In the first part of our guide on moving to Oman, we have already mentioned the country’s high degree of urbanization. Over 70% of residents live in cities, particularly in Muscat and Salalah.
Muscat, the capital, forms an entire governorate of its own, housing around 1.3 million people in the metropolitan area. The provinces’ 1,500 km² include six districts (Muscat, Muttrah, Bawshar, A’Seeb, Al Amrat, and Qurayyat) and a variety of neighborhoods. The city is Oman’s commercial and financial center, a trading hub with a busy seaport, and the seat of foreign missions.
Muscat has a sizable expatriate population. Most foreign laborers, particularly those from South Asia, live in Muttrah, where both the port and the major souq are located, or in Ruwi, the city’s main business district. Well-paid expats and foreign managers, on the other hand, tend to prefer up-market residential areas like Madinat al Sultan Qaboos, Shati Al Qurm with its luxury hotels and upscale accommodation, or the developing town of Al Ghubrah.
Outside the governorate of Muscat, Salalah is the largest city. The heart of Dhofar, a province in the south, is famous for its beautiful frankincense trees; it’s also said to be the birthplace of the legendary Queen of Sheba, whose wealth of gold and spices is mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran. Such speculations aside, Salalah is undisputedly the city where the current Sultan of Oman was born.
Apart from this claim to fame among the Omani population, Salalah also attracts a considerable workforce due to its free zone and its cargo port. In the future, nature tourism may become a more important economic factor for the region. There’s a large foreign community of Indian and Pakistani residents in Salalah, who have begun to establish their own infrastructure, especially schools for South Asian expat kids.
Foreigners buying property in Oman is a relatively new development in Omani law. Until 2006, all such purchases used to be forbidden to non-GCC nationals (i.e. anyone not a citizen of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE).
Nowadays, foreign nationals may purchase land or real estate located within so-called integrated tourist complexes, which grants them automatic residency rights. However, unless you are planning to invest in property development or to establish a vacation house in Oman, renting is probably the better option for expats looking for a temporary home.
A typical rental contract is usually valid for one year and can be renewed for a similar period. Note, however, that it’s customary to pay the rent for at least three months or an entire year in advance. If you have to leave the country early for some reason, this payment will not be refunded.
You can start your housing search on the following real estate websites:
Fortunately, the cost of living in Oman is relatively low. In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2014, Muscat ranked as number 168 out of more than 210 expatriate destinations worldwide. The main problems of expat life in Oman are the lack of job security due to the government’s “Omanization” policy and the high international school fees for expat children. During salary negotiations, you should therefore try to include tuition fees as part of your perks.
Moreover, while health insurance is a part of most employment contracts for expatriates, the healthcare plans offered by employers often exclude certain clinics, treatment for mental health issues, or dental care. So don’t leave the cost of supplementary health insurance out of your budget calculations!
Regrettably, the quality of living in Muscat doesn’t rank particularly high in such surveys. The city simply doesn’t have the amenities of metropolises like Toronto or Singapore or the flair of places such as Vienna or Honolulu.
However, it does score fairly high when it comes to personal safety. In Mercer’s 2011 safety ranking, Muscat came ahead of cities like Berlin, Hong Kong, or Dubai. Expat living in Oman is definitely relaxed in that respect.
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