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Author and journalist Andrew Hallam  – AKA The Millionaire Teacher – believes that many expats lose money by investing with the wrong brokers. The expert, who will be visiting Qatar next month, explains below why this happens, and what you can do to protect yourself and your finances.

Most stock market investors have been celebrating lately. The past 20 years have been kind.

That might sound crazy if you live in Qatar. If you have bought investments sold by local expat brokers, you probably think I’m nuts.

That’s because Qatar – and the rest of the GCC – is filled with unscrupulous financial advisors.

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Yes, they are refined. Yes, they seem kind. But they sell investment products that pay them huge commissions – at their investors’ expense.

How do you know if you have a bad investment product, sold by one of these advisors? There are two acid tests.

Bad investment products

Firstly: global markets have risen a lot over the past few years.

Stocks gained 6.47 percent in the past year, 39.7 percent over the past three years and 55 percent over the past five years.

Qatar Exchange

Qatar Exchange / Facebook

Qatar Exchange

Longer-term, they gained 84 percent over the past 15 years and 243 percent over the past 20 years.

This represents the average return of all global stocks, not just a single hot, geographic sector.

So if your investment yield hasn’t gone up, that should set off some alarms.

Secondly: if you can’t pull your money out without paying a hefty fee, you’ve been dragged to the dragon’s lair.

Andrew Hallam/Facebook

Andrew Hallam during a seminar in Oman

I’ve written two books giving tips on how best to invest. In the first, I criticized high investment fees, but I was like a well-meaning guy complaining about non-lethal snakes.

I had no idea, at the time, what goes on the Middle East. That’s where King Cobras strike. In this region, expensive financial products get sold to almost everyone.

‘King Cobras’

So in a second book, I describe the sort of products that get sold in the Middle East. Often, investors pay more than 4 percent a year in fees.

Let’s put this in perspective: if global stocks earn 7 percent, investors paying 4 percent in fees are giving up 57 percent of their annual profits to these charges.

If global stocks only earn 4 percent, investors are giving up 100 percent of their profits to fees.

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Furthermore, many of these long-term funds are sold with front-loaded charges.

This means commissions for the whole length of the contract – say, 25 years – are paid in the first two years of the product.

So if you decide you want pull your money out early, you can lose all of it.

Yesterday’s funds

Even if you plan to keep paying into an investment product for the long term, many advisors in this region aren’t schooled on diversification.

They often build portfolios that are stuffed with yesterday’s winning funds. But funds that do well during one time period often stink the next.

For example, if you started an offshore pension in 2007, it’s likely stuffed with emerging market funds, and little else. They were coming to the end of a really good run.

Gold bar

Bullion Vault / Flickr

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If you started your portfolio in 2011, it’s probably stuffed with gold or precious metal funds with, once again, little else.

In fact, if you invested with a typical advisor in Qatar, I probably know what funds you own if you tell me when you started.

Instead of being properly diversified, it will be stuffed with whatever asset class or geographic sector had recently done well – before you signed the contract.

But you wouldn’t drive a car by looking through the rear-view mirror. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Nor should you invest that way.

Spread your bets

Investors in the Middle East need a fair shake. Their retirements depend on it.

That’s why it’s important to own a low-cost diversified portfolio that represents every geographic sector. What’s more, you can do this yourself, without the need for an advisor.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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You could build a diversified portfolio with just three exchange-traded index funds (ETFs).

The first fund would represent your home country stock market index. The second would represent a global stock index. The third would include a bond market index.

You could build such a portfolio using a variety of low cost brokerages, such as Saxo Capital Markets or TD Direct International, based in Luxembourg.

Thoughts?


Andrew Hallam is the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.

He will be speaking at six different venues in Qatar from Feb. 12-21. See here for his schedule. Many of the talks aren’t open to the public, but if you have a public venue to offer, he is willing to speak for free. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Doha News Publisher Omar Chatriwala

Lance Cenar

Doha News Publisher Omar Chatriwala

As many are aware, Doha News became inaccessible to most online users in Qatar as of yesterday, Nov. 30.

Our URL – dohanews.co – was apparently blocked by both of Qatar’s internet service providers, Ooredoo and Vodafone, simultaneously.

Since then, the majority of people in the country have been unable to access our website on their desktop computers and mobile devices.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Exceptions included access to a VPN (virtual private network) or unfiltered corporate internet.

Yesterday, Doha News put in requests for information from the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA), Ooredoo, Vodafone, the Government Communications Office (GCO) and Qatar’s National Information Security Center (Q-Cert.)

