How To Move To Oman - The Definitive Guide
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Apply For A Visa[back to top]
Anyone who chooses to live and work in Oman must first apply for the relevant visas and permits. There is a lot of paperwork involved and you do have to plan in advance. Requirements will vary for nationals of different countries so it is a good idea to check with the Oman embassy in your home country to ensure that you have the correct documentation in place.
In order to obtain a visa to live and work in Oman you must meet a certain number of criteria. Your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months. Nationals of other Gulf States who have national identity cards may not need a passport. You should also have a birth certificate, medical certificate and marriage certificate, if applicable. Travellers should be aware that anyone who has a stamp in their passport from Israel will not be allowed entry.
Medical certificates are required to show that you are in good general health and are free from any sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS. Further medical examinations may be necessary once you have arrived and settled in the country.
If you arrive in the country without the relevant visas you will more than likely be turned away, although people who have been resident in another GCC state for one year may be able to get a tourist visa when they arrive in Oman, but this will also depend on certain criteria.
If you are offered a job in Oman then it is the company who wishes to employ you which will have to sponsor your visa and make the arrangements on your behalf. Most companies will have a member of staff whose job it is to guide you through the process, but these visas are dependent upon you having a solid offer of employment.
There is also now the possibility of long-term residency of the country. Expats who choose to purchase a property to either live in themselves or rent out to another, can apply for this status. The Omani government is trying to attract further foreign investment in the country and make it more attractive to those who wish to retire there.
It is often recommended that you leave your passport with your employer as all companies are subject to random checks to ensure that they are not employing illegal workers. This is not compulsory and the Omani authorities actually advise against it. You should be able to keep your passport with you.
Find A Job[back to top]
The majority of expats who seek work in Oman do so on a temporary basis. International companies usually recruit workers on a fixed term contract and after several years the worker returns to their home country.
For several years there has been a shortage of skills in the Middle East and this has led to a lot of recruitment abroad in industries such as oil, gas, petroleum, teaching, medicine and construction. As the countries have become more developed Omani workers are learning the skills that they need so there is more regulation now for foreign workers, although there is still a demand for specialists in the oil and gas industries and for teachers of English.
It is believed that the country will still require foreign workers, as there is still a great deal of development happening in Oman. In order to obtain a work visa for Oman it is much better to have a firm offer of employment in place. The company who intend to employ you will have to apply for the work visa on your behalf. You will have to provide documentation such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, medical certificate and have a passport that has at least six months left to run.
Employment contracts may include benefits such as accommodation, company car and medical insurance and one of the main perks of working in one of the Gulf States is the lack of taxation. You may earn a salary which is comparable to the one you had in your home country, but a slightly lower cost of living and no taxation means that you will have more disposable income.
The working week will vary between 40 and 48 hours, depending upon the industry you are in. For most the working day will start around 8.30 am or 9 am and finish around 5.30 pm or 6 pm. The weekend in Oman is Thursday and Friday (so most people are expected to work on Sunday).
There are a number of recruitment agencies which recruit for companies in Oman. Some of these are based in the country itself and some are based in other parts of the world. These agencies will all have websites so you can browse details of positions available before you apply. It is worth avoiding agencies which charge you a fee to join them. A reputable agency will only charge the recruiting company and not the applicant.
Rent Property[back to top]
When renting a property in Oman there is a choice of apartments and villas and these can be situated both in and out of secure estates. Over recent years there has been a great deal of residential development in the country and this has increased the amount of rental property available.
Development is continual in the country and it may be that if you are living near a building site that you will find it is in operation 24 hours a day. This means that you have to take the noise and dust pollution into consideration when deciding where to live.
International corporations that are recruiting foreign workers may include accommodation as part of the benefits package, but if you have to find your own accommodation there should be somebody on the staff at work to help you with all the details and who can point you in the right direction. Relocation to a country with a completely different culture can be difficult and some companies have a member of staff whose job it is to help newcomers settle.
Expats tend to have their own communities in Oman. The Omani people are very welcoming to those who respect their culture but there is not much social integration.
When renting an apartment or villa you need to decide what kind of facilities you would like. Most apartment blocks will have a laundry room, some are equipped with gyms and swimming pools, but it should be remembered that the more facilities you have the more you will have to pay in rent. The majority of property is rented unfurnished although it is possible to find some furnished properties, although this will increase the rent too.
Rental costs vary on location, property size and facilities available. For a basic one bedroom apartment which is unfurnished you may pay the equivalent of 750 – 1000 US dollars per month, whereas a three bedroom villa can cost the equivalent of $2000 per month. For a furnished property you can expect to add 25% onto these prices.
Included in rental costs may be some utility charges such as air conditioning and gas (if there is a communal tank). Water rates are often charged as part of the electricity bill and there may be a tax payable to the local authorities for community services such as refuse collection. The lease you sign should detail exactly what you are expected to pay for each month and will tell you if your landlord has any responsibility for certain charges.
