Expat Guide To Living In Oman

Expat Guide To Living In Oman

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

The Middle Eastern desert kingdom of Oman is a sparkling jewel of a country with a pristine coastline, the sands of Wahiba, and the beautiful chaos of the capital, Muscat.

Life in Oman is exciting, with a  culture different from other Gulf states. 

For one thing, with a population of 4.9 million, it’s tiny compared to neighbouring Saudi Arabia. In addition, it takes about ten days to drive a complete circuit of the country.

Among the ancient forts and gorgeous Arabian Sea beaches, you’ll find a whopping 42 per cent of people here are expats, including 8,000 from the UK.

Expats find life in Oman easy, with low living costs, zero income tax and non-existent crime. Visas are straightforward, too, despite the Omanisation policy to prioritise jobs for local people.

Whether you dream of living in a quiet maritime village or whiling away your weekends in the seclusion of Masirah Island, you’ll need to be comfortable with the heat to live in Oman.

The climate is the hottest in the Middle East, reaching 40 °C in the summer and up to 50 °C in Masirah.

Let’s look a little closer at living in Oman and what to expect from everyday life in this diverse nation.

The Best Reasons To Live In Oman

We’ll start by looking at why expats move to Oman.

Living costs and safety

Check out the direct living costs comparisons later on, but Oman is a low-cost place to live, considerably more affordable than the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The capital Muscat is ranked 108th out of 209 cities in the Mercer 2021 Cost of Living Survey, whereas neighbours Abu Dhabi and Dubai come in at 56th and 42nd, respectively.

Personal safety is also highly rated, with Muscat recognised as one of the top three cities in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for political stability and low crime rates.

Landscape and scenery

Much of the landscape in Oman is untouched and a heady mixture of beaches, mountains and desert. 

The Rub’ al Khali desert is five hours south of the capital, where you can race up 300-metre dunes, enjoy camel rides and camp under the desert stars.

The Al Hajar mountain ranges lie to the southwest, with canyons, mud houses, and caves to explore. 

If you’re fond of the ocean, take a trip to the Daymaniyat Islands, a marine reserve 20 kilometres off the coast, for snorkelling or diving among the turtles, rays and coral.

Convenient travel

One factor that brought Oman onto the international expat radar was the opening of Muscat International Airport.

Although relatively new, it was named the best Middle Eastern airport in the 2019 World Travel Awards. Flights to Heathrow take seven hours.

Economic diversity

Most Gulf state economies depend on oil and gas production  – and it’s still worth about 70 per cent of the government’s revenue in Oman.

However, the government is future-proofing the economy with diversification into tourism, logistics and manufacturing.

That opens up more varied roles in the job market and makes Oman more attractive.

Cultural freedom

One of the challenges for expats in many Muslim countries is that religious law can be much more restrictive than Western lifestyles.

Most people in Oman are Muslim, with around 13 per cent Hindi. Of that population, 75 per cent are Ibadi Muslims, the most tolerant Islamic sect.

Visas And Residency For UK Expats In Oman

UK citizens need a visa to travel to Oman, including a tourist visa for shorter-term trips.

The good news is that in June 2021, Oman announced a new long-term investment visa, offering renewable residency status for five to ten years. 

Therefore, expats can choose between multiple visa options, including investment permits, professional work visas and retirement visas.

While the new investment visa doesn’t launch until September 2021, it will grant applicants the right to relocate within six months.

Work visas are available, and the applicant must have a confirmed job offer or apply directly for a Ministry of Manpower labour permit. 

  • Work visa applicants must take up the post within three months of the issue date.
  • Permits run for up to two years from the date of entry.
  • Professional expats must be over 21 and under 60.
  • If you change jobs, expats must leave the country and reapply for a new permit with another employer.

The visa costs are payable in Omani Riyals, and the cost:

Visa TypeCost (OMR)Cost (£)
Work Visa – for contracted employmentSix OMR plus 10 OMR a day for delays to an extension application£11.30, plus £18.83 per day for delayed renewals
Employment Visa20 OMR, with fines of 50 OMR for each month of delayed renewal£37.66 plus £94.14 a month for delayed renewals.
Express Visa7 OMR£13.18
Family Visas – for foreign nationals joining a family member or spouse who is an Omani resident7 OMR £13.18
Investor Residence VisaTBCTBC
Multiple Entry Visas10 OMR£18.83
Student Visa – accompanied by a letter of invitation by a recognised educational institution7 OMR £13.18
Tourist Visa – valid for six months, covering a 30-day stay6 OMR£11.30

Visa costs and work entry requirements are relaxed, primarily because Oman is one of many Gulf states looking to retain professionals contributing to the local economy.

You can find more information about applying for an Omani work visa through the Royal Oman Police website.

For Oman citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, check out the Tier 1 Investor Visa.

With any international move, it’s worth visiting the area first to get a feel for the country.

