What is it like to move to and live in Muscat, capital of Oman?
This interview with Ines, who decided to try expat life in Muscat, will give you a good idea of expat life here plus a lot of practical tips.
This interview is part of the Ask an Expat series. In this series, I interview people living all over the world but outside of their home country. I try to help paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad, share tips about moving to the place the expat now calls home, and information about what to see and do here.
Expat Life in Muscat, Oman
Home town: Rijeka, Croatia
“I like to describe myself as a serendipity seeker and a curious, passionate person inspired by deep conversations, nature, art, and travel.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been captivated by the ‘faraway lands’ and the world through people and their (travel) stories, foreign languages and art. I also think there has always been a little rebel or an explorer sitting within me eagerly waiting to set sails.
Born and raised in Croatia, I moved to Slovenia to study Communications and Media at the University of Ljubljana.
At the same time, I joined a global non-profit and worked on a variety of projects focused on youth leadership and development. I gained some of my first work experiences in the field of communications, PR, and marketing there while being part of a high-performing, global, and very team-oriented environment that has definitely set the tone for the future job choices.
I’m a communications and marketing professional with a decade of experience in design and delivery of educational programs, outreach strategies, and community events. I have worked within startup and entrepreneurship education and youth leadership space.
Prior to moving to Oman, I lived and worked in Slovenia, Italy, and Bahrain.
I often like to say that my move to Oman sort of happened, it was never in the plans… like most of the great things in life I suppose.”
Why Did You Move to Muscat?
“At the time I was looking for a job and a new sense of adventure abroad.
Following the great personal and professional experiences I had while living and working in Bahrain, I wanted to pursue another opportunity internationally.
I had no special intention of moving to Oman nor back to the Middle East even. I was simply open to a new role wherever it may be.
I reached out to my network of friends and colleagues and not long after that I was offered a job in Oman. Very quickly after accepting the offer I found myself in boiling hot Muscat (it was 45-50 degrees Celsius when I made the move to Muscat as it was the middle of August).
It was basically me and my 2 suitcases. And the adventure awaiting.”
What Do You Like About Living in Muscat?
“I was no stranger to the region but Oman did surprise me in so many ways.
Some of my favorite things about Muscat and Oman can easily be summarised into the following categories:
Lifestyle & Culture:
Oman is an Arab country with Islam as the official religion and Arabic as the official language, while English is widely spoken (especially in Muscat).
Muscat is a melting pot of nationalities and cultures from East to West.
Expat life in Muscat offers a very laid back and relaxed lifestyle. It has a warm, safe, and family-oriented vibe, which is probably one of the reasons why it attracts so many expat families.
Being close to its super popular neighbor, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai!), many tend to compare life in Muscat to life in Dubai, which is absolutely incomparable. It is no better or worse, it is just very different.
Also Read: 10 Crazy Facts About Dubai
Living in Muscat offers a bigger opportunity to truly immerse yourself into a new culture (if you choose to do so), to interact and meet the locals and learn about their beliefs, customs and the way of living.
Contrary to Dubai, expats are a minority in Oman and predominantly live in Muscat.
Business Landscape & Professional Opportunities:
Oman’s economy has been developing rapidly which in turn created many opportunities.
For a young professional as I was when I moved to Muscat, it was an invaluable opportunity that probably wouldn’t have happened at home, with a very steep learning curve.
Working in such a diverse environment has definitely helped me develop a sense of cultural sensibility and has improved my communication skills.
I love the diversity of people and businesses I come into contact with on a daily basis.
On a more practical level, a major incentive for moving to Oman is the country’s tax haven status. As is common in the region, income is not (yet) taxed.
While many might find it quite challenging, I must say I absolutely love all the sunshine and heat.
Oman is a country of 350 days of sunshine and it hardly ever rains.
The period from March to September is considered ‘summer’ with temperatures skyrocketing to 45-50 °C (113-122 °F). As a result, the majority of your day to day life is spent indoors in air-conditioned spaces.
Winters are very comfortable averaging 18-25 °C (64-77 °F) and are perfect for outdoor activities.”
What Do You Dislike About Living in Muscat?
“There are definitely things that I sometimes struggled with or missed while living in Muscat.
