Muscat, Oman Report of what it's like to live there - 02/12/10

Personal Experiences from Muscat, Oman

Muscat, Oman 02/12/10

Background:

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

This was our third time living overseas.

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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?

DC to Muscat is loooong, even with the direct flights in economy. Best to stop off for a day or two in the EUR.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years 2007 thru 2009

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

Governmemt

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Large family homes and some apartments for single and couples. Our first year was a tough one, no apartments at all or none worth living in and you had single folks living in mansions. Landlords were not willing to fix problems. We knew of one family that had almost every ac unit in their house inoperable and the landlord still put up a fuss. Believe it took over 3 months to sort this out.

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

Another big disagreement with the last poster. Not sure where they shopped at but all the stores we shopped, groceries were sometimes 5 and 10 times as expensive compared to the States. Local produce if it wasn't damaged or had gone bad could be purchased a little cheaper but not by much. For example U.S. saltine crackers 9 bucks a box, U.S. Ice Cream more than that around 12 dollars, cheeses anywhere from 5 to 8 dollars for a small slab. Cleaning products, ouch!You could get another brand maybe from the GCC area but it did not do anywhere near what a U.S. or EUR cleaning product did. So you would end up using more of it and have your house smell like a hospital while leaving a film behind.

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

Clothes prices here are worse than EUR and the selection that is available and not too pricey will fall apart within a couple of washes. Shoes, well almost double from what you would pay in the States, unless you wear local sandals all of the time. Hygiene products, if they have that product here its 3 times as expensive. Razor blades you'll pay 5 times.

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

Some, the usual McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut but local swarmas are wonderful and cheaper than a Big Mac. Indian food here is absolutely wonderful but then when you have a major work force made up of Third Country Nationals your bound to have some of that country's flavor around.

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

Ants in the houses and mozzies during the winter at night. Flies in the winter too.

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Daily Life:

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

The Embassy has pouch and APO

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

available and reasonable

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

There is a small, cramped gym at the embassy but if your military you get a paid for membership to a five star hotel to use its facilities. Anybody else 1000 U.S. for the year. This was a major sticking point with the State or non mil people. As the military were getting hazard duty pay and extras like this, while the rest received nothing. COLA was/is horrible and there was/is no differential. This is where I disagree with the last poster and more to follow concerning moral.

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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?

Be careful one family used theirs at a local store and by the time they returned home a few hours later an email was waiting for them from their bank with a maxed out card all with purchases from the area where this store was located. I used one or two reliable machines and that was it. When making purchases the receipt will have your full card number on it,......its your call.

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

yes only at 2 official locations

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

local media does have papers in English but nothing bad ever happens here or at least I never read about it in the local papers.2 English speaking radio stations playing God awful music most of the timeThere are a couple of satellite packages for TV and run anywhere from 100 to 150 per month. The embassy rents AFN decoders or you can get your own.

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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?

You can get by without any Arabic within the city and most places but it is nice to know a few phrases and when used the Omanis appreciate it just like anyone would, knowing your making an effort. Most Omanis will switch to English if your struggling and knowing the Sinhalese would help as well, maybe more so that Arabic.

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

It's not setup for this but it is better than other places I've been to. No ramps or sidewalks though

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Transportation:

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

No trains, stay off the local buses, small vans that compete for NASCAR and James Bond awards. Taxis hit or miss. If you find one get his card and work hours and stick with him.

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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?

Again, I disagree with the last poster. There are tons of SUVs here and many were not just driven by expats. Omanis love their cars like we do in the States and will drive the biggest and baddest while living in tiny apartments. You'll see 3 or 5 cars in a driveway from a huge hummer to the fancy new BMW.Local prices are not great, some folks have gotten deals so can't really generalize across the board and say deals cannot be found. One coworker purchased a 15 year old SUV for nothing but it looked pretty bad. He wanted it to just to go to and from work and maybe a little dune bashing. Again though if you buy local many folks drive their car/truck/suv into the ground with little regard to preventive maintenance. Plenty of dealers about Ford, GMC, Jeep, Toyota and many can work on a U.S. spec. vehicle but you'll be the last in line as locals walk in front of you or wait till you leave and make the TCN push their car in front of yours.

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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?

Internet is available but during my time the only game in town had spotty service and the help desk wasn't. We had folks trying to get internet into their homes and waiting for over 3 months. As we were leaving a new company was offering wireless service based on cell phone technology and seemed to have a much better idea of how to do it and offer decent customer service.

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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?

You can get them here and get pay as you go cards all the bells and whistles for these are available but for a hefty price if you have to have the latest gadget.

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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?

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

Not sure tons of wild or semi wild cats abound which helps keep the rat and mice population down. Arabs are not into dogs but there are many here being walked on a leash by expats.

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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?

Yes if you're coming on a contract you can do well, but if your here already and with a spouse it might be a little difficult. For diplomats there is no bilateral work agreement.

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

Coat and tie for men at work. Don't strut around in your shorts but you can as many tourists will walk around but it is a Muslim country. If you on the beach and a female in a bikini be prepared for the stares and not only from the men.

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Health & Safety:

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

For men none, women its best to travel with a few friends. Most times just a comment or two to the blond ladies or if your Asian decent you may get comments as many locals think your hired help. Pretty safe for the most part.

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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?

Allergies due from the dust but nothing much else. Medical seems to be okay but I've heard of a few cases where they missed diagnosed. Most of the serious cases get shipped out

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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?

Dust sometimes and many people develop allergies from this.

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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?

Hot, hotter and then scorching 120 or more during the spring and summer months. Winter which was great the first year with highs in the 70s to low 80s. Last year not much of a winter but it did cool off and hovered around the 90s.

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Schools & Children:

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

TAISM, ABA, BSM all great schools. Some really enjoyed it, some had issues not so much with the school but with a particular class or teacher.

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

Not too much. Think they can handle minor issues but its best to contact the school before accepting an offer for Muscat.

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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?

It's available but selection varies and most parents end up hiring a Nannie/cook/house keeper.

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

Schools do a great job of getting kids into after school activities. There are some local martial arts classes and beginning divers course for kids but these are expensive.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty large with the majority being TCNs doing all the blue collar labor. The Europeans, Aussies, Americans make up most of the white collar expats.

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2. Morale among expats:

Well, if you were not from the U.S. Embassy, folks really enjoyed it and many stayed for as long as they could. Embassy staff were another matter, moral was horrible for many unless you were military and had the hazard duty pay and free membership to the Intercon Hotel. If you were a State employee, people were leaving in droves that is those who could. It seemed to pick up again right around the time we left but again from what I'm hearing its still dismal. Micromanaging, understaffed issues and the like. Maybe in a few years things might pickup but if your thinking about going in the next say 2 years bid on another position, you'll end up miserable.

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

Many house parties, beach and desert camping on the weekends. There are a couple of social clubs and night clubs. School is the biggie if you have kids. If your outgoing you will do fine.

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

This is hit or miss as local transport is nill and you have to drive your kids everywhere. Temps prohibit many activities for about 8 months out of the year. Couples this is a can do place if you like the outdoors. There are a few clubs at the major hotels but they are very expensive. Single males might do okay and the ones I knew from my time there didn't mind the place but single women had a rough time.

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

It's the middle east and frowned upon.

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

Again, the single blond female will have times where they are harassed and if your Asian, Indian decent and even if your a white collar expat you will be harassed. There are I think 2 places of worship for Christians and as long as your not trying to convert you'll do fine. You cannot have official or even informal religious gatherings in your home.

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

Diving has been great, beach camping, wadi exploring

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

Outdoor paradise, swimming, diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing hiking and wadi bashing. There were two guys here during our time that had sea kayaks. Did some fly fishing from these and exploring.

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

carpets, ladies Indian shirts, usual middle east trinkets.

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

Outdoor paradise from about Nov thru March then its just to hot.

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11. Can you save money?

Hah!Totally disagree with the last poster. Fuel yes is cheap but for everything else is ridiculous and with the COLA which is also a joke, don't come here expecting to leave with much in your savings unless you plan to sit at home and eat nothing but humus and pita bread. For the U.S. Embassy folks the place has a huge potential but year in and year out a select few keep this place down. If your an expat you will enjoy it and if your military with all the perks that come with being in a "war zone" another joke you will enjoy as well. Plus when you get a consumables shipment its fairly easy to save a few bucks.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not under the regime I was. Made some wonderful friends and saw some amazing sites but until that building has an exorcism, no way. If I was coming from another sector I would not go back as there are too many other places to visit and live but would recommend it to any and all.

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

Winter clothes and what you hear about from Kuwait and Saudi. Oman is tolerant the people are friendly and can be some of the most gracious people you will ever meet. They do have a temper and yes keep the hand gestures especially the one finger wave to a minimum. Things get done when they get done, your sense of urgency is better back in storage. Bid for the position at the U.S. Embassy, wait a few years then test the waters again.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure, patience, sunscreen, dive equipment, camping gear as what is here is expensive and not on par for what you can get stateside for the same cost.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

A beautiful country filled with some amazing sights and places to discover. If your coming on the expat six figure package with housing and school paid for you'll love it but if your a mid level govt worker be prepared to spend and not save.

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