Doing Business in Oman
Given Oman's historical dependence on foreign labour, and the fact that nearly a quarter of its population is still made up of expatriates, it is highly likely that expats doing business in Oman will primarily deal with other expats, in a familiar and Westernised business context, but with a distinct Arabic business flavour.
Oman is a relatively easy place in which to do business, as seen in the country's favourable ranking in international business surveys. Most notably, Oman was ranked 66th out of 189 countries in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business rankings for 2017; faring well for factors such as paying taxes, where it ranked 12th, and starting a business (32nd).
The official language of Oman is Arabic, but English is widely spoken in business.
Hours of business
Generally from 8am to 1pm and then 3.30pm to 6.30pm, from Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday is the weekend.
Smart and conservative, especially for women (elbows and knees covered, tops fastened at the neck).
Handshakes are the accepted greeting between men – shake the hand of the most senior person present first. Be sure to maintain strong eye contact (this is considered a sign of trustworthiness and strength), and use Arabic titles (such as Haji and Sheikh) where appropriate to indicate respect for associates.
If invited to an Omani colleague's home, take along a gift (a house plant or a trinket from an expat's home country will be appreciated). Don't give alcohol or anything made of pig skin.
While Oman remains an Islamic nation, it is the most progressive of the Gulf countries when it comes to attitudes toward women in the workplace. Authorities are trying to limit the number of roles given to expat women and have banned them from taking up many posts, but those who do get a job in Oman should find themselves respected and valued.
Business culture in Oman
It is important to understand that Oman, though more liberal than its neighbours, remains an Islamic country. Foreigners should always remain sensitive and respectful of the large influence that these religious beliefs have on ordinary social life. Don't ever denigrate the faith of Islam or their chief prophet, Mohammed.
The business culture of Oman could be termed typically Arabic in that a great emphasis is placed on personal relationships between business associates. Omani businessmen will always choose to work with people they are familiar with and who they feel they can trust. Remain patient during initial meetings with new Omani business partners – a great deal of time will be devoted to getting to know each other before any actual business is discussed. Don't get impatient: long-term, personal business relationships in Oman are worth the investment of time and energy.
The management style that predominates in Oman is hierarchical, though perhaps slightly less top-down than in some neighbouring countries. For the most, decisions are made at the top level and clear, direct instructions are given to staff to follow.
Business etiquette in Oman reflects a close relationship between personal and professional life. Be prepared to engage in long, personal discussions with new associates, especially in the beginning, as new business partners will be far more interested in the person they are looking to befriend, than corporate expertise or qualifications. Expats should make sure they can deliver everything they promise – verbal commitments are treated very solemnly in Arabic business culture.
In Oman it is considered rude to cause another public shame or humiliation. If expats have an issue to raise with a colleague, or even just a suggestion to make for better business practice, it should always be discussed privately.
Meetings will most likely be long and subject to numerous personal digressions and perhaps even unexpected visitors. Punctuality is expected, but expats shouldn't expect Arabic partners to follow suit. If there is an agenda (they aren't that popular in Oman), be sure to have it typed out in English and Arabic and forwarded to the concerned parties at least two days before the meeting is due to take place.
Dress conservatively for business meetings (especially women) and remain patient, even if the meeting's agenda becomes abandoned. Do not resort to hard-sell tactics, as they will be interpreted as aggression. Always bear in mind the intimate relationship between people's professional and private lives that characterises the Omani business world.
It is common to exchange business cards when meeting new associates for the first time. Make sure details are printed in Arabic on one side and always present cards with two hands. Spend a little time regarding someone else's card before putting it away.
Attitude to foreigners
Oman is by far the most open-minded and tolerant nation in the Gulf region, and the general attitude towards foreigners is one of respectful curiosity. However, to earn this treatment, it is essential to behave at all times with respect for Islamic culture and traditions.
Dos and don'ts of doing business in Oman
Do look to establish personal and heartfelt relationships with Omani business associates
Do learn some basic Arabic, even just a few words and phrases, as it will go a long way towards dealing with business associates
Do remain respectful and observant of Islamic culture and traditions
Do make an effort to immerse oneself in the culture, learn some Arabic words and learn about the religion
Don't forget that in Oman, the line between professional and private life often blurs. Expect family-related interruptions during business meetings.
Don't embarrass, undermine or humiliate anyone during business meetings. While in the Western world this might further one's reputation, in the Arab world it will ruin any chances of forging good business relationships.