Gas-rich Qatar has flung open its property market to foreigners, with a scheme giving those purchasing homes or stores the right to call the Gulf nation home.
The scheme, announced in September, is the latest in a series of measures designed to diversify Qatar’s economy away from fossil fuel dependency and attract foreign capital ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Well-heeled individuals are being invited to consider the glistening seaside tower blocks of Doha’s man-made Pearl island or the brand new Lusail city project that flanks a World Cup stadium. Retail units in malls also qualify buyers for residency.
The reforms could also help soak up an oversupply of units, which has left gleaming towers half-empty and seen prices drop by almost a third since 2016, according to consultancy ValuStrat’s Price Index for residential property.
Previously, investors needed sponsorship from a Qatari business or individual for residency, but now a US$200,000 (about 6 million baht) property purchase secures temporary residency for the term of ownership. A $1 million purchase buys the benefits of permanent residency, including free schools and healthcare.
“The reason I didn’t buy earlier was that there was so much grey area,” said marketing director Tina Chadda, a Kenyan who has lived in Qatar for 15 years. “Now I am looking for a property to live in which I can use to get permanent residency.
“I think this will allow me to call Qatar home. I feel more comfortable now,” she told AFP.
Chadda said the visa would also allow her to bring her family, including elderly parents, to Qatar from Nairobi. “It’s a safe country, compared to Kenya.”
Foreigners can now house hunt in 25 areas of Qatar — mostly in and around the capital Doha — nine on a freehold basis and the rest with 99-year leaseholds.
Gulf nations have long depended on foreign skills and expertise to convert their petrodollars into the region’s towering cities, but have seldom made it easy, or cheap, for expats to make their moves permanent.
Similar schemes exist elsewhere in the Gulf, but for a significantly greater outlay. Dubai offers a 10-year residency visa for an investment of $2.7 million, 40% of which must be in property.
So-called “golden visas” and investment passport schemes in several countries have also faced scrutiny over allegations they have attracted corrupt individuals and money laundering.
In Qatar’s case, it remains unclear how attractive the tiny, ultra-conservative nation — where strict curbs apply to free speech and alcohol sales — will be to wealthy global buyers.
The policy shake-up comes at a time of political crisis, with Qatar under an economic and diplomatic boycott by its neighbours — depressing demand for Qatari property — and faced with low oil prices, which have also undermined prices in other Gulf capitals.
Oliver Essex, Doha-based Sotheby’s estate agent, said he expected most of the initial interest to come from foreigners already living in Qatar rather than from investors based abroad.
“I believe mainly Lebanese, Iranians, Egyptian and Indians will be interested initially,” he said.