Qatar may not be the most obvious choice when you’re thinking of your next holiday destination. But, make no mistake, this country has LOADS to offer, from immersive Arab souks to some of the richest collections of Muslim art on the planet! But is Qatar safe? Well…that’s precisely what we’re here to find out.
First, though, let us tell you exactly why you should be raring to jet on over to Qatar! The country is not only a melting pot of cultures (since east literally does meet west here!). It’s also an audacious modern megacity with eye-catching skyscrapers and glitzy marinas. If you’re an adventure seeker you’ll be in your element with desert safaris, sky-diving, scuba diving, and more adrenaline-filled activities. If you’re a culture buff, then get ready for ancient arabesque artworks and historic bazaars.
This guide will focus in on the safety of Qatar as a whole. It will first touch on the sorts of crime rates the country sees and compare that to the crime stats you get in other major travel destinations around the planet. Then we’ll look at how safe this part of the Middle East really is for solo female travelers, and even offer some tips on how to have a hassel-free trip. Let’s go…
Is Qatar safe? A general overview
Generally speaking: Yes, Qatar is safe! This may come as a surprise, especially given its location in the Middle East, which can sometimes be quite a volatile area with high political tensions. But the overall low crime rate in Qatar can be put down to a high police presence preventing the majority of crimes, and a population made up mostly of wealthy individuals and foreigners on well-paying contracts.
According to numbeo.com, the level of crime in Qatar is classified as “very low” with a crime index of 13.95 out of 100. In comparison, the United States is considered to have a “moderate” level of crime and scores 48.25 on numbeo’s crime index. Qatar is also safe once the sun goes down. Cities like the vibrant capital, Doha, come to life at night with illuminated buildings, sunset dinner cruises, and rooftop bars!
A perception analysis by numbeo.com made up of over 300 contributors, indicated that they perceived their safety walking alone at night as “very high” scoring 84.33 out of 100. Of course, normal safety rules apply, like keeping away from dark alleys, sticking to crowded touristy areas, and, particularly if you’re a woman, taking extra care when alone.
Qatar: Laws and customs
Serious crime in Qatar is very rare, and it’s even rarer for it to involve foreign tourists. The biggest danger for tourists is accidentally breaking one of their strict laws or customs, some of which can result in hefty fines or even prison time! Even things that we might consider normal/acceptable in other parts of the world can be punished severely, so visitors should be careful and get clued up on Qatari laws and customs.
Here are some important laws to be aware of, as well as some customs that won’t necessarily get you in trouble, but could anger the locals:
- Drugs – Qatar has zero-tolerance for drug-related offenses. This includes using, possession, and transportation. Punishments can include lengthy jail time, heavy fines, and possible deportation. Some prescription drugs may be classified as controlled substances in Qatar, so it’s a good idea to double-check any medications you may be taking. If you must bring something that is controlled, you should also have your official prescription, detailing the drug, quantity, and dosage.
- Alcohol – This one is a little confusing… alcohol isn’t illegal, but it IS illegal to drink alcohol in public or be drunk in public. You can only drink alcohol at a licensed venue like a hotel, restaurant, or bar. The legal age in Qatar is 21 years old. This law is probably the one most tourists get in trouble with, and drinking in a public place could have you in jail for up to 6 months and facing a fine of up to 3,000 QAR (825 USD).
- Offensive behavior – Obscene language, rude gestures, and insulting someone publicly are all punishable offenses in Qatar. Visitors, as well as resident expats, have been arrested, deported, and/or fined for these kinds of acts. You should take particular care in the presence of police officers or other officials.
- Photography – When filming or taking photographs in Qatar, there are certain cultural sensitivities around people, and religious, construction, or military sites. Tourists have been arrested for taking photos/filming, so if you are unsure, either ask permission or abstain. There are also laws prohibiting posting material online that could be seen as insulting, slanderous, or culturally insensitive, so take extra care.
- Homosexuality – Homosexual behavior is against the law in Qatar, so if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you should proceed with extreme caution. We’ll talk more about this below.
- Dress code – Men and women are advised to dress modestly when in public, and avoid wearing shorts or sleeveless tops in malls, healthcare facilities, and government buildings. Women should avoid wearing short skirts and cover their shoulders. You could be asked to leave or be denied entry to certain locations if you aren’t dressed appropriately.
- Public displays of affection – Also known as PDA, you may be asked to leave, fined, or even arrested if you get caught doing things like kissing or displaying intimacy, especially in family-friendly establishments.
Terrorism in Qatar
Unfortunately, Qatar is located in a highly unstable region, so terrorism and political upheavals can’t be ruled out. However, if we look at the Global Terrorism Index from 2020, Qatar had a score of 0.01, where 0 means no impact of terrorism and 10 is the highest impact of terrorism. Perhaps more pertinently, the US State Department notes that “There were no reported terrorist incidents in Qatar in 2020.” To put it another way – the risk of getting caught up in any terror-related incident here is negligible to none.
On top of all that, Qatar has played integral parts in the war on terror in the Middle East. Most recently, the country helped facilitate US and allied actions against ISIS (the so-called Islamic State) by hosting 10,000 service men and women, many of which are still based in the state.
Scams and petty crime in Qatar
Yes, Qatar is super safe and generally, the chances of anything happening are extremely low, however, petty crime does still happen and there are some scams to be aware of!
