A guide for British businesses interested in selling goods and services in Qatar.
Visit great.gov.uk for guidance on how to research overseas markets as well as a range of other important issues for exporters.
Qatar in world business rankings
Doing business in Qatar
Qatar is a relatively small country, but one of the richest in the world with a very high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head. This affluent market with its growing population offers opportunities for UK businesses across a wide range of sectors.
It has significant oil and gas reserves, and energy production per head dwarfs the other Gulf countries. As oil prices can and do fluctuate, the government is using the revenue generated to diversify its economy.
Qatar has one of the most ambitious infrastructure programmes in the world. It plans to invest up to £140 billion in infrastructure over the next 7 years. Many of these projects are as a result of Qatar hosting the 2022 football World Cup.
The Qatar National Vision 2030 is a programme for the country’s economic, social, human and environmental growth over the coming decades. It includes plans to create a balance between an oil-based and knowledge-based economy.
Many UK businesses operate in Qatar. Shell’s investment at the Pearl Gas to Liquids (GTL) plant at Ras Laffan is the single largest foreign investment in the country. Ties between the UK and Qatar oil and gas industries are close, with the liquefied natural gas terminal at Milford Haven in the UK, the largest in Europe, majority owned by Qatar Petroleum.
Qatar is a market which requires patience to develop the necessary contacts to successfully win business. A long-term strategy is essential.
Benefits for UK businesses exporting to Qatar:
There are a number of reasons to choose Qatar as an export destination such as:
- English is widely spoken
- there are strong UK-Qatar cultural and historical ties as many Qataris have studied in the UK, have UK homes and visit regularly
- there is considerable capital spending by the Qatari government on education, healthcare, infrastructure and transportation
- it is expected to have the highest real growth in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region over the next few years
Challenges and risks of doing business in Qatar
Qatar is a highly-competitive market. UK companies need to check pricing is competitive as the Qatari Riyal is tied to the US dollar.
A contract should be signed before undertaking any work or projects in Qatar.
Other things to consider when you are doing business in or with Qatar include:
- that you will need a local sponsor
- a requirement for 51-49% partnership split in favour of Qatari national, giving the greater risk to the foreign company
- the levels of bureaucracy
- that foreign investment is restricted in some sectors
- a lack of transparency in the market especially in relation to government procurement
- preferential treatment given to suppliers using local content in government procurement
- payment delays
Ensure you comply with the requirements of the UK Bribery Act.
Read the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Overseas Business Risk report for Qatar to find out to find out about security and political risks when doing business in Qatar.
Industries importing into Qatar
The International Trade Centre (ITC) ranks Qatar’s top importing industries as:
- aircraft, spacecraft
- machinery and mechanical appliances
- electrical machinery
- iron or steel products
- furniture and bedding
- precision optical and medical equipment
The ITC ranks the value of Qatar’s top services imports.
Researching the Qatari market
Local knowledge is extremely important in this market. You need to determine whether:
- there is a market for your product or service
- your pricing is competitive
- to localise your product
- to adapt your business model
Contact the British Chamber of Commerce in Qatar (BBCQ) for help with research into the Qatari market.
Visit the Department for International Trade’s (DIT) events portal to find upcoming events and missions.
Getting started in the Qatari market
Consult local lawyers to avoid costly mistakes and ensure you start out in the way that is best suited to your sector of activity.
Direct exports and sales in Qatar
Direct sales are possible in Qatar. However, direct marketing is only permitted in certain sectors and in certain circumstances.
A reliable local business partner will significantly improve your chances of success in this market. A partner is essential to access government tenders.
You should vet any partner looking closely at their:
- local business reputation
- financial resources
- marketing ability
You must take into account the Qatar Commercial Agents Law when entering into agency or distribution agreements. The law has certain requirements in terms of exclusivity, commissioning and termination of contracts. A clear contract is essential to avoid legal disputes.
DIT’s trade specialists can help you identify local representatives for your products in Qatar.
