Where is Oman?
Situated in the Middle East, the Sultanate of Oman is on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders Saudi Arabia in the west, the United Arab Emirates in the northwest and Yemen in the southwest. The country has two external enclaves separated from it by the United Arab Emirates.
Travellers are in for a feast of wonderful images afforded by the beautiful and enigmatic country of Oman. There are mountain villages clutched against canyon walls, amazing sand dunes, camels padding across the limitless interior and clusters of dates weighing heavy on the many plantation oases. In Muscat (the capital) there are very few high-rise buildings instead there’s an abundance of forts that have been meticulously restored, and ancient crafts such as weaving are actively supported. Oman is somewhere to experience Islamic culture at its best together with hospitality, practical piety and friendly locals.
History of Oman
Prior to 1970 Oman was a very undeveloped nation. This changed with the ascension of Sultan Qaboos bin Said and the country has flourished in education, public works and tourism since then. Omanis are friendly and helpful people who are proud of their country’s rapid progress. Tourists should always respect the traditions and culture of the Omani people.
Oman Visa Requirements
A passport that is valid for at least six months and a visa are required by most nationals travelling to Oman including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK and Ireland and EU countries. You may apply for a single or multiple entry visa upon arrival at the International Airport at Oman Seeb. A single entry visa (one month) costs OmR6 and a multiple entry visa (one year) costs OmR10. A single entry visa is valid for three months from date of issue with one month stay from date of entry (which can be extended for one month). A multiple entry visa is valid for one year from date of issue for stays up to three weeks on each visit (which cannot be extended). Your passport must be valid for at least one year and a minimum of 3 weeks must elapse between each visit.
Travellers who have resided in one of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries for at least a year and hold a valid residence permit and labor card may obtain a tourist visa on arrival, if they also meet conditions regarding professional status.You should contact your local embassy or consulate for further details. Minors (under 18 years) travelling unaccompanied require a letter of consent from one of their parents. Any other visitors arriving in Oman without a tourist or a sponsored visa will be refused entry. Visitors are not allowed to enter Oman by road unless their visa states such validity and a designated point of entry. A sponsored visa is obtainable from the Royal Oman Police Immigration Department.
There is a departure tax of OMR5 for all departures from Oman which is usually included in the ticket price (children under two years old are exempt).
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
Oman Travel Health
Recommended vaccinations for travel to Oman are Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid. Depending on the season and region visited Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and Rabies vaccinations are sometimes required. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers arriving from an infected area.
All water outside the capital is not safe to drink and any water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should be boiled or otherwise sterilised. Bottled water is widely available and is recommended throughout Oman. Food bought in main supermarkets is safe and milk outside the capital is generally unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is recommended and only eat well cooked meat, fish, vegetables and peeled fruit.
Oman has an extensive public health service (free to Omani nationals) with many hospitals and health centres widely available. Treatment varies according to location and hospital emergency treatment is available. It is recommended to obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling to Oman.
There is an underlying threat from terrorism in Oman and attacks, although unlikely, could be indiscriminate particularly in places frequented by tourists. You should maintain a high level of security awareness particularly in public places and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations.
Generally Oman is a safe country and crimes rarely occur as the Royal Oman Police are very efficient and honest. Driving in Muscat can be dangerous mainly due to congestion. Omani drivers outside the cities tend to drive fast and overtake without indicating and at night many drivers fail to turn their headlights on. Beware of camels on the roads as collisions are often fatal for both camel and driver. Driving in the desert requires proper preparation. Never go off road, leave your itinerary with a friend and take spare tires, sufficient water and sufficient petrol.
Emergency numbers for Oman are: Police and Fire emergencies 999.
What is Oman Local Currency?
The currency for Oman is the Omani rial (OMR) which is made up of one thousand Baisa. Notes are in denominations of OMR50, 20, 10, 5 and 1, and 500, 250, 200 and 100 baiza. Coins are in denominations of 50, 25, 10 and 5 baiza. The rial is officially tied to the US dollar at 1 rial = 2.6008 dollars; exchange rates on the streets are a percent or two lower.
All major credit cards are accepted and ATM’s are widely available throughout the country. Foreign currency can be changed at money exchanges throughout Oman and at airports. Traveller’s cheques are easily exchanged and to avoid additional exchange rate charges it is advised to take traveller’s cheques in US Dollars. Banking hours are Sat-Wed 0800-1200, Thurs 0800-1130.
What is Oman’s Weather?
Oman’s climate is primarily dry and hot with scorching temperatures reaching 54 degrees Celsius in the barren interior. From around May to August it is hot and humid in all parts of the country except in the southerly Dhofar region.. Dhofar experiences a more temperate climate with milder temperatures between June and September and heavy monsoon rains are experienced each year. The rest of the country mainly experiences low and irregular rainfall. On the coast humidity can be high during the summer months. The climate is best from late September to early April.
Recommended clothing for travel to Oman is lightweight cottons throughout the year with a warm wrap for cooler winter evenings.
Culture of Oman
Omani’s are generally down to earth, very humble people and quite relaxed. Even though they seem to be less uptight than their neighbours you should always respect the customs and culture of a Muslim country. Always dress conservatively with shoulders and knees covered and avoid low cut necklines. Swimsuits should only be worn in the pool or at the beach and it is recommended to wear a loose covering between one’s room and the beach. Staring is quite common in Oman and is not meant as an insult, it rather shows an interest and a friendly smile in return will be appreciated. Homosexuality is illegal due to Islamic law. Tipping is not expected in Oman however a gratuity (5%) is a welcome gesture for exceptional service. A service charge is usually added to bills already.