Lifestyle & Culture:
Being a melting pot and a temporary home to so many cultures, it also means that the friends you meet will probably not be there in 2-3-4 years.
Most expats living in Muscat will at some point decide to either return to their home country or move somewhere else for another job. It is a place with a high ‘turnover’ of people, with only a few deciding to settle in Muscat.
But I suppose this is the reality of an expat lifestyle in most places, and it does make you cherish the moments you have more.
Business Landscape & Professional Opportunities:
Probably one of the most disturbing things about living in Muscat is witnessing huge inequalities in lifestyle and living conditions between expat groups.
Similar to what happens in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, life for expats coming from Western countries is generally very different from life for expats coming from Asia or Africa.
With regard to the business climate, most organizations, both public and privately-owned, still have a very hierarchical structure with decision-making power often centralized in one person or a few. This creates a type of environment that’s risk-averse and moves slowly.
You’ll often hear people say that it takes ages to get anything done in Muscat, both in business and in everyday life. Even straight forward and simple things turn into weeks or even months-long agony.
People living in Muscat often complain about the level of service, which to be honest is not the best.
Others say Oman is one of the slowest moving markets – there might be some truth in that too.
There is a limit to what you can do outdoors from March to September due to a hot and humid climate. Summer also tends to be a very quiet time of year when most expats take their annual leave.
What I often miss the most are green parks, forests and fresh air. Or to simply go for a walk, which is not a thing you do in Muscat. You basically drive yourself somewhere to walk or run in Muscat. Streets are not pedestrian-friendly and public transportation is still under development.
Due to the weather conditions and the reckless driving in Muscat, I would strongly advise against walking as a way to get around – it is almost impossible. The city is just not made for it.”
Is Oman Safe as a Place to Live?
“Absolutely! I would say Oman is probably one of the safest places I’ve been to.
Generally speaking, it is a wealthy country with a strong economy. Oman’s citizens are well taken care of, so you will rarely see a homeless person.
As a young European woman moving to Muscat on my own, I haven’t had any unpleasant experiences, other than some uncomfortable stares.”
What Is Your Favorite Thing to Do in Muscat?
“Other than taking my visitors to all the touristy locations I love early morning runs before work or weekend yoga classes at the beach (Shatti beach or Qurum beach).
I also took painting classes and dance Zumba weekly.
Meeting friends for dinner during the week or having a morning coffee or lunch over the weekend at one of the cafes by the beach under palm trees is my favorite thing to do.
We also occasionally organize weekend camping trips to the desert or the mountains just a couple of hours away from Muscat. What great adventures those are!
One of the most magical memories is definitely learning to scuba dive at Daymaniyat islands not far from Muscat.”
What Is Your Favorite Place to Hang out in Muscat?
Socializing in Muscat mostly happens in shopping malls or cafes and restaurants, so you will find that the restaurants and food services industry is constantly growing with lots of new places opening all the time.
Some of my favorite cafes/restaurants in Muscat are:
- Kargeen in MSQ
- D’Arcy’s Kitchen in MSQ
- Mani’s Café at Al Mouj or at Shatti Beach
- Costa Coffee at Shatti beach
- Mackenzies in MSQ
- Starbucks in Qurum (mainly for the great location, not so much the coffee ;))
Muscat (and the Gulf region in general) has some of the most stunning hotels I’ve stayed at. The interior is just spectacular. Some of my favorites:
- Grand Hyatt for brunch, coffee or dinner
- Crowne Plaza for the iconic sunset cocktails
- Intercontinental for a Friday night out at Trader Vics, dinner & cocktails
- The Chedi for a weekend brunch
And, a must-try when living in Muscat is a chicken shawarma with fresh lemon-mint juice. It’s a unique experience starting with the way you place your order. Simply roll down your car window as you are not expected to get out of your car. Instead, the waiter comes over to you. Get one in Al Khuwair or in front of Al Mouj if in Muscat.”
What Is the Expat / International Community Like in Muscat?
“I would describe it is as fragmented, well connected and not too big which makes it easy to develop deeper friendships.
There is definitely some segregation between Asian and Western expat groups who tend to have different qualities of life here.
Upon my arrival to Muscat I joined a few Internations events and through that network I very quickly met people who turned into some of my best friends here.
