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- Francois Carpentier
Coming with my family wasn't easy at the beginning, but thanks to the local scouts we received some excellent advice.
Relocating to Oman
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 as a top tourist destination. However, its popularity is growing, with the annual number of tourists growing from around two million in 2012 to over three million in 2016.
Muhafazahs and Wilayats
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 four governorates (muhafazah) and five regions (mintaqat), which consist of 61 districts (wilayat). 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.
Be Prepared for Tropical Temperatures
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 summer months of June to September.
As is common in a desert climate, temperatures can differ drastically between day and night, particularly the further inland you go. Along the coast, the heat is more humid than dry. When the shamal wind blows from the desert, temperatures spike, so choose your luggage accordingly and make sure to pack some light, long-sleeved cotton or linen clothes.
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.
The Omani Population and Its Languages
Since a large part of Oman consists of desert, the population is relatively small, with a distinct trend towards urbanization. Around 4.6 million people live there, mostly in towns or cities — and an estimated 45% of the inhabitants are foreign residents. While there has been a rapid rise in the expat population over the last decade — in 2010, less than 30% of the population were foreign born — numbers have dropped somewhat since 2016 due to the economic downturn in the country.
Arriving from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, 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.
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, and Oman even ranks 9th out of 65 countries in the Expat Insider 2017 survey when it comes to the ease of living abroad without local language skills. Due to the large number of foreign-born workers, Farsi, Swahili, and various South Asian languages, such as Baluchi, Sindhi, and Urdu, can also be heard throughout Oman, particularly in the cities.
It’s All about Respect and Common Sense
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 witnessed far less political unrest during the Arab Spring than other Middle Eastern nations. Expats moving to Oman have little reason to fear a sudden political crisis. However, it’s still recommended to avoid all demonstrations as a foreign resident.
Violent crime is rare, so some general safety tips should suffice:
- Don’t enter unfamiliar neighborhoods or deserted areas.
- Do not travel after dark, particularly not alone.
- Pay attention to your valuables.
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. Respondents of the Expat Insider 2017 study even ranked it 6th out of 65 countries in regard to the ease of settling in.
Visas for Oman
Only Paying a Short Visit?
If you’d like to go to Oman on a business visit or a fact-finding trip before your actual move, you need a visit visa to enter the country. There are two types of visit visas — the single-entry option and one permitting multiple entries.
The single-entry tourist visa can be obtained at all Omani missions abroad. It is usually valid for a month and can be extended for another month by applying at the Directorate General of Passports and Residence.
Nationals of selected countries can simply acquire a visit visa upon arrival at all official entry points. Everyone else needs to acquire a tourist package from an officially approved travel agency to be granted a visa. Please ask at your nearest Omani embassy or consulate which regulation applies to you.
You can get a multiple-entry visa under similar conditions. It is valid for up to one year and allows you to enter the country for several stays of three weeks each.
Want to Work in Oman?
If you are hoping to take up employment in Oman, you can only do so under the visa sponsorship system. In order to qualify, you must be a foreign national between the age of 21 and 60 and have a confirmed job offer from a company in Oman. Your future employer becomes your visa sponsor.
Your employer needs to request a labor clearance from the Ministry of Manpower. Sometimes, they also need to contact a professional association in your field of employment (for example, in the healthcare sector). The HR department will usually let you know which documents they require for this part of the application process (e.g. professional qualifications, diplomas, references).
In addition to the official labor permit, the following paperwork is typically required for an employment visa application:
- valid passport (original and copy)
- several passport-sized photographs
- health certificate from an approved foreign clinic and attested by the Ministry of Health
Bringing Your Family with You
The spouse and children under the age of 21 of a work visa holder can submit an application for a family joining visa, provided the employee has a minimum monthly wage of 300 OMR, is working in a senior job in Oman, and lives in accommodation rented in their own or their employer’s name. The visa allows the sponsor’s family members to reside in Oman but not to work there.
For a successful visa application, both parties have to include a copy of their passport, and the employee must attach the copy of their valid labor/resident card, a copy of their lease agreement, as well as proof of their income. The latter can be, for example, a signed form by the Ministry of Manpower on the employee’s salary or six months’ worth of bank statements. The applicant also needs to include two passport photos in color.
