Muscat, Oman Report of what it's like to live there - 08/28/17
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?
Canada, Cameroon, South Africa, Bulgaria and now here.
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?
Washington DC. A short flight Oman-UAE or Oman-Qatar and then a straight shot to DC. The short flight is about an hour and then the long one is between 14-16 hours, depending on your connection. Total travel time is about 22 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
Two years. This is a three-year post for us.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic mission. My husband is a Foreign Service Employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We were very lucky and for a family of two got this huge 3 bed, 5 bath house, with live-in maid's quarters. We have a covered parking space in our yard as well, not a garage per se. We have got a big yard with some grassy area and a covered patio. If you have a bigger family, you will most likely get a house. All houses are very huge and spacious out here. Usually 2-3 level houses with maid's quarters and some sort of a yard. Many couples get apartments as well. All of them are new construction, so they are very fresh and clean, and relatively big. Apartments do not have garages, just assigned parking spaces. The downside to all of the housing is that they are not quality construction, so issues are not uncommon, like mold, a pipe burst and flooded our bedroom recently and another house had an electrical fire.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most things you can think of are available- chicken, beef, lamb(there is even "pork rooms" in some of the grocery stores but pork is extremely expensive $20 for a pack of bacon for example, but it is available); cheese (parmesan, cheddar, feta, cottage, cream). Some American brands of food are available but can be pricey (Fritos chips; Bob's Red Mill Oats; Hershey's chocolate and chips; Brownie and Pancake mixes and maple syrup; Tex-Mex stuff like taco seasoning; tortillas, salsa etc are all available but are higher priced). There is barely any organic food, so you can scratch that off your list. There is a lot of locally grown fruits and veggies, which are very cheap but not always the greatest flavor and quality. You have to follow what is in season and buy that cheaply. There are many imported fruits and veggies, but again very pricey (e.g. sweet potatoes imported from the USA- about 4 OMR/bag= $12) Around Thanksgiving there are whole frozen turkeys available for around $6/pound) and around Christmas there is ham in the "pork room" which will easily set you back $120. If you eat the food that locals eat it can be very cheap (meats, curries, a lot of rice). Grocery stores are always well stocked. Rarely have some items disappeared off the shelves for a couple of weeks, but then were back on.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many American restaurants are here, both fast food (Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, Subway, Texas Chicken, Baskin Robbins, Domino's, Papa John's) and sit-down (Chili's, Macaroni Grill, TGI Friday's). Most fast-food places deliver. There is a few great local restaurants as well, also Iranian, Pakistani, Indian food. There are local cheap fast food options which are the shawarma shops (a bit like a meat-stuffed burrito). They are dirt-cheap and tasty.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not really. There is some mosquitoes in the summer, usually in the evening. Lizards frequent people's houses but are harmless and don't bother anyone at all. If you have a cat the amount of lizards decreases tremendously.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have an APO at the Embassy. Mail takes a couple of weeks on average to get here from the US and from here back to the US. I have also ordered some things through the local post office. The way it works here, is an Embassy employee goes and collects your mail from the local post office for you and delivers it to your office. They do make a lot of mistakes (my package sat in the local post office for three weeks once, without anybody notifying me) but the option to use it is there, so that is good if you need something from East Asia and they won't deliver to an APO address.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We don't have household help but most other families do. I hear the average cost is anywhere from $200-$800/month depending on the hours worked- live-in vs. visiting a couple of times a week. A rule that the local government has though, is that any family that has hired house help have to pay for their staff a homeward passage (flight ticket) to their home country once a year and provide them paid leave as well (this can get pricey!). The same goes if you would like to let go of your staff- you either have to find them further employment withing the Embassy community or by law you are required to pay for a one-way ticket to their home destination. This is all due to local laws being very strict on giving work visas- a work visa is only valid for as long as one has employment and the moment the house staff is let go they no longer have the right to be in the country and have to immediately depart and because you were the one "sponsoring" them to work, you are on the hook to pay for their ticket back.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are many gyms out in town which are pricey- min $100/month. We use the gym at the US embassy. It is relatively small in size, but has almost anything you might need (2 thread mills, 1 elliptical, 1 rowing machine, bench press, squat rack, bicep curl machine etc. etc.)
