You’ve accepted a job in Muscat, the capital of Oman. You’ve looked it up on the map after realising you only had the vaguest notion of where it actually is. You can now confidently describe its geographical positioning and are getting a little sick of people quoting Chandler from Friends at you ‘You’re going to Yemen?!’
Here’s some tips and hints about life in Muscat, a mix of the practical and ‘you really should know this if you live here’.
#1 It’s not Dubai
You know this of course- you looked it up, remember?- but I mean in more than just the literal sense.
You won’t find skyscrapers and malls with ski slopes in Muscat; Oman is more traditional than its Emirati neighbours and has made a concentrated effort to preserve its own culture while modernising.
Although sometimes you may curse the poor selection of restaurants and bars when compared to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, I always found that on balance, I much preferred living somewhere that has still retained its own culture. Muscat has all the modern conveniences but it still feels like you’re living in the Middle East; not in some fake playground for the rich (yup Dubai, I’m looking at you!).
Take time at the weekends to visit Muttrah (the old town), or drive out to Nizwa to visit its well preserved fort; go to Wadi Shab; do a desert safari. You’re in the Arabian Gulf! Experience it!
#2 Sultan Qaboos
Oman is a Sultanate, ruled by the ever popular Sultan Qaboos. Coming to power through a British-backed coup in 1970, which saw him overthrow his father, Sandhurst-educated Sultan Qaboos modernised Oman.
Omans transformation over the last 45 years is awe-inspiring. When Qaboos took power, there were only three schools in the country- none of which admitted girls- and the city gates of Muscat were still locked at sunset.
Today the country is modern, well connected and one of the most liberal countries in the region (it’s all relative here folks). Omanis love their Sultan and so do expats. The Sultans liberal influence is why Oman is one of the easiest places for foreigners to live in the Middle East.
Sultan Qaboos has been quite sick the last year or two, with the general consensus being he is suffering from cancer. With no known heir apparent, Omanis and expats alike are always concerned about the health and well being of the Sultan.
#3 There’s shops galore!
You don’t need to panic-pack for your move to Muscat; you can get virtually everything here (apart from Batiste Dry Shampoo! Ladies, you need to bring that little gem with you).
There’s a variety of grocery stores with everything you need, from basic food stuff to imported Waitrose own brand products; you can even buy pork products in certain shops, though expect to pay a substantial mark up! There’s Western clothes shops such as Zara, Forever 21, H&M, etc. There’s a ridiculous amount of Western coffee shop chains and for your at home caffeine needs, there’s a Nespresso store too.
Being honest, coming from the West of Ireland, I have better access to international brands when I’m in Muscat. Don’t panic and stuff your suitcase with unneccessary basics, it’s all here!
#4 You CAN drink!
This isn’t Saudi. There are pubs and nightclubs where anyone can drink. The nightlife scene isn’t massive but there’s still plenty of places to go. Habana’s Sports Bar is usually a good choice, Left Bank or Traders is decent for dinner, drinks and dancing while the Hyatt Rooftop does the best all inclusive evening. Nightclub wise, Rock Bottoms is the best of a very, very bad bunch. To purchase alcohol to drink at home, you need an alcohol licence which your employer should help you to secure.
#5 Muscat Mutterings is your new Bible/Qur’an
They do news differently here – not very reliably. There are always rumours about new laws, the health of the Sultan, etc. Don’t believe it unless you see it on the excellent blog Muscat Mutterings, which also has a whole heap of great articles for Oman newbies.
#6 The Beaches are Stunning
Yes this is the Middle East, a vast part of the country is covered in desert or mountains and beaches are not the first thing that spring to mind when you think of the Arabian Gulf BUT Oman has a stunning coastline- about 1,700km of it.
The best beaches are the gloriously empty ones outside of the capital but there’s great ones in and around Muscat too. I always enjoyed The Crowne Plaza’s private beach and the one at the Al Bustan (for guests only technically) is simply gorgeous. If you don’t need a lounger and bar service, drive out to Sifah and enjoy the gloriously empty stretches of beach.
#7 You can relax the dress code
Oman is a traditional and conservative country but they are relatively relaxed about dress. Obviously, in public areas such as malls, etc you should cover up but typically, I would wear leggings/boyfriend jeans with vests or t-shirts. There’s no need to stock up on heaps of maxi skirts and long sleeved cardigans. When going out at night, provided you’re going straight to the hotel/bar/nightclub/ you can dress as you like.
It’s mostly a matter of realising where you can dress freely and where you can’t. Going to a private beach or hotel pool? Feel free to break out your best bikini. Going to a public beach? Cover up. It’s mostly a matter of common sense so don’t stress about it.
#8 Gulf Politics
With Saudi currently engaged in a bombing campaign against Yemen, the UAE involved in the fight against ISIL and the recent diplomatic spat between Saudi and Iran which drew in other Gulf nations, it’s worth brushing up on the basics of Gulf political relations!
Oman is unique in the Arabian Gulf in that it maintains friendly relations with Iran- because Oman is not, like its neighbours, a majority Sunni nation but also because its geographical location demands it. Oman was key to negotiating the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and the US last year.
Oman is also keen to carve its own foreign relations and not follow the Saudi line, which often leads to tensions in the Gulf Cooperation Council (a sort of mini-EU which Saudi endlessly tries to dominate). During Iran and Saudi’s recent spat, Oman was the only Gulf nation not to follow Saudi’s lead and recall its ambassador from Tehran.
#9 Customer Service
Good customer service is generally lacking. This is a small, everyday occurrance that should be insignificant but will cause you endless rage. Just giving you fair warning!
#10 Expat Wifes
Yup, expat wifes are still a thing. If you’re a single girl who moved to Muscat because you got a job (Holla!), you will find yourself explaining to endless service providers and friendly neighbours ‘No, I’m not here because of my husbands job. I work.’ A small annoyance perhaps but it used to endlessly piss me off. Anytime you deal with any sort of service provider, you will be forced to go through the same tedious explanation; ‘No, it’s under my name.. . . No, I’m not married. . . . No, I’m not here with my family.. . .Because I work!’
If, however, you are moving to Oman as an expat wife, this post by the Duncan Adventures is for you!
And a bonus one. . .
#11 You’re on a Boat!
Boat parties are about to become a common ocurrance in your life. Enjoy!