Expat life is exciting: traveling to new locations, meeting new people, exploring diverse cultures – for most people, life really can’t get any better than that. However, even the exciting expat life is not one without a few worries. When moving to a new place, there is a lot of anxiety over your ability to adjust to your new surroundings.One of the biggest worries expats have on their minds when traveling to foreign locations is health and wellness. The kind of hospitals and medical care that you’re used to might not be available in some locations. So, what’s the healthcare system like in a 21st-century monarchy like Oman?
Located on the south-eastern coast of the Arab Peninsula, Oman holds a strategically important place at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. With developed countries like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to the west and northwest, and Yemen to the southwest, Oman is well connected by land to the Arab world. Iran and Pakistan share Oman’s maritime border. The Arabian Sea to the southeast and the Gulf of Oman to the northeast form the country’s coastline. The terrain in Oman is varied across its span. The deserts and valleys make up about 80 percent of the Arab nation’s geography. Most of it is a wide desert plain with mountain ranges to the north and southeast.
The climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. Summers in Oman are usually very hot, with temperatures shooting up to 40 degrees Celsius and sometimes even higher. The north of the country receives an inadequate amount of annual rainfall – roughly 100 mm in January. Rainfall is much higher in the mountains, with Jebel Akhdar recording around 900 mm of rainfall. The south has a more tropical atmosphere with moderate rainfall in the months of June to September. Winters are mild and the most pleasant of all seasons in Oman. The temperature ranges from a cool 18 degrees Celsius at night to 26 degrees Celsius in the day during the winters.
Oman is an absolute monarchy with its capital in Muscat. Despite having modest oil reserves that put it in 25th place worldwide in terms of oil production, the country’s economy is not solely dependent on oil exports.
A large portion of Oman’s wealth is generated through fishing, tourism, exports of dates and other agricultural produce. This has led to the UNDP ranking Oman as the most improved nation in 2010 due to the progress it has made in the last 40 years.
According to a survey conducted by the Global Peace Index, it has also been ranked 74th on the list of most peaceful countries globally. In 2016, HSBC conducted a survey that ranked the country at 18th position among a list of 45 countries across the globe suitable for expat life. It is a lucrative option for expats looking to make good of the high-income economy.
There are a few things that expats must keep in mind before making the move. Common health problems in Oman often occur due to the extremely high temperatures in the region. If you’re not from the Gulf region, the arid climate can prove to be quite the shock to your system. There is a high chance of sunburn and sunstroke from prolonged exposure to the sun. That is why it’s recommended to carry hats and sunglasses at all times of the day and use sunscreen when outside. Dehydration can also occur very quickly, which is why it is advised that you drink fluids throughout the day.
Given that Oman is in a steady state of construction, the dust in the air can also cause respiratory problems to those prone to dust allergies and breathing issues. When moving to Oman, the following vaccinations or boosters are generally prescribed:
• Hepatitis A
• Hepatitis B
• Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
• Pertussis (whooping cough)
You should also consult your doctor or general practitioner for any other medications or vaccines that you might need to take before your trip.
The Sultanate of Oman provides free healthcare to all its citizens and to people from other GCC (Gulf Cooperative Council) countries through its public health plan. In fact, healthcare is a right for all citizens according to the constitution of Oman. Article 12 of Oman’s Constitution holds the government’s social security system responsible for citizens and their families in case of sickness, emergencies, incapacity and old age. Healthcare in Oman is classified by the Sultanate in 3 broad categories:
• Primary – Complete primary care and wellness through all local clinics, hospitals and health centres in the governates and regions.
• Secondary – Specialist healthcare services provided by fewer referral health centres and hospitals in Oman.
• Tertiary – Advanced services that require cutting-edge technology and doctors with superior skill sets. These hospitals, mostly located in Muscat, act as referral hospitals for all health centres.
The standard of public hospitals is quite high, with most of them housing excellent modern facilities to combat illnesses. Despite not having many water resources, the Sultanate has managed to provide safe drinking water to homes and industries through the country. Sanitation systems are also in good shape which has helped in decreasing the chances of contracting infectious diseases.
Steps have also been taken by Sultan Qaboos and his government to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates. The mortality rate of children below 5 years of age has decreased by an impressive 94%. The immunisation rate of infants against diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, polio, whooping cough, tetanus and other such diseases has gone up to 98%. The current life expectancy has also reached 74 years.
Communicable diseases like typhoid and measles, which were once widely prevalent in the country, have almost been eradicated. These efforts have been very instrumental in shaping Oman’s healthcare system and bringing it to a better position globally.
