Going Postal

The level of pot luck and guesswork required here to get even the most basic things done is little short of Olympic. Take posting a letter for example…

In descending order of effectiveness, here are the best ways to get a letter out of Qatar:

Going nowhere fast
As if to ruin my pithy observation about their rarity, I saw my second Q-Post van this week

1 – Personal courier: give your letter to someone travelling to your country of origin for them to post on arrival. An expat classic

2 – An actual courier: you know, an international company that tracks stuff, has a reputation to uphold and has done this before

3 – By owl

A very distant 4 – Using Q-Post, Qatar’s state-run mail operator.

I’m not sure what Q-Post staff do all day, because in two years of living here I’ve only ever seen two of their vans – and the second of those was just a few days ago.

But I know what they’re not doing: delivering post to your home anytime ever. The lack of a residential postal service is not surprising considering Doha is very much a work in progress, one where most of the streets have no name.

Private Eye
A little slice of home, delivered every other week via Q-Post

Box of delights

If you’re planning on receiving mail here you can hire a PO Box, or sometimes people are able to have it sent to their workplace (which means one less trip on Doha’s psychotic roads).

My dealings with Q-Post have been mercifully brief. Every other week, my copy of Private Eye turns up at the mailroom at Mrs LC’s work, from where it eventually finds its way to her. The odd letter gets redirected from our old address in the UK every once in a while, but most of the time we keep out of each other’s way.

Getting stuff into the country isn’t usually a problem; more and more retailers deliver here and some (like Next and The Book Depository) will even do it for free.

No, it’s getting stuff out that’s the problem.

Every story we’d heard about using the postal service here had been one of a disaster and failure, ending in a meltdown. So I’ve tried to avoid using them, preferring to trust in expats, couriers or owls, but a few months back, our luck finally ran out.

We had some papers that needed to be with our bank: letters of authority and signed testimonials – the things you have to use an alternative proof of identity because the lack of domestic postal service means you don’t have a residential address with which to prove your identity…

I had no alternative; now, where to find a postbox?


The only one I knew of was the General Post Office (GPO), but this was back when the Corniche renovation project was in full swing. Roundabout after roundabout was falling victim to the inevitable march of progress, and the surrounding roads were being dug up and the diversion routes were gridlocked (just for a change).

So I needed a local branch and, forgetting where I was for a crucial moment, I went online. According to their website, “Q-Post has 201 street letter posting boxes, distributed in ten zones covering 48 districts in Qatar.”

Minifig Indy
Every day, another little adventure…

(Bonus points to anyone who started rolling their eyes at “According to their website…”)

How hard can it be to find a postbox? I thought; my brain temporarily skipping over all the times I had failed to find schools, offices, roads and shops; hotels, embassies, compounds and restaurants.

But expat life is nothing if not a daily series of tiny adventures, which infuse even the most mundane of errands with the spirit of Indiana Jones, so I bundled the kids into the car and headed out to explore pastures new.

An hour’s fruitless driving later, having failed to find one of their branches which claimed to be at a nearby souk, we had a car full of tired and grumpy people and a letter that still needed posting.

I swallowed my pride and pointed the car towards the GPO…

Doha’s General Post Office can be found beween the Corniche and the Tennis Stadium

We finally made it back home, having taken two hours to do something that would be the work of minutes in the UK.

(Case in point: over the summer I sent my goddaughter a present which travelled the 430 miles from the south of England direct to her front door in central Scotland, overnight. She sent me an email to say thanks the next morning, to which I replied: “But I only sent it yesterday…”)

Do not pass go

Owl post
If a falcon isn’t available, owls have a fantastic track record of delivering letters

The fun, however, had only just started. About six weeks later, it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard back from the bank. One phone call later and it transpires that after all that effort and swearing, my letter hadn’t actually arrived.

Six weeks! I’d have been better off tying it to a falcon.

So we had to go through the process of getting a whole new set of documents generated and stamped and signed. We played it safe second time around, chose option 1 and gave it to a friend to post in person back in the UK. A couple of days later, I got a call from the bank.

“Have my documents arrived?” I asked.

“Yes,” came the reply. “In fact, I’ve got two sets of them here…”

There was a brief pause, while I banged my head repeatedly on my desk.

Never forget

But we learn from our mistakes (allegedly), and I learned the hard way never to send anything via Q-Post ever again.

Chin up, old chap
My post box tale of woe is nothing compared to this guy…

It was a lesson I had in mind a few weeks ago when I found myself on the phone dealing with a company back in the UK whose existence proves that Q-Post doesn’t have a monopoly on boneheaded inefficiency.

