Doing Business (or at Least Trying to) in Qatar

Doing business in Qatar requires many things but I’ve found that the most important of all is patience, and lots of it; things happen a bit differently here, a bit slower than what you may be accustomed to, and usually in a more round-about manner.  I remember scheduling a group meeting and telling one Qatari student that it was at 9am.  ‘9am sharp?’ was her reply.  ‘Yes, 9am sharp’, I said and thought to myself, ‘if it wasn’t 9am sharp, than the meeting wouldn’t be at 9am!’

It’s not only students who have issues with time keeping though, there have been countless instances where meetings with individuals in higher level positions have occurred later than expected because they’ve sauntered in 20 minutes after the appointed time with no explanation.  On several occasions people have simply failed to turn up.

Scientifically speaking, setting up this lab here was not exactly a walk in the park either and we learned many things the hard way.  We literally started from scratch with a 500 m3 empty space that was divided into offices, labs and a small kitchen.  We sourced all furniture (lab and office), scientific equipment, fume cupboards, chemical cabinets and consumables.  Qatar has a very firm policy on what can and cannot be imported in the country and, depending on your mood, this level of bureaucracy can either be comical or completely infuriating.

The most challenging obstacle that I have found here is the procurement of chemicals.  Strict importation rules apply in this instance and I cannot simply call a chemical distributor in the UK, order 6 bottles of ethanol and have them shipped to Doha.  There are 2 issues here 1) I (meaning my company) must have permission to import ethanol (or what ever chemical I’m interested in buying) however, even if I did have permission, I would not be able to order from said UK company as 2) I must order through the local, Middle East distributor.  Ordering from the local distributor usually requires emailing the Representative (Rep) to obtain a quote, waiting…, chasing up the Rep for the quote, waiting…, getting a quote for items that are double the price of what you are used to paying and having to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery.  Lab work here requires a lot of planning ahead; next day shipping is very, very rarely an option.

Needless to say, it’s the amount of time that things take that I find the most frustrating and the fact that people often tell you what you want to hear, not necessarily what they are capable of; if you cannot source Dithiothreitol (DTT), please tell me when I place the order and not the day before the scheduled delivery date!


About Alexandria Lipka

Alexandria is the Lab Manager of a small biotechnology company based in Doha, Qatar. She was born and raised in the United States, where she received her undergraduate degree, before moving to the United Kingdom to work and further her studies. After 10 years in a rainy, grey London, she decided she might like living in the desert.

4 Responses to Doing Business (or at Least Trying to) in Qatar

  1. Nadia T says:

    I would like to know whether you had your fume cupboards shipped over from abroad or got them from Qatar and if so where from?

    • Alexandria Lipka says:

      Hi Nadia,
      There are very few lab-related items available in Qatar so almost everything has to be bought from abroad and imported. We got our fume cupboards from the same company that we got our lab furniture (it’s a very loooooong story) and I wouldn’t recommend doing what we did; we didn’t know any better.
      I would say that you have one very good option; most of the larger lab supply companies (Thermo/Fisher, SLS, Sigma-aldrich) have local distributors in the Middle East/Qatar. The best thing to do would be to go on your preferred company’s website, contact the local representative and work with them to get the fume hoods imported to Qatar. I highly recommend going through a third party/local distributor, it may work out to be more expensive but they will handle all of the paperwork and importing issues for you.
      Alternatively, you could find the fume cupboard that you wanted and then purchase it and ship it to Qatar yourself but, honestly, this will be much more hassle than it’s worth.

  2. Rana Moukarzel says:

    My name is Rana Moukarzel, and I am a research scientist for the Institute for Cross Cultural Management at the Florida Institute of Technology. I am currently working on a country-specific cross-cultural project and came across your blog while doing research on Qatar. I am looking for a “case study” to share, and wanted to ask your permission to use your entry “Doing Business (or at Least Trying to) in Qatar” in the project. The story would be copied and full credit would be given to you, and the link to your blog would be provided.
    Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, and thank you very much for your time and consideration!
    Very Respectfully,
    Rana Moukarzel

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