There are currently about 59 major hospitals in the country and about 900 clinics and health centres spread across its span. 49 of these hospitals – roughly 87% – belong to the central government. There are over 5,000 workers in the health and wellness industry in Oman. Each major city or town houses one state-of-the-art hospital with highly trained doctors in all spheres of modern medicine.
The demand for medical facilities doesn’t generally take a toll on the infrastructure of the country. The proportion of medical supply to the needs of people is considerably high. A lot of the medical workforce in Oman are foreigners, which is a clear indication of the country’s booming healthcare system.
Foreign doctors looking to practice in Oman must get their qualifications verified by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior before they start working in the country. This is ideal for expats who aren’t well versed with Arabic as the majority of the medical staff is well versed in English, especially in private hospitals. The government has also undertaken efforts to encourage young Omani people to contribute more to the healthcare industry in Oman.
Foreign expatriates however don’t get a lot of benefits of the Sultan’s universal healthcare system. This is the reason why most foreign expats choose private hospitals for treatment and medical care. Expats in government jobs and their families are also eligible for free healthcare in public hospitals and clinics.
Despite foreign expats not being a part of the public healthcare plan, the emergency units of all public hospitals in Oman are legally obliged to admit medical emergencies for people of all nationalities. Emergency services are well maintained at all public and private healthcare centres across Oman. The national emergency hotline for healthcare services is 9999. It is advised that you arrange for transportation to the hospital, as ambulance services are sparse.
Expats must register themselves at a nearby primary care centre for accessing any kind of medical service. Most of the areas in the country are within a five-kilometre radius from a health care centre. For serious ailments that would need a specialist’s diagnosis you can get a recommendation from your general practitioner.
However, for non-urgent treatment of illnesses, expats have to visit a private hospital and the fees have to paid for immediately, and often in cash. The Burjeel Medical Centre at Al Azaiba is the preferred choice of most expats when it comes to foreign hospitals. While the facilities and technology in these private hospitals are excellent, the prices can be a bit steep. Hence it is highly recommended to have a private health and medical insurance policy when traveling to the country.
If you’re moving to Oman as an employee, the chances are that your employer has already paid for your insurance plan. The government however does not make it mandatory for employers to provide employees with insurance. Therefore, it is advisable to verify the terms of the plan. Sometimes, these plans are limited in the options where the insurance is valid or exclude a few non-public clinics and hospitals. Some plans might not cover a range of medical services such as dental hygiene and mental health issues. It is very important to speak to your employer about your needs and negotiate a plan that works well for you.
When finalizing on a medical insurance plan one should ensure that the policy includes:
• Air ambulance to your home country in case you need to fly back in an emergency
• Complete medical cover for all healthcare bills
• Cover for the medical care of your dependents against diseases and travel related sickness
• Cover to transport the body home in the unfortunate scenario of death
There are ongoing talks to make health insurance mandatory and easily accessible for all expats in Oman. The Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry plans to bring this into effect from 2019. This would be good news for foreign nationals working in Oman in the private sector. The bill aims to make healthcare more affordable for everyone and would go a long way in promoting expat life in Oman.
Medications are easily available at most local pharmacies. There are quite a few 24-hr medical stores in Muscat in case of an emergency. It is recommended that you discuss your health care with the authorities in regards to which medicines are commonly found in the country. While most medications are easily available over the counter, make sure the medicines you need aren’t banned in Oman. If the medicines are banned, check with your physician to see if there are alternative ones you can purchase.
A lot of anti-depressants are banned in the country, so expats with depression must discuss the best options with their doctor before arriving here. If you do need to carry medication that is banned in the country, it is advisable to carry a doctor’s letter as proof stating that you require the medication and why. Some pharmacies may require a local doctor’s prescription as opposed to a foreign doctor’s. This is readily available after a consultation at any healthcare centre.
Learning a few key words in the local language can help speed things up, even though most healthcare professionals you find will be proficient in English. If you’re traveling to less populated areas of Oman, get a map or directions to the nearest healthcare centre and local pharmacies for emergencies. Carry a first aid kit with you at all times, as you never know when it will come in handy. Carry a record of your recent medical history when you travel to help doctors in Oman if you end up being hospitalized.
Once you have your insurance covered, there isn’t much more to worry about. You will find that your healthcare needs will be attended to quickly and in a professional manner. Once the motion for better expat healthcare is passed, Oman will become an even more enticing option for expatriates from all over the world.
Have you lived in Oman? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview.