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The frustrations of culture shock in Oman may initially overshadow the many advantages of relocating there, but expats will soon find that the high quality of life eases the adaptation process. As a safe and family-oriented country, one will often hear expats rave about the many benefits of raising children in Oman.
There are both pros and cons to living in Oman and getting over any culture shock may take longer for some than for others.
Oman is an Islamic country but is more liberal than the surrounding countries in the Gulf. While upholding Islamic principles, Omanis embrace bits of Western culture more and more every day. It’s increasingly common to hear of popular American and European shops and restaurants being opened, for instance. Still, it is important for expats to familiarise themselves with aspects of the Muslim culture and Omani laws, and act appropriately.
Dress in Oman
Expats will find many Omanis are laid-back and open-minded, but it is still a good idea to be mindful of dress and conduct. Non-Muslim women don't need to wear a headscarf unless they visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, in which case they are also required to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants or an ankle-length skirt. In general, it's best to avoid wearing clothing that is too clingy or shows off too much skin to avoid unwanted stares from men.
We recommend expats take note of how to dress in business settings too, which is generally conservative and formal.
Ramadan in Oman
Showing sensitivity during holidays such as Ramadan is very important. During this time, expats in Oman should be extra cautious when picking out outfits. Eating, drinking, chewing gum and smoking are not allowed in public throughout this period. During the month of Ramadan, most restaurants are closed during the day but open again in the evening, while many eateries also cover their windows out of respect.
Weather in Oman
Depending on the time of year in Oman, the weather can be the primary source of culture shock for new arrivals. Summer begins mid-April and continues through part of October, with highs of around 122ºF (50°C), and lows that still hover above 100°F (38°C). It's also very humid.
The heat makes it almost impossible to go outside, and expats must adjust their lifestyle accordingly. Thankfully, the winter from October to March is pleasant, ushering in cooler temperatures.
Driving in Oman
As in many other Middle Eastern countries, driving in Oman can seem intimidating. It is normal to see people running across the freeway, taxis slowing down unexpectedly to pick up passengers, vehicles crammed to the max and children without seat belts.
Roundabouts are common in Oman but may be a bit flustering at first. When approaching the roundabout, it is important to stay in the inside lane if not taking the first exit.
The Sultan Qaboos Highway is the main road that runs through Muscat. It is easy to navigate Muscat, but finding specific businesses and homes can be difficult as most establishments do not have a physical address. Landmarks are an essential part in giving directions.
It is also a good idea to read online forums for directions if planning to venture outside of Muscat. Local maps are often not updated properly.
Customer service in Oman
Customer service can seem non-existent in Oman. It can be difficult to find employees that are altogether helpful and knowledgeable. This can be an adjustment for Westerners who are used to a different standard of service. When great customer service is found, it is not forgotten within the expat community.
Something else that often infuriates new arrivals is that life in Oman runs at a much slower pace than back home. Whether trying to set up the internet and phone service or open a bank account, expats will need to come to terms with the fact that it’s going to take time. Despite some improvements, few things are done quickly and, unfortunately, being forced to wait patiently to sort out logistics can prolong the settling-in period for an expat.
Gender in Oman
Oman is a safe country for single women, but it is still a good idea to be cautious when out alone. It is common for local men to stare. Though an annoyance for most expat women, it is not threatening and it’s something most expats eventually adapt to.
When men greet each other, they generally shake hands and sometimes kiss on the cheek. Only shake a local women’s hand if she extends hers first. If invited into a local family’s home, try to avoid admiring an item excessively. The host may feel obligated to hand it over as a gift.
While Oman is more progressive in terms of gender equality compared to other countries in the Gulf region, women may hit some roadblocks when settling in. Women – and men – who are used to a different way of dressing, speaking and going out and drinking may find conforming a bit difficult.
Alcohol in Oman
As a Muslim nation, the number of places in Oman where expats can purchase and consume alcohol are limited.
Alcohol can be bought in selected restaurants and hotels, or a liquor license may be obtained through the local authority. This allows expats to purchase alcohol at designated liquor stores in Oman.
It is also important to mention that the legal alcohol limit is close to zero. Drinking and driving is considered taboo in Oman.
►For more on what to expect of Omani culture, see Lifestyle in Oman
►To understand more about religion in the region, read Ramadan for Expats in the Middle East
"The locals are very friendly and willing to mix, which is unusual in an Arabic country... Nevertheless, perhaps because of the cultural and religious divide expats mix mainly with other expats." Read Jenny's thoughts on culture shock in this expat interview.
"The people in Oman are so friendly. An Omani will always greet you ‘marhaba’, and they share their culture with pride. I have never experienced discrimination or heard about any." Read more about the culture and people in Oman in our interview with Caroline, a Kenyan expat.
Are you an expat living in Oman?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Oman. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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