Pickpocketing and theft can happen, so if you’re in a busy, crowded place, make sure to hold on tight to your things and not leave anything in your outside pockets. If you’re still a bit nervous, you can check out our ULTIMATE choices for anti-theft backpacks here! Even though Qatar is a wealthy country, we’d still advise against wearing expensive jewelry and flashing your gadgets – there’s no need to make yourself a walking target, right?
There is ATM fraud and credit card theft in the country. It’s good practice to look for signs of skimmers on ATM machines (the slot tends to look odd, bulky, or discolored), and to cover your pin when entering it into the machine. Remain vigilant when drawing out money and be aware of anyone standing too close or trying to distract you!
You should only use registered taxis in Qatar and if you have to travel via taxi late at night, it’s best not to travel alone. Qatar has several ride apps available, including Uber and their local Karwa Taxi app.
Is Qatar safe for female solo travelers?
We are happy to report that generally, Qatar IS safe for female solo travelers. Many women report feeling very safe in Qatar and aside from stares and possible catcalling, major incidents rarely occur. There are strict laws against the harassment of women in Qatar and the majority of residents abide by said law.
That being said, you should still be cautious and be sensible (as you would anywhere else in the world). We recommend female travelers avoid walking or taking taxis alone late at night. It is also extremely important to respect the local customs and dress modestly, avoiding tight clothing as well as keeping yourself covered.
Is Qatar safe for LGBTQ+ people?
No, Qatar is not safe for members of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, male homosexuality is officially illegal in the country. Naturally, that means gay marriage is illegal, too, and that there are zero protections for gay people when it comes to discrimination in the world of work, censorship, and adoption.
People found guilty of homosexuality can face severe punishments inspired by strict Islamic Sharia traditions. That might include imprisonment for a term of up to three years, deportation, and even death, though there have been no cases of homosexuality convictions leading to the death penalty in Qatar to date.
All this came under the spotlight in the run up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Prior to the tournament being awarded to Qatar, some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council even proposed forcing would-be fans to sexuality tests in order to screen out homosexual men.
Top tips for staying safe in Qatar
Even though Qatar is an extremely safe place to go on vacation, it’s still important to follow some basic safety rules to make sure your visit is trouble-free. We’ve outlined our top 7 safety tips below, so get busy reading!
- Be aware and mindful of local laws and customs – If you were paying attention earlier, you’ll have seen that there are strict laws in Qatar surrounding things that elsewhere could be considered normal. There is no leniency when it comes to tourists breaking the rules, and visitors have been fined, jailed, and deported in the past! It’s always a good idea wherever you go to read up on (and then abide by) the local laws and customs, especially in countries like Qatar, where punishments can be extreme. Ramadan is a particularly strict time with even more rules and customs to follow.
- Be cautious at night – Yes, we said Qatar was safe at night, and while that’s true, you should still be cautious once the sun sets! Take the usual precautions like avoiding unlit streets, deserted areas, and being out super late. Women especially should avoid being out alone at night or taking taxis alone.
- Dress appropriately – Qatar is a conservative, Muslim country where dressing modestly is important for both men and women. You won’t be arrested or fined for inappropriate dress, but you may be denied entry to some places and you’ll be considered rude by the locals! Even though harassment of women is illegal in Qatar, women are more likely to be on the receiving end of negative male attention if they are dressed immodestly under local standards.
- Keep your valuables hidden or locked away – Unfortunately, opportunistic, petty theft happens everywhere in the world and Qatar is no exception! The best way to keep yourself safe is to not flash your valuables, keep a tight hold of your belongings, and lock away anything important in your hotel safe.
- Stay away from drugs and public intoxication – There is a zero-tolerance for drugs in Qatar and being drunk in public is also a punishable offense. You should definitely steer clear from any drugs (DUH), but also double-check none of your medications (if you have any) contain controlled substances. If they do, keep your official doctor’s note with you. With drinking, if you aren’t the type to stop at one or two drinks, maybe consider avoiding drinking altogether? Not drinking 10/10 beats being put in jail.
- Be mindful of ATM machines – When you’re hitting up an ATM machine, do a quick check for anything that may seem a bit off, discoloration and bulkiness of the card reader are good indications. Also be mindful of people hanging around trying to distract you, or just generally getting a little too close.
- Watch out for wildlife – Okay, this one is a bit of a wildcard. BUT, there are some dangerous animals in Qatar and neighboring Saudi Arabia such as venomous Horned Desert Vipers and Desert Cobras (amongst other things). You’ll most likely find these snakes in the desert, so if you’re spending the day hiking or sandboarding, watch where you’re putting your feet!
- No PDAs! – Public displays of affection with the opposite sex are illegal in Qatar. Don’t go kissing your other half here when people are around or that first date could end in a jail cell!
Is Qatar safe: the conclusion
So what have we discovered? Well, first of all, Qatar is a very safe place to visit (not to mention a lot of fun). There is some petty crime around, but as long as you’re sensible and have your wits about you, you shouldn’t wind up as a victim. You should take normal precautions when it comes to walking around at night, and solo female travelers should be particularly cautious.
The biggest thing for tourists to beware of is accidentally breaking one of Qatar’s strict laws. However, as long as you do a little reading up on what is and isn’t allowed, your visit should be trouble-free!