Islam is the official religion in Oman, although other religions are tolerated. Over 80% of the population is Muslim and most of the these are of a minority sect known as Ibadis. Most of the remainder are either Sunni or Shia. Indian Hindus account for 13 percent of the population and there some are also small numbers of non-Omani Christians. Never criticise the Sultan of Oman or the Islamic religion as it will cause great offence.
Omani’s appreciate your showing respect for their time so always be punctual for meetings or social gatherings. Men should never touch Omani women and do not shake their hands unless they initiate it (only ever shake with your right hand). If an Omani man holds your hand do not pull away as this is an innocent gesture of familial warmth and hospitality. When giving gifts do not give photos of women, engraved images or any suggestive images of any kind (instead give something promoting your country or company). Never show the soles of your feet to anyone in Oman as this is a huge insult, never serve pork or alcohol to any Omani and only eat with your right hand.
Smoking in public is probably best avoided as it may be considered impolite, although no-smoking signs are posted where appropriate. Visitors should also ask f before taking a photo of Omani people or their property (‘No Photography’ signs exist in certain areas).
What Languages Are Spoken In Oman?
In Oman Arabic is the national language however most Omani’s will speak excellent English especially in major tourist areas and cities. In the southern Dhofar region, a Semitic language called ‘Jibbali’ is spoken and in the capital Muscat Swahili and Balushi are spoken by ethnic minorities.
The telephone country code for Oman is 968 and mobile phone coverage is good throughout the country. There are Internet cafes available throughout Oman and airmail to Western Europe generally takes three to four days. Banking hours are: Sat-Wed 0800-1200, Thurs 0800-1130.
Oman Transport Options
The main international airport in Oman is the Muscat (MCT) Seeb International and the national airline is Oman Air. For all departures there is a departure tax of OMR5 which is usually included in the ticket price. Children under two years old are exempt from this tax. The two domestic airports for Oman are Muscat/Seeb and Salalah, and Oman Air runs domestic flights to Salalah and Khasab from Seeb airport.
There are regular daily bus services connecting the larger cities such as Muscat, Salalah, Sohar, Sur and Nizwa. There are several daily bus services from Muscat to Dubai and there is one bus a day from Muscat to Abu Dhabi. All taxi drivers in Oman are Omani nationals and are generally very friendly, reliable, safe and reasonably priced. There are also mini buses that you share with others and pay a lower price. Omani women travel this way if they need to use public transport and women should sit with other women and never with a man to avoid any unfortunate situations of mixed signals.
Driving around Oman in a rented car is very easy with a six lane highway connecting Muscat and Nizwa. Be careful driving on the road connecting Muscat to Sur as this is a single lane, partially lit road and animals wander onto it day and night. Drivers are usually reckless and ignore the speed limits so make sure you have insurance. Another area to be careful is on the coastal road being built from Muscat to Sur as it is also single lane and poorly lit at night. If you intend to drive in Wadi Shab a 4WD is recommended as there are unsealed roads and if it starts to rain flash flooding is common.
Traffic laws are strictly imposed and there are heavy penalties for drunk driving (48 hours in prison). Seatbelts should be worn at all times and fines are imposed if caught using a mobile phone whilst driving.
Oman Travel Tips
Certain activities that may not seem obvious are strictly policed in Oman, collecting seashells is one such example. Similarly abalone, corals, turtle eggs and crayfish should also be left alone. Do not litter in Oman either as this is strictly prohibited.
Oman Local Food
The food in Oman is mainly Arabic, Turkish, Lebanese and Indian. Omani food tends to be less spicy than typical Arabic food and is served in large portions such as a whole fish. Seafood is common especially shark and local food is very cheap (a substantial meal may only cost OMR2). Fast food chains such as McDonalds and KFC are widely available in the larger cities especially Salalah and Muscat.
Traditional coffee houses and popular chain coffee shops are available and very popular. Waiter service is the norm in restaurants and the majority of hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for foreigners. Alcohol for home consumption can be bought, however travellers must obtain a licence from the embassy to do this.
National specialties include: A delicious meat cooked slowly for up to two days in underground clay ovens called Shuwa, Kingfish cooked on a spit or Mashuai, rice with saffron served with spicy meat (Maqbous), Halwa – a lovely sticky sweet treat made with dates and flavoured with rose water, saffron and cardamon.
Bottled water is widely available from most stores and alcohol is only available from select restaurants and large hotels and is expensive. Drinking is illegal for Omani’s and drinking in public and during Ramadan is strictly prohibited. Foreigners should take care during this period to drink in the privacy of your room. The legal drinking age is 18.
National drinks include: Kahwa – strong coffee flavoured with cardamom and fruit juice (mango, orange, pomegranate and avocado layered in long glasses).
Oman Local Timezones
Oman’s Standard Time is 4 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+4). Oman does not operate Daylight-Saving Time.
Electricity in Oman is 240 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Oman with a device that does not accept 240 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter. Outlets in Oman generally accept 2 types of plug: two round pins and two parallel flat pins with ground pin. If your appliances plug has a different shape, you may need a plug adapter.
Oman Dutyfree Limits
The following items may be imported without incurring customs duty: Note that these amounts apply on a per family basis.
• Up to 2l of alcoholic beverages (non-Muslims);
• A quantity of tobacco products for personal use;
• 227ml perfume; eight video tapes or DVDs for personal use.
Meat products require an Islamic law slaughter certificate
Banned Imports include: narcotics; most food products which are not canned (including vegetables, fruit and non-alcoholic beverages); dates; firearms and replica’s including toys; obscene films/literature and videos may be subject to censorship.
The use of narcotics and obscene material are strictly forbidden and can lead to arrest and jail time. Severe penalties exist for drug related offences in Oman, including the death penalty, this includes so called “Soft drugs” which are treated in the same way as hard drugs here.