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?
Grocery stores and most restaurants have a credit card option. We use our credit cards at all grocery stores and have never had any issues. Our USAA card does not work on the machines where you pay your phone bill (weirdly enough you can only pay your bill using the machine and not with a representative) The machines do take cash though, you just have to have enough prepared in advance. Baskin Robbins also only takes cash. As far as ATMs we have found only 1 which will accept our USAA card. I am not familiar with any other bank's credit cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I have heard that there are some at the Catholic church and others.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You don't need it at all for daily life. Literally everybody speaks English everywhere. Muscat has a very large expat community (some claim that it is even more than the locals), so English is spoken everywhere in the capital. It is considered polite to be able to say things like Hello!; Goodbye! Thank you! and How are you? in Arabic, but it is absolutely fine if you don't know any. Leaving the capital is a different story. The farther you go out of town the more you need Arabic. In the little villages where you might be doing exploring or stopping by you would definitely need Arabic to ask for directions or something else.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think it would be pretty difficult as there is no ramps in most buildings. There is sidewalks in the street but people usually park on them, so they are not usable.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is close to no public transport in Muscat. They recently launched their very first bus line and you definitely do not want to use it. Drivers here are incredibly bad and dangerous. Even school bus drivers are extremely reckless on the road. You wouldn't want to ride in a bus or a taxi unless you really need to. Taxis are generally affordable. From one end of the city to the other they would charge you around $50 bucks. Haggling is a big thing here, so you always want to agree on the price before getting into the taxi.
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 car will do. There is a lot of exploring and camping out of the city and off-roading in the desert, so you could definitely benefit from having a 4-wheel drive. Otherwise roads in the city are great, so you don't need a high clearance vehicle for daily use.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There are only two companies that provide home internet (same two provide phone plans). Both have a relatively decent connection, but are expensive- we pay $120/month for home internet. Any video chat programs (skype, viber and many videos on youtube) are prohibited, so to use them you have to use a VPN which makes the connection much slower and choppy. Generally, everything goes smoothly with the home internet until something breaks. The local companies are horrible about making appointments to come out to your home and the same goes for the initial installation. Patience, patience, patience! It took 6 weeks for the initial installation of the home internet for us and then everything was fine and smooth for a year until something went wrong with the router and it took them 3 weeks to come out to the house and fix it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use a local provider- Omantel. Phone plans are expensive. For the most basic talk/text plan we pay $80/per phone per month!
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?
Animals do not need to be quarantined upon entry into the country, as long as all of their rabies, parvo and other shots are up to date, which is the very basic requirement to import a pet anyway. I have never heard of an animal being in such a poor condition that it needed to be quarantined. The way you import a pet into the country is: you contact the GSO office at the Embassy and provide them pictures/other proof that the pet has all required shots and vaccines for this country (a google search will tell you exactly what they are) and then they will assist you to obtain a local import permit for the pet, which you need to print and show upon your arrival at the airport. The process was generally very straightforward and easy.
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?
As far as I know, spouses are not allowed to work in the local economy due to being unable to obtain a working visa for outside of the Embassy. The only place where I have heard of employment opportunities was the American School TAISM and the British Academy. Otherwise, all employment would be within the embassy which is generally very small, so not many opportunities come up.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
"Days For Girls"- sewing feminine products which are then sent to Africa, also dog shelters.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The dress code is very conservative out in town. The rule for women is shoulders and knees covered at all times almost everywhere in the city. In some more expat-oriented neighborhoods you can get away with wearing a tank top and shorts or yoga pants, but if you want to be on the safe side, just avoid it. The embassy is business casual and the rule about the shoulders doesn't apply but still one should avoid wearing anything too short. If you want to travel out of town, the rules become even stricter. Generally a woman should try to avoid showing any skin- long shirts and pants, and at most a t-shirt, better long sleeve.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is an extremely safe city and has been so for the two years we have been here. The biggest danger, I would say, are the drivers on the road. As far as personal security-close to no concerns. I have walked to work at 6 a.m. and walked the dog at 10 p.m. and I have felt very safe, probably because you just don't see people in the streets here. Generally, people do not walk much due to the heat as well as the fact that they are a very car-based society. There has been unarmed break-ins in a few non-embassy houses that I have heard of but I would call this an incidence rather than normal.
