Muscat, Oman Report of what it's like to live there - 03/19/09
Personal Experiences from Muscat, Oman
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not the first: San Jose, Costa Rica; Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, The Hague, The Netherlands; and Beijing, China.
2. How long have you lived here?
We have been here for just over 18 months now.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse works for the government.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Travel is brutal, especially with stops in U.S. and then in Europe (London; Amsterdam; Frankfurt; or Zurich) usually long waits for connections; and finally a touch down passenger exchange - usually in Dubai (sometimes Doha). Most flights arrive to Muscat around 11 pm. We would recommend new direct flights from U.S. cities through Doha. Otherwise break up the flight if you can and spend a few days in Europe. It makes a huge difference to "cattle car" syndrome.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Many homes have tall ceilings for the heat and at least three floors and roof access. Homes run larger since a great part of the year is quite hot for being outdoors all day. We moved a few months ago to an exception -- a smaller 1 1/2 story "ranch" style with a large meandering garden and brick patio. The home was built for cross ventilation and we are enjoying it and the gardens we have worked on immensely.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive unless you buy local and in season. You can get just about anything that you need/want here; but it's not guaranteed to be in stock when you need so plan accordingly. Lulus is the biggest and cheapest hypermarket; great selection of fruits, veggies, and meats -- there is a high demand (i.e. ridiculously overcrowded during peak Omani shopping hours (4pm - midnight) and food is fresher due to large turnover of produce. Lulus caters to Omani, Indian, Sri Lankan, Malaysian, Philippine shopper.
There are now two Carefours adding their competition to this pool. The Sultan Center will give you American goods at super inflated prices (Blue Bell Ice-Cream US$20 half/gallon; Nilla Waffers and other crackers US$9/box...) Sometimes great bargains can be found and it is excellent for finding that ingredient that you can't get anywhere else. AlFair stores are throughout Muscat and are the most expensive, but will cater to a more European tastes: spectacular fresh baked breads, yogurts...
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Pet food & supplies.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Subway (about US$5 per 6in sub); KFC; Pizza Hut and Poppa Johns (about US$17 for a large); McDonald's... The best value is going to get the local schwarmas and chicken sandwiches (less than US$1 each). Most restaurants are extremely pricey and don't open for dinner until 7pm.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes, flies, ants. Thankfully not all at the same time.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the Embassy mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a small gym at the Embassy. The Intercontinental Hotel has a gym for members; there are a few other work out gyms around town as well.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
There have been some ATM scams; find the reliable ones through work acquaintances. We have had no problems with this. Credit cards can be used in major stores & for groceries, but there have been thefts of credit card info. We just don't use them as a rule.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, We attend the Protestant Church of Oman. Services are on Friday (9 and 11). There is also a Catholic church on the same designated grounds.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
"The Times of Oman" as well as "Hi" Magazine and "This Week", the latter two are regularly published with lots of photos of people attending events as well as letters to the editor. Satellite dishes and channel packages are widely available; however we don't subscribe as we have AFN.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The niceties are always appreciated. Those with Arabic skills open many doors. Most of the work force is foreign so other languages such as Tamil, Urdu, Sinhalese, Tagalog will also benefit you.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are a few handicap parking spots throughout the city, but they aren't always reserved for those who need them. Sidewalks are intermittent as well as ramps to the sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No local trains or trams. There are taxis, but I have found them uneasy and sporadic. There are no meters and the language barrier and the gender barrier can be frustrating.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Everything is here. Toyota is biggest in dealerships. If you want to go off road regularly, bring a real 4 wheeler. You can rent one as well for the occasional weekend trip. Bring the parts for your car; here everything is expensive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Cost is US$50 to 100 monthly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Everyone has them; you will want one. I am still using the phone I had in The Netherlands and China; we just buy a SIM chip and pay for time. OmanMobile and Nawras are the two main companies.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are a few vets. Cost is high.