Cost of Living in Oman
Expats will find the cost of living in Oman more reasonable than that of many of the neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and income is tax-free. Prices are highest in Muscat, but although costs can be less outside of the city, choice is also more limited.
According to the 2017 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Muscat ranks 94th out of 209 cities, ranking as slightly more expensive than Brisbane in Australia, but slightly cheaper than Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.
Expat packages in Oman for highly skilled Western workers still seem to be generous, and tend to offer good salaries, accommodation, a car, bonuses, flights home and medical insurance. However, as comprehensive as these contracts seem, there are always unforeseen costs. Watch out for the added cost of work visas and related health checks – for a family of four this can be fairly high. School fees are also a big add-on cost. But the real financial issue in Oman is the relative job insecurity, rather than the pay package or the cost of living.
Contrary to many of its nearby oil-rich counterparts, Oman does not draw on expats from abroad to comprise its primary workforce. Instead, it looks to locals to occupy most middle management positions, some senior management positions and even many low-paying jobs: fishermen, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, bank clerks. Expats tend to work in senior positions as directors or in sectors where there are skill shortages, such as in the healthcare and education fields.
Even then though, most contracts are for three years, and if an Omani can fill a post, the contract can be terminated. Expats also tend to encounter considerable uncertainty towards the end of a contract. The government’s pointed Omanisation programme, which aims to educate and train local people for the senior positions that are traditionally held by expats, has put the authorities under increased pressure to speed up the process of filling the posts with Omanis. Thus, contract renewal is not a given, and a major cost of living in Oman is the fact that an expat might be out of a job in a short amount of time.
There are also a number of low-income, low-productivity expat jobs – maids, gardeners, builders – typically filled by Asian labourers.
Cost of accommodation in Oman
The market has eased considerably since its peak, and now accommodation prices are coming down – like elsewhere in the Middle East. There are a lot of new homes being built, and expats will be able to find a place that fits their budget, mood and style.
Costs vary according to size, facilities and area. Utilities, such as water, gas and electricity, are generally excluded in the quoted rental price. Accommodation is normally unfurnished.
Rent in Oman is paid annually in advance, rather than monthly. This is a huge lump sum; although, expats can normally get a loan from their employer. Do note, if one leaves before the year is out, the money is not refundable.
Cost of transport in Oman
The cost of using a car in Oman is much cheaper than in Europe. As a result, virtually every expat drives and few use public transportation.
It’s also possible to hire a car with a driver in Oman.
Taxis are also good value; unfortunately though, they rarely have a meter. Drivers sometimes quote close to the real price, but more often the prices can be incredibly far-fetched.
For those who want to make every penny count, those who don’t have a car or those who want to experience local atmosphere, there are ‘baisa’ buses operating throughout Muscat. This mode of transit is largely used by the lowest paid workers.
Similarly, coaches can be a good way of travelling long distance, such as journeys to Sohar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Cost of food and drink in Oman
European expats will find the cost of food and drink in Oman cheaper, while Americans may find it more expensive. Regardless, though, if one is willing to consume local products, one will save money. Lulu is the best value supermarket, and Al Fair is the most expensive – but has highest quality – and Carrefour is mid-range.
Buying alcohol in Oman can be complicated and costly. As it’s a Muslim country, licences are required to buy booze from an off-licence shop, and the price of this piece of paperwork is set according to how much one intends to buy each month. Furthermore, one's employer has to provide permission, and the quantity of alcohol one is allowed to purchase is related to a person's salary (the maximum that can be spent on alcohol is 10 percent of a person's annual salary).
Eating out can be costly, and if wanting a drink, one is forced to frequent expensive Western-style hotels. Luckily, there are a number of discount arrangements which means expats rarely pay full price.
If a person doesn't mind foregoing the booze, there is a wide range of independent ‘dry’ establishments, where the food is excellent and reasonably priced. Expats should note that there is a 20 percent tax on the bill in Oman.
Sadly, tourist activities are highly overpriced. On the flip side, though, beach activities cost next to nothing. There is snorkelling, sunset cruises or dolphin sightings available to expats. The boats are well maintained and the crew knowledgeable.
Other entertainment is not costly. Cinema tickets are relatively cheap. Beaches and parks are free. The Royal Opera House is a must-see, and the price and performances are internationally competitive.
Cost of healthcare in Oman
Most companies offer health insurance to the family as part of the employment package. However, there are often exclusions, such as mental health and dentistry, and some insurance policies do not provide coverage for the health centres expats prefer, such as Muscat Private Hospital and Medident. This means most people end up paying some health costs irrespective of insurance. These can add up terrifyingly quickly.
Cost of schooling in Oman
The cost of schooling is a huge expense if the company does not pay – especially if an expat has several children. There is no free education for expats in Oman, and most schools demand that fees are paid prior to the first day of the term. Some institutions require expats pay a refundable deposit.
Cost of living in Oman chart
(Note that prices may vary depending on location and service provider and the table below is based on average prices for Muscat in February 2017)
|Unfurnished two-bedroom villa||OMR 650|
|Unfurnished two-bedroom apartment||OMR 450|
|Milk (1 litre)||OMR 0.80|
|Dozen eggs||OMR 1.20|
|Loaf of white bread||OMR 0.44|
|Rice (1kg)||OMR 0.86|
|Pack of chicken breasts (1kg)||OMR 2.40|
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)||OMR 1.20|
|Big Mac Meal||OMR 2.60|
|Three-course meal for two at mid-range restaurant||OMR 20|
|Mobile call rate (minute-to-minute)||OMR 0.05|
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or Cable – average per month)||OMR 24|
|Utilities (gas, electricity, water - average per month)||OMR 25|
|City centre bus fare||OMR 0.35|
|Taxi (rate per km)||OMR 0.20|
|Petrol (per litre)||OMR 0.20|