Leases can be both short and long term, but most people will have a one year renewable lease. Deposits and security bonds are both payable and the amount will vary depending upon the length of the lease and the amount you pay in rent.
Buy Property[back to top]
Until recently it was not possible for a foreign national to own property in Oman. The government there now hopes to draw in foreign investment by allowing foreign citizens who meet certain criteria the opportunity to own their own property.
Properties available to expatriates are restricted to freehold properties within certain tourist complexes. At this time these areas include The Wave, Muscat Golf and Country Club and Blue City. They are allowed to sell their property at any time, but if they choose to buy undeveloped land they are legally obliged to develop it within a period of four years.
When the property has been purchased the owner and his immediate family automatically gain residency of the country and should apply for the necessary visas. They are allowed to will the property to another person – a prospective owner should always have a will – and if the owner dies and no heir comes forward the property will be managed by the Ministry of Tourism, reverting to government ownership after 15 years. If the owner is deported from the country they have the right to sell the property.
It is also possible for an expat to purchase a property to let out to somebody else and many people are choosing to do this as the country is in the infancy of buy to let and there is a lot of potential there.
The buyer of any property will have to pay a 3% registration fee and a small application fee when they purchase the property. There is also a stamp duty tax which the buyer must pay out for, but in Oman the costs incurred by the seller are nil. When buying a property you should also avail yourself of legal advice throughout the process and there will be costs incurred there too. It is possible to buy off plan but this will require a holding deposit with regular payments to be made throughout the construction process until the contracts are signed and the property changes hands.
If you choose to reside in the property yourself you may consider finding some domestic help. This should be easy enough but it is better to hire someone who comes highly recommended, if only for your own peace of mind.
Property prices are quite reasonable in Oman, with the cost of a one bedroom apartment beginning at around £90,000 and a three bedroom villa with pool costing around £300,000.
Register For Healthcare[back to top]
QUICK LINK: Oman health insurance
Oman has an excellent standard of healthcare available to both native Omani people and expats. With the exception of one or two conditions that may require specialist treatment, most people can be treated at one of the hospitals in the country.
There is a high ratio of facilities to citizens, so it is very easy and quick to get the care you need. There are also no worries about the language barrier, as a high proportion of medical staff are actually English speaking. Many of the private hospitals actually use English as a first language.
There is a public health service which provides most services free of charge to Omani residents, although some services may incur a small fee. It is advisable for expats and tourists to make sure that they have private medical insurance, although they would be treated in an emergency regardless of insurance cover.
All cities have modern hospitals with top of the range equipment, although in some poorer areas the facilities may not be so new. All hospitals have accident and emergency units, although if you call an ambulance you are likely to be taken to one at a public facility rather than private. It is also worth noting that most ambulance services are private so you may find it easier to make your own way to the hospital.
Finding a dentist in the country should also be easy. As with doctors, most will have trained abroad or be expats themselves and treatment is usually very fast and reasonably priced.
Some medications are available over the counter at a pharmacy, though you may find that what was easily available in your home country is restricted in Oman. If you require specific medication it is a good idea to check with the authorities before you arrive to ensure that what you need is readily available, otherwise you may have to discuss alternative medications with your doctor. It is also not easy to obtain anti-depressant medication as most are banned in the country. If you are travelling and have a restricted medication with you, it is advisable to also carry a letter from your doctor to confirm that you actually need it.
Some of the most common health risks in the country include sun burn and sun stroke. Some expats are unprepared for the extreme temperatures. Sun block and hats are a must-have. If you are working outdoors and the temperatures soar too high your employer should excuse you from work. Dehydration can also be a problem and newcomers to the region should be vigilant about taking enough fluids.
Open A Bank Account[back to top]
Only those who have a residency visa are able to open a bank account in Oman as you have to be able to prove that you have the right to be there. You must also be in possession of a ‘no objection certificate’ from your new employer. This will tell the bank your salary details so that you have evidence of how much you will be regularly paid. There are some banks that may ask to see a copy of your tenancy agreement as proof of your address. If you are in Oman as the dependent (spouse or child) of a worker then you will need his permission to open an account as he is officially your sponsor.
There is a general mistrust of cheques in Oman and most retailers and service providers prefer to take cash. For this reason a current account is essential for dealing with payments. A cheque is not a guarantee of payment in Oman, but if you write a cheque without having enough funds to cover it you will find yourself in a great deal of trouble. Not all current accounts will issue holders with a cheque book, so if you want one you may have to ask for a type of current account that does. Cheques are available printed in either English or Arabic and other paperwork from your bank can be issued in either language.
You can also choose to pay bills by direct debit or standing order as both these services are available at most banks. Some banks charge a small fee per transaction, but there will be a certain number of transactions each year that are free of charge. The number of transactions and the fees involved will vary from bank to bank. It is worth checking with a few different banks to find out their charges prior to opening an account.