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. Even though we are in the desert it is not too dusty and sand storms are not common. Humidity is extremely high for about 9 months of the year so trouble breathing is not uncommon, as well as anything like dehydration and fatigue due to the extreme heat in the summer. Hospitals are generally good and available. Doctors are usually expats. We have not had to undergo any medical procedures here except for minor things like blood work, flu etc.
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?
Humid, not too dusty. You don't see it daily in the air even though Oman just ranked pretty high on the scale for Countries with High Air Pollution. I don't think that it would be easy here for people with asthma.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
During the hot months, which are about half of the year (around 125F) you really don't want to do any activities outside, so you end up spending a lot of time in your home, which might lead to depression. Most spouses leave post with the children for the entire summer and Muscat gets very empty during that time. There is of course still some get-togethers and parties but isolation could definitely become an issue for some people.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is two seasons through out the year. What is considered 'winter' here is a mild warm weather of about 75F-85F, with lows of around 65F in the evenings. Winter lasts from October/November til about March/April. The rest of the year it is extremely hot and extremely humid. Temperatures are around 120F-125F in the summer and 100% humidity is not uncommon. Life can get pretty miserable here in the peak of summer. You can escape in the mountains though! There is camping at a very high elevation, so even in the summer, temperatures will be around 80F/day and 60F/night.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I know that people are pretty happy with the American School in Muscat TAISM and the British Academy as well. Unfortunately, I cannot personally give any more input on this.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Friend's kids take multiple musical instrument classes, like violin, piano and guitar. There is a lot of soccer here, as well as football, that kids can join.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge. Some say that there is more expats than locals. There is a lot of British and Irish people, Russians and many Eastern Europeans, as well as Indians, Pakistani, Jordanians and Filipinos. Generally, morale is good.
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?
There is a few clubs out in town. Only a few places are allowed to sell alcohol, mostly hotels and a few bars. There is a night scene big enough to give you choice but. There is a place which was originally created for the American Embassy Employees, but now they let other expats become members as well, called the Oasis Club. It has a medium-sized pool, a basketball hoop, a playground for kids with a big grassy area, serves food and there is a bar which serves alcohol. Many people hang out there on the weekend because you can let your kids run around while having a decent meal and a drink.They also hold a lot of organized events- Cinco De Mayo, St. Patrick's Day party, Christmas party etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is a great city for couples both with and without kids. There is a lot of kid events organized either by the Embassy, or the schools. There is an annual Fair that happens in two places in the city. Otherwise there is a lot of weekend activities, such as camping on the beach or in the mountains, exploring the old forts, off-roading/camping in the desert. As far as singles, it would be tougher for them in my opinion.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Absolutely not, at least not in any sort of an overt way. If you do not display it in any way, then there would be no issues, but here it is against the local religious views and I think LGBT expats would have a very hard time. It is not unheard of though.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Local women are usually stay-at home moms and don't work. In recent years there has been a hard effort on the part of the locals to employ more women and fight for equal rights for both genders. As far as the expat community is concerned, there is no prejudices or concerns.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Camping, Off-roading in the desert, travelling in Oman and to neighboring countries in the region, Europe and East Asia. Many people do a Nepal trek out of here, visit Zanzibar, the Philippines, Thailand and the Seychelles, or Jordan, Tel Aviv etc. There is a lot of convenient and cheap travel out of Oman.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Bahla Castle, Nizwa Fort, Turtle Resort, the Beehive Tombs, Dolphin Watching, Jebel Akhdar mountain (the highest mountain in the Arabian peninsula), Jebel Shams (The Green Mountain), the lush Salalah.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can buy a lot of perfumes, shawls, hand-made wooden jewelry boxes and stained glass lamps, Persian carpets/rugs (expensive), frankincense burners and scents.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great point of travel to other destinations. Very peaceful, quiet and safe city.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How horrible the drivers are!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, hair dryer.
4. But don't forget your:
Sun screen, mosquito spray, high quality sunglasses.