Moving to Oman
Expats moving to Oman should prepare themselves for both 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 not mismanaged, but rather wisely invested in the country's infrastructure.
Furthermore, the country is certainly one of the gentlest introductions to the Middle East that expats could hope for: it is one of the safest, most stable countries in the Gulf region, an example to and the envy of many of its neighbours.
Oman has taken giant steps over the last thirty or so years toward becoming a thoroughly modernised, cosmopolitan state; in fact, in 2010 the United Nations Development Programme singled out Oman (from 135 countries) as the world's most improved country over the last 40 years.
Over one quarter of Oman's population is comprised of expats, and although the government plans to lessen this reliance on foreign labour, 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 big move' can draw encouragement both from the sheer number of expats living in Oman (and the numerous support groups these individuals have established for new arrivals), as well as the promise of high salaries and low taxes. Coupled with Oman's reasonable cost of living and Omani employers' penchant for providing attractive expat salary packages, it certainly 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 potentially depressing landscape – will be delightfully surprised by Oman's interesting geography. The small state, located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian peninsula, has a truly varied geography, showcasing 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.
Over and above exploring the country's fascinating landscape, there is plenty more for expats to see and do in Oman. This is, in fact, a major priority for the government, as it seeks to diversify its economy through the promotion of tourism.
Oman is a shopper's paradise, and the capital of Muscat's many souqs (open-air markets) are not only full of wonderful things to buy – from souvenirs and jewellery to fresh produce and household items – but they also allow for 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.
What’s more, despite the obvious economic benefits and the range of interesting sights and attractions, expats relocating to Oman will likely find the openness and tolerance of its society and the determinedly friendly nature of its people an attractive feature. With such a large expat population living in Oman, Omani locals are accustomed to foreigners and treat them not with suspicion or hostility, but with curiosity and a willingness to engage across, what are often, significant cultural differences.
Examples of this open-mindedness and tolerance 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 roundly report feeling comfortable in Oman, and respected in their vocational pursuits.
However, even though Oman is certainly one of the most progressive countries in the Gulf region, it does remain a staunchly Muslim state, and expats will in all likelihood have to adapt their normal modes of behaviour to ensure that they remain in the good graces of Omani society at large. 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 development their cultural sensitivity and their 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, however, you can always head to Salalah – a surprisingly cool and verdant city on Oman's southern coastline.