Muscat, Oman Report of what it's like to live there - 02/08/18
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?
Prior posts include Tegucigalpa and Amman.
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?
Home is the east coast of the US. It takes about 24 hours total travel time. The most common route is through Frankfurt and then on to major cities in the US. There is also a route through London on British Airways (not as commonly used) and Vienna. Oman Air leaves a lot to be desired (old and dirty planes with few amenities); I'd use other code-share airlines where possible.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been here for 1.5 years of a 3 year tour.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is pretty good and everyone seems happy. The Middle East is known for "over housing" in terms of size because that is just how homes are built out here. They are either shoeboxes or palatial. The smallest house we have has 3 bedrooms. I find landlords to not be incredibly responsive and our FAC team picks up a lot of the stuff that isn't done properly and I have been very happy with the job they do. The most common issues are water-related like leaks (especially the split-pack AC units) and some minor electrical.
The US embassy has 2 compounds that only house Americans (one has 6 homes and the other has 8). These are best for families with young children.They are older and could use some updating but they are very generous in size.
Another main area is known as MQ. This is a mix of townhomes, apartments, and a few government owned villas. The advantage to living in MQ is you can walk to the American club and a large shopping complex with coffee shops, ice cream, several restaurants and the main grocery store many of us use (sort of akin to Whole Foods - expensive but good quality imports). They are building some sort of new shopping complex there as well but no clue when that will be done or what it will house. MQ is where most singletons live in the apartments (they are modern and new and very spacious).
There are a few other neighborhoods with various housing options - mostly for families with children. And most of those are compounds living amongst other expats.
All housing comes with a 5-15 minute commute to work. The American School is also only about a 15 commute. Traffic here is pretty non-existent and when there is some it's really not that bad.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The majority of our money is spent on food. You will be blown away by how expensive things are here and our COLA just went down! I bought a basket of goods one time (basic items like chicken, asparagus, eggs, milk, apples, cookies) and had family back home price it out. They came up with $13 whereas it cost me $32 here. Oman doesn't really produce anything (potatoes, cucumber, chickens, eggs, milk are the main Omani products I buy) so it all has to be imported. And forget about eating out. A meal for 3 at Slider Station (no alcohol) can run you about $70.
The closest store that many use is Al Fair (think smaller version of Whole Foods). But it's expensive. I mostly use this for fresh products. And they have a pork room ($20 for a packet of Oscar Meyer bacon). There is also Sultan Center which is like a higher scale Walmart/Target hybrid but has tons of imported goods. They have a very sizeable organic/gluten free section as well. Most imported products are from the UK and the US. Then there are the sort of big-box/Walmart stores like LuLu and Carrefour. I usually will buy cleaning supplies and some basic items there. Other than that Amazon all day long! People also ship in from Walmart and Target.
Bottom line is you can find just about anything but you will pay dearly for it at the register.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I wish I had shipped a lot more paper products and cleaning supplies. We have APO so liquid is not limited but it sure is a jerky move to have your liquids leak all over other peoples packages. I also would have shipped things like shave gel and general stuff that won't ship to APO or diplomatic pouch. And finally, specific items for cooking like pre-prepared spice packets. At the end of the day, though, we can order in just about anything.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
EXPENSIVE! There are a few delivery services with a little bit of everything. You have fast-food joints like McDonalds, KFC, Texas Chicken, Subway, Burger King, Papa Johns and Pizza Hut to name a few. There are a few chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday and Chilis. One thing that has really popped up lately are "gourmet" burger joints. They aren't too bad and some reasonably priced ($5 burger is doable). A Five Guys just opened and I don't know the US prices but for 2 adults and 2 kids we spent $55! There are tons of malls here and they all have food courts.
Alcohol. The Embassy has a Tea Room where you can buy duty free booze if you join the MEA (which basically everyone does as this allows access to the American Club as well). Other than that you can only get alcohol at the hotels in town (oh and the nightclubs if that's your thing). So you can have a glass of wine with your dinner at the Sheraton but it'll cost you an arm and a leg. But the hotel restaurants are pretty good for a nice dinner out.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants are the main problem. There are about 3-4 different types and they routinely come at certain times of the year. I wouldn't call them infestations but they can be a nuisance. The ant traps that FAC offers are useless. Ship some of those liquid Terra Baits. The mosquitoes come in the winter (December/January) and vary each year. This year has been somewhat bad. Just keep doors and screens closed.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have APO and pouch. APO is about 10 days on average to receive packages. The pouch can take up to a month sometimes. Note that our APO packages arrive DESTROYED. Basically every package you get will be smooshed and mangled. So delicate items should ship through the pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
This can be a potentially nightmarish situation so be forewarned. Basically there is not enough supply to meet demand within the embassy community. If you want the easy situation of hiring from a current US embassy employee - you will have to likely hire remotely via Skype and 4-6 months prior to arriving to post. Use the newsletter and word of mouth to find someone. The visa has to be renewed every 2 years and runs roughly $500. You also have to pay homeward passage every 2 years. Health insurance is about $475 annually. Most nannies are live-in and the majority are from the Philippines with some hailing from Sri Lanka. The bare minimum salary set by the embassy is $416/month. The average runs more in the area of $475- $575/month for F/T.
