Muscat, Oman Report of what it's like to live there - 10/25/14
Personal Experiences from Muscat, Oman
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. We have lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei; and Baghdad, Iraq.
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?
From the U.S. to Oman the trip is a minimum of 25 hours with any combo of available connections through Dubai, London, Frankfurt, or Amsterdam. Most trips to or from the U.S. have at least two connections.
3. How long have you lived here?
Two years in on a three year assignment.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Embassy employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses tend to be large and multiple stories. Most housing is in three main areas all 5-10 minutes from the Embassy and 20 minutes from the American school. Some houses have strange layouts, but all are more than large enough. The apartments are some of the best housing in the pool, but are only large enough for singles and couples. A few of the housing areas and apartment buildings have pools and a small rec room. Yards are non-existent, but some areas have enclosed driveways for children to play. Maintenance on the housing varies depending on the landlord and storage areas/closets can be limited.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Things tend to be a bit pricey. Everything is imported so that keeps prices higher. On the bright side, just about everything is available, if you search and pay the imported price.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Bring camping, hiking, outdoor gear. Gas BBQs are expensive for a decent one. Bring one if you can.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Muscat is full of Western chains and local favorites. We have McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Domino's, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Starbucks, Coldstone, Costa Coffee, Chili's, TGI Friday's, and more. Most have a more limited menu, but the food is the same and most of the fast food places will deliver. Everything here tends to be pricey and the restaurants are no different. For example, items in the U.S. that would be on a dollar menu are on the Rial menu. One Rial equals US$2.60. There are some very good local places that serve Indian and more traditional foods that are a little cheaper and really good.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No major pests.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Post has both an APO and pouch address.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Oman has very strict labor laws regarding expat labor. Once a work contract expires or the employer leaves Oman, the domestic employee is supposed to leave as well and can't return for two years. As a result, there aren't tons of people looking for work, but they are out there. Additionally, these laws are evolving and seem to change weekly at this point. I am not sure on cost, but many people have nannies and help, so I would think it is reasonable.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a decent gym for employees to use. There are also memberships available through some of the large hotels here to use their gyms and pools. There are a few kickboxing/MMA gyms, one cross fit box, yoga studios, a few regular gyms, and a boot camp on the beach group.
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?
Most major restaurants and stores accept credit cards. We have had no problems. ATMs are everywhere and run by the major banks in country. Again, no problems.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are Catholic, Episcopal, and Mormon services every week.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. All major signs are in both English and Arabic and most store employees speak both as well. If you travel to some of the smaller towns, knowing basic Arabic might be helpful.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Oman is not handicap friendly at all. Even one of the hospitals had steps to get in the from door.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The only viable means of transportation other than a personal vehicle would be a taxi. They are safe, but currently not metered. All trips must be negotiated and the cab drivers tend to charge too much.
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?
Any type of vehicle, even American makes are fine here. The roads are well maintained and maintenance is easy to find. If you would like to do some of the more outdoorsy stuff, a 4-wheel drive is the way to go. There are always cars for sale, so no need to bring with you necessarily.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Prices tend to be on par with the States but the service is spotty depending on the neighborhood and getting technical help takes patience.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you have an unlocked phone, getting a sim card is no problem. It can be a process, but once it is done, it works well. There are both pre-paid and post paid options and only two major carriers. Prices are on par with the States if not slightly cheaper.
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?
For people associated with the Embassy, spouses can only work for the Embassy or TAISM. A few people have home-based businesses, but Omani law prohibits diplomat spouses from starting businesses or working on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The schools would most likely have the most volunteer opportunities with all the events they organize throughout the year. Volunteering in the local community can be a challenge just do to the lack of charity organizations.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Within the Embassy, typical American workplace attire of pants with blouses/shirts, dresses, or suits are acceptable. For meetings with local contacts, suits are more appropriate. Dress in public is conservative. Capri pants, knee length skirts, or long pants with a shoulder covering top for women and long shorts or pants for men. Outside of Muscat ladies' tops should be a little more conservative with 3/4 length sleeves.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty crime and crimes of opportunity are on the rise. Also, while Oman is stable, there are plenty of concerns in the region and with neighboring countries.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No major health concerns. The hospitals have Western trained doctors and can handle most medical emergencies. Dental, eye, and medical clinics are also staffed by western trained doctors and provide good care. Everyone speaks good English.
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?
The air is very clean. Most days are sunshine and blue skies. Occasionally, sand will hang in the air, but nothing near as bad as Iraq.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The weather is pretty stable so seasonal allergies don't seem to be a huge issue. People with food allergies will have a harder time finding specialty products if they need them. More things are becoming available, but there is still a very limited variety.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
From late November-March the weather tends to mimic San Diego. March-April it gets warmer with occasional rains that cause severe flooding. May-October temperatures routinely reach 110+ F degrees with a lot of humidity. Many families leave during the really hot summer months.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Children from the Embassy currently attend both the American School (TAISM) and the American British Academy (ABA). Parents and students seem to really like both schools and the facilities for each are state-of-the-art. TAISM follows an American curriculum, while ABA follows an British system and offers the IB program.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Both TAISM and ABA offer extracurricular sports for the students.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are quite a few Brits in country with various oil firms and the Embassy has plenty of people. Overall, life here is easy once you get the hang of it and most people stay many years.
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?
People host dinner parties or game nights in their homes.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Muscat is good place for families and couples. I think for a single it might be a little tougher due to societally restrictions on mingling with people of the opposite sex or dating. There are very few bars and clubs, so meeting someone can be a bit of a challenge. That being said, there have been many singles at post and most seem to enjoy it.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think this would be a very difficult place for gays or lesbians.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Omanis in general are very tolerant of other religions and women have many more freedoms here than other Muslim countries. But, there are still many limitations on appropriate dress for women.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I really enjoyed the attending the camel races and many of the wadi hikes. Snorkeling is also spectacular and free if you have your own equipment. Anyone who has any amount of time in country also needs to do a desert dune crossing trip and camp along the beach as well as in the interior. Such a great experience.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The secluded coves along the coast provide for some great camping and snorkeling. Just take your gear. The fish just a few feet from the shore are the size you usually see when out diving and are just beautiful.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Kajars (silver knives), frankincense, bedoiun jewelry/items, and travel.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Oman's landscape is beautiful and great for hiking, camping, rock climbing, sailing, diving, snorkeling, and swimming. Getting around is easy with a vehicle and most outdoor locations and activities are free. There is an adventure for every level of fitness.
10. Can you save money?
This depends on your family size and what you are willing to do without. Almost everything is here, but you might have to pay for it.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Oman runs at its own pace. Despite a very modern look and feel, this is not Dubai and even the simplest things can take a lot of effort to accomplish. Things will get done, but can take a very long time.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. Patience and figuring out the system (or lack there of) makes everything go a little smoother.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Cold weather clothing. Bring a few sweaters for the "winter" months or trips out of country but you won't need them here.
4. But don't forget your:
Camera, sense of humor, sense of adventure, and outdoor equipment.