Thinking about looking for an overseas job? Our analysis shows that from a pay, cost of living, exchange rate, quality of life (hardship) and long term economic stability perspective, Qatar is one of the best places in the world for expatriates to live. Surprised? Well consider why we say this.
While the rest of the world battles the ongoing impact of the global credit crisis, slowing economies, falling house prices, falling stock markets, exchange rate instability, a stronger US dollar and a drop in the oil price, Qatar stands out as being well positioned to ride out the global storm better than most.
The State of Qatar’s population has just recently exceeded 1.5 million people (of which more than 1 million people are expats) after several years of incredible economic growth which fuelled the demand for skills and labor. Qatar is still relatively small compared to the UAE’s population of 4.7 million. The precise total population within the State of Qatar, according to the Qatar Statistics Authority, as of 31st. Oct.2008 is 1,541,130 persons, made up of 1,185,575 (77%) Males and just 355,555 (23%) Females, which is indicative of the large number of unaccompanied male expatriate workers in Qatar. Foreigners account for some 78 per cent of the population (compared to the UAE’s 84%); most of the foreign workers in Qatar are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Arab countries.
Qatar is oil rich, but what differentiates Qatar from other petroleum producing countries is that the world’s largest gas field by far is Qatar’s offshore North Field, estimated to have 25 trillion cubic meters of gas in place—enough to last more than 200 years at optimum production levels.
Due to the distance from it’s markets, pipelines were not a practical option for Qatar. Over several decades the development of liquefied natural gas processes meant remote gas fields became more and more viable. Liquefied natural gas or LNG is natural gas (primarily methane, CH4) that has been converted to liquid form for ease of storage or transport. Liquefied natural gas takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas at a stove burner tip. It is odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive.
The costs of LNG treatment and transportation were so huge in the past that development was slow until recent times. LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. LNG offers an energy density comparable to petrol and diesel fuels and produces less pollution, but its relatively high cost of production and the need to store it in expensive cryogenic tanks have prevented its widespread use in commercial applications.
In the early 2000s, as more players took part in investment, both in downstream and upstream, and new technologies are adopted, the prices for construction of LNG plants, receiving terminals and vessels fell, making LNG a more competitive means of energy distribution, but increasing mateRiyal costs, lack of skilled labor, shortage of professional engineers, designers, managers and other white-collar professionals and demand for construction contractors have driven up prices in the last few years.
The commercial development of LNG is based on downstream buyers signing 20–25 year contracts with strict terms and structures for pricing. Only when the customers were confirmed and the development of a greenfield project deemed economically feasible do the sponsors of an LNG project invest in their development and operation. As a result the LNG liquefaction business has been regarded as a game of the rich, where only players with strong financial and political resources can get involved.
Global LNG demand is expected to grow considerably. The International Energy Agency estimates that European imports of gas from Africa and the Middle East (mainly in the form of LNG) will quadruple by 2030 (source: Economist, 14/4/07, p39). The largest LNG train in operation anywhere in the world is now in Qatar.
Qatar‘s largest lender Qatar National Bank (QNB) is predicting that Qatar’s economy will grow by a further 26 percent in 2008.
Qatar’s gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita, the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year divided by the average (or mid-year) population for the same year is USD$85,638, which makes Qatar the wealthiest nation in the world according to the International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Database as at October 2008.
Added to the wealth, forecast long term economic growth, expatriate salary levels in Qatar are reputed to be higher than most other Gulf States in US Dollar terms. Further good news for expats in Qatar (for now) is that the Qatar Riyal is fixed against the US Dollar. The relative strengthening of the US Dollar against most currencies translates to a strengthening of the Qatar Riyal. Between July and December 2008 the exchange rate has moved strongly in the favor of expatriates for most currencies. According to the currency website Oanda the following currencies weakened against the Qatar Riyal between 1 July 2008 and 1 December 2008, resulting in increases in terms of home currency for expats working in Qatar of:
- 47% for Australian expats;
- 29.6% for British expats;
- 24.3% for European expats;
- 18.7% for Indian expats;
- 39.3% for Indonesian expats;
- 13.9% for Malaysian expats;
- 11.2% for Philippine expats;
- 11.1% for Singaporean expats;
- 28% for South African expats
According to the recent GulfTalent report “Gulf Compensation Trends 2008” Basic Salaries rose in Qatar by 10.6% in 2007 and 12.7% in 2008.
The rapid growth in Qatar has however pushed up the cost of living for expats particularly that of housing costs. WWW.Xpatulator.com data shows that in November 2008 Doha was ranked the 45th most expensive city in the world for expatriates to live with an overall cost of living index of 100.64 (New York=100 and ranks 50th). To put this in context with some of the comparator global cities:
Qatar is more expensive for expatriates to live than places such as;
Rank Location (Overall Cost of Living Index New York=100)
56 Germany, Berlin (98.18);
62 Australia, Melbourne (95.88);
66 Singapore, Singapore (94.6);
68 USA, Los Angeles Calif (93.93);
82 Bahrain, Manama (90.82);
100 United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi (87.16);
116 United Kingdom, Birmingham (84.76);
126 Philippines, Manila (82.07);
130 Indonesia, Jakarta (81.76);
171 India, Mumbai (76.04);
181 Kuwait, Kuwait City (75.22);
183 Saudi Arabia, Riyadh (75.08);
206 India, New Delhi (71.4);
239 South Africa, Johannesburg (64.51);
241 Egypt, Cairo (64.18);
248 Pakistan, Lahore (59.48);
255 Pakistan, Karachi (57.72)
However Qatar is less expensive for expatriates to live than places such as;
Rank Location (Overall Cost of Living Index New York=100)
6 United Kingdom, London (118.23);
12 Ireland, Dublin (112.65);
29 Australia, Sydney (106.52);
34 United Arab Emirates, Dubai (103.36)
Has Qatar peeked at it’s current rank as the 45th most expensive place in the world for expatriates to live? It appears unlikely to have peeked in the immediate term due to high inflation in 2008 which, according to the Qatar General Secretariat for Development Planning (GSDP) as at mid-2008, is 16.6% per annum overall. The high inflation is being driven by two key inflationary elements “Rent, Fuel and Energy” at 24.4% and “Food, beverages & tobacco” at 22%. It is likely that Qatar will peek at around 40th most expensive place in the world for expatriates in 2009 before the global economy begins to pick up again and other countries cost of living increase relative to Qatar from 2010.
Qatar inflation forecasts for 2009 vary, but the consensus appears to be that the rate of inflation will be less severe than in 2008, and is expected to return towards slightly above 10%.
The general consensus is that the global recession will inevitably also impact Qatar, however it is likely to be less severe given the exposure to Petroleum in general and LNG in particular. Once again Qatar is well positioned in that one of the expected consequences of the recession in Qatar’s case is that inflationary pressures should ease as property demand cools along with a stabilization of rent increases, which have been severe in recent years, given that the slow down allows supply to catch up with demand.
So, if you had never given Qatar consideration as an expatriate destination of choice, I am sure you should now.
Steven Coleman runs the most comprehensive international cost of living website available http://www.xpatulator.com an internet service that provides free cost of living and hardship information for 276 global locations to registered users. The premium content calculators allow you to customise your own cost of living index by choosing your own basket groups.