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Navigating Doha Hamad Airport: A complete guide to traveling through Qatar Airport
iVisa
18 min read
Updated on May 14, 2024

As a seasoned traveler who has spent the last few weeks exploring and documenting the processes of various airports as part of our Been There, Done That series, my job would be incomplete if I skipped Qatar.

Travelers bustling through the grand hall of Hamad International Airport. | iVisa

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Like Istanbul, the dynamic corridors of Doha Hamad International Airport in Qatar are a major hub for travelers worldwide, so it’s only fitting for me to bring you an authentic and detailed exploration of this world-class gateway to Qatar and the rest of the world.

My journey through Hamad Airport was more than just a transit; it was a deep dive into its state-of-the-art facilities, rich cultural offerings, and seamless services. Armed with my camera, a keen eye for detail, and a passion for travel, I meticulously documented every aspect of my experience. I navigated the airport with a mission: to help our iVisa customers save valuable time and enjoy a hassle-free experience.

Hamad International Airport: Gateway to modern travel

Capturing the aerial beauty of Doha, where the desert meets the sea, from my window seat | iVisa

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Before we dive into my experiences of arriving, transiting, and departing from the airport, let’s get the boring details out of the way.

As Qatar's primary international airport, Hamad International Airport epitomizes the intersection of luxury, technology, and cultural significance. Opened in 2014 as a replacement for the former Doha International Airport, HIA quickly established itself as a pivotal hub in global air travel. Its strategic location has made it a key player in connecting East and West.

The airport is an architectural marvel featuring a state-of-the-art terminal and is renowned for its world-class facilities, including expansive retail areas, luxurious lounges, and art exhibitions. Its commitment to passenger comfort and convenience is evident in every aspect, from advanced security systems to efficient passenger flow management.

As one of the Top Ten Best Airports in the World according to Skytrax, HIA is dedicated to providing an unrivaled travel experience. However, this gigantic airport that spans over 22 square kilometers can be very overwhelming to new travelers.

I often joke that stepping into Hamad International is like stepping into a city; however, with the right guidance and planning, it’s not nearly as intimidating as it initially seems. Lucky for you, I have mastered navigating this airport, and I’m prepared to be your guide.

Hamad International Airport: Layout and Terminals

Monorail train taking passengers between terminals at Hamad International Airport | iVisa

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A signature feature of the airport is its single, expansive passenger terminal, designed to prioritize both navigation ease and passenger comfort. The terminal, a fusion of functionality and aesthetic design, is the hub of all airport activities.

Terminal Overview:

  1. Main Terminal Building: This central area encompasses services like check-in, immigration, security, and baggage claim.

  2. Concourses: Branching from the terminal are five concourses (A, B, C, D, and E), hosting gates, lounges, and retail spaces. Accessible by foot or the airport's internal automated people mover system, these concourses are designed for passenger convenience.

Gates and Boarding Areas:

  • Gates: With over 100 contact gates, the airport caters to a significant passenger volume distributed across various concourses, all marked by clear signage and information displays.

  • Boarding Areas: These areas are equipped with necessary amenities like seating, restrooms, and dining options, ensuring a comfortable wait for passengers.

Transfer Areas:

  • Transfer Desks: These desks assist passengers with connecting flights throughout the terminal.

  • Automated People Mover: This system enables quick and efficient movement between concourses, aiding passengers with tight transfer schedules.

Streamlining transit: The Automated People Mover glides swiftly between concourses

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Navigational Ease:

  • Information Kiosks: These are available throughout the terminal and provide vital information and directions.

  • Signage: The airport features clear, multilingual signage, guiding passengers to gates, lounges, restrooms, and other facilities.

The design and layout of HIA are carefully crafted to ensure a smooth flow of passengers and reduce transit times.

Arriving at Hamad International Airport

Now that we understand the layout, let's unpack what to expect when you first land at Hamad International Airport.

Before I step off any plane at Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha, I mentally prepare myself to navigate this massive airport so that I'm prepared to take on the adventure.

