Moving to Oman
Expats moving to Oman should prepare themselves for a financially and culturally rewarding experience. Oman has emerged as a major economic player in the Gulf region, and is a prime example of what can be achieved when petrodollars are wisely invested in the country's infrastructure.
The country is a gentle introduction to the Middle East: it is among the safest, most stable countries in the Gulf region, and an example to and envy of many of its neighbours.
Oman has taken giant steps over the past 30 or so years toward becoming a modern, cosmopolitan state. In 2010, the United Nations Development Programme singled out Oman (from 135 countries) as the world's most improved country over the past four decades.
More than a quarter of Oman's population are expats, and although the government plans to lessen this reliance on foreign labour through stricter work visa laws, for now, job opportunities for skilled expats still abound, and should be taken advantage of while the going is still good.
Expats who are a little reluctant to make the move can draw encouragement from the number of expats living in Oman (and the various support groups these individuals have established for new arrivals), as well as the promise of high salaries and low taxes. Together with a reasonable cost of living and Omani employers' penchant for providing attractive expat salary packages, it makes financial sense for skilled expats to seek employment in Oman.
Even those expats discouraged by the idea of relocating to the desert for a year – perhaps picturing a barren, desolate and depressing landscape – will be surprised by Oman's interesting geography. The small state on the southeastern shores of the Arabian Peninsula showcases 1,060 miles (1,700km) of sunny coastline, as well as dry desert riverbeds (wadis), lush coconut and banana plantations, iconic white sand dunes, terraced rose plantations and frankincense trees, as well as austere rocky outcrops.
Beyond exploring the country's fascinating landscape, there is plenty more for expats to see and do in Oman. This is a priority for the government, as it seeks to diversify its economy through tourism.
Oman is a shopper's paradise, and the capital of Muscat's many souqs (open-air markets) are full of wonderful things to buy – from souvenirs and jewellery to fresh produce and household items – and offer interesting cultural interactions, giving visitors a taste of the sights, sounds and smells of the Middle East. Alternatively, Muscat's Corniche (a waterfront promenade area) is a popular hangout area for foreigners and locals alike, especially at dusk, and the adventurous can head into Oman's interior to visit ancient castles and forts, or to try their hand at sand-skiing.
Despite the obvious economic benefits and the range of interesting sights and attractions, expats relocating to Oman will likely enjoy the openness and tolerance of its society and the determinedly friendly nature of its people. With such a large expat population, Omani locals are accustomed to foreigners and treat them not with suspicion or hostility, but with curiosity and a willingness to engage across significant cultural differences.
Examples of this open-mindedness include the serving of alcohol in restaurants and clubs often frequented by foreigners and – most importantly – the relatively liberal attitudes held towards women and women's rights. In Oman, women play a far more active and visible role in society than in other Middle Eastern countries, and female expats report feeling comfortable in Oman, and respected in their vocational pursuits.
However, even though Oman is one of the most progressive countries in the Gulf, it is a staunchly Muslim state, and expats will have to adapt their behaviour to ensure that they remain in the good graces of Omani society. Expats are encouraged to view this not as a hardship, but as an opportunity to learn about a culture different to their own, and to develop their cultural sensitivity and interpersonal skills.
Finally, it is important to mention that the weather in Oman can be a real test for some expats. Although almost all buildings are air-conditioned, it can get fiercely hot in the summer with temperatures commonly over 113°F (45°C). The more humane Omani employers will fly expats home over the worst period (July and August), but others won't. If you need a break from the heat, head to Salalah – a surprisingly cool and verdant city on Oman's southern coastline.