All I wanted to do was update my contact details, but the lack of a residential address was baffling the customer service rep, until she had a brainwave.

“Do you have a driving licence you could send us?”

“Send?” I thought. Send? You want to take something I have to show or surrender every time I go anywhere (yes, even dropping my son off at football practice), something which – unlike the UK – it’s illegal to drive without having on your person? You want me to me put something I can’t be without for six hours in the hands of “six weeks” Q-Post?

I said I’d think about it, thanked her for her help and hung up.

Which is English for “I am apoplectic with rage and will kill the next person I see.”

Post box at Katara
All’s well that ends well: there’s a post box right next to Chapati & Karak at Katara


PS Pro Tip! If you have to post something but want to avoid the city centre, head to Katara.

There’s a mail box outside Chapati & Karak, so after you’re done you can reward yourself with some, er, chapati and karak. Much more civilised…


21 thoughts on “Going Postal

  1. Gypsy September 13, 2014 / 9:25 am

    Hahaha! This is so right it’s not funny. Thanks for the Saturday morning chuckle.

    • littlecity September 14, 2014 / 7:02 pm

      Pleasure, glad you liked it!

  2. Lynda September 13, 2014 / 12:07 pm

    Sounds very similar to here in Dubai. My sister in Italy also has very frustrating experiences with the post offices there!

    • littlecity September 14, 2014 / 7:04 pm

      One world, united by inefficient mail delivery…

  3. Catherine Robinson September 13, 2014 / 6:33 pm

    Yeah but none of you have the joy the ladies behind the desk in the Faringdon post office (currently shut), they come from the underworld.

    • littlecity September 14, 2014 / 7:05 pm

      Ok, you win. Next time I need something sent, I’ll fly you here and you can do it for me 🙂 x

  4. cornishkylie September 15, 2014 / 6:07 am

    hehe I never thought a post about post (no pun intended) could be so entertaining!

    • littlecity September 15, 2014 / 7:46 am

      Thanks for stopping by Kylie – and feel free to pun away.
      I kept myself amused for far longer than is strictly healthy when I came to post my post about post… *ahem*

  5. Simon hadlington September 16, 2014 / 5:28 pm

    Download the qpost gis app….it has locations of all of the new blue sign and also the postbox locations. However, ive only ever posted stuff to banks and paid for the tracking. Ive do e it twice in 2 years and the tracking doesnt work and the items have been lost both times. Basically pay a stupid amount for dhl or otherwise. I have tactically got copies of my uk driving licence (£10 each) at the inlaws/parents and they send them as and when necessary…

    • littlecity September 18, 2014 / 2:56 pm

      Thanks for the tips, Simon; nice to know there’s some workarounds 🙂

  6. Philip Haines September 18, 2014 / 1:28 pm

    It’s not so good coming into Qatar either. I had a Christmas card (or actually, an end of year non denominational seasonal greeting card) from the USA. According to the postmarks it took six days to reach Qatar … but then took another 10 weeks to cross the post office to my company’s PO box and thence to me. Outgoing mail was pretty variable too, some arrived in a few days but some never arrived at all. But you have to agree that the post office building is a wonderful 1970s relic.

    • littlecity September 18, 2014 / 3:01 pm

      Yikes. That sounds painful. Still, keeps the magic of Christmas going well into spring, which is always a bonus…

  7. Rob September 29, 2014 / 9:08 am

    FYI, there’s a postbox at the entrance gate to Al Messilah compound too.

    • littlecity September 29, 2014 / 3:41 pm

      Cheers; I reckon between us we could probably crowdsource a pretty comprehensive map…

  8. Emily October 1, 2014 / 9:05 pm

    The one time I absolutely HAD to get something back to the USA I went to DHL, specifically the desk at Landmark, as so much as receiving things through Q-Post was always a nightmare. A frankly obscene amount of money later, at least I knew my letter would make it safely and in a timely manner. As for the post boxes… How certain are we that anyone ever retrieves the mail from them? I’ve had things lost between the general post office and my branch for a matter of weeks, so….

    • littlecity October 3, 2014 / 3:51 pm

      You’re spot on, sadly; sometimes you just have to close your eyes when you swipe your credit card and convince yourself it’s for the best!

    • littlecity October 9, 2014 / 8:12 am

      I think they are less ‘mail box’ and more ‘black hole’.

      Nothing would surprise me about the eventual destination of anything you put in there…

      So yes, hang the expense: if something absolutely has to be somewhere, I’d go with DHL every time.

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