13 Most Common Tourist Scams in Qatar

Safety at Doha, Al Rayyan, Al Khor, Al Shamal, Al Shahaniyah, Al Wakrah, Dukhan, Mesaieed, Umm Salal Mohammed
Note: If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. World Nomads Travel Insurance, backed by Lonely Planet & National Geographic, is one we recommend. Check it out before your adventure.

 

Doha

Doha

 

The capital city of Doha is known for its amazing Islamic art and it also has one of the biggest and best traditional markets in the Middle East.

You can also enjoy delicious Arabian dishes here, although alcohol is only served in a few select establishments.

If you want to get out into the desert you can easily do so from Doha and you can go dune bashing or watch a falconry display.

Qatar has a very low crime rate, in part due to the severe penalties for crimes.

However there are still petty crime like pickpocketing and some tourist targeted scams, so read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Fake tours

Desert in Doha

Desert in Doha

 

How it works:

There have been reports of fake tours which are pitched as prizes or giveaways.

Touts will tell you that you have won a ‘free’ tour to spots of interest in Qatar or have been chosen for a prize such as a day on a yacht.

There is a catch however and you need to make an upfront payment for food and beverages which is usually extremely expensive.

As such the tour or prize is not really free at all.

 

What to do:

Offline operators: ask – is the operator licensed? Is there a website, office and working phone number? Are there real online reviews? What does the price cover – is it too cheap?

Online platforms: GetYourGuide (leading day tour platform globally) – popular tours include:

 

 

Paying: avoid paying in full upfront (unless reputable operator) or off the (online) platform.

 

2. Fake airline tickets

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways

 

How it works:

This is a twist on the scam mentioned above but takes the form of airline tickets rather than tours.

Touts in small businesses or booths will tell you that they can get you extremely cheap flight tickets to other areas of the Gulf region.

When you pay for the ticket however and try to board your flight you will find out that no reservation was ever made.

 

What to do:

Do not buy airline tickets from non-reputable vendors even if they offer you a really good deal.

Remember that if the price looks too good to be true then it probably is.

Only purchase tickets through a reputable travel agent or directly through the airline.

 

3. Pickpocketing

Street shops in Doha

Street shops in Doha

 

How it works:

Pickpocketing is rare in Qatar although it can occur in crowded areas frequented by tourists such as in souks.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Further, make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Don’t look like an easy target: wallet in front pocket, small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in an anti-theft bag, most valuables in hotel safe.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers theft.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Unofficial airport taxis

Hamad International Airport1

Hamad International Airport1. Source: David McKelvey / Flickr

 

How it works:

One issue that you may face at Hamad International Airport in Doha is unofficial airport taxis.

These are unmarked vehicles driven by civilians looking to make some money.

Often they can be quite aggressive about trying to convince you to get in their car but they are not official taxi drivers.

They will often charge you a high rate and do not have a meter installed in their vehicle.

 

What to do:

Do not take an unofficial taxi. If you do take one, take a photo of the car plate and the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

Else, other options include:

  • Use a taxi booking app like Uber, Qatar Taxi, Karwa Taxi, Careem
  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel or through day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (leading platform globally) – two such options:
 

 

 

2. Broken taxi meters

Taxi in Qatar

Taxi in Qatar. Source: iloveqatar.net

 

 

How it works:

Taxis are a common way to get around in Qatar but this can also bring with it the chance of scams.

One problem is taxi drivers who say that the meter is broken or refuse to turn it on and offer you a flat rate instead on the premise that it will be cheaper.

Usually however it is more expensive than if the driver had used the meter.

 

What to do:

Only take licensed taxis in Qatar as there is less chance of being scammed.

Official taxis have a sticker on the side of the vehicle which says that drivers need to use the meter.

As such if the driver refuses to do so for any reason then you can refer them to the label or simply find another taxi that will use the meter.

However, if you know the fair price of any route, you can use that to negotiate. Some ways of determining the fair price are by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Uber, Qatar Taxi, Karwa Taxi, Careem.

 

3. Taxi meter not reset

 

How it works:

There have been reports of taxi drivers not resetting the meter after dropping his last passenger. Some of them do so by covering the meter with a towel.

If you are not careful, you can end up paying for more than one trip.

 

What to do:

Always check the meter when you board the taxi.

 

4. Night rate taxi scam

Traffic in Doha

Traffic in Doha. Source: Andrew Coombes / Flickr

 

How it works:

In Qatar, morning rates (indicated by “1”) are charged after 9am.

However, some rogue drivers will still use the more expensive night rates (indicated by “0”) throughout the day.

 

What to do:

Check the meter before you board.

 

5. No change taxi drivers

 

How it works:

A common scam used by taxi drivers in Qatar is to pretend that they don’t have any change if you offer them a large note.

