Doha, the capital city (and really, the only city) of the Emirate of Qatar, is only a forty-minute flight away from Dubai, but are there many major differences that might cause an aspiring gulf expatriate to choose one ahead of the other as a place to live?
Doha or Dubai?
Just to be clear, though Qatar does describe itself as an Emirate (a geographical entity ruled by an Emir – English translation, “ruler”), it is an independent country and not a part of the United Arab Emirates, as Dubai is.
There are a number of striking similarities between the two states: both have roughly equal populations, just a little over two million, and in both places local inhabitants (Qataris and Emiratis) make up around 13% of the population.
The bulk of the expatriate residents in both cases come from the Indian subcontinent, while expatriates from western countries make up a small, but financially privileged percentage of both population groups.
In both cases, expatriates will almost certainly choose to live within the municipal limits of either Doha of Dubai, so in making comparisons, I’ll mostly confine myself to these limits.
Doha is definitely quieter – that may be a plus or a minus, depending on your personal circumstances. If you’re young, single, and want access to the party scene to help you unwind over your weekends, then Dubai’s the main contender.
But families, especially with younger children might well prefer Doha’s more sedate atmosphere. Doha, neatly located around its natural harbor on the peninsula’s eastern side, is more compact than Dubai, where the pace of development over the last 10-12 years has seen it stretch itself almost all the way to Jebel Ali along its coastline, following roughly the line of the Sheikh Zayed highway to the Abu Dhabi border.
Again, these factors may be plusses or minuses, depending on your circumstances, workplace, and temperament.
How about the cost of living? Ask any long-term Dubai resident and they’ll all tell you how much cheaper it used to be. They’ll tell you any number of tales of expats who arrived with goals and savings plans and exit strategies after three or six or however many years, but fifteen or twenty years on, they’re still here and their financial plans are still as unrealized as when they arrived.
But how true is all this remembrance of the “good old days” back when everything was cheaper? Actually, it’s quite true for the majority. Rental accommodation in Dubai eats up a greater proportion of your salary now and gas to power your car is considerably more expensive. Salaries have not kept pace with inflation.
But how about Doha? Housing costs, it seems, are about the same, but salaries are better. Petrol is a lot cheaper (In US$ terms, a liter of gas in the UAE is 0.58c, while in Qatar, it’s 0.26c.) A more detailed comparison of fuel costs can be found here.
According to my Doha source, at present, at pretty much any time of day, there are very long queues at gas stations waiting to be served. There’s no obvious explanation for this.
Traffic, especially at peak times, is equally bad in both places, it seems.
There’s little doubt that Dubai is ahead of Doha at the present. Doha is still very much a “work in progress” – something like Dubai was about ten years ago. No Metro, no Al Sufouh tramway, and while Doha has a public bus system, few European expats use it. Mind you, the same could be said for Dubai’s excellent bus-network.
There’s a lot of construction “on the go” in Doha, but in the finish, Doha may end up better organized and maybe better-looking. The big developments don’t seem to be quite as “crammed in” as some of Dubai’s do.
Both the governments of Dubai and Doha seem to have plenty of money to invest in major projects. Doha, just this year (2015) finally opened its showpiece Hamad International Airport, a complex that can truly rival Dubai International Airport (DXB).
Not to be outdone, Dubai, in 2014, inaugurated services at Dubai World Central, Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). So Dubai now has two international airports, one in the center of the city and one at the Jebel Ali edge.
Daily life for the expatriate in Dubai or Doha
If the ever-present traffic problems in both locations seem to make it six of one, half a dozen of the other, there are a few other considerations.
Dubai definitely offers the foreign resident a far better range of supermarkets, specialty food stores, restaurants, and other eating establishments. That being said, no one is going to starve in Doha; it’s just a bit more like Dubai was ten years ago and playing catch-up fast.
Hospitals and school places might be another area where Dubai has the lead at present. Expatwoman.com/Qatar can tell you a lot more about these two areas of concern for long-term residents. As with the Dubai version of the site, you can read the comments of others or join the site and pose your own specific questions.
In Doha, you are more likely (if you have a family) to find yourself living a compound-style of life, like expats do in Saudi Arabia. That might not bother most people, but it can lead to feeling “cut-off” from the rest of the country and its other communities.
Dubai also has its compounds like The Arabian Ranches, The Green Community, The Springs, Emirates Hills, and many others, but there are more options for “off-compound” living in Dubai than Doha.
Finally, Dubai does have a few more options away from the confines of the municipality than Doha. As you head inland from the coast in the UAE, the landscape changes steadily and quite dramatically, the closer you get to the Hajar Mountains.
Doha, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything like as much variety to offer on the rest of the Qatar peninsula. Qatar’s highest altitude is just 103 meters above sea-level, at Jebel Dukhan, whereas Dubai’s Hajar Mountains rise to about 1300 meters.
In the end, your choice will be decided by external factors such as salary and conditions, and then personal preferences: big and fast, or smaller (for now, at least) and more laid-back.