A trip to Qatar can be an exciting opportunity for families, couples or any size group. For Western visitors, however, it can also involve a great deal of culture shock. Islamic countries have their own set of cultural mores, laws and rules that you’ll need to follow, and you should be prepared for these if you’re going to have a great time and a holiday trip to build memories that will last a lifetime. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Qatar that can make your dream travel experience even better.

1. Be sure your passport dates are sound

Qatar is an impressively easy nation to visit. While many countries require extensive visa paperwork to get in and out, in Qatar it’s free and simple – if you’re sure that your paperwork is right. Make sure that your passport dates are going to be good for at least 6 months after you travel there. When you arrive, you’ll be given a visa waiver that’s good for 30 days and can be renewed for an extra 30 days if you’re on a long trip. That makes for easy entry and exit for you, so long as you’re sure that everything on your end is up to date.

2. You can book a free stopover of up to 96 hours

If you book your flight through Expedia and use Qatar Airways, you can also apply for a transit visa that’s good for anywhere from 5-96 hours. What this means is, if you’re flying through the area, you can have a brief stopover on your way for a day or 2 that allows you to visit all the sights of the country. You can see the Museum of Islamic Art, Pearl Island, Angry Birds World and many of the other things to do in Doha, Qatar, all with a quick stopover. Just be sure you apply in advance. The stopover visa is a better option if you’re only going to be in town for 1 to 3 days.

3. Free speech is not a thing in Qatar

In the West, we are used to having the freedom to be able to say and write what we want, when we want, about whoever we want. Freedom of speech is part and parcel of our culture. That’s not the case in Qatar. Be careful what you say while you’re in this small country. Their constitution actually forbids criticizing the emir, and it’s actually a crime that carries a jail sentence. In general, however, so long as you operate with respect while you’re in the country, you should be fine and have a great time.

4. It’s liberal, but still Muslim

While Qatar is very friendly to visitors and allows a lot of things that other Islamic countries don’t, such as Western movies, alcohol (in certain places) and acceptance of foreigners in traditionally restricted areas like mosques, there are still restrictions by which you have to abide. Keep your smartphone out of sight if you happen to hit the gym while visiting, and avoid public displays of affection. Behave towards locals with modesty and respect and don’t drink alcohol in public.

5. There’s a ‘dress code’

Going hand in hand with these restrictions, there’s something of a ‘dress code’ in Qatar. Women especially who are visiting this city should stay covered and be modest in their dress. You don’t have to have head-to-feet covering, but your skirt or pants should always fall below the knee, and long pants or full-length skirts are best. Avoid tank tops and even short sleeves when possible. It’s hot, but this is the culture. Likewise, men should avoid shorts and tank tops outside of the beaches. If you visit a mosque, men should be in long slacks and long sleeves, and women should be in a full robe-style dress called an abaya.

6. Even the winters are warm

Nobody is surprised to hear that Qatar is a hot place. After all, the Middle East is situated along the Persian Gulf and has deserts. Still, many people are surprised at just how hot it can get there, especially given the dress code. In the summer, in June, July and August, you can see temperatures reaching 49°C or even higher. In the winter, temperatures tend towards more comfortable ranges for visitors, averaging around 20°C – 27°C at the height of the day. It’s a good idea to plan your trip from December through March.

7. It’s the home of Al-Jazeera

Most of us are familiar with the Al-Jazeera network. What you may not know is that this famed Islamic news and entertainment network is actually based in Doha. It’s the most important broadcaster in the entire Arab world and was bankrolled by the previous emir of the nation. Many travellers, upon discovering this, head for the Al-Jazeera headquarters to check out the home of this network with worldwide broadcasting capabilities.

8. Qatar has holdings all over the world

You may not realize this, but you probably deal with the Qatari government on a daily basis. They have major holdings all over the world. Starting in 2005, they started buying things around the globe to reduce the impact of oil prices on their economy. They own Harrods, the London Olympic Village site and Sainsbury’s, and even stand as a co-owner of Miramax Films, after purchasing it along with an investment group from Disney a few years back. Qatar is a very wealthy nation.

9. It’s super affordable

If you’re looking for a vacation on a budget, Qatar is an outstanding option. You can find 5-star hotels in Qatar for less than half of what it costs in other areas of the world. Four-star and lower rating hotels are even less expensive. This makes a trip to Qatar a very attractive way to take your family on an international holiday without breaking the bank. Just look around for the best deals online and you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

10. Alcohol is a complex issue in Qatar

If you like to have a beer or a shot, or if you’re looking for a party atmosphere, Qatar might not be the place for you. Alcohol is permitted in Qatar, but it is strictly regulated, both in cost and availability. If you’re looking to drink in this country, you’ll have to be in a licensed hotel, which will likely be an international franchise. There’s only 1 liquor distributor, and there’s no duty-free alcohol at the airports. You can’t bring alcohol into the country from outside. It’s also expensive, with a 100% tax on alcohol sold.

These are just a few of the fun facts about visiting Qatar. Check out Expedia’s site for things to do in Doha and the surrounding areas. Then book your hotel and flight using our extensive tools that let you sort by date, star rating or even theme today!