John is an Australian who moved to Oman with his wife to pursue a job with an oil company. While he finds the lifestyle quite different from home, he has approached life in Oman with a sense of humour and made the most of it, working hard and spending spare time on his boat or in his 4x4 in the mountains outside of Muscat.
Q: Where are you originally from?
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I’m living in the Azaiba suburb of Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Q: How long have you lived in Oman?
A: Three years
Q: Did you move with a spouse or children?
A: My wife
Q: Why did you move to Oman; what do you do?
A: I got a contract with an oil company, and provide Health, Safety and Environment standards and enforcement.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life in Muscat?
A: The pace of life outside of work is very relaxed. Our personal choice is spending a lot of time on our boat or getting lost in the mountains in a 4x4.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: There are some downsides to living in Oman. For me, the most outstanding negative is customer service, at all levels. It matters not whether you are purchasing white goods, electronics, furniture, cars, boats, trying to organise a party, book a holiday, have some food home delivered, car repairs, grocery shopping, set up a cable TV subscription/internet, or trying to open (then operate) a bank account, the idea of customer service, or at least, customer satisfaction with service, is not a priority. You get your service/item when you get it. Any amount of planning on your behalf is completely irrelevant.
Another negative (though humorous) thing I found here is the “it’s my country, and you can’t tell me what to do” attitude of the Omanis, and how easily one can end up in the legal system. I fired a gentleman for repeatedly not carrying out his duties as agreed. Next thing I know, I'm in the government prosecutor’s office defending myself against allegations of “offending an Omani” and a possible unfair dismissal suit. Another one was the demand that I apologise for “swearing at an Omani” in writing, or he would “take me to court.” It must be said, though, I’m not known for my tactfulness. In the interest of harmony, I apologised.
What do I miss about home? Certainly not the tax man!
Q: Is Muscat safe?
A: Yes. There is very little crime (reported) in Oman. There is the occasional people/drug smuggling racquet exposed. Western and Southeast Asian women should be very careful about where they choose to socialise after hours (nightclubs). Omani/Asian men can be very “handsy” after a few drinks, which is quite the opposite of local tradition – outside the city, you will find extremely polite and generous men.
About living in Oman
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Muscat as an expat?
A: Azaiba, Madinat Qaboos and Madinat Il Allam are all very close to shopping centres and schools. They would be considered “up market” in Western countries.
The Wave project features a European village style layout with standalone villas and townhouses, as well as apartments and community pools. There’s a marina and a golf course handy as well. Unfortunately, the prices are high (compared to other areas) for renting and I have heard anecdotally that there are constant maintenance issues (air-conditioning, power, appliances etc).
There is also an “executive” area at Barr Al Jissah Shangrila Resort and Spa available for rent. The location and views are wonderful, but again, the quality of the build is the issue.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Oman?
A: You get what you pay for – sort of. Unfortunately, what you pay for doesn’t include the quality of the landlord. Construction standards are very low. Things may look nice when brand new, but an aversion to maintenance and quality will often see things falling apart before your eyes. EVERYTHING is negotiable.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Oman compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: You can live in Oman cheaply or like a king. Generally, fruit and vegetables are cheap if you source from markets, as is fish.
Beef, particularly imported from Australia or New Zealand, can be expensive, but not much dearer than home. Pork is obviously expensive but easy to buy, with supermarkets having a non-Muslim section.
Cars are cheap. This is due mainly to low tax on imports.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I’m very sad to say we mix mainly with Western expats. While I find Omani nationals generally friendly, outgoing and generous, many whom I have met for social occasions are only looking for employment or, if they already have a job, a salary increase. I find this highly offensive on a personal level, as I do the exclusion of females from many social gatherings. I therefore decline most invitations to socialise with Omanis. I guess this is a cultural misunderstanding, and has probably actually hindered my business life.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Oman?
A: Yes, there are many clubs and organisations that cater to a variety of interests, including photography, sailing, off-roading, geocaching, hashing, boating and hiking. There are also the obligatory social groups for sport and national/business groups.
About working in Oman
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Oman?
A: No problem really. It just takes too long to get anything done due to the bureaucracy. It can literally take months to have a visa approved. The company must satisfy the ministry of manpower that the job cannot be filled by an Omani, and then after visa approval, the company may be expected to hire Omani nationals in other roles. All companies employ a Public Relations Officer (PRO) who will generally take care of the visa process, make the necessary appointments for you with banks/schools and government departments. The quality and amount of influence, or “wasta” the PRO has can make all these processes very smooth, or very protracted.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Oman, is there plenty of work in Muscat?
A: There’s an “Omanisation” drive on at the moment. Many expats have found their jobs taken over by Omanis with little or no notice. This covers a broad range of skills, except for the real manual labour type jobs, as Omanis simply refuse to work for the same salary as an unskilled immigrant worker. Everyone wants to be the boss, right?
Using a relative’s CV to gain a job is not considered problematic.
Q: How does the work culture in Oman differ from home?
A: Work culture is “relaxed.” Official start and finish times should be considered a guide only. Omani nationals generally work to the minimum standard required, whilst avoiding responsibility for anything that doesn’t quite go as planned. If potential is identified and courses/promotions offered, employers and managers need to be aware those people will jump ship very quickly if their new skills are not rewarded with increased salaries or benefits. This happens frequently due to the current socio-economic climate.
Wages have been stagnant for a long time, with last year’s protests seeing a notional increase in monthly salaries and allowances. Due to Omanisation requirements, companies are now prepared to offer Omanis in particular increased salaries if they are already qualified. Competitors are increasingly poaching staff to satisfy these requirements.
Omanisation is clearly a noble idea intended to have Omanis at full employment across all industries, and promote the rewards of a good education. Unfortunately it’s quite clear that many young Omanis are not interested in putting in the effort, but want the benefits. This may change as the education system begins to produce quality graduates over the next few years.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: No. Although even for Australians, the heat here can be oppressive. Cars and most buildings have air-conditioning.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Oman?
A: My healthcare is provided by my company, and is top cover. That is how you should negotiate your contract. There are private and public healthcare facilities in Oman, and like any nation, the public healthcare system is drowning in a quagmire of antiquated equipment, poor training and waste (influence/corruption). I have needed to use a private hospital after suffering from food poisoning and the service was quite good, and the treatment was friendly and efficient.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Do your homework. Check the local Omani internet forums. If you are new to the company sending/inviting you to Oman, make sure you know who you are dealing with BEFORE you commit. Check, recheck and check your contract again for:
- Housing arrangements. A flat in Muscat is not quite the same as a flat in Australia.
- Schooling allowance. It’s very expensive here.
- Health insurance. Employer should provide.
- Leave entitlements (including flights).
- Daily work routine!
- Find a hobby that you can do indoors during summer. The heat can be brutal.
- Be patient when driving. The mix of cultures means a mix of driving standards. Add to that minimal enforcement and consequences.
~ Interviewed April 2012
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