Amenities and nearby facilities vary, although expats usually have an accommodation allowance from their sponsor, so rent costs aren’t much of a concern.

Here are some of the best places for UK expats to live in Oman.

  • Among the most popular areas is the upmarket coastal neighbourhood of Shatti Al Qurum. The homes are expensive but come aline with a thriving nightlife. The Royal Opera House and chic cafes line the busy streets alongside designer shops.
  • Al Azaiba is an up-and-coming area near the beach, with mainly villa properties. However, it is a distance from the nearest shops. Al Azaiba is excellent for families, with the American International School nearby.
  • Madinat Al Sultan Qaboos is a sought-after central Muscat district, with modern apartments, larger family villas, and traditional gated communities. There are lots of services, including a vet and the British School Muscat.
  • Al Qurum is a substantial suburb, offering houses, villas and apartments. The nearby Sabco Centre and Al Qurum Complex make it great for shopping, and the beach is a short walk. Al Qurum National Park is also a fabulous place to spend the day, with flower gardens, a theme park and a small lake.
  • Al Mouj used to be known as The Wave and is primarily home to expats. The gated community has a private beach, kids playgrounds, restaurants and a hotel.

Cost Of Living In Oman

Compared to Britain, living in Oman is cheap. The weekly shop is around 22 per cent less, and the supermarkets offer a wide range of fresh produce. 

As an oil-rich state, fuel prices are low – about 65 per cent cheaper than in the UK.

Restaurant prices are on average 76 per cent lower, but you’ll pay more for gourmet coffee and alcohol in a bar.

The below table shows a range of everyday living costs and the UK comparison.

ExpenseOman Average (OMR)Oman Average (£)UK Average (£)
Monthly rent – one-bed city centre apartment220 OMR£414£750
Monthly rent – three-bed non-central home260 OMR£489£965
Nursery fees per month66 OMR£124£931
International school fees per year2,490 OMR£4,680£13,157
Monthly gym membership22 OMR£40£31
Utilities per month26 OMR£48£154
Broadband per month30 OMR£56£31
Monthly public transport pass15 OMR£28£65
Bottle of imported beer3.57 OMR£6.71£1.92
Loaf of bread0.40 OMR£0.76£0.98
Cup of coffee1.68 OMR£3.15£2.76
Meal for two10 OMR£18.79£50

Getting Around In Oman

Oman has several transport options, including affordable and reliable public transport.

If you decide to drive, you can use a UK licence only if valid for at least a year. Newer drivers have to take a test for an Omani driving permit.

Buses link every part of Oman, from Sohar, a port town up in the north, to Salalah 620 miles to the south. Mwasalat, the government-owned provider, runs the buses.

You can opt for taxis and ride-hailing apps for shorter trips, but it’s best to negotiate a price with the driver before they set off.

Muscat’s taxi fares have risen steeply, so drivers will often ask whether you prefer a fixed-rate or the metered fare. The difference in cost can be significant.

There are also shared taxis or baiza small buses – they don’t have the air-con of the larger coaches, but they are cheaper.

The orange and white wilayat taxis are privately owned and don’t have meters. So you’ll want to agree on a price in advance if you hail one of these cabs.

Most cabbies will stop along the way and let other people in to share with you. That’s normal, so don’t be offended if someone else hails down a cab you’re already travelling in.

Other transport options include:

  • Ferry services, connecting the multiple islands and Musandam up in the far north. In addition, you can travel to Diba or Masirah Island and bring your car with you.
  • Rental cars are openly available. You drive on the right and will need a valid British or Omani license. However, be careful on the road as the wadis and desert regions are home to camels and donkeys, which pay no attention to the rule of the road.
  • Oman Air and a budget option offer short-haul trips between Muscat and Salalah, which cost about 26 OMR (£72) one-way during the high season.

Muscat International Airport is the primary terminal, but you can also travel in or out of Salalah International or Khasab Airport.

Finding Work As An Expat In Oman

Securing work in Oman is much easier before you travel – particularly given the extra hoops to jump through without an Omani sponsor.

There are high demands for skilled expats, but you can’t work on a visitor visa, so it’s not wise to chance your arm and hope you find work.

It’s also better to have a job confirmed since a sponsor will be familiar with the visa process, help you find a home, and go out of their way to ensure you settle in.

The primary industries in Oman are:

  • Oil and gas production refining and production
  • Construction, steel, cement and chemicals.
  • Trade industries and commerce.

The Omani government is pouring investment into diversification as oil reserves drop, and there are nationwide business incentives, including free trade zones.

There aren’t any recruitment agencies in Oman, so the best way to find work is through an international agency specialising in expat employment.

Given the regulations on Omanisation, lower-skilled jobs will always go to a local, so you’ll need a degree, professional qualification or skill set to land yourself a reasonable income.

You can search for vacancies through web portals OpenSooqBaytMonster GulfGoToGulf and Naukri Gulf.