Visas and immigration: Should you apply online?

Qatar warmly welcomes visitors from around the world, offering various visa options tailored to our needs. Here’s what you need to know before we get into the nitty-gritty details:

  • Visa-Free Entry: Nationals from 101 countries enjoy visa-free entry to Qatar. This policy simplifies your travel, allowing you to experience Qatar's beauty without needing pre-arrival formalities. Please note: “Visa-free entry” is the new term defining what was previously called the “visa on arrival” category.

  • E-Visa Requirement: If you're not eligible for visa-free entry, don't worry; you can apply for a Qatar e-visa via our simplified online application.

Heading to Immigration:

Walking to Arrivals, where new adventures begin. | iVisa

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Step 1: Right after exiting the plane, I follow the clear and prominent signs marked 'Arrivals' and 'Immigration.' The airport's layout is intuitive, guiding passengers through a straightforward path to the immigration area.

Step 2: As I walk towards immigration, I ensure that my passport, visa (in my case, I opened my Hayya app to my approved Hayya card), and other essential documents like hotel information are easily accessible.

Skip the queue: Apply for pre-approval

When we got to the immigration hall, a massive crowd was waiting in lines, catching me off guard. My last trip to the airport was pre-COVID, and a lot has changed since then. But a very helpful airport official quickly spotted that I looked overwhelmed and lost and gently asked which flight I’d arrived on and where I was going.

When I stated that I was visiting Doha and had a Hayya visa, she grinned and said, “Lucky you! You can skip this line, go to that (on the left) section for the e-gate, and do passport control yourself.”

Skipped the long lines and headed to the empty E-gates instead. | iVisa

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My biggest tip for anyone eligible for “ Visa-Free Travel” to Qatar is: Do not wait to get your visa on arrival at the airport. It is a nightmare. The queues stretch for hours during peak arrival times. Instead, use the Hayya Platform to get pre-approval and your visa on arrival in advance.

Why?

Hayya cardholders benefit from e-gate entry at Hamad International Airport, and those entering via land can use the pre-registration option for faster entry.

This means that when you get to the passport control area, while the masses wait in line to get their visas on arrival, you are quickly directed to the empty e-gate section, where the wait is at most five to ten minutes.

Step into the future of airports: Self-service passport control points. | iVisa

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With relief, I immediately went to the e-gate, which had no queue. All I had to do was use the self-scan passport control machines (if you’re technologically challenged, don’t fear, there is always staff around to help) by placing my passport in the correct spot (there are images depicting how to do it) and wait for the machine to scan it.

When it was successfully scanned, the plastic doors opened, and I walked to the spot marked on the floor. I was told to look straight ahead at the cameras on the left and let them scan my face. During this process, I could not move or talk, and once it successfully read my face and verified I matched my passport and visa, the next set of doors opened, and I was allowed to enter Doha.

No line, no social anxiety, no fuss, no stress.

What is the Hayya Platform, and how does it work?

The Hayya Platform, an integral part of Qatar's tourism and hospitality sector, has been significantly revamped and now serves as the unified portal for all tourist and business visa applications to Qatar.

You can use it for more than just visa applications. Some of my favorite things to check on the app include:

  • Information on local transportation

  • Great travel and tourism offers

  • Information about current events

  • A range of cultural and leisure activities, including beaches, resorts, shopping destinations, and world-class museums

  • Links to international and local hotels.

I also highly recommend reading about Qatar's upcoming tourism initiatives on the Qatar Tourism Website to ensure you get the best out of your trip.

What do you do if you don’t have a Hayya Card?

Unfortunately, if you do not have a Hayya Card when you arrive, the process is quite different and takes at least an hour longer, depending on how busy the airport is when you arrive. Here’s what to expect:

Step 1: Approaching Immigration Upon reaching the immigration area at HIA, you'll find different queues for GCC nationals, residents, and international visitors. Choose the appropriate queue based on your travel category. For those eligible for a visa on arrival, ensure your passport is from an eligible country and be prepared to present it at the immigration counter.

Step 2: Visa on Arrival If you're eligible for a visa on arrival, you must approach an immigration counter. The process typically involves presenting your passport and paying the visa fee, which can be done conveniently with a credit or debit card directly at the counter.

If you prefer to pay in cash, visit the designated bank counter first. The visa is generally valid for one month, but requirements vary based on nationality.

Step 3: Immigration Counter Interaction At the immigration counter, mention that you are visiting on a visa on arrival. Be prepared to provide your hotel’s or host’s contact details, including name and contact number, if asked.

Additionally, showing a credit or debit card may be required for certain nationalities as proof of funds.

Step 4: Biometric Verification During the immigration process, you might need to undergo biometric verification, such as an iris or fingerprint scan.

A green light will blink to confirm the iris scan, while some passengers may require fingerprint scans.

Step 5: Final Steps at Immigration Once all checks are complete, the immigration officer will fix a small sticker on your passport. This indicates that you are cleared to enter Doha.

It's important to note that experiences at HIA can vary. After speaking to others who did not arrive with Hayya visas, many reported longer wait times at immigration during peak periods or changes in airport layout that might confuse them. However, remember that there are many airport officials in this area, and they will happily guide you to where you need to be.

For Transit Passengers:

Look out for signs showing which direction you need to head if you are catching a connecting flight | iVisa

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  • Transit Signage: If I were transiting through HIA, I would follow the signs marked 'Transfers' right after disembarking the plane.

  • Transfer Desk: If needed, the transfer desk is available to assist me with connecting to my flight.

  • Security Check: As a transit passenger, I would undergo a security screening before proceeding to the departure gate of my connecting flight.

Self-Transiting:

Step 1: Collecting and Re-Checking Luggage In case of self-transiting, where my luggage isn’t automatically transferred, I collect my bags from the carousel and check them for my next flight.

Step 2: Security Check I go through the security check again, ensuring I have all my travel documents handy for a quick process.

Post-Immigration:

Making my way to Baggage Claim to retrieve my suitcases and head towards new horizons. | iVisa

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Following the signs to the baggage claim, I locate the carousel corresponding to my flight, which is displayed on the digital screens. This can be daunting because of the sheer number of flights that land at Hamad Airport.

However, the area is easy to navigate, and there are lots of staff around to direct lost travelers. Once we located our carousel and walked to it, the wait for our bags began.

Finding the right carousel to collect my bag | iVisa

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Heads up, it may be a long walk, so if you have mobility issues, reach out to staff or find the zones marked with wheelchair signs and wait for a golf cart to take you to the carousel.

You’ll find rows of trolleys near every carousel that are free to use. You’ll also find places to change money and buy sim cards both in the baggage claim area and after you exit into the main part of the airport.

The wait was relatively short (we waited just ten minutes) to get our bags, and then I headed towards the customs area.

I had nothing to declare and was allowed to walk straight out; however, customs officials will direct you accordingly if you have anything to declare or if your luggage needs to be inspected.

Following the green signs to the exit | iVisa

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Once I passed the customs area, I proceeded towards the exit with my luggage. Since my stomach was already rumbling after the long walk through the airport, I turned right and walked to my favorite tea shop, Chapati & Karak, for a quick bite to eat before contemplating my transportation options like taxis, buses, and car rentals to reach my destination in Doha.

Leaving the Airport and going to the city

View of Doha, Qatar. | iVisa

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Doha is one of the few places I am never nervous about being stuck at the airport. With a highly efficient transportation system, the city can be your playground.

There are many options, from Karwa Taxi to the new Metro lines, to get from the airport to the city.

Side note: You won’t be able to catch an Uber at the airport from Oct 15, 2023 due to the Ministry of Transport’s decision to suspend all ride-hailing pick-up services. This restriction does not affect Uber drop-offs at the airport.

I generally opt to use the metro since Uber isn’t an option, and Karwa Taxis start around QAR25 from the airport, which isn’t always the best experience. The Metro is exceptionally efficient and gives you access to the entire city. Super easy to find and use, the metro station is a short walk through a well-marked path in the airport and is a firm favorite for many locals as well.

Once realizing that I could use the metro throughout my stay to get around Doha City, I opted to buy a travel card at the metro station. I went to the self-service kiosk, followed the clear instructions (you choose your language of preference), and used my credit card to pay for it. The machines accept cash, credit and debit cards, and other payment methods.

Standard travel cards cost QR 10 and can be recharged using vending machines at any station (where I bought my card) or mobile apps. The cost per ride is QR 2.

Alternatively, you can buy just one ticket for your ride if that is all you need.

My Doha Metro card that I recharged whenever I needed to during my stay. | iVisa

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As always, I used my Moovit app to figure out which line I needed to take, but each station also has a designated information center where staff willingly guide you (with pictures) to where you need to be. The staff also speaks many languages, including English, so there’s no chance of getting lost.

The Hamad International Airport T1 Metro Station is part of the Red Line, offering direct services into central Doha. The metro stations are air-conditioned and well-equipped with customer information centers, prayer areas, and restrooms.

Operational Hours: It's important to note the operational hours for planning your journey. On regular service days, the last train from HIA runs at 10:19 pm from Saturday to Wednesday and at 11:19 pm on Thursday and Friday.

Navigating the Lines: The Doha Metro system has three active lines: Red, Green, and Gold, with 37 stations connecting various parts of Doha. The Red Line directly connects the airport to central Doha.

Sitting inside a Qatar metro train cart is always a comfortable and enjoyable experience. | iVisa

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Many boards show which lines go where and which stops are on that route. The signage and announcements at stations and on the trains are in Arabic and English, so you’ll have no trouble gauging where you need to go. Although I initially used the Moovit app as a guide, just in case, I gave up on the second train ride and relied on the clear maps at the station instead.

Unfortunately, the train does not run 24/7. Since our return flight was super early, the metro was not open yet, and we were forced to Uber. Surprisingly, though more expensive than the metro, it was still quite reasonable.

Departing from Hamad International Airport

Every adventure must end, and I was forced to head to Departures to leave for home. | iVisa

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Far more overwhelming than arriving in Qatar, departing requires excellent planning and time management simply due to the sheer size of the airport.

As a frequent flyer, I often test my limits regarding how early I need to be at an airport and usually stick to 90 - 120 minutes before a flight; if there is one airport, I’ll never take that chance; it’s Hamad International.

The sheer volume of people moving through this airport and the breathtaking size make navigating this airport in a short time impossible. I always try to be at the airport about three hours before my international flights.

On top of that, I schedule a good one to two extra hours if I intend to indulge in the many unique amenities in the airport, like the Orchid Garden, or explore its fantastic restaurants and shops before my flight.

Check-in for your flight

Qatar is all about self-service and efficient processes; however, sometimes things go awry. When we arrived, we knew we might run into issues as online check-in had refused to work correctly for me and my husband.

Luckily, a very helpful Qatar Airways official at the self-help kiosks helped me check in easily. I printed my boarding pass, weighed my bag, and got a baggage tag at the kiosk before proceeding to the baggage drop-off counter, where the same lady helped me check my bags.

Unfortunately, my husband was not as lucky as the system kept glitching and refused to save his visa details. Ultimately, he was directed to the traditional check-in counters (right next to the self-service kiosks and baggage drop.)

At the counter, they manually input all his information, checked his documents, and printed his boarding pass. They also collected his checked baggage at the desk.

Moral of the story: Do not panic if things seem to be going awry. As long as you have enough time before your flight, there are many ways to solve problems and get you on your flight.

Passport control and security check

The key word to getting through this airport easily is “enough time.” Once you're done checking in, I advise immediately heading to passport control and security as the queues are long, and most of the exciting things to do at the airport are in the main terminal.

I headed to the e-gate and quickly made my way through passport control | iVisa

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However, if you have a Hayya Card, head straight to the e-gate, scan your passport, and off you go to security. Alternatively, you will join the queue and go to the passport control counter.

At security, they will thoroughly examine all passengers' safety and the flight's secure operation. Here's what you can expect during the security check:

1. Arrival at the Security Checkpoint:

  • Upon reaching the security checkpoint, follow the signs and instructions from airport personnel.
  • Have your boarding pass and identification (usually your passport) ready for inspection.

2. Screening Process:

  • Prepare to place your carry-on items, such as bags, laptops, and electronic devices, in bins provided by airport security.

  • Remove your shoes, belt, and any items from your pockets before walking through the metal detector.

  • Follow instructions from security personnel during the screening process.

3. Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT):

  • Some airports use Advanced Imaging Technology scanners for an additional layer of security. Security personnel may randomly select or direct passengers to go through these scanners.

  • AIT scanners are designed to detect anomalies or prohibited items on a person's body.

4. Security Personnel Interaction:

  • Be cooperative and responsive to any requests or questions from security officers.

  • If you have specific medical or privacy concerns, communicate them politely with the security personnel.

5. Secondary Screening:

  • Passengers may undergo additional screening in rare cases or based on the security assessment. This can include a more detailed pat-down or a closer examination of personal items.

6. Prohibited Items:

  • Familiarize yourself with the list of prohibited items to avoid delays and inconvenience. Items such as liquids exceeding the allowed limit, sharp objects, and specific tools are typically restricted.

7. Special Considerations:

  • Passengers with medical conditions or exceptional circumstances should notify security personnel.

  • If traveling with medical liquids or equipment, be prepared to provide the necessary documentation.

  • My husband had to place his insulin bag separately from the rest of his hand luggage at the X-ray scan machine.

8. Children and Families:

  • Families traveling with children may be subject to specific procedures. Security personnel are generally understanding and will assist in making the process as smooth as possible.

9. Security Alerts:

  • In the event of a security alert or heightened threat level, additional measures may be implemented. Passengers are advised to stay informed and follow instructions from airport staff.

10. Reclaiming Personal Items:

  • After passing through the security checkpoint, retrieve your belongings promptly from the bins and proceed to the departure lounge.

Boarding your flight

After clearing security and immigration, you'll enter the main terminal, brimming with entertainment and leisure. However, I highly recommend locating your boarding gate before indulging in the amenities.

Take note of the time estimations on the signage directing you to your gate |iVisa

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Some gates are nearly 30 - 40 minutes away from the security checkpoint. According to the boards, walking to our boarding gate was meant to take an estimated twenty minutes.

We walked to the gate as quickly as possible, and it took just under 25 minutes to get to it because of the sheer volume of people trying to get to their gates.

Heading to our boarding gate as quickly as possible using the Travelators. | iVisa

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What to do once you find your gate

Step 1: Listen for the boarding announcements or check the departure screens for your flight information. Boarding typically begins around 30-45 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

Step 2: Ensure you have your boarding pass and passport ready. Gate agents will scan your boarding pass before allowing you to enter the boarding area. This may be a self-service station, but air hostesses will be at the gates to assist if needed.

Airlines often board in zones or groups. Pay attention to the announcements to know when your zone is called. First and business class passengers, as well as those with special needs, usually board first.

Step 3: Once you have been checked and allowed through, proceed to the aircraft and follow the instructions of the airline staff.

Final Tips

  1. Keep your boarding pass and baggage sticker safe with your passport. If your bags do not arrive, you must have the baggage stickers to report the loss.

  2. It’s easy to get lost in the vast and intriguing world Hamad Airport offers; however, don't forget that you have a flight to catch and keep track of the time.

  3. Read our Ultimate Qatar Travel Guide for more information about what travel documents you need and where to visit.

Other airport guides to read

I am dedicated to exploring and chronicling the unique essence of the world's airports. Here are some of the other airports I’ve covered in the Been There, Done That series:

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