Setting up a business entity in Qatar
The main ways of starting up a business in Qatar are:
- to establish a local company, normally a Limited Liability Company (LLC), with a Qatari national
- to establish a branch office when the contract is a Qatari government contract
- setting up a commercial agency either via a 100% Qatari entity, or individual agent to market and sell goods when you have no physical presence in Qatar
- establishment of a representative office as a platform to promote a non-Qatar company and introduce it to Qatari companies and projects
When establishing a local company, foreign ownership is limited to 49%, with the remaining 51% for Qatar nationals.
Online selling to Qatar
Use DIT’s selling online overseas service to get exclusive deals for your business, negotiated by the UK government.
Find out how DIT’s E-Exporting programme can help you export your products overseas.
Licensing or franchising in Qatar
Franchising is very popular in Qatar. However, a local sponsor is required to establish a franchise business.
Visit the British Franchise Association website for more information on franchising.
Free zones in Qatar
Qatar wants to attract only those industries and sectors which complement or add value to existing businesses. Very specific criteria apply for the incentives offered.
Getting finance to fulfil an export contract to Qatar
To make it easier to fulfil an export contract and grow your business, schemes are available to UK companies selling products and services to Qatar. Contact your bank or specialist financial organisations for assistance.
Getting paid in Qatar
You may wish to talk to a specialist about finance, including how to get paid in Qatar. This could be a bank, accountant or you can contact the DIT team in Qatar to help find a financial adviser in Qatar.
Your contract will specify the terms for payment. If there is any dispute you will need to go through the Qatari legal system for resolution.
Payment risks in Qatar
UKEF helps UK companies get paid by insuring against buyer default.
Currency risks when exporting to Qatar
If you have not fixed your exchange rate you have not fixed your price.
You should consider whether the best option for you is to agree terms in Sterling, US Dollars or Qatari Riyal in any contract. You should also consider getting expert financial advice on exchange rates (sometimes called FX).
The Qatari Riyal is pegged to the US Dollar.
Transferring money from Qatar
There are no capital controls or restrictions on repatriation of profits in Qatar.
Legal considerations of doing business in Qatar
Civil and commercial law operates in Qatar. If no appropriate legislation is available, those courts will look to Sharia law.
It is now mandatory for businesses in Qatar to use Arabic as the main language for issuing invoices, service lists and product labels.
Foreign investment law in Qatar
Foreign investors may only invest in Qatar in accordance with the provisions of the Foreign Investment Law. Various incentives are available to attract foreign capital including tax breaks and duty exemptions.
Foreign business investors may invest in all parts of the national economy excluding commercial agencies and generally real estate. Approval from the Council of Ministers is required for foreign investment in banking or insurance.
Foreign investment is generally limited to 49% of the capital for most business activities, with a Qatari partner(s) holding at least 51%. However, with government approval, the law allows up to 100% foreign ownership in the following sectors:
- development and exploitation of natural resources
- consultative and technical work services
- information and technology sector
- distribution services
Commercial agents law
All agency agreements to be exclusive arrangements as part of the commercial agent law. Consult legal professionals in Qatar to avoid costly mistakes and ensure you start out in the way that is best suited to your sector of activity.
Controlled goods export licences for Qatar
You must have a licence to supply anything on the UK strategic export control lists to Qatar.
Check if you need an export licence.
Some products may need certification or licensing.
Import restrictions in Qatar
Banned items include (but are not limited to):
- pork and pork products
- any items potentially offensive to Muslim culture
- gambling devices including playing cards
Other items are restricted and may be subject to censorship or other approvals.
The Qatar Distribution Company manages the importation of all alcohol.
The General Authority of Customs has more information on import restrictions.
Law on marketing and selling in Qatar
You ideally need to establish a local office if you don’t already have one, as foreign companies are generally not allowed to market their products and services directly.
Call centres for customers must use Arabic.
Standards and technical regulations in Qatar
Almost all Qatari standards are based on those developed by the Gulf Standardization Organization (GSO). These standards are based to some extent on international standards, but don’t necessarily conform.
There are Qatari specific standards relating to building, mechanical and food products. The Qatar General Organization for Standards and Metrology (QGOSM) has responsibility for Qatari standards.
