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When moving to Oman and joining a company that operates with a different culture, it can take time to adjust, particularly for women and those with religious and moral views that do not conform with the Arabic world. Many expats say that life in this country is simple and easy, but this should not be taken for granted in the workplace. That said, Oman is a relatively easy place in which to do business.
It is highly likely that expats working in Oman will primarily deal with other expats in a familiar and Westernised business context, but with a distinct Arabic business flavour. New arrivals should not assume they understand how business is done in the Sultanate; it's wise to read up on the local work culture prior to conducting any business.
The official languages of Oman are Arabic and English. English is commonly used in business settings.
It depends on the type of organisation and business culture. Many Omani businesses are open from 8am to 1pm and then 4pm to 7pm, Sunday through Thursday. Private companies with a Western structure, on the other hand, often follow a 7am to 4pm work structure. Banks are generally open from 8am till 2pm and governmental authorities also close early. The weekends fall on Fridays and Saturdays.
Smart and conservative, especially for women.
Handshakes are the accepted greeting between men – shake the hand of the most senior person present first. Be sure to maintain strong eye contact and use Arabic titles to indicate respect for associates where appropriate.
If invited to an Omani colleague's home, take along a gift. Do not give alcohol or pork products as a gift.
While Oman remains an Islamic nation, it is one of the most progressive of the Gulf countries when it comes to attitudes toward women in the workplace. That said, it can be difficult for expat women to find a job, and work visas can be hard to obtain. Those who do get a job in Oman, however, should find themselves respected and valued.
Business culture in Oman
It is important to understand that Oman, though more liberal than its neighbours, remains an Islamic country. Foreigners should always remain sensitive and respectful of the large influence that these religious beliefs have on ordinary social life. Expats should never denigrate the faith of Islam or its chief prophet, Mohammed.
The business culture of Oman could be termed typically Arabic in that a great emphasis is placed on personal relationships between business associates. Omani businessmen will always choose to work with people they are familiar with and who they feel they can trust. Expats should remain patient during initial meetings with new Omani business partners – a great deal of time will be devoted to getting to know each other before any actual business is discussed. Getting impatient is ill-advised. Long-term, personal business relationships in Oman are worth the investment of time and energy.
The management style that predominates in Oman is hierarchical, though perhaps slightly less top-down than in some neighbouring countries. For the most part, decisions are made at the top level and clear, direct instructions are given to staff to follow.
Business etiquette in Oman reflects a close relationship between personal and professional life. Expats should be prepared to engage in long, personal discussions with new associates, as new business partners will be far more interested in the person they are looking to befriend than in their corporate expertise or qualifications. Expats should make sure they can deliver everything they promise – verbal commitments are treated very solemnly in Arabic business culture.
In Oman, it is considered rude to cause another person public shame or embarrassment. If expats have an issue to raise with a colleague or even just a suggestion to make for better business practice, it's better discussed privately.
Meetings may last a while, as small talk and personal digressions are common, and there may even be some unexpected visitors. Punctuality is expected, but expats shouldn't expect Arabic partners to follow suit. If there is an agenda it should be typed out in English and Arabic and forwarded to the concerned parties at least two days before the meeting is due to take place.
Expats should dress conservatively for business meetings and remain patient, even if the meeting's agenda is abandoned. Hard-sell tactics can be interpreted as aggressive and should be avoided. Expats should always bear in mind the intimate relationship between people's professional and private lives which characterises the Omani business world.
It is common to exchange business cards when meeting new associates for the first time. Details should printed in Arabic on one side and cards should always be presented with two hands. Expats should spend a moment regarding someone else's card before putting it away.
Attitude to foreigners
Oman is one of the most open-minded and tolerant nations in the Gulf region. Expats concerned about this will be glad to know that the general attitude towards foreigners is one of respectful curiosity but, in turn, it is essential to behave with respect for Islamic culture and traditions.
Dos and don'ts of doing business in Oman
Do look to establish personal and heartfelt relationships with Omani business associates
Do learn some basic Arabic, as even just a few words and phrases will go a long way when dealing with business associates
Do remain respectful and observant of Islamic culture and traditions
Don't forget that, in Oman, the line between professional and private life often blurs. Expect family-related interruptions during business meetings.
Don't embarrass or undermine anyone during business meetings. While in the Western world this might further one's reputation, in the Arab world it will ruin any chance of forging good business relationships.
►See Establishing a Business in Oman for more on business in the Sultanate
"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." Read more in our interview with OB, a British expat in Oman.
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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