The reason they do this is because they are hoping that you will tell them to keep the change and they will get a much higher fare than the one of the meter.

 

What to do:

Try to carry small bills with you to pay for taxis so that the drivers can’t pretend they don’t have any change.

If you only have a large bill with you then make sure to tell the taxi driver before you get into the vehicle and ask if they have change.

This makes it more difficult for them to scam you when it comes time to pay the fare.

 

6. Long taxi routes

West Bay district in Doha, Qatar

West Bay district in Doha, Qatar. Source: Pavels’ Snapshots / Flickr

 

How it works:

One of the biggest scams associated with official taxis in Qatar is long taxi routes.

As taxis use meters, the driver may take you on a long route all over town or drive you through a traffic jam in order to inflate the fare.

They do this as they are relying on the fact that you do not know the area well.

 

What to do:

In the cab, be very clear when communicating the destination you are heading to. More prominent landmarks around your destination can be mentioned.

During the ride, check your phone’s GPS to make sure you are headed in the correct direction.

Sometimes, drivers do take detours to avoid traffic jams, but that should not detract from the correct general direction.

To tell if you have been taken for a ride, you can also estimate a fair price of any route by checking:

  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • Taxi booking apps like Uber, Qatar Taxi, Karwa Taxi, Careem.

If you want to seek recourse, take a photo of the car plate number and of the driver’s license to report to the cab company.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS 

1. Dropped money scam

Al Muntazah Plaza Hotel

Al Muntazah Plaza Hotel. Source: hotelslike.com

 

How it works:

Like in Bolivia and Argentina, there had been reports of this scam near Doha’s Al Muntaza Plaza Hotel.

The standard dropped money scam works like this – you will first be approached by someone who claims to have picked up a big bag of Qatari notes asking if it’s yours.

If you say no, he will offer to split it 50/50 with you.

Now, the scammer’s accomplice will appear on the scene and accuse you of stealing from him.

He would even display currency notes with serial numbers following in sequence to the ones in the bag.

At this stage, he will threaten to call the police unless you pay him a compensation. If you do not budge, you may just find your valuables snatched.

 

What to do:

Quickly move away from this set up.

 

2. Sob story scam

Souq Waqif, Doha

Souq Waqif, Doha

 

How it works:

Like in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, you may encounter scammers who approach you with a sob story, such as coming from a neighbouring country but now having no money to head back home.

They may look miserable and helpless, but are really anything but that.

 

What to do:

Decline.

 

3. ATM scams

Signs of a rigged ATM

Signs of a rigged ATM

 

How it works:

ATM skimming is not a huge problem in Qatar but there have been some reports of it happening occasionally. Generally, ATMs can be rigged in two ways.

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second, the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, look out for red flags of a rigged ATM and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

4. Fake currency

Qatar Riyals

Qatar Riyals. Source: Omar Chatriwala / Flickr

 

How it works:

Fake currency is not widespread in Qatar but some fake 50 and 500 riyal bills have been reported.

One of the sources of fake currency is fraudulent money changers.

 

What to do:

It is best not to change money at an unlicensed money changer, particularly those that operate in the main souks or markets in Doha.

They are likely to be a source of fake currency and you can avoid this by only changing money at official money exchanges, banks or large hotels.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not meant to be a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

 

1. Violent crime and terrorism

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Qatar

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Qatar. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: rare, though watch out for petty crime.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: threat exists in the Arabian peninsula.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur during days of national significance.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, hotspots, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

 

2. Medical care

Hamad General Hospital

Hamad General Hospital. Source: qatarliving.com

 

How it works:

Modern healthcare is available in Qatar.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, dengue, chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne disease: HIV.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: Hepatitis A, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, rabies (if traveling outdoors or working with animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:                                          

A brief summary:

  • Rainy season: December to January, may trigger flooding.
  • Sand storm: may occur.
  • High temperatures (exceeding 50˚C): June to September

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reports and weather forecasts.

Reacting to one:

  • Sand / dust storm:
    • On foot: wear a mask (or use shirt sleeve), cover eyes, seek shelter (building / landform / camel), high ground (if no lightning), don’t move through the storm.
    • In vehicle: if no visibility, pull off road, turn headlines, brake lights and turn signals off. If can’t pull off, keep lights on, move slowly and sound horn periodically.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Driving here can be difficult, due to these factors:

  • The combination of many roundabouts and construction projects.
  • Speeding, not adhering to traffic rules.
  • Poor lighting, wandering camels and roads without shoulders in rural areas.

As for public transportation:

  • The bus transport network is safe and well developed.

 

What to do:

Driving:

  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

Public transportation:

  • Buses may not be readily available. If time is an issue, only use licensed taxis, and not unofficial or sharing taxis.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Policemen in Qatar

Policemen in Qatar. Source: coral / Flickr

 

  • Emergency hotline: 999

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