Muscat, Oman Report of what it's like to live there - 06/07/12

Personal Experiences from Muscat, Oman

Muscat, Oman 06/07/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Djibouti, Ljubljana.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Muscat is 20 hours from Washington, DC including connections through Germany.

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3. How long have you lived here?

9 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Department of State.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There is about an even split between newer townhouses with small, paved yards and older single-family homes with larger yards. Also, some nice-sized apartments with good amenities.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are generally more costly than Washington D.C., but local preferences can be truly affordable. Regional produce in season and fish are the budget buys. American and British products are widely available, but tend to be costly.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Affordable good coffee, a gas barbeque grill.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Many of the largest U.S. chains are open here: KFC, McDonald's, Subway, Burger King, Hardee's, Dunkin' Donuts, Dominoes Pizza, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, TGI Friday's. In addition, there are lots of good Lebanese restaurants as well as shwarma stands or coffee shops for quick eats. The best thing I've had here is the fresh fish and seafood; the fishing industry is alive and well in Oman and it shows. I hear there is good Chinese food here, but I've yet to find it. If you want an alcoholic beverage with your meal, the restaurants associated with hotels are your best bet.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

I've seen gluten-free noodles at the grocery store as well as meat substitutes (smart dogs?), but haven't paid much attention.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Insects are not much of a problem. There are few mosquitoes and flies, but ants do invade the houses in an attempt to escape the heat of summer as the weather warms up.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use the APO and it takes about two weeks from DC.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is widely available, but the Omani labor laws require sponsorship that can make hiring a long, tough process. Better to hire from someone leaving, if you can manage it.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. The embassy has a modest gym, the Diplomatic Club has a nice set of machines and a few of the hotels have good workout facilities which one can join for a fee.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Safe and available.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, but I don't know specifics.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We have only AFN at home and rent the box for $5/month. I'm sure others are available.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, though courtesy phrases are always appreciated.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Muscat is a driver's town, so getting around is probably tough. Sidewalks are not consistent, distance between attractions is far, and traffic is erratic.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No trains, few buses. Taxis abound and are safe. It's better to negotiate your rate for the trip before getting in the cab, but getting truly gouged is rare.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Roads are great here and most brands have a dealership, so really anything goes. That said, off-roading is a blast here and there appears to be quite a love for Jeep Wranglers (though I'd get something with better A/C. One word of caution... Omani drivers go FAST outside of town, so the collisions tend to be very serious.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

US$25/month for ADSL, but the line quality is poor, so it's pretty slow. Better plans are available and Omantel is reported to be installing fiber optic cable, which would be fantastic.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell phones are good and cheap. Pre-paid is a common option, but smartphones with data plans are becoming prominent.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are a couple decent vets available and I heard of a kennel, though most families ask someone to take in a pet during vacations.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Working on the local economy is not available to embassy family members, but TAISM has limited opportunities, as does the embassy. Other expats have good job opportunities with oil companies, consulting firms, construction firms, etc.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

A little less formal than Europe, but not much American-casual is seen at work. Legs and shoulders usually remain covered by all but the children, except during athletic activities.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Low security concerns, but complacency could become a problem, as crimes of opportunity (break-ins, yard thefts) are reported to be rising.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

No real health concerns, though a persistent "Muscat Cough" made the rounds during the dusty season. Medical care is moderately good, though serious cases tend to be sent to London or the U.S.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Great air quality allows for blue skies most days. Occasional dust storms can be unhealthy, but they doesn't last.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winter is fantastic, with dry days in the 80F range for five months. Summer, May-September, can get brutally hot -- 110-125F -- and is also high humidity.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Schools are great here, but class size seems to disappoint high-school students. Our oldest is about to turn four and will starts at TAISM next year. The school has received rave reviews from families we know and the staff and facilities appear to be excellent. We also know families with kids who attend the American British Academy to pursue an IB education and others who went to the French school. All were pleased.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

No real experience, but I would be surprised if TAISM doesn't have a program for special-needs kids.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Preschools are fine, but not great unless you are paying big $$ to go to TAISM. We were hoping for socialization, so we're not disappointed, but the preschools we visited seem to be just a step above glorified daycare. Some parents have nannies to help at home instead; a few go it alone.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, there are some, but not unlimited. TAISM offers learn-to-swim classes for students and school sports, an Arenal-branded Soccer Club opened, there is a Rugby club at the British Academy and there's also an ice skating rink I just became aware of.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Home entertaining and BBQs are pretty common and eating out is always an option. Alcohol is expensive here, so the bars are a bit quiet. Lots of organized activities tend to get modest turnout, but a good number of people hunker-down with the family.

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3. Morale among expats:

Good, but some get stir-crazy as the summer grinds on.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Great for families and couples, but singles might find it a bit slow.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I've not really heard, but my guess would be it's better than most of the region.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Nothing overt or pronounced, but bias does exist. Religions are practiced openly here.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Camping on the beach, driving off-road, SCUBA at the Dimaniyat Islands, eating the fresh seafood.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Dhow trips, fishing, snorkel/SCUBA, camping, off-roading, regional travel, occasional concerts, the new opera house brings in world-class performances.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Frankincense, khanjar knives, silver crafts.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Winter weather is fabulous for five or six months, with lots of opportunities to camp, bike, or generally enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Muscat is modern, but has maintained its charm and history in a way many oil-rich areas have not been able to. National Geographic's "Traveler" magazine called Oman one of 2012's best tourist destinations! Omani culture is warm and tolerant.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, but you wouldn't get out of the house much.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Definitely! Oman is an oasis of beauty and I'm enjoying myself thoroughly.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Ideas about the region, Rosetta Stone, cold-weather gear.

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3. But don't forget your:

VPN, sunscreen, SCUBA gear.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?


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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I love you for providing this important and valuable service. I've used it a ton as I try to discover background information on my possible posts. It is a quick and frank assessment from people who belong to our community. Thank you!

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