Most importantly, you need to provide proof of relationship, for example a confirmed copy of the marriage or birth certificate, approved both by your embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lastly, for certain nationalities, health certificate requirements apply to family members, too.
Two Combined in One: The National ID Card
After arriving in Oman, expats are required to get their national ID card.
You have to apply in person at the Directorate General of Civil Status of the Royal Omani Police. Normally, you need the following documents:
- your passport
- a medical certificate
- a completed application form
- your work permit and a clearance from the Ministry of Manpower (for expat employees in the private sector)
- a letter from your employer (for expats in the public sector)
You must also have your fingerprints taken and share your electronic signature. As application requirements can be subject to change, check with your employer or the police for up-to-date information on the application process for ID documents.
A resident card is extremely important for access to all kinds of other services. Therefore, you should obtain it as soon as possible after arriving in Oman — at most, within 30 days following your arrival in the country.
Expat Destination Oman
In the first part of our guide on moving to Oman, we have already mentioned the country’s high degree of urbanization. Over 75% of all residents live in cities, particularly in Muscat and Salalah.
Oman’s Expatriate Hotspot: Muscat
Muscat, the capital, forms an entire governorate of its own, housing not quite 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area (as of August 2017), including a sizable expat population of around 950,000. The province’s 1,500 km² include six walayats (i.e. districts: Muscat, Muttrah, Bawshar, A’Seeb, Al Amrat, and Qurayyat) and a variety of neighborhoods.
The city is Oman’s commercial and financial center, the seat of foreign missions, and a trading hub with a busy seaport — though the latter is currently being transformed from a commercial port to one for cruise ships, with a tourism-focused waterfront.
The Heart of Dhofar: Salalah
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, as well as being the city where the current Sultan of Oman was born.
Apart from this claim to fame, Salalah also attracts a considerable workforce due to its free zone and its cargo port. Thanks to its favorable location with easy access to the sea, mountains, and desert, tourism is an increasingly important economic factor for business in the region.
Limited Property Purchasing Options for Expats
Foreigners buying property in Oman is a relatively new development in Omani law. Until 2004, 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).
Foreign nationals may purchase land or real estate located within so-called integrated tourist complexes (ITCs), which grants them automatic residency rights. However, as of 2017, there are plans of possibly loosening this restriction and letting expats buy property outside of ITCs as well. Still, 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:
What Does It Cost to Live in Oman?
Fortunately, the cost of living in Oman is relatively low. In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2017, Muscat ranked as number 92 out of 209 expat destinations worldwide. This makes it one of the least expensive cities in the Middle East, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for instance, found in the top 25.
One problem of expat life in Oman is the lack of job security due to the government’s “Omanization” policy, which favors local residents over foreign employees. There has also been a downturn of the Omani economy and a rise in unemployment due to low oil prices since 2015.
Parents also have to factor in high international or private school fees for expat children: in the Expat Insider 2017 study, 45% of respondents with kids in Oman regard education as expensive. 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!
Limited Leisure Options but High Personal Safety
The quality of life in Oman has been steadily increasing over the years: ranking 43rd out of 61 countries in 2014, Oman rose up to 26th out of 65 destinations in the Expat Insider 2017 survey. Expats are particularly happy with their personal safety and local peacefulness: only about 2% had something negative to say about these factors, compared to a global average of 11% and 12%, respectively. Comparably, Muscat also ranked 29th out of 230 cities in the 2016 Mercer Quality of Living survey.
Regrettably, Oman cannot keep up these great results in all aspects regarding the quality of living. Muscat simply doesn’t have the amenities of metropolises like Toronto or Singapore or the flair of places such as Vienna or Honolulu. In the Expat Insider 2017 survey, respondents ranked the capital an unimpressive 43rd place out of 51 cities around the world when it came to local leisure options, for instance.
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- Francois Carpentier
Coming with my family wasn't easy at the beginning, but thanks to the local scouts we received some excellent advice.
- Marielle Depois
I will never forget the great support provided the InterNations Ambassador in Muscat when I came to Oman as an expat woman on my own.