If you find yourself without a nanny already hired prior to coming to post - and both parents are working or you are a single parent - good luck with that. Some people have tried to do a "nanny share" but it's incredibly difficult logistically speaking. It takes about 2-3 months to bring someone new into the diplomatic community (mostly due to Omani gov processing time) and if they currently have an Omani sponsor expect that they will want a "release payment" from their current sponsor which can run in the area of $2400! I don't think this is legal so I chose to not partake in that practice - but be forewarned.
There are a few folks who have someone clean P/T like a day or two a week. I think the going rate is $25 for 4 hours.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a very small but well-equipped gym in the basement. There are several CrossFit places in town. And there is a Gold's Gym in one of the malls. I think they are pretty expensive.
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?
Yes they are to both. Plenty of ATMS around. Omanis LOVE their debit cards - I rarely see people use cash anywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Sorry I don't know specifics but I know quite a few people attend services to include Christian and non-denominational. They mostly are groups of expats.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. Pretty much everyone speaks English. Oman is only made up of about 50% Omanis and the rest are all expats (the majority being from India and Bangladesh working here as laborers).
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I'd think so yes. There are sidewalks but not always and curbs are high. Most malls do have elevators or escalators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is some sort of local bus but probably difficult to figure out and with limited routing. There are some shared micro buses - again who knows how they work. Taxis are plentiful but expensive! They launched a new app called Marhaba which you can use to order a taxi - I've heard mixed reviews. They are in a state of transition here with taxis going to a formal metered system. It's unevenly applied at this point. You can still negotiate but know you'll always pay the "foreigner" rate. A few people have private drivers they use who charge a discounted rate.
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?
American models are difficult to find parts for. If you only plan to ever drive in the city you don't need anything special. If you want to go out into the desert or the wadis I suggest something with 4WD and high clearance. The Mitsubishi Pajero is the most common vehicle here. I haven't heard of anyone's car being broken into. This country is super safe. But overall I'd say an all-around vehicle with 4WD would be your best bet. And it will get dinged up here. Omanis don't seem to care about external car care - they will throw their door into your car without a second thought and keep on walking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There are 2 main carriers: Ooredoo and Omantel.
Ooredoo: you can buy a router for $50 on day 1 and it comes with a SIM card essentially. 75GB will run you about $60. This will not last a normal family longer than 2 weeks so it's a short-term solution IMO. They currently do not offer unlimited data plans.
Omantel: This is hard wired by a tech that comes out to your house. The US embassy IRM recently made a deal with them to help employees get this set up quickly versus having to wait the 6 weeks for your MFA card. I don't know how well that program is working but supposedly it could be set up within 1-2 weeks of arrival.
I don't know the speeds and all that jazz. I guess fiber-optic is being installed in some neighborhoods. I find the speed of my Omantel internet to be sufficient with several family members able to watch shows online at the same time, etc.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Same 2 companies as the internet (Ooredoo and Omantel). Bring an unlocked phone and you will be up and running from day 1. The main annoyance is without a local bank account you can't be billed so you will have to haul yourself to the mall every month to re-up your plan. I have Omantel and pay $26 for 6GB of data which lasts me a month just fine as long as I supplement with my wifi when at home.
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?
I don't have pets so I don't know. A few people have dogs and I haven't heard anything negative. Sultan Center just opened up a massive pet store upstairs - you can find all of the things you need for your pet at various stores. I guess the main consideration would be the heat for your dog.
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?
There is no bi-lateral work agreement. The recent lifting of the hiring freeze has been fantastic for EFMs. I think there are a sufficient number of jobs for those who want to work. It may not be your "dream job" or in the area you are used to working. But if you want to fill your time and earn some extra cash you should be able to get something.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It's business casual. It really depends on your job! The Omani women mostly wear abayas and are covered and the men wear the traditional dishdasha. Within the expat community you don't have to worry too much; but if you go outside of that bubble women should cover their legs, chest and shoulders.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nope, none. It's amazing how incredibly safe Oman is...it's one of the great advantages of this post.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No health concerns really. Our embassy medical unit is very nice and helps with local economy referrals when needed. The local healthcare, though, is only sufficient for basic stuff. If you have something requiring a bit more expertise then I'd push for an evacuation.
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?
I think it's fine. We only have a few days each year where there is some dust/sand.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nothing really. But a lot of the children seem to suffer from heat rash or prickly heat in the summers. It's an easy fix with some hygiene fixes and powder.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Nope. Although the morbidly hot and humid summers can make you feel angry.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
OMG summer is HELL. Here's what happens. Life is good here in the winter (late October-March). It is gorgeous! No humidity, average temps in the 70s (the coldest my car has registered was 62 one morning), outdoor life is abundant. It makes you forget what summer is like and you feel like "I got this."