In addition, there are many clubs that provide networking opportunities for both expats and locals such as the British Club, the European, the American etc.
My friend group is also very diverse, including people from the UK, Ireland, Spain, Lebanon, Colombia, Bahrain, Canada, China, Ukraine, USA and many more… even a few fellow Croatians.”
Any Tips for Moving to / Living in Oman?
“If you are thinking about living in Oman, these are a few of my tips:
1. Work Permit
While many can visit Oman freely on a tourist visa, in order to work and live here you need to be sponsored by your employer. That is the most important piece of the puzzle.
2. Driving License & Car
Making sure that you have a valid driving license prior to moving to Oman will make your life so much easier. If you are coming from the EU or UK, your local license can easily be transferred to the Omani license.
Not driving in Muscat would make your life a lot less comfortable. I would suggest making sure you have access to a car from day one, be it a rental or a company car as the process of finding an apartment and settling in will be much easier if you can drive around.
3. Your Favorite Home-Country Brands
As it is still a developing market, the chances that you find your favorite coffee or tea brand, the spices you use at home, food supplements, or a favorite facial cream are close to zero.
My suggestion is to stock up on some of the goodies you think you’ll need and bring them with you.
4. Curiosity, Openness, and Respect for the Local People and Culture
I would simply advise you to be really curious about the country, the culture, the people and their customs.
Allow yourself to experience and learn something new, ignore the stereotypes or perhaps strong opinions and fears you might hear at home.
Most of the Omani people I met have been very humble, respectful and welcoming towards expats. But I do think it is important to mention that respect should go both ways.
Expat women in Oman are not expected to cover their heads with a scarf or wear the black garment called an abaya, but too revealing outfits are discouraged and considered disrespectful.“
Any Resources You Found Useful During the Process of Moving to And/Or Building a New Life in Muscat?
If you are planning to live in Muscat, these websites are really useful:
- Internations Muscat: A great way to meet people
- Muscat – Where can I find..?: A useful Facebook group to ask questions about anything related to life in Muscat
- OLX.com: to find an apartment to rent
- Muscat Buy & Sell: A Facebook group to buy or sell things in Muscat”
Is There Something You Just Have to See or Do When You Are in Muscat?
“Some of the must see places and activities are the following:
- Visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House in Muscat.
- Organize a weekend trip to Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar mountains.
- Go on a full day dhow cruise.
- Swim in Bimmah Sinkhole.
- Hike over Muttrah.
- Visit the local souq.”
Some Final Things to Know About Life in Muscat and Oman
“Please note that the experiences I shared above come from living in Muscat, and not in other parts of the country.
There is quite a difference in lifestyle and expected behavior for expats living in smaller, more remote areas of Oman.
Final Tips for Living in Muscat and Oman
- Skype and Viber are blocked in Oman but there are other alternatives. I use WhatsApp or Google and Facebook chat to stay in touch with people back home.
- It rains only 10 days a year but when it does it floods the city heavily due to a lack of proper drainage system and it causes chaos.
- Cars and fuel are inexpensive, and most people own a vehicle. As a result, public transport is not very well developed. Fuel is almost cheaper than bottled water.
- Contrary to popular belief Oman is not all desert. It has stunning mountains, islands, and even a seasonal but spectacular rainforest in the south.
- Oman is often called ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’ and is known for its diplomacy and friendly ties with both the USA and Iran.
- Alcohol can only be purchased in special liquor stores, not in regular supermarkets.”
Muscat is the capital of Oman and the country’s largest city.
The city is actually made up of three smaller towns that have grown together over time:
- Muscat – often referred to as the “walled city”. Muscat proper is the site of the royal palaces.
- Matrah (Matruh) – originally a fishing village, and home to the maze-like Matrah Souq.
- Ruwi – generally considered the commercial and diplomatic center of the city.
The city lies on the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of Oman and is in the proximity of the strategic Straits of Hormuz.
Low-lying white buildings typify most of Muscat’s urban landscape. Muscat’s economy is dominated by trade, petroleum, liquified natural gas and porting.
The climate is tropical, with very hot and generally humid weather year-round.
Muscat attracts expats from all over the world, creating a multi-cultural vibe.
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