Get your business to Qatar in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup: 5 key points

16, 2021

9 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Perhaps one of the most frequent challenges that entrepreneurs face as their businesses grow is to expand their market internationally. In other cases there are entrepreneurs who want to start from scratch in another country. What they have in common is that internationalization and entrepreneurship requires a certain analysis of the market and the conditions of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that you want to enter.

If this is your case and you are considering doing business in Qatar, then this article is for you. In fact, in addition to being an entrepreneurial researcher, I am a founding partner of a couple of companies in Mexico, my country of origin, and now that I am personally in Qatar, I am putting into practice the key points that I will mention below. Before moving on to that, you should know that these are not points that I am inventing, but that they are based on research.

Ten months ago I started researching and writing a book on the Qatar Entrepreneurship Ecosystem for the HEC Paris business school in Qatar . Recently published, according to the Gulf Times newspaper, it is the first comprehensive review of the ecosystem in this country. The main idea was to have a document that serves as a guide for new entrepreneurs and businessmen who live here.

If we analyze it with the magnifying glass of foreigners who want to invest in the Middle East, probably the option of investing in the United Arab Emirates, that is, Dubai also crosses your mind. In recent days I had the opportunity to meet with the Ambassador of Mexico in Qatar , Graciela Gómez, and we discussed this point while I presented the book to her. We were commenting on, how can we help more Mexicans to undertake in Qatar? Of course, the embassy already offers support, but perhaps the problem is that it is necessary to guide and disseminate the opportunities that Qatar also offers and why not, that more entrepreneurs take advantage to be before the 2022 FIFA World Cup .

I hope that, regardless of your nationality, you will find the following five key points useful that summarize my experience undertaking in Qatar:

Image: Embassy of Mexico in Qatar | Ambassador Graciela Gómez | Dr. Allan Villegas-Mateos

1. The national market

Qatar’s total population is less than three million people, mostly concentrated in the capital, Doha. 85% of the market are expatriates who live and work with an unemployment rate close to 0%. Most of the population speaks English for the same reason, although the official language is Arabic. Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the world, which means that, although it is a small market in number of people, there is potential to generate good income, mainly with luxury products.

On a typical afternoon in Doha, it is normal for people to go out to the shopping malls and markets where restaurants and cafes are also abundant in addition to brand name stores. Although special support is perceived for products made in Qatar, the international environment offers opportunities to stand out with specialized and imported products. For example, as a Mexican I have been surprised that in most restaurants you can find tacos and quesadillas even though the Mexican community is not so numerous.

2. Strategic sectors

In 2017, the neighboring countries of the Gulf imposed a commercial blockade on Qatar, which forced the country to increase production and investments in strategic sectors to meet the national demand for essential goods. Additionally, the government has a development plan called the Qatar 2030 National Vision in which it establishes guidelines to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in line with the pursuit of sustainability in accordance with the UN’s sustainable development goals. Derived from the above and with the future FIFA World Cup 2022 on the horizon, the following sectors have been highlighted as mainly strategic:

  • Hospitality
  • Building
  • farming
  • Information technology

This does not mean that then only projects in these sectors have potential, but rather that in Qatar there are special support mechanisms for companies seeking to register and internationalize based in this country within these sectors. And if you are thinking of importing products you should know that there are restrictions such as alcohol and pork because it is a Muslim country. In the latter, the sale of alcohol is controlled under licenses, buying it for personal consumption is restricted to sale in hotels and at the Qatar Distribution Company .

In Qatar there are special support mechanisms for companies seeking to register and internationalize based in this country within these sectors / Image:

3. The international potential

At the beginning of 2021, the end of the commercial blockade that Qatar had with its neighboring countries was announced. Many companies that emerged in this country to mainly satisfy domestic demand will now be able to enjoy the opportunity to export their products and services to more markets such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, etc. The Qatari government is currently supporting companies to achieve this, however, with the opening to the outside there also comes more competition in the domestic market.

As a foreign entrepreneur, you definitely have to take into account that the domestic market in Qatar is somewhat small and will now have more competition, so it is important to have a plan to internationalize to neighboring countries with your headquarters in Qatar. You can find tax incentives and sources of capital to achieve this if you have innovative products and / or services. When looking for how to open and register a company in this country, precisely an international expansion plan can be decisive to facilitate the process for the reasons that I tell you below.

4. Ways to register companies

In recent years, public trade policies in Qatar have been transformed and have been opening a gap to attract foreign investment, facilitating the opening of companies and repatriation of capital. Until recently, it was an essential requirement to be in partnership with a Qatari who represented more than 50% of its participation in the business to obtain registration. Today it is possible to register a 100% foreign company as long as it carries out strategic projects for the country’s vision and / or makes significant capital investments.

From my perspective, registering a company in Qatar depends a lot on the context of each undertaking. It is not the same to be a person who wants to come to the country alone to open a company than to be a company investing in its expansion of offices to another country. Just as it is not the same to start a cafeteria than a solar energy production plant.

The recommendation I make is to find a distributor if what you have is a product for retail trade, a distributor can save you the hassle of going through the registration process and you can export from your country to Qatar faster. If you are a large and / or multinational company, then you will have no problem obtaining approval through the Qatar Financial Center or the Qatar Freezones Authority depending on the specific business. Finally, if you are an “SME”, you can also try to register with the Qatar Freezones Authority if you have capital to invest. For more experienced entrepreneurs they will find that partnering with a Qatari is the best way to do business in this country.

5. Sources of support

It may seem that then it is somewhat complicated to want to undertake in Qatar, but it is not if you do it with some planning and knowledge of the ecosystem. There are business incubators in the country that are attracting international entrepreneurs seeking to establish themselves in Qatar. These incubators, such as the Qatar FinTech Hub or the Qatar Business Incubation Center, seek to promote the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem by giving mentoring and space for the development of the minimum viable products that later allow them to create high-performance teams, raise investment and register.

For example, Qatar Business Incubation Center is the largest business incubator in the country and is part of the Qatar Development Bank . They offer the Mix & Match program to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with potential local partners that you can apply to online. Qatar FinTech Hub opens its calls to entrepreneurs from the financial technology sector in the Middle East and North Africa region, offering incubation and acceleration for quick registration based in Qatar. Remember that you can always approach your embassy in the country to receive guidance or hire specialized consulting on this issue of registration.

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