This month our Global Parenting interview series joins Leona and her family in Doha, Qatar
OG: So let’s start with where life began before joining the expat life, and how did you end up in Doha?
I was born and bred in Birmingham and had never been on a plane until I went to University, where I met my husband. He was an expat baby, having moved around the world, so his background couldn’t be more different to mine.
He opened my eyes to a world of travel when we met. I always knew he wanted to live abroad and it surprised me by how much I did too. I was offered a job in Doha and it was a place we knew my husband could get work to so we jumped in feet first when the opportunity came up.
I don’t think either of us thought we would be here as long as we have been – now at the three-year mark. And never did we expect our first child to be born here
OG: What were your first impressions on moving to Doha?
I was surprised when we arrived in Qatar by how easy life was. Moving from London when you have been in the constant commuter rat race, it was surprising to take life at a slower pace.
I have never really been homesick because I have worked the whole time we have been here and always travelling at weekends and whenever the opportunity arises, so I haven’t had a chance to really think about it.
I think one of the big keys to our easy transition was moving in Winter. I can’t imagine starting a new life here in the Summer when it is 50 degrees and too hot to go outside! Especially if you were travelling with children
[Something we wish we had known when we moved to the Middle East with the Globetrotters – Aug/Sept with the humidity, as well as heat, can be brutal!! – Keri]
OG: So your baby girl arrived since you moved to Doha, tell us more about the health care facilities and childbirth experience
I had an absolutely excellent experience of giving birth in Qatar. Private insurance is provided by most companies and I gave birth at the private hospital and stayed in for three days at minimal cost.
For those who don’t have private insurance, Hamad – the national health service provides healthcare. The only downside to Hamad for expats is that husbands can’t be present for the birth unless you go to the Cuban hospital.
Private hospitals allow husbands to be present except at c-sections, which isn’t allowed anywhere in the country. Home-births are also not allowed.
The pre-natal care was second to none however prenatal classes have to be found privately. Breastfeeding is starting to be more acknowledged by the state and there are some private lactation specialists in the country.
The most difficult thing for me about having a baby in Qatar was dealing with the summer months when it was just too hot to take the baby outdoors. But there is some information on my blog about how we coped with the summer and a newborn!
OG: Tell us more about family life in Doha, what activities exist to keep kids busy in Doha?
My little one is still small so we haven’t explored outside of our own social circle for playdates etc. But our baby goes to nursery, and there are plenty of resources for other parents moving to Doha through groups such as Doha Mums.
They organize coffee mornings and events such as markets where you can meet lots of new people – their facebook group is a great place to start.
Doha is surprisingly green with plenty of parks, our favourites being MIA Park – home to the Museum of Islamic Arts and Oxygen Park a newly opened park in Education City.
Qatar is a really family-friendly country. Family is such an important part of life here and it means that life for families is very easy. Wherever you go, malls, restaurants etc children are always welcomed which is lovely.
Although Arabic is the national language I haven’t found there to be any language barriers for us as everyone seems to speak English. I tried learning Arabic when I arrived but the impetus , shamefully, fell away when I struggled to find opportunities to practice.
OG: Baby E is still quite young, but what care and schooling options exist if you choose to stay on in Doha?
Maternity leave is only 2 months in Qatar so most nurseries take children from 2 months old, but others are from 6 months. The nursery we use follows a British and Australian curriculum and we are very happy with our choice. I don’t think we could have found a better nursery back home.
When it comes to schooling, a lot of companies provide a schooling allowance as part of the expat package. Formal schooling can start from as young as three under the British International School system, but this will vary by the curriculum – we have many choices including American, French, even Finnish!
Most nurseries you can continue at until they are four. Some school’s have waitlists depending on your child’s age so it’s best to check in advance when you will need to apply.
OG: What does the normal family unit in Doha look like?
Family sizes vary greatly in Qatar and you see far more extended family units amongst expats and locals. A lot of people have cleaners and live-in nannies but we have chosen not to do this and send our baby to nursery instead. Work-life balance is great in Qatar.
If you work for the government the hours are typically 730-2:30. Mothers get an extra hour off during the first year of their child’s life to help encourage breastfeeding.
There are a surprising amount of women in the workforce both local and expat women here and women here are typically very well educated. Weekend activities vary in Winter and Summer. Summer, most families seek sanctuary in the malls or head home for the worst of the heat but in the Winter people tend to make the most of the weather enjoying local parks and beaches.
I have a whole A-Z of things you can see and do in Qatar over on my blog!
OG: The lifestyle sounds great, but what do you see as the biggest challenges of raising a family in Doha?
I think the biggest challenge for any expat parenting is missing your support network back home. It’s hard when your parents aren’t nearby and I really missed my friends especially ones who were pregnant at the same time.
Other than that, I think the biggest challenge for me was going back to work after such a short maternity leave as back in the UK we get a year. We have a routine now that works for us. The one thing I would advise parents is to bring food from home!
While you can get a limited selection of baby food like Ella’s Kitchen pouches – the variety is limited and I have yet to find finger foods for babies under a year other than risks though I have noticed that this is starting to improve slowly.
OG: Would you recommend living in Doha to other expat families?
Qatar is an amazingly safe and family-friendly place to bring up children. We have enjoyed living here and have a great work-life balance. Much better than we had when we were in London. Overall I would recommend to other parents but try and come in the winter first and plan your escape during the worst of the summer heat!
You can keep up with Leona’s family travel adventures on her blog Wandermust Family as well as across social media here:
Thanks to Leona for sharing here family adventures. Many refer to Doha as Abu Dhabi 10 years ago so it will be fascinating to see how the city develops and the impact of events like the World Cup will have on this city.
Flying with Qatar Airways? Read our family flying airline review and How to Get an Upgrade with Qatar Airways
Pictures © Wandermust Family | Feature Image Canva