Life in Oman: Is it the Right Choice for You?

by:  eternitysojourner

 
Mutrah Port in Muscat, Oman

Two years ago this week, marks the anniversary of my arrival to Oman.  I vividly remember exiting the airport, being smothered by Muscat’s humidity, and winding through curious and imposing mountains along the highway.  With time, what seemed strange and intriguing, then, has become comforting and familiar.  I’ve given birth here, explored various landscapes, and made lasting connections with both citizens and expatriates.  For me, Oman was the right choice but what about you? Our Sistas in Oman shed some light on life in the Sultanate but here are a few prerequisite questions to ask yourself before accepting an offer and making your move.

How do I feel about living amongst Muslims and Arabs?
Oman is a gentle introduction to the Muslim world.  There is no real political strife or unrest.  Yes, there were occasional protests in northern Oman at the tail end of the Arab Spring but nothing the likes of instability or revolution.  Additionally, Omanis tend to be very non-confrontational in their expression of faith; so more times than not, you won’t find yourself in aggressive or heated debates about religion, unless you disrespect their faith.

 
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman
How conservative can I be?

Feel free to pack your tube skirts and tank tops, but keep in mind that they’re best worn in the privacy of your own home.  Generally, visitors and residents are advised to avoid sleeveless or low cut shirts, as well as skirts, pants, or shorts above the knee.  Even men are asked to skip the Speedos when out swimming.  More conservative attire would be warranted when visiting mosques or rural regions, but I don’t know of any legal penalty for dressing otherwise.

Muscat, Oman’s capital city, would be the hub for “nightlife”.  If you like to party or drink, there are selective places like hotels, clubs, etc. where both are allowed.  Outside of designated establishments, many expats choose to apply for a liquor license and drink in private gatherings.  During Ramadan, while Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, drinking or eating in public is discouraged and considered inconsiderate.  More practically, due to altered business hours, you may find that you’ve also adopted a “Ramadan schedule” for your outings and eating.  For the lovebirds amongst us, public displays of affection are uncommon, beyond holding hands or loving glares.  Who you choose to love is your business and, in Oman, where you choose to love them should also be your personal business.

How do I cope with heat?
Oman has a good deal of heat for you to enjoy.  Between May and September, temperatures are regularly above 100oF (38oC), so midday outings are discouraged.  Fortunately, just about every indoor environment is air conditioned and electricity supply is consistently delivered throughout most parts of Oman.  If that kind of heat is unfathomable to you, look for work in Salalah- a region in the far south of Oman that enjoys moderate weather year-round with a summer monsoon season.

Can I live in the desert?
Be of good cheer, friends!  Oman is not just one big desert!  There are beaches, mountains, waterfalls, and wadis (ravines) to discover throughout.  The greenest of times is from June to September, in the far south of Oman during the khareef or monsoon season.   You’ll be amazed to see rolling green hills and misty mornings that remind you of Ireland.

 
Misty Morning in Salalah, Oman
What will I eat?

Oman has a great variety of all types of food.  Delicious local and foreign produce, a variety of fresh meats and fish, veggie-friendly offerings, and imported comfort foods are all at your fingertips in the major cities and towns.  In the capital city, you can satisfy your craving for everything from Thai to Moroccan food.  Even major American fast food chains and restaurants have migrated to this part of Arabia!

 
Swahili food in Sohar, Oman
What will I do?

Other than work, there are all kinds of organizations to be involved with.  You can pick up a new language, take in a movie, enjoy the opera, ride a horse, scuba dive, and do your fair share of “tree hugging” here.  If all of what Oman has to offer still ranks low on your adventure-meter, you are perfectly situated for great travel options to the Middle East, East Africa, South Asia and Europe.

 
Hiking in Sur, Oman

How will I get around?
Unless you want to rely on taxis and the occasional long distance bus, having your own ride is the way to go.  Car rentals are very easy with a foreign driver’s license but purchasing a car will require an Omani driver’s license.  Possessing a current foreign driver’s license from most countries for at least a year allows you to obtain an Omani driver’s license without a road or written examination.  Some jobs provide shuttle transportation, so you may not have to worry about commuting to work.

Can I save?
There are plenty of middle-aged professionals from the West that are living well and saving for retirement here.  Many find it easy to save without a penny-pinching budget.  If you live outside of Muscat, you may find more attractive salaries and packages that include housing, annual round-trip airfare for you and your family, and health insurance.  Add those perks to a lower cost of living, and you can make bank here!  As with most Gulf countries, the vision for the future is to reduce dependence on foreign workers and phase out expatriate employees.  Until then…come get your slice of the Omani pie while the pickings are good!

How will I communicate?
Oman is functionally bilingual: websites, road signs, official documents, shop names, etc. will almost always be in both English and Arabic.  Sometimes the English displayed on road signs may be inconsistent, but the government is working on it.  Outside of major cities and towns, you may find that many people are not fluent in English but you can usually get by with little to no Arabic.

Where should I live?
If you want to maximize your social life, try to stay in or near Muscat.  If you can stand the summer humidity, Muscat, Sohar, Sur, and Salalah are all coastal cities.  If you prefer a drier climate (both literally and figuratively!), consider Nizwa or Ibri.

Can I make an impact?
Oman is a wonderful nation that has progressed rapidly in the last few decades.  Previous generations left Oman in pursuit of quality education, health care, and a higher standard of living, but many have since returned.  Oman is catching up to the world, so to speak.  College enrollment is on the rise and you may have the opportunity to teach first generation university students–the majority of which are women.  Unlike other regions of the Gulf, not all citizens of Oman are wealthy and even if they lack the maturity of third or fourth generation academics, many are learning to appreciate the virtue of higher education and gaining greater access to the wider world as a result.

It can’t be all good in Oman, can it?
Every rose has its thorn and Omani roses are no different.  There are social problems that may not readily come to light, high incidences of traffic-related deaths, and biases that favor citizens over expats.  There is a general lack of environmental concern, outdated approaches to early education, and lacking accommodations for students with special needs, BUT Oman’s growth is in progress- steady but not stagnant.  Even if you decide that life in Oman is not right for you, you should at least consider a visit when you’re in the neighborhood.

Feel free to ask questions or add your experience of life in Oman in the comments.
This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.
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