OB, an English woman living in Oman, left the UK looking for a little extra tax-free cash and an ounce of excitement – but what she found was love and a big, bad culture barrier that needed overcoming. Find out what other surprises she’s come across over the course of her three years of life in Muscat.
Q: Where are you originally from?
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Muscat, Oman
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Three years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: I was single when I moved here
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I work in the media/PR industry sector, and I chose to move because I wanted to experience new things and make a little cash – tax-free!
About Muscat, Oman
Q: What do you enjoy most about Muscat, how’s the quality of life in Oman?
A: There is a very good quality of life in Muscat because it is so relaxed. You can take a stroll on the beach, wander round the shopping malls or veg out with friends in one of the many coffee/shisha bars; there is something for everyone. Muscat is very easy to get around if you have a car, and the roads are not as confusing as other cities, such as Dubai. The best thing is that you can reach practically everything in Muscat within 30 minutes. The winters are amazing, but you pay the price for this in the summer. It is very easy to learn about the Omani culture here as you interact with locals on a daily basis, so that is a big plus.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The downside is the transport problems here, because unless you have a car it can get expensive and very difficult, especially in the summer, when it comes to getting taxies as there are no real buses to speak of.
I miss the ease of food shopping in the UK; while lots of items are available here, they are either not cared for properly in the supermarkets (e.g. one of the big supermarkets here actually turns their freezers off at night!) and/or are very expensive. You can buy local vegetables, but they are often not as good quality as we are used to.
The internet is also a pain because you feel like you are signing your soul over rather than just an internet connection due to the forms and 20 questions!
Also the summers are horrible, and no one can really explain to you how bad they are until you experience it for yourself.
Q: Is Muscat safe?
A: Muscat is very safe – as I mentioned I was a single woman when I first came here – but there are problems with some taxi drivers who think they can rip you off or talk to you inappropriately. I think as with everywhere though, if you are sensible and don’t travel at night alone you are fine.
About living in Oman
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Muscat as an expat?
A: As a western expat, places like MQ and Qurm are the main places, but lots of people are now moving out to Azaiba, Ghubra and The Wave. There are lots of Arab – Egyptian in particular – expats in al Khuwair, while Ruwi and Muttrah are known as the Asian – mainly Indian – areas.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Oman?
A: Accommodation ranges from great to awful, it just depends whether you get a nice or a bad landlord. You can find apartments that look great on the surface, but come the first rain it leaks everywhere or during the summer the cockroaches come crawling, it just depends unfortunately.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Oman compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Accommodation can be quite cheap if you are willing to live outside the main western expat areas, otherwise it can be very expensive. In terms of space though, you do get more of that for your money, but whether people need that extra maid’s bedroom is up for debate!
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The locals are in general very friendly people, and the majority are very open-minded and well-educated. I actually have very few western friends, tending to meet up with Arab women I have met – both Omanis and other Arab nationalities.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: A lot of people complain that it is hard to make friends here, but due to my job I was lucky that I met quite a lot of people in a short space of time. There are lots of groups – both social and activity based – around, including the Women’s Guild of Oman and American Women’s Group who both organise events and meet-ups. There is also a great twitter and online community here who organise regular meets, so if people are willing to make the effort there are people out there to meet!
About working in Oman
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: It took five months, a period of time that felt rather long, but was standard here.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Oman, is there plenty of work?
A: There are jobs around, but due to Omanisation a lot of companies are putting pressure on companies to higher local workers not expats now, and you do hear of expats not having their contracts renewed. However in specialised fields there is still work to be found.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: For one, I work with a lot more nationalities than I ever did in the UK, and we tend to work longer hours. There are problems that crop up occasionally, such as labour law disputes (being paid for overtime etc) but this varies from company to company.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, I just came with my suitcases.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Healthcare varies massively, while some doctors are brilliant the facilities they have to work within can, in some hospitals, feel rather primitive. Waiting times don’t really exist, you just turn up and see your doctor and get scans/tests etc done in real time. However I am yet to find a doctor that I truly trust here, and know many of my friends have the same trouble. It seems as if people are just there to take your cash and don’t often care about your health. If I was very ill I would probably go back to the UK for treatment.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Get out there and make friends as soon as you can because until you have someone you can call up for coffee and have a whinge down the phone about then it can be very hard to settle. Most importantly ask for help. If you don’t understand something then ask, especially when it comes to the culture here, because there is a huge misconception about women in places such as Oman. In reality, the females I have met are, in general, such loving and happy people that welcome questions about their lives and country so don’t be scared.
~Interviewed December 2011