There are many misconceptions about Qatar; one regular misconception is that alcohol is not available. Many people think that Qatar is like Saudi, and believe me, we are nothing like Saudi, women can drive in Qatar, western women can wear what we want as long we cover our shoulders and knees and yes, alcohol is available in Qatar.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like home when you stop by the local Centra and casually fling a few bottles of wine and a six pack in the trolley beside the petit filous and the Cheerio’s without a care in world, oh the joys of living in a free country. Until that is, you get to the checkout with two packets of Panadol and a bottle of Exputex, and you get questioned over the amount of paracetamol you’re about to purchase and made put a packet back in order to adhere to the laws surrounding the purchase of disprins. Alas, there’s no problem heaving the litres of booze up on the belt, morning, noon or night, supermarket, corner store or petrol station, it’s as easy pick up alcohol in Ireland as it is to get the common cold.
Now while alcohol is available in Qatar, the actual obtaining of same alcohol is quite different. Firstly there is one outlet, Qatar Distribution Centre or QDC as it is fondly referred to by expats. Located on the far side of the city (no matter where you live) it makes for quite a trek when one fancies a glass of Wolf Blass with their dinner. Oh and in case you thought of pulling up outside and just sashaying past security with your re-useable wine carrier, it doesn’t work like that either. In order to purchase alcohol you must first apply for a liquor licence. In order to apply for this liquor license you need to have a Residents Permit which can take three or four months to process so in this period of time you must try to befriend someone who is willing to break the law in Qatar by selling, donating or giving away their stash.
Assuming you have been successful in obtaining a residents permit and four months later you still want a glass of wine, you proceed to make the application for the liquor licence. All you need next is, a completed application form, a copy of your passport, a copy of your Qatari ID, A letter in English from your sponsoring company, stating the position held within the company (possibly they deem some roles more in need of a drink than others ). The letter must also state that the applicant has a basic salary of QR 4,000 (1,000 euro) anything less you are deemed unable to afford the luxury of liquor and sent away (from the door not an asylum). The letter must also include how much you pay for accommodation, marital status and any other condition which may be deemed a drain on ones salary. You must then state your religion (thankfully Catholics make ideal and often successful applicants).
Should you still be yearning for that glass of wine, you must then get all the documents attested by the QDC office and be present for an interview, answer the questions correctly and bingo, you’ve got a licence! However bear in mind that, it is illegal to drink or be drunk in public place, it is illegal to transport alcohol other than to take it home on the day of collection, the alcohol must not be visible, it must be in black carrier bags and at all times fully covered in your car, It is an offence (public if not personal)to offer alcohol to Muslims and minors and finally it is illegal to sell, donate or give away alcohol.
So months of red tape later, your finally inside the QDC and yes, it’s every bit the oasis you’ve dreamed. There is everything from Vodka to Guinness, a decent display of wines from around the world and a new pork section, complete with Bradys Ham from Ireland, has been added since I’ve lived here before.
A mere six months after you first landed in Doha and you’re able to enjoy a nice glass of red, and halfway into the first glass, you have to ask the question, is it really worth it?