Imported products requiring conformity certificates are given automatic entry if tested by an accredited laboratory. Vehicle spare parts, tyres and some electrical products require a certificate of conformity to clear Qatari customs.
You should consider taking out product liability insurance if you manufacture or supply a physical product that is sold or given away for free.
Packaging in Qatar
Your goods should be appropriately packed for Qatar. You should take into account Qatar’s hot climate.
Product labelling in Qatar
Qatar enforces strict rules on labels and packaging of food products and enforces GCC shelf-life standards for about 200 food products. The manufacturer’s established shelf life is accepted for other food products. Products must arrive in Qatar with at least half the shelf-life duration remaining.
Labels must be in Arabic only, or in Arabic/English. Small quantities of products with English only labels may be approved for import on a case-by-case basis.
Food labels must be clearly labelled with:
- product and brand names
- printed production and expiry dates (no date stickers allowed)
- country of origin
- name and address of manufacturer
- net weight in metric units
- list of the ingredients and additives in descending order of importance
- all fats and oils used as ingredients clearly identified
Meat must have a health certificate and a ‘Halal’ slaughter certificate issued by an approved Islamic centre in the UK.
Protecting your intellectual property (IP) in Qatar
Trade mark and copyright owners and patents holders are dependent on Qatar’s own national laws and regulations for protection.
Register your trademarks at the Qatar Intellectual Property Department - Trademark Office at the Ministry of Economy. Inventive designs or industrial models can also be registered under the Trade Mark Law.
Register at Qatar’s Copyright Office to protect inventions and literary and artistic works. This includes computer programmes and databases which are creative in the selection and arrangement of their subject matter.
You should be particularly careful over translation of English language works into Arabic and put in place a legal agreement with the translator before any work is done. Direct translation is not possible between English and Arabic and therefore in the eyes of local law copyright could pass to the translator as it could be considered a new work.
A GCC patent covering all member states can be obtained by filing an application GCC Patent Office.
Taxation in Qatar
The UK and Qatar have signed a double taxation agreement, which means the same income is not taxed in more than one country.
Value added tax (VAT) for Qatar
There is presently no sales tax in Qatar, however, the GCC have announced an intention to introduce a 5% VAT in early 2018. The exact details on implementation and timing of the VAT are yet to be announced.
If you’re registered for Value Added Tax (VAT) you can zero-rate the VAT on most goods you export to Qatar. You will need to get evidence of the export within 3 months from the time of sale.
Find more information on VAT in non-EU markets and zero rating conditions.
Excise duty in Qatar
There is a 100% tariff imposed on alcohol and tobacco products in Qatar.
You should check you’ve paid excise duty on any alcohol, alcoholic drinks, energy products, electrical or tobacco products you send to Qatar.
Find out more about excise duty and duty drawback outside the EU.
Company and corporate tax in Qatar
Qatari companies are exempt from tax. However, foreign companies, and any business activity carried out in Qatar is subject to a corporate income tax of 10%. This includes any services or consultancy contracts within the state as well as any gains on property.
Customs and documentation in Qatar
Complying with HMRC regulations to export to Qatar
You must make export declarations to HMRC through the National Export System (NES) to export your goods to Qatar.
Find out how to declare your exports to Qatar through the NES.
You must classify your goods as part of the declaration, including a commodity code and a Customs Procedure Code (CPC).
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to exports in the UK Trade Tariff.
Find out how to contact the HMRC Tariff Classification Service for more help.
You must declare any goods that you take with you in your baggage to sell outside the EU.
Temporary export of goods to Qatar
The Duplicate List procedure can be used to temporarily take your goods out of the UK to go to Qatar.
You will need an export licence to temporarily take dual use goods to Qatar.
Use the SPIRE system to apply for a temporary export licence.
Temporary imports into Qatar need prior approval from Qatar’s Customs. A 5% of declared cost, insurance and freight (CIF) fee is charged for the Temporary Importation Under Bond (TIB). Some types of equipment are exempted from duty.
Customs in Qatar
The General Authority of Customs has responsibility for all customs matters. Qatar is part of the GCC customs union.
The rate of duty on most items imported into GCC is 5%. Products may be exported to other GCC countries freely without further duties once in Qatar.
Some duty exemptions are available for equipment relating to a particular project, and for the import of materials where they are not available locally.
Goods that compete with locally-manufactured products attract a higher rate of duty, such as steel (20%), cement (20%) and urea (30%).
Goods from other GCC countries are exempt from customs duty if accompanied by a certificate of origin issued by the Chamber of Commerce in the GCC country of origin.
You can find more about import tariffs in the Market Access Database.
Importers in Qatar must be:
- registered in the Importers (Suppliers) Register
- approved by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Documentation in Qatar
Documentation required includes:
- certificate of origin
- invoice and shipping document
- full description of goods
- health and quality certificate, if applicable
Letters of credit for imports into Qatar are normally on a cost and freight basis.
Shipping your goods to Qatar
If you’re not knowledgeable about international shipping procedures you can use a freight forwarder to move your goods. A forwarder will have extensive knowledge of documentation requirements, regulations, transportation costs and banking practices in Qatar.
Posting goods to Qatar
Find out about sending goods by post to Qatar.
Shipping dangerous goods to Qatar
Special rules apply if you are shipping dangerous goods to Qatar.
Terms of delivery to Qatar
Your contract should include agreement on terms of delivery using Incoterms.
Opportunities for UK businesses in Qatar
DIT provides free international export sales leads from its worldwide network. Find export opportunities in Qatar.
2022 World Cup
Qatar’s successful bid for the World Cup is the Middle East’s first major global sporting tournament. Major investment in infrastructure is taking place offering a wide range of opportunities for UK companies.
Contact DIT team in Qatar for more information on opportunities around the 2022 World Cup.
Government tenders in Qatar
Most government purchases over QR 50,000 (about £10,500) are conducted through a government tendering process run by the Qatar Central Tender Committee.
Government tenders may be:
- ‘general’ and available to all
- ‘limited’, using a shortlist of companies who require approval of the Minister of Finance prior to bidding and contract award
- ‘local’, restricted to below QR 1,000,000 in value and using a pre-approved shortlist of companies registered with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce Central Tenders Committee where suppliers using local content are given preferential treatment
A strong bond culture underpins government procurement. You must be aware of your obligations and consequences of not meeting contract terms.
Bid and performance bonds of 5% and 10% of the contract respectively are needed for government procurement. This usually takes the form of unconditional bank guarantees with a local bank or certified local bank checks. A bid bond guarantees that if successful, the work will be done as outlined in the bid, and a performance bond guarantees that the work will be completed.
UK architectural, contracting and engineering firms don’t need a local presence for the bid process, but it will be necessary to satisfy local presence requirements by the time a contract is ready to be signed.
Government contracts may include arbitration clauses. This normally means local arbitration in Qatar.
Quotations should be given in Qatari Riyals or $. Where equipment is concerned, the correct Incoterm should be researched before quoting.
Language and culture in Qatar
Qatar is an Islamic country and follows Shariah Law.
English is widely spoken but it is mandatory for businesses in Qatar to use Arabic as the main language for issuing invoices, service lists, product labels and customer services.
It is recommended that you get one side of your business card printed in Arabic.
You will need introductions to develop your business in this market. You must to take time to get to know your contacts through face-to-face meetings.
Status and respect are very important in Qatar.
The working week is Sunday to Thursday, with many non-government businesses open on Saturday.
Entry requirements for Qatar
You must have a passport with at least 6 months validity.
UK citizens are eligible for a 1 month visit visa on arrival at Hamad International Airport at a cost of 100 Qatari Riyal (about £22). Payment is by debit or credit card only.
You must get a residence permit to live and work in Qatar.
Travel advice for Qatar
If you’re travelling to Qatar for business, it’s essential you check the (FCO) travel advice first.
DIT and partner contacts for Qatar
Contact a local DIT trade adviser in the UK if you are interested in finding out more about doing business in Qatar.
Contact the BCCQ if you need research or support in one of the following sectors:
- creative industries
- financial and professional services
- food and drink
- retail and fashion
Contact the DIT team in Qatar for more information and advice on opportunities for doing business in Qatar.