi'?

My blog is all about travel and lifestyle. Initially my aim was just to document our lives here as well as our travels to different places, but now I'm trying to broaden the topics that I write about. As a result, I added tips and advice on travelling, as well as restaurant reviews and other life experiences so that I can help other people.

Give us some useful tips that soon-to-be-expatriates in Qatar will benefit from

You have to check the background of the company that you will be working with and make sure to read and understand the employment contract that you will sign, as your life in Qatar might depend on it.

Aside from that, just make the most out of your stay here. Qatar is trying its best to offer a lot of great things for the expats here to do, so go out, enjoy, and mingle with some locals and expats.

Another thing I would add is regarding the consumption of liquor. Alcohol is served in some restaurants and bars inside the hotels, but, if you want to purchase alcohol for personal consumption, there's only one store here that sells these products, and you need to have a permit in order to buy.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them to Qatar, what would they be?

I believe everything you need is already available in Qatar, but in case you're particular like me, there are a few things you should bring.

It is important to bring medicines that you are already using such as paracetamol or anti-allergens, as well as sunblock with 50+ SPF and skin care products that are already compatible with your skin, as it may be hard to find those here.

You may also want to bring some of your favourite foods from you home country (don't attempt to bring in items which contain pork).

You should also bring shoes if your size is like mine (less than size 36) and jackets, as it can be very cold in the desert during winter.

What are your plans for the future?

Our plan is to stay here for 3 to 5 more years in order to save, then go back to the Philippines for good and establish a business. Hopefully, by that time we will already have children as well, and we will raise them in our home country. I will still continue blogging and travelling with our family.

What is one thing that you will take with you from Qatar?

Dessert Sand! Kidding aside, it would have to be the happy memories with all the people I've met here.

Share your expat experience!

Contact us to be featured in the Interviews section.