While we waited for their response, we temporarily diverted readers from dohanews.co to another domain name, doha.news.

However, that URL also stopped working in short order.

Deliberately blocked

Given this development and the silence from the government and ISP providers, we can only conclude that our website has been deliberately targeted and blocked by Qatar authorities.

We are incredibly disappointed with this decision, which appears to be an act of censorship.

We believe strongly in the importance of a free press, and are saddened that Qatar, home of the Doha Center for Media Freedom and Al Jazeera, has decided to take this step.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

David Mills/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

We are also puzzled because authorities did not discuss any concerns they had with us before taking such serious action.

The biggest fallout of this is that most of Qatar loses access to one of the country’s only independent news outlets.

Doha News has served the community for nearly eight years.

Our team of professional journalists has always aimed to draw the community together by informing and engaging them, and sparking debate on important issues.

Doha News Meetup 2016

Lance Cenar

Doha News Meetup 2016

Our audience – a multicultural group of nearly one million unique users a month – come to Doha News because we publish high-quality stories that are researched and verified.

They also know that we do not shrink from asking difficult questions to those in power, something other news outlets in Qatar often fail to do.

Rampant speculation

We know, as journalists, that refusing to confirm the act of blocking Doha News will only lead to more questions.

This can already be seen on Twitter. The hashtag  (Doha News website ban) is already being used by residents to discuss the issue in Arabic; hundreds more are speculating about what happened in English.

The ubiquitous nature of the internet makes it impossible to hide when decisions are not transparent.

We hope that the Qatari authorities will reconsider their decision and unblock our site.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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Yousef, a 28-year-old Qatari citizen, fell in love with an Eastern European woman four years ago. The pair decided to marry, but the Qatari government refused to endorse the partnership, and the couple eventually felt they had no option but to divorce.

In this opinion piece, Yousef explains to Victoria Scott the difficulties Qataris face when marrying a non-national, and why he believes the system should change. 

I met my wife when I was on vacation in Europe. We met through mutual friends, and felt a connection immediately. We fell in love.

I used to be what I’d call a traditional Qatari. I believed strongly in our culture and our values.

So, when I met my wife, I asked myself what I was doing. She was a foreigner, not of my faith and from a different culture.

Deciding to marry her was a difficult decision for me at the beginning for all of these reasons, but I eventually decided that I wanted to live my life with her; love would conquer all. 

A different culture

We married in a civil ceremony abroad, before traveling back to Qatar. 

It was all entirely new to her. It was her first visit to the country. 

However, my family loved my new wife and she began to settle in. She adjusted, slowly but surely. She got used to our culture. We were happy.

For illustrative purposes only.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

I soon realized that things might not turn out as I had hoped, however.

I had thought that she would automatically be granted citizenship. This meant she would be able to live in Qatar legally for the rest of her life, and that any children we might have would automatically be Qatari too.

In the beginning, this was very important to me. I wanted to have children, but I wanted them to have the rights I had.

I didn’t know that I was supposed to have asked the Qatari government for permission to marry a foreigner.

Asking permission

I discovered that there was a special committee at the Ministry of Interior that hears such cases, and that I was going to have to go through the process.

Without the committee’s permission, my marriage would in effect not be considered legal in Qatar.

I wouldn’t be able to receive benefits for married employees at my company, or be given land by the government, which is just one of the benefits for Qataris who get married.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Alex Gill/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

 

Far worse than that, however, was the fact that we wouldn’t even be able to live together in Qatar. Without their permission, my wife would be denied even a residence permit.

I didn’t think it was going to be an issue, however. I thought it was a matter of process, as I didn’t think someone could decide for me who was fit for me to marry, and who wasn’t.

I thought – I’m Qatari, this is Qatar. It’s a civilized country. No-one is going to tell me who I can marry, as it’s my basic right as a human to choose my life partner.

Loving her ‘not a reason’

I asked people who’d gone through the same process to give me some tips on how to succeed in front of the committee.

They told me that I should not say that I had married her because I loved her; this was not an acceptable reason, apparently.

Instead, I needed to write a memo explaining why I couldn’t get married to a Qatari woman.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

David Precious/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

This is because the committee seems to be worried that Qatari women won’t be able to find enough Qatari men to marry. They have the right to be concerned about that, but not, in my opinion, enough to regulate our marriages. 

So, I had to lie.

I said that I couldn’t marry a Qatari woman because the expenses were too high, and that I’d asked several Qatari women to marry me, but that they had said no.

This was something I didn’t want to do, but the law forced me to be a hypocrite.

I also didn’t tell them I was already married, as they would have automatically turned me down if they knew. I wasn’t supposed to have gotten married already.

Converting to Islam

I was also told that we’d have a better chance at approval if my wife was Muslim.

It made no difference to me, as I don’t believe that faith tells you who’s good and who’s bad. I didn’t care. I accepted her for who she was – a Christian.

But in the end, I asked her if she’d consider converting to Islam just to help the process along, and she agreed.

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Muhammad Kamran Qureshi/Flickr

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She had to go to this ceremony and officially convert. Then she also had a new passport photo taken in a hijab. She had to do all of this for me.

So I submitted the photos, the memo I’d written, and my salary certificate to the panel, and was eventually given an interview date.

The committee is made up of seven men. My father came with me to support my case, to say that he accepted his son’s choice, and accepted her.

They talk to you like you owe them something, in a very harsh way, because you need their approval.

They just asked me over and over again why I didn’t want to marry a Qatari woman. It felt like they ranked people’s value based on the nationality alone.

They told me my wife’s culture and traditions would be too different, even if she was now a Muslim.

And two days after that meeting, they turned my request down.

Persistence

But I didn’t give up.

I then tried to use wasta. I took my elderly grandfather with me to the Ministry of Interior to see what they could do, hoping that having him with me would make them more helpful, more understanding.

It seemed to work. They said they would approve our marriage. I started to celebrate it with my wife – but it was a trick.

Photo for illustrative purposes only

Serendipity Diamonds / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only

There was a second step. The Minister of Interior himself needed to approve it.

I had to go back to the MOI so many times to ask if he had approved it, as I had learned files such as mine are kept in an archive for many years with no action.

I went every week. They were very nice to me, very friendly and polite, but they didn’t approve my marriage. They just kept telling me they’d look into it.

In the meantime, the only option I had was to keep applying for a tourist visa for my wife every month. 

This went on for two years. My wife was living with my family, in my house, but we didn’t feel stable or secure. We knew her visa could get rejected at any time.

Then I heard that the Minister was opening his majlis to citizens, so I went there and told him about my issue in person.

He said he’d look into it.

The next day, however, I was told that my request had been rejected and that I just should forget about it and not follow it up anymore.

They wouldn’t even tell me why.

And then it got worse. The government stopped granting my wife her tourist visa.

Parting

It was a horrendous dilemma. I didn’t want to leave Qatar – it is my home. It was where my family is, where my job is.

And if I left my job, I didn’t think I could support my wife financially.

So, I decided to do what I felt was right for her.

I explained the whole situation to her. I said – “we don’t have kids, and you’re waiting for me. I’ve been telling you everything is going to be ok, but I can’t guarantee you anything anymore.”

Hamad International Airport

HIAQatar / Twitter

Hamad International Airport

She had to leave Qatar when her visa expired. We got divorced. I was broken.

I carried on supporting her financially for a while because she had to leave suddenly, but in the end I said it had to stop, and we had to sever all ties. It was hurting me too much.

She has a new husband now, and she has a baby. We keep in touch and I’m happy for her.

But it’s painful to see the woman you loved married to someone else, with a kid. That was supposed to be my kid. 

Questions

Our marriage changed me. It took my outside my bubble, and made me question our culture’s values.

I didn’t understand why, for example, we Qatari men are allowed to go to clubs where alcohol is served, but at the same time the committee was telling me that my wife’s culture and traditions did not fit ours.

This was not making any sense to me.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Jan Smith / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

I feel that the Qatari government is playing with people’s lives.

It hurt to see my country talking about human rights on the global stage, but then denying citizens the right to marry whoever they choose.

I want to know why my request was refused. Was it because my family isn’t important enough? Do we not know the right people?

I know plenty of Qatari men married to foreign women who got their approval in less than a month, just because they know someone in the government.

And why is it ok to marry a second wife or a third wife, but refuse a man permission to marry just one?

I have so many questions.

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Xavier Vergés/Flickr

For illustrative purposes only.

This whole experience has affected my mental health. I have had enough.

I want to start a family, but I don’t see myself marrying a Qatari. I’m not going to have a traditional marriage. My mindset is too different.

I have tremendous respect for Qatari women. They are our sisters and daughters, but this is not about race or religion or nationality. It’s about personal choice.

I think I will have to leave Qatar and live abroad if I want to get married to a foreigner. I hate that it has to be like that.

I love my country. I don’t want to leave Qatar or leave my family, but what options do I have?