1. BACKGROUND

The Qatar diplomatic crisis began in June 2017 when a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed their diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar in a statement against Qatar’s “support for terrorist organisations” and “interference in the domestic politics of neighbouring states”.

The crisis has resulted in increased restrictions on mobility within the Gulf, primarily to and from Qatar, due to closure of land and marine borders and airspaces as well as the embassies withdrawing their staff.

2. WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Over 20 months from the beginning of the crisis it appears that the situation is far from being resolved, impacting not only trade and business but also regular citizens and residents of the countries involved in the crisis and beyond.

3. WHAT ARE THE RESTRICTIONS ON MOVEMENT OF INDIVIDUALS, THAT ARE CURRENTLY IN PLACE?

Land and marine borders with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been closed. Airspaces of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been restricted for aircrafts originating from Qatar. Key embassies in the region have been shut down, including the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Doha.

Travelling to Bahrain:

  • A pre-arranged entry visa for Qatari citizens is required and, in practice, it is issued only in exceptional circumstances, e.g., due to family ties.
  • A pre-arranged entry visa for foreign nationals holding a residence permit for Qatar is required, even for those who qualify for a visa-on-arrival based on their nationality.
  • A visa-on-arrival continues to be issued to foreign nationals who are not residents in Qatar and are eligible for a visa-on-arrival based on their nationality.
  • Delays on entry to Bahrain may apply to foreign nationals with immigration stamps from Qatar due to additional questioning.

Travelling to Egypt:

  • A pre-arranged entry visa for Qatari citizens is required and, in practice, it is issued only in exceptional circumstances after obtaining a security clearance from the Ministry of Interior of Egypt.
  • No travel restrictions for foreign nationals holding a residence permit for Qatar or immigration stamps from Qatar.

Travelling to Qatar:

  • Restriction on entry to Qatar for citizens of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, imposed by their respective governments.
  • Visitor visa for Gulf Cooperation Council country (GCC) residents based on a residence permit issued by the United Arab Emirates is, in practice, discontinued (effective January 2019). However, the affected individuals can travel to Qatar without restrictions based on other categories of visas, including visa-on-arrival.
  • No similar restrictions have been reported on the issuance of visitor visa for GCC residents based on a residence permit issued by Bahrain or Saudi Arabia.
  • Egyptian nationals are in practice not eligible for any category of visas for Qatar.

Travelling to Saudi Arabia:

  • Restriction on entry to Saudi Arabia for Qatari citizens, unless they obtain a travel authorization for pilgrimage (Hajj).
  • No travel restrictions for foreign nationals holding a residence permit for Qatar or immigration stamps from Qatar.

Travelling to the United Arab Emirates:

  • Restriction on entry to the United Arab Emirates for Qatari citizens, unless they obtain a travel authorization based on exceptional circumstances, e.g., due to family ties, study, etc.
  • Visitor visa for GCC residents based on a residence permit issued by Qatar is discontinued (effective June 2017). However, the affected individuals can travel without restrictions based on other categories of visas, e.g. visit visa for tourism.
  • No travel restrictions for foreign nationals holding immigration stamps from Qatar (please refer to the next paragraph for more information on potential questioning during entry to the United Arab Emirates).

4. WHAT HAPPENS IN PRACTICE WHEN FOREIGN NATIONALS TRAVEL BETWEEN QATAR AND THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES?

Certain travellers may be subject to additional and routine security checks and / or questioning due to their travel history; this typically remains at the discretion of immigration officials at the port of entry. Considering a high volume of travellers with immigration stamps from Qatar, the actual number of individuals under scrutiny is low and such cases should be considered routine when mobilising between countries with diplomatic disputes. 3 © 2019 Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, Fragomen Global LLP and affiliates. All rights reserved.

5. PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR FOREIGN NATIONALS TRAVELLING BETWEEN QATAR AND THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES.

Airline travel:

Although it may not be cost- and time-effective, avoid booking your flights with one onward booking on both legs of your trip between the countries. Instead, it is advisable to make two separate and distinct reservations, e.g.: one from Doha to Muscat and a separate one from Muscat to Dubai.

Baggage:

If travelling with checked-in luggage, if at all feasible, remove any baggage tags from Qatar at the transit airport before checking it in for the flight to the United Arab Emirates.

Customs regulations:

You are advised to take all the precautions and ensure that you do not carry any items in your baggage that are banned or restricted in the United Arab Emirates, including: drugs, pornographic materials, laser pens, e-cigarettes, endangered animal species, and any other objects that do not adhere to the religious and moral values of the country.

According to the Federal Customs Authority’s regulations, it is prohibited to carry goods intended to be imported from boycotted countries. If shopping at the duty free, avoid carrying shopping bags with the trademarks and logos that may indicate the bag’s or the product’s origin from the other conflicting country.

You must disclose cash, travellers’ cheques, jewellery and precious metals that are in your possession that exceed in value AED 100,000 or its equivalent in other currencies. Travellers are permitted to import the following items to the United Arab Emirates, without paying customs duty: gifts with value of, or less than AED 3,000; persons above 18 years can bring 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 500 grams of tobacco; and non-Muslims above 18 years can carry up to 4 litres of alcoholic beverages, or 2 cartons of beer (maximum 24 cans of not more than 355 ml).

If you carry medicines with you, do ensure that they do not contain a banned or restricted substance. You can find a list of unauthorised medicines at the Ministry of Health and Prevention’s website.

Passport control:

If possible, use e-gates on arrival to, and on departure from the United Arab Emirates. Depending on the airport, the terminal of departure or arrival and your nationality, you can use your Emirates Identity Card, a biometric passport, an e-Gate Card, an Emirates Airlines Skyward Card with pre-activated e-gate option or a special mobile application.

If you are a dual national, use the passport with a United Arab Emirates’ visa endorsed in it for entry to, and departure from the United Arab Emirates and, if possible, use another passport for entry to, and departure from Qatar.

If the country of your nationality allows you to have a duplicate passport (issued by the same country), you must ensure that you use the same passport for both: entry to, and departure from the United Arab Emirates. You may use your duplicate passport for entry to, and departure from Qatar.

Social media:

It is punishable by law in the United Arab Emirates to express sympathy for Qatar. Avoid posting any comments on social media related (directly or indirectly) to the situation, or to discuss this topic in public or through the phone.

Dress code:

Dress modestly and do not wear or carry with you anything that may be attributed to supporting any conflicting country, e.g., clothes with country names, logos, football club sponsors from the region, etc. 

6. WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON THE BUSINESSES OPERATING IN THE REGION?

Employment of Qatari citizens in Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continues to be highly restricted.

Qatari businessmen and investors, including property owners, are restricted from operating in the blocking countries.

Business travel must be planned ahead of time taking into account the potential need of pre-arranged visas, including the home-country application process for countries with embassies being closed. Travel time between Qatar and the blocking countries has increased as a result of lack of direct flights; visitors are required to transit through a third-country e.g., Oman or Kuwait.

Financial transactions between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have been undergoing additional security checks by banks, although with no delays to the service.

Closure of borders has caused difficulty in the import and export of goods and produce to and from Qatar, including food, construction supplies and courier parcels. 

7. WHAT CAN YOU DO NOW?

  • Identify nationalities, among your employee population, that may be subject to potential entry or residency restrictions in Qatar.
  • Prepare a strategy for re-deployment, should there be any additional restrictions or sanctions imposed by the countries involved.
  • Consider amending your corporate documents, including business licenses, in order to avoid potential problems with the availability of authorised signatories, and
  • Constantly monitor the situation.