Before the discovery of oil the economy of the Qatari region focused on fishing and pearling. After the introduction of the Japanese cultured pearl onto the world market in the 1920s and 1930s, Qatar's pearling industry faltered. However, the discovery of oil reserves, beginning in the 1940s, completely transformed the nation's economy. Now the country has a high standard of living, with many social services offered to its citizens and all the amenities of any modern nation.

Qatar's national income primarily derives from oil and natural gas exports. The country has oil estimated at 15 billion barrels (2.4 km³), while gas reserves in the giant north field (South Pars for Iran) which straddles the border with Iran and are almost as large as the peninsula itself are estimated to be between 800-900tcf (Trillion Cubic Feet - 1tcf is equal to around 80 million barrels of oil equivalent). Qatari’s wealth and standard of living compare well with those of Western European nations; Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the Middle East. With no income tax, Qatar is also one of the two least-taxed sovereign states in the world.

While oil and gas will probably remain the backbone of Qatar's economy for some time to come, the country seeks to stimulate the private sector and develop a "knowledge economy". In 2004, it established the Qatar Science & Technology Park to attract and serve technology-based companies and entrepreneurs, from overseas and within Qatar. Qatar also established "education city" which consists of international colleges. For the 15th Asian Games in Doha, it established a "sports city" consisting of Khalifa stadium, the Aspire Sports Academy, aquatic centre’s, exhibition centre’s and many other sports related buildings and centre’s. Qatar also plans to build an "entertainment city" in the future.

Qatar is aiming to become a role model for economic and social transformation in the region. Large scale investment in all social and economic sectors will also lead to the development of a strong financial market.

The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) provides financial institutions with a world class financial services platform situated in an economy founded on the development of its hydrocarbons resources. It has been created with a long term perspective to support the development of Qatar and the wider region, develop local and regional markets, and strengthen the links between the energy based economies and global financial markets.

Apart from Qatar itself, which needs to raise the capacity of its financial services to support more than $130 billion worth of projects, the QFC also provides a conduit for financial services providers to access nearly $1 trillion of investment across the GCC as a whole over the next decade.

The largest project ever in Qatar, the new town of Lusail, is under construction.

The Qatari peninsula juts 100 miles (160 km) into the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia and is slightly smaller than Connecticut. Much of the country consists of a low, barren plain, covered with sand. To the southeast lies the spectacular Khor al Adaid ("Inland Sea"), an area of rolling sand dunes surrounding an inlet of the Gulf.

The highest point in Qatar occurs in the Jebel Dukhan to the west, a range of low limestone outcrops running north-south from Zikrit through Umm Bab to the southern border, and reaching about 295 feet (90 m) ASL. This area also contains Qatar's main onshore oil deposits, while the natural gas fields lie offshore, to the northwest of the peninsula.

Cost of Living
The overall cost of living in Qatar is similar to that in most European countries, if you’re living in the style of the average western expatriate.

But the general lack of taxation has a significant impact on the cost of certain items, e.g. cars. On the other hand, the cost of accommodation is sometimes high, as is that of certain food items, particularly imported foods. If you buy internationally recognised branded foods and household goods, you might pay higher prices than in your home country, but there are usually plenty of cheaper locally and regionally produced alternatives that are of excellent quality. Clothing can also be expensive if you favour designer labels – this isn’t peculiar to Qatar – although there’s little need for winter clothing.

The price of wines and spirits, where these are permitted, is slightly lower than in the UK but higher than average European prices. Electronic goods, such as televisions, hi-fis, DVD players, photographic equipment and computer hardware and software, are generally less expensive than in Europe, mainly because of lower import duties.

Utilities, such as electricity, water and gas, are subsidised to some extent by the region’s governments, which own the services (except for bottled gas supplies) in order to provide inexpensive electricity and water, mainly for the benefit of the local population. Utilities are therefore cheaper than in most European countries. However, at the height of summer, air-conditioning costs will escalate, rather as the cost of heating increases in winter in colder climates. Newcomers sometimes make the expensive mistake of keeping their air-conditioning on even when they’re out, but this is unnecessary, as air-conditioning systems reduce the temperature in your accommodation quickly when activated on your return home.

You should also allow for the cost of international telephone calls, although these are kept low by Qatar’s government, who wants to encourage international business and investment in the region.

Your cost of living will obviously depend on your lifestyle. When you’re negotiating a work contract, it’s usual for your prospective employer to produce detailed cost of living figures for his country, which are useful in helping you to decide whether the proposed job is financially attractive or not.

Rental costs for a one-bedroom apartment in a modern block, probably unfurnished, a two-bedroom apartment in a similar block and a two or three-bedroom apartment or a modest villa. Apartments might have air-conditioning included in the rent. Satellite television is probably provided but is unlikely to include all channels. A swimming pool and/or gym are usually provided.

Doesn’t include luxury food items or alcohol.

Includes electricity (and air-conditioning), water (and usually sewage if charged in conjunction with the water, as is normal) and an allowance for telephone charges.

Includes entertainment, dining out, sports, newspapers and magazines but not holidays (air fares are often included in work contract terms).

Includes running costs for an average family car plus third party insurance, petrol, servicing and repairs, but excludes depreciation and credit purchase costs.

Includes private health, travel, car and contents insurance. Note that property is rented, so building insurance is usually unnecessary.

Lots of clothing is unnecessary in the region’s hot climate. Office wear for men is a shirt and tie, except for formal occasions.

In recent years Qatar has placed great emphasis on education. Along with the country’s free healthcare to every citizen, every child has free education from kindergarten through to university. The country has one university, the University of Qatar, and a number of higher educational institutions. Additionally, with the support of the Qatar Foundation, some major American universities have opened branch campuses in Education City, Qatar. These include Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University, Texas A&M University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Cornell University's Weill Medical College. In 2004, Qatar established the Qatar Science & Technology Park at Education City to link those universities with industry. Education City is also home to a fully accredited International Baccalaureate school, Qatar Academy.

In November 2002, the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani created the Supreme Education Council. The Council directs and controls education for all ages from the pre-school level through the university level, including the "Education for a New Era" reform initiative.

The Emir's second wife, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, has been instrumental in new education initiatives in Qatar. She chairs the Qatar Foundation and is on the board of Qatar's Supreme Education Council. As she took the initiative in the foundation of new campus called College of the North Atlantic (CNA-Q) by the Canadian nationals and got inaugurated in the later year 2005.

Private schools are common in Qatar, mainly to cater for the large expatriate community.

The majority are managed by and run for English-speaking western expatriates, although many local families choose to send their children to these schools, perhaps in the belief that the tuition will be better and also because of the international importance of the English language. There are schools for the children of Americans, British, French, Germans, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Japanese and many other nationalities, as well as international schools catering for a variety of nationalities. The vast majority of private schools teach in English, including the Indian and Pakistani schools. Minority expatriate groups such as the Japanese, French and Germans tend to send their children to international schools, at which the main teaching language is English.

Some private establishments restrict enrolment to pupils of the relevant nationality, e.g. a British government-aided school. Others might have rules concerning religion. International schools tend to have fewer restrictions.

Most private schools are co-educational and provide tuition to children from pre-school nursery groups through to university entrance examinations, preparing them for a variety of examinations – often British A levels or the International Baccalaureate, which can be taken in the Gulf. There are also plenty of private pre-schools, including play groups, nurseries, kindergartens and infant schools. These schools are voluntary, but widely attended, partly because they allow expatriate mothers to socialise. Restrictions on wives securing work visas mean that they can feel isolated at home.

In general, standards at private schools are high, with small class sizes and modern facilities, but some parents find that their children have some catching up to do when they return to their home country. Some schools catering for pupils from India and Pakistan face heavy demand for places, due to the large number of workers from those countries. There can be severe overcrowding, pupils sometimes being taught in shifts.

Private foreign and international schools tend to have more relaxed, flexible regimes and curricula and to be less formal in terms of dress, behaviour and pupil/teacher relationships than their equivalents in Europe and North America. Some see this as a good thing, others as a negative. A drawback of private schools in the region is their high staff turnover. Like other expatriates, teachers tend to change jobs and locations quite frequently. This can lead to a lack of continuity in children’s education and be a disruptive influence.

The school structure varies between different types of school in Qatar, but those catering for American, British, Indian and Pakistani pupils tend to be either primary (for children aged 4 to 11) or secondary (11 to 18). Those catering for children of other nationalities are usually divided into four categories, as follows:

Applications to private schools should be made as early as possible, particularly to international schools, which sometimes have waiting lists. You might need recent school reports or a previous head-teacher’s letter of appraisal. For UK and other western expatriates, the British Council is a useful source of information about educational establishments. Enrolment in private schools usually involves an interview with parent and child, and might also involve an examination (only for the child, you will be relieved to know!).

Hours & Holidays
There are many different types of school in Qatar, offering different curricula to children of various cultural backgrounds, and school hours and holidays vary accordingly, although a school day running from around 8am to 2.30pm is common, from Saturday to Wednesday inclusive. Some schools – particularly those catering for children of Asian workers – operate from early morning to evening, in two shifts.

The cost of private education can be high, but in some cases the fees are paid by your employer as part of your contract. It’s vitally important to be aware of the cost of private schooling over the course of a child’s education, particularly if this will include university. What might begin as a manageable expense can quickly become a major financial encumbrance if there are regular increases in fees, as there often are.