Education In Oman For Expat Families

Good schooling is essential for expats with kids and something you’ll need to budget for in Oman since foreign national children attend a private school – primarily international schools that follow the US or UK curriculums.

There is a quirk in that you’ll need to verify any education certificates.

That applies to professional qualifications you’re using for a job application and certificates to demonstrate capabilities achieved by children.

You can have a UK document legalised in the UK at the cost of £30 a copy, plus postage, through The Legislation Office.

Schools in Oman work on a system called six-three-three. That means:

  • Primary education runs for six years from age six – but is not compulsory.
  • Preparatory education lasts for three.
  • Secondary education runs for a further three years.

Education in Oman is disparate. No law says children need to go to school, although around 76 per cent of children now enrol.

Prep schools follow after the primary, equivalent to first grade.

There are several popular expat schools, including:

  • The International School of Oman
  • The American International School of Muscat
  • The British International School

Expats can look for the nearest Omani international schools through the International Schools Database.

Culture And Laws In Oman

While Oman is more liberal than many Arabic countries, respecting the culture is still essential.

Appropriate dress

Women must cover their arms and shoulders. Most people wear trousers, but a dress or skirt needs to reach below the knee. 

  • Most women in Oman carry shawls or scarves to cover their hair, as required in more conservative areas.
  • In terms of clothing style, especially in the rural regions, it’s wise to err on the conservative side.
  • Regular clothes in the UK, such as combat trousers, ripped jeans, controversial slogans or piercings, don’t tend to go down well.

However, you can dress however you wish in the tourist areas and gated communities, although women should only wear bikinis or scant clothing on the beach or at the pool.

Omani customs

As with much of the Gulf, raising your voice or arguing in public is considered offensive. 

This rule is vital when driving, as even in the chaos of Muscat traffic, it’s dangerous to wave your hand in frustration as the police could interpret the signal the wrong way.

Omani social norms

Omanis use traditional Arabic greetings, which can seem elaborate for British expats.

Men and women relatives and close friends kiss on the opposite cheek, although men opt for a handshake; otherwise, men and women do not touch physically, and you should never offer your hand to anyone unless they offer first.

Omanis are hospitable, and tour hosts often invite guests to their homes for coffee and eat dates. Expats asked for dinner should take a gift, usually chocolates.

Always take your shoes off when visiting a home in Oman.

It’s also worth knowing that you should accept any food or drink offered, whether you like it or not. Refusing is considered rude.

Making friends in Oman

Steer clear of taboo conversation topics, but don’t be surprised if Omanis ask you personal questions about your kids, religion or age.

  • Being asked your age might be a little odd in the UK, but it’s a typical question to get to know you better.
  • Omani people are notably proud of their nation, so avoid anything that they could construe as criticism. It’s also essential never to make any negative comments about the Islamic faith.
  • If you don’t follow a religion, it is often easiest to say that you are Christian. Omanis find it difficult to accept any form of agnosticism or atheism.

Politics is also worth avoiding; any criticism of the Sultan could land an expat in hot water.

Advice for female expats in Oman

The rules around travel and dress for women in Oman are far more progressive than in many Arabic states, although conservative dress codes still apply.

Some people do find western women on their own a novelty.

This attitude can make travelling alone a little isolating since Omani men will almost always ignore solo women intentionally, but it’s out of respect, nothing more.

Expat Guide To Living In Oman FAQ

Is Oman a safe place for British expats to Live?

Yes, Oman is a low crime country. Tourists are welcome, people are amicable, and crime rates are low. 
The only criminal activity tends to be petty street theft, but serious crime is unusual. The Royal Oman Police are honest, helpful, and notoriously efficient.
Driving can be stressful in Muscat due to the number of vehicles on the road but provided you avoid road rage incidents; it’s rarely dangerous.

What language do people speak in Oman?

The primary Omani language is Arabic, and it’s worth learning at least a little of the lingo to get around and make friends. 
However, nearly everybody speaks English, and it’s taught at school from primary age.
Road signs in Oman show both Arabic and English, and there are a few other languages in some regions, such as Urdu, Balochi and Indian dialects.

Can British expats buy property in Oman?

Expats can buy properties in Oman, but only in selected areas. 
Seek local advice before investing since there are several regulations to work around.
British nationals can purchase:
1. Al Mouj and Muscat Hills homes
2. Properties in the Shangri-La Al Jissah development
3. Homes in Jebel Sifah and Muscat Bay

How easy is it to get an Omani Resident’s Visa?

Visa applications for Oman are cheap and relatively straightforward. However, if you intend to work in the country, you’ll usually need a job offer in advance, and then your employer will help with the work permit process.
The employer acts as your sponsor and will organise your labour permit.

How long does it take to get to Oman From the UK?

You can fly to Muscat in just over seven hours from the UK.
Most UK flights to Muscat depart from Heathrow, and you can book flights with British Airways, Etihad, Turkish Airlines and Gulf Air, among others.

Middle East Guides

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