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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 vocal about 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.
Oman is a relatively easy place in which to do business, as seen in the country's favourable ranking in international business surveys. Most notably, Oman was ranked 68th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business rankings for 2020; faring well for factors such as paying taxes (11th) and starting a business (32nd). It's important to note that some aspects of doing business are more complicated, such as getting credit which ranks 144th.
The Sultanate has made progress in registering property and is working towards better protecting minority investors while improving infrastructure to trade across borders.
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 some fast facts and 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.
Depends on the type of organisation and business culture. Many Omani businesses are open from 8am to 12pm and then 3pm to 6pm, Sunday through Thursday. 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 where appropriate to indicate respect for associates.
If invited to an Omani colleague's home, take along a gift. Do not give alcohol or anything made of pigskin 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. Authorities are trying to limit the number of roles given to expat women and work visas for women can be hard to obtain. Those who do get a job in Oman 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 humiliation. 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 with small talk, numerous personal digressions and perhaps even 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 becomes abandoned. Hard-sell tactics can be interpreted as aggression 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 are printed in Arabic on one side and cards are always 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, even just a few words and phrases, as it will go a long way towards 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, undermine or humiliate 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 emirate
"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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