And then summer hits. And you hate your life. We are talking 122 and 100% humidity. It's pure misery from May-August. This whole line people give of "it's no big deal b/c you go from A/C to A/C" is absurd It's still hot and you still have to walk outside to get to your car. A lot of EFMs leave post with the kids during this time which I find ironic as this is a "family post" but I'm not sure how that can be said if you are seeing families separated for 4 months every year due to extreme weather.
Bottom line is that the summers are no joke. Towards the end of it you really question your ability to serve at this post. And then winter rolls around again and you forget all about it. Rinse and repeat.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
This is one of the great aspects of this post. About 99% of Embassy kids attend TAISM which is an American curriculum with a truly international population. Literally. There is no local population mafia. The teachers hail from all over with many being American and Australian. We LOVE the school.
We've never gone to school in Virginia so I can't compare the rigor of the academics but I feel it's maybe slightly above the average US school. There are plenty of extracurricular activities like art, music, band, foreign language, etc. I think the sports are sufficient enough. We haven't had any issues with bullying which seems rampant these days everywhere else. I think the administration is good and the teachers are talented and really seem to care and lover their jobs. I don't love the prolific use of iPads and such in the classrooms but that seems to be the way the world in general is going so it's a losing battle to right.
The physical campus is beautiful and large. The swimming pools, pitch, playgrounds, etc are really nice. They monitor the outdoor play time of the kids during the hottest months and make them stay inside when it's too dangerous for them to be out in the heat.
There is a British School, an American British School, and a French School at post as well.
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?
Yes but from what I've heard they are almost prohibitively expensive. But I have no experience. There is a Montessori school and a place called Oasis that some people use.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes and no. Most are offered through TAISM. There are competitive soccer leagues (you have to try out). We found an informal field hockey program that has been great. But sadly there are no little league or rec basketball programs.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
See previous question. It's large but forget any expectation of that meaning you can have a robust social life. The various communities tend to be very insular. I'd say morale is medium here...people love it or hate it. The families seem to enjoy it the most. The single folks and couples without children not so much.
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 are a lot of play dates and house parties for the most part. There are quite a few nightclubs and lounges if that is your thing. This is a "make our own fun" kind of place and you do have to work pretty hard to plug yourself into a social scene. There is also an InterNations group here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For families this is fantastic! There are lots of other families to do things with. The couples without children don't seem very enthusiastic For single people it depends on what you are looking for. For men as it often is - their dating life will be prolific. Not the case for women. If you are looking for people to camp or go to the beach with, there are plenty of opportunities but again you have to work for them. Overall Oman is pretty boring and things get old fast. Muscat is very "small town" feeling and you will run into the exact same people over and over. It's a bit like Groundhog Day here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I wouldn't think so. It's not acceptable in this culture. But that said, there seems to be an underground scene.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not for us Americans. The Indian and Bangladeshi laborers are treated pretty horribly. I have watched Omanis at the grocery store shove these folks aside while waiting in the checkout line - literally insisting they give up their spot towards the front of the line versus waiting back 10 people. It's awful. There are regular gatherings of Indians next door at the Indian embassy who are there to report they haven't been paid their wages in many many months. They live in labor camps with 40 men sleeping side by side on the floor.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It's been fun going hiking during the winter. The beaches are really nice. Camping is a regular activity. The US embassy CLO is great and has organized some really nice day and overnight outings. My advice is to slowly get out and explore. If you try and hit everything all at once you will run out of places to visit and see within your first year
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not really - during the winter just beach, camp and hike.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
I wouldn't say so. The souq is filled with a lot crap that isn't even made here. If you want to grow your Persian rug collection you can do that at some local carpet auctions. Otherwise some tapestries are available but that's about it.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There is virtually no crime and it's super safe. I say this is the easiest place to live. It's easy to get from point A to B, housing is nice and ample, the US embassy is nice, the school is nice. It's a very chill and relaxing place to call home.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How boring it would be. There isn't much culture in the way of museums, shows, performances, etc. I also wasn't prepared for the summer.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
This is a tough one. Mostly yes. I think Muscat is good at certain times in your life. If you have school-aged children and want a nice safe place for them to lay their heads for a few years - then yes! But if you are looking for somewhere with more of a buzz and more going on - then no. This post fit our family right now.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Every last piece of winter clothing you may own!
4. But don't forget your:
Your outdoor gear: camping gear, bikes, beach gear, sunscreen, etc.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
Families with young children - bid this post! It's a lovely medium sized mission that is well-run for the most part. In spite of the awful summer it's still a really great place to live overall. Anyone else who don't want to die of boredom - really think it through and weigh it against your other options. And anyone who can't handle extreme heat you really shouldn't come here. But overall I'd give this post a solid 7/10.