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No, not really, due to visa issues. There are subbing opportunities in the schools which I have enjoyed.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Modest. Men - long docker pants, light weight short sleeve shirts. Women - long pants, long skirts, capris...cover elbows and knees. Children, for comfort...better to err on caution for older children. This is the land of the abaya and dishadash.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Air is wonderful!!! This was one of the major reasons for selecting this post.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Oman is a peaceful country and the Omanis are friendly and helpful. There is a large expatriate labor force and I have found them to be hard working and friendly. I can say that I have never felt in danger here. As always, in any big city, you must be aware of your surroundings, know where your kids are, and keep crimes of opportunities low by locking your home, car, and watching your valuables. People here tend to do their daily activities in groups of friends or family; I follow that trend as much as possible in more isolated areas. News is not published regarding security issues.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The dust can aggravate allergies. There are some very qualified doctors here and dentists. My husband had eye lasik surgery here with excellent results as have many, many others.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and hotter. Winter months are lovely! Skies are clear and blue, with exception of the occasional dust storm.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Muscat has lots of school options. My children have attended The American International School of Muscat (TAISM -- KG/1st & 6th/7th) We have been thrilled with the teachers and opportunities the kids have had in swimming, music, drama, and the Discover Oman Program. I have also subbed extensively at the American British Academy (ABA) which follows an IB program. Both schools are exceptional with dedicated, professional and energetic staff. We will be moving our youngest to ABA this next year as we feel the IB program for 2nd grade is stronger and will suit his learning style better. There is also a British School; a Philippine School; an Egyptian School; a Sri Lankan school....
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
You would need to contact the school with your child's specific needs. Both TAISM and ABA have learning support (ESL, dyslexia, etc); but I don't know the extent of what they provide.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Both TAISM and ABA have early childhood classes (3 year-olds and 4 year-olds). The cost can be quite high. There are also many nurseries around Muscat. Many parents opt for household and nanny help to assist with younger children. There are a lot of help available opportunities, be sure to look into all the rules regarding sponsorship issues. Additionally there is a MOPS style program and standing playdate get-togethers.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There is the Muscat Football League for soccer. TAISM give swim lessons on the weekends for their school kids. Also PDO (Petroleum...Oman) advertises sports activities, but we haven't participated in those.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
LARGE. Numerous nationalities.
2. Morale among expats:
Depends on the heat and the workload. A few bad apples.... If you can get out and away and enjoy the beauty and hospitality of the country you can always recharge for the next week's activities.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
You make it!
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For couples, yes. Lots of opportunities to get out and camp, hike, and explore; restaurants (pricey); and get-togethers with others in the cool of the evenings. For families, yes, depending on how you all take the heat. There isn't a whole lot to do so you must bring/make your own fun. Summers can be hard, most spouses and kids go home for the worst of the heat so you end up separated for a several weeks. For singles, if you are outgoing and willing to try you can make friends and enjoy Oman quite a bit. We had a summer intern that did more to experience Oman in just 45 days than most had in 3 years. She loved it!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Overall, Muscat is very moderate for an Islamic capital and the Omanis are tolerant people. Dressing modestly and behaving appropriately- no loud or public displays of affection- go a long way in how you are treated. Asian Americans have reported having more issues when mistaken for imported laborers.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Muscat Festival in January/February; dolphin and whale watch cruises; dhow cruises; a small aquarium; hiking wadis; camping; swimming, museums; beach walks; school performances/plays; camel races; shopping in souks and weekend markets; visit forts in Nikhal and Nizwa, and hanging out with friends.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Abayas, oud, knickknacks at the souk, fresh Iranian nuts, plants for your garden,
9. Can you save money?
No way COLA is sadly much lower than it should be.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Excess clothing. Very few if any closets.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, skin lotions, drier sheets, Oxiclean powder (lots -- dust gets ground into everything!), shoes (ladies with small feet will enjoy shoe/sandal shopping here)