Cards for cash machines are automatically issued on accounts and ATMs can be found at nearly all bank branches and in major shopping areas. There are daily limits on withdrawals from ATMs and these will vary from bank to bank, but can be much higher than in most other countries. Credit cards are available although credit limits will depend upon your personal circumstances and your relationship with your bank. Some banks also offer a ‘web shopper’ card, which is for using solely for online purchases and cannot be used in an ATM.
Most banks in Oman are able to handle transactions in foreign currencies, but paying in cheques in another currency can be a lengthy process while they are being cleared. Overdrafts are available on current accounts but must be negotiated with the bank in advance. There are high charges for unauthorised overdrafts and you may be called into the bank to discuss any discrepancies. The banks in Oman are careful with their dealings with expats as it is fairly common for them to have difficulties with expat account holders.
Savings accounts can be opened with any bank and offer a better interest rate than a current account. They are fairly easily accessible but for higher interest rates it may be worth considering a fixed term savings account, which limits access to the funds. Accounts can also be opened in other currencies, which is ideal if you are expecting regular money transfers or payments from abroad and most banks will offer both telephone and online banking facilities.
Local banks include Bank Muscat SAOG, the National Bank of Oman SAOG and the Oman International Bank SAOG. Foreign banks that have a presence in the country include Barclays, HSBC and Citibank. If you have an account already with one of these banks it may be worthwhile talking to them in advance of your move to the country to see if they can help you to set accounts up before you go, although you will still be subject to the same regulations and checks.
Banks are usually open from 8 am to 12 pm and from 2.30 pm to 6 pm from Saturday to Wednesday. Thursday opening hours are from 8 am to 11.30 am. These hours will alter during religious festivals.
If you should have problems with your bank then there is a banking ombudsman that can help to resolve any issues.
Learn The Language[back to top]
Oman’s official and national language is Arabic, although most people will have a good understanding of English, particularly in more urban and tourist areas. The country also has a number of minority cultures so languages such as Swahili, Urdu and Hindi can also be heard. English is often taught in schools as a second language. The growing expatriate population of the country means that there are quite a few languages which are used there on a daily basis.
Those who move to Oman for work will find that a great deal of business is conducted in English, so it may not be necessary to learn any Arabic, although it is always a good idea to learn a little of the native language. It is very satisfying to be able to converse with those of other cultures in their own language.
Many road signs, posters and notices will be printed in both Arabic and English, so a native English speaker will find it relatively easy getting around, although if heading off the beaten track you may find yourself in a more remote community where it is essential to speak at least a little Arabic, though some areas may speak a slightly different dialect of Arabic.
There are several language schools in Oman which can help somebody to pick up the language. For those moving to the country for work it may be worth asking the employer about language classes. Some larger companies may have a member of staff in-house who can provide some language lessons or they may be able to arrange a language course. However, prior to arriving in the country it may be a good idea to pick up a few phrases from a ‘Teach Yourself’ CD.
Arabic is probably a little difficult to learn as it is very different to western languages and most people are put off by the script, but with a little application and plenty of practise it is possible for most people to learn enough to hold a basic conversation in a shop or restaurant. Tuition is available in a variety of formats including private one to one tuition, intensive courses and evening classes. The important thing to remember is that there is no substitute for practice.
Watching television and listening to radio in Arabic can help to improve your language skills. However, it is also true that expats tend to stick together in Arab countries and it may be that most expats could get along quite well without learning any Arabic at all.
Choose A School[back to top]
After many years of only a basic educational system, the Omani government has in recent times vastly improved the quality of education. Having said that, while primary school level education is of a high standard, secondary education still remains lacking in certain areas and it is thought that expat students would be better served by studying in their home countries.
State schools are only usually attended by local Arab and Muslim children due to the curriculum being mainly Islamic. Normally non Muslim children and foreign children would not be allowed to attend any state school. Expat Muslim children stand a better chance of being accepted but priority goes to local children and places are scarce. In addition to this, lessons are not taught in English and older children may struggle to adapt. There are many private schools available in Oman but before deciding whether to send your child to a private Omani school or to a boarding school in their home country there are a few issues that will need to be addressed.
If you child has gone through the Omani primary school system and then it is decided that the secondary education would be better back in the home country there is the possibility that they would not be at the same educational levels as their classmates at home. There is also that possibility that achievements at an Omani school may not be recognised in the home country. And of course parents must assess the academic levels between the chosen schools.
Most private schools are co-educational compared to state schools which are strictly single sex. Also most private schools limit their intake solely to the relevant nationality, for example an American government funded school may only allow American nationals to enrol. Enrolment into private schools often means passing an entrance exam. One downside to private schooling is a high turnover of staff, meaning the children may not get continuity in their education.
Schooling structure is similar to other countries, whereby nursery and infant schools take children aged between 3 and 6. Primary school education is from ages 6 to 11 while secondary schooling is from ages 12 to 14 and high school is ages 15 to 18. School hours tend to run from 8am to 2.30pm Saturday to Wednesday (weekends in Oman are Thursday and Friday) although some schools operate two shifts, morning and evening. Private school costs usually run high but many companies offer schooling as part of their relocation package for expat workers.
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