Moving to Oman brings you to a less well-known corner of the Middle East. Unlike the neighboring United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman does not have the same reputation for glitz and commerce or the same popularity as a tourist destination. The latter might change soon since the Lonely Planet named Oman the “in destination” of 2012. Nonetheless, many expats may not know what to expect.
By moving to Oman, you will relocate to the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, between Yemen and the UAE. The country also shares an inland border with Saudi Arabia, somewhere in the dunes of the Rub' al Khali, the largest sand desert in the world.
Oman has about the same surface area as Poland or the US state of Kansas. It is divided into 11 governorates (muhafazah), which consist of about 60 districts (wilyat). Most expatriates settle in the capital of Muscat, which forms a governorate of its own. Moreover, there’s a large foreign-born population in Salalah, in the southernmost province of Dhofar.
Anyone moving to Oman should be prepared for the rather extreme climate. In the fertile Al Batinah coastal plain, the subtropical temperatures range from 22°C to 25°C in winter and reach up to 40°C in the humid summer months with their warm nights. When the gharbi wind blows from the desert, it gets even hotter, so choose your luggage accordingly!
While the rest of the country mostly has a desert climate, expats moving to Oman’s south are in for a surprise. Dhofar is a tropical region, influenced strongly by the monsoon (charif). After the heavy downpours, the province turns into a green oasis in full bloom — a wonder of nature that attracts visitors from throughout the country.
Since a large part of Oman consists of desert, the population is relatively small, with a distinct trend towards urbanization. Around 4 million people live there, mostly in towns or cities — and an estimated 40% of the inhabitants are foreign residents.
Arriving from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, and the Philippines, the foreign labor force is an important part of the Omani economy. There is also a far less sizable community of European and US expatriates, with approximately 10,000 such nationals.
The official language is Arabic, but non-Arabic speakers moving to Oman needn’t worry: English is widely understood or spoken, particularly in the capital and the business world. Due to the abovementioned influx of foreign-born workers, Urdu, Baluchi, and various Indian languages, such as Sindhi and Malayalam, are increasingly common.
Oman is a fairly safe country. Although the current ruler — Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who ascended to the throne in 1970 — is a mostly autocratic sovereign, the country recently witnessed far less political unrest than other Middle Eastern nations.
There were some peaceful protests (as well as a few riots) that criticized some corrupt government members, the rising cost of living, and the lack of freedom of speech. The Sultan’s response — a cabinet reshuffle and the promise of reforms — at first placated the protesters, while the government also increased censorship against its critics.
Expatriates moving to Oman have little reason to fear a sudden political crisis. However, it’s still recommended to avoid all political demonstrations as a foreign resident.
Violent crime is rare, so some general safety tips should suffice, and you should be just fine:
Furthermore, non-Muslims moving to Oman should respect Ibadhism, the local religion and a moderately conservative branch of Islam. This means no eating, drinking, or smoking in public during Ramadan, and wearing “modest” clothing outside beaches and pool areas (i.e. no shorts and sleeveless shirts for men, calf-length skirts and covered shoulders for women).
Generally speaking, foreign employees moving to Oman appreciate the country for its safety and hospitality.
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