Moving to Oman?
Expat Destination Oman
In the first part of our guide on moving to Oman, we have already mentioned the country’s high degree of urbanization. Over 75% of all residents live in cities, particularly in Muscat and Salalah.
Oman’s Expatriate Hotspot: Muscat
Muscat, the capital, forms an entire governorate of its own, housing not quite 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area (as of August 2017), including a sizable expat population of around 950,000. The province’s 1,500 km² include six walayats (i.e. districts: Muscat, Muttrah, Bawshar, A’Seeb, Al Amrat, and Qurayyat) and a variety of neighborhoods.
The city is Oman’s commercial and financial center, the seat of foreign missions, and a trading hub with a busy seaport — though the latter is currently being transformed from a commercial port to one for cruise ships, with a tourism-focused waterfront.
The Heart of Dhofar: Salalah
Outside the governorate of Muscat, Salalah is the largest city. The heart of Dhofar, a province in the south, is famous for its beautiful frankincense trees, as well as being the city where the current Sultan of Oman was born.
Apart from this claim to fame, Salalah also attracts a considerable workforce due to its free zone and its cargo port. Thanks to its favorable location with easy access to the sea, mountains, and desert, tourism is an increasingly important economic factor for business in the region.
Limited Property Purchasing Options for Expats
Foreigners buying property in Oman is a relatively new development in Omani law. Until 2004, all such purchases used to be forbidden to non-GCC nationals (i.e. anyone not a citizen of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE).
Foreign nationals may purchase land or real estate located within so-called integrated tourist complexes (ITCs), which grants them automatic residency rights. However, as of 2017, there are plans of possibly loosening this restriction and letting expats buy property outside of ITCs as well. Still, unless you are planning to invest in property development or to establish a vacation house in Oman, renting is probably the better option for expats looking for a temporary home.
A typical rental contract is usually valid for one year and can be renewed for a similar period. Note, however, that it’s customary to pay the rent for at least three months or an entire year in advance. If you have to leave the country early for some reason, this payment will not be refunded.
You can start your housing search on the following real estate websites:
What Does It Cost to Live in Oman?
Fortunately, the cost of living in Oman is relatively low. In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2017, Muscat ranked as number 92 out of 209 expat destinations worldwide. This makes it one of the least expensive cities in the Middle East, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for instance, found in the top 25.
One problem of expat life in Oman is the lack of job security due to the government’s “Omanization” policy, which favors local residents over foreign employees. There has also been a downturn of the Omani economy and a rise in unemployment due to low oil prices since 2015.
Parents also have to factor in high international or private school fees for expat children: in the Expat Insider 2017 study, 45% of respondents with kids in Oman regard education as expensive. During salary negotiations, you should therefore try to include tuition fees as part of your perks.
Moreover, while health insurance is a part of most employment contracts for expatriates, the healthcare plans offered by employers often exclude certain clinics, treatment for mental health issues, or dental care. So don’t leave the cost of supplementary health insurance out of your budget calculations!
Limited Leisure Options but High Personal Safety
The quality of life in Oman has been steadily increasing over the years: ranking 43rd out of 61 countries in 2014, Oman rose up to 26th out of 65 destinations in the Expat Insider 2017 survey. Expats are particularly happy with their personal safety and local peacefulness: only about 2% had something negative to say about these factors, compared to a global average of 11% and 12%, respectively. Comparably, Muscat also ranked 29th out of 230 cities in the 2016 Mercer Quality of Living survey.
Regrettably, Oman cannot keep up these great results in all aspects regarding the quality of living. Muscat simply doesn’t have the amenities of metropolises like Toronto or Singapore or the flair of places such as Vienna or Honolulu. In the Expat Insider 2017 survey, respondents ranked the capital an unimpressive 43rd place out of 51 cities around the world when it came to local leisure options, for instance.
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