The Middle East Sultanate of Oman (Arabic: سلطنة عُمان) is on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west, and Yemen in the southwest. Oman has two exclaves separated from it by the United Arab Emirates, the Musandam Peninsula and Madha.
|Northern Oman (Muscat, Bahla, Buraimi, Hajar Mountains, Madha, Matrah, Musandam Peninsula, Sohar)|
The capital city, fertile Al-Batinah coast, majestic Hajar Mountains and the Musandam Peninsula
|Central Coastal Oman (Ibra, Masirah Island, Sur, Wahiba Sands)|
Awe-inspiring dunes, old forts and coastal scenery fringing the Indian Ocean
|Dhofar (Zufar) (Salalah)|
Lush coastal lowlands and mountains bordering Yemen
|Empty Quarter |
Huge desert wilderness including much of the largely undefined border area with Saudi Arabia
- 1 Muscat - the historic capital and largest city (812,000)
- 2 Bahla - oasis town which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 3 Buraimi - border crossing town adjacent to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates
- 4 Ibra - gateway to the Wahiba Sands
- Matrah - adjoining the capital city and just as historic
- 5 Nizwa - contains one of the best-known forts in Oman
- 6 Salalah - the south, which is almost tropical at the time of the Kareef
- 7 Sohar - one of the legendary homes of Sindbad
- 8 Sur - where dhows are still made by hand
- 1 Hajar Mountains - a majestic range, the highest in the Arabian Peninsula, which stretches into the United Arab Emirates.
- 2 Madha - tiny exclave of Oman completely surrounded by the United Arab Emirates
- 3 Masirah Island - a real desert island experience awaits on this haven for turtles and other wildlife
- 4 Musandam Peninsula - a rocky exclave on the Straits of Hormuz with some magnificent wadis
- 5 Wahiba Sands - massive rolling dunes as far as the eye can see
|Currency||Omani rial (OMR)|
|Population||3.6 million (2013)|
|Electricity||240 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, BS 1363)|
|Emergencies||968, 112 (emergency medical services, police, fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Until Sultan Qaboos bin Said exiled the previous Sultan in 1970, Oman was an under-developed nation, almost completely closed to visitors and badly manipulated by the British, although never annexed. Since the accession of Qaboos, education, public works and tourism have taken off throughout Oman.
Omanis are friendly people and very helpful to visitors. In turn, tourists should respect the ways and traditions of the Omani people.
Omanis are proud of their country's rapid progress and of their heritage as one of the great seafaring nations. Excellent schools and hospitals, good governance, and on-going infrastructure improvements are all important characteristics of this once introverted and closed nation.
The oldest known human settlement in Oman dates to the Stone Age.
Sumerian tablets refer to a country called Magan, a name thought to refer to Oman’s ancient copper mines. The present-day name of the country is believed to originate from the Arab tribes who migrated to its territory from the Uman region of Yemen. Many tribes settled in Oman making a living by fishing, herding or stock breeding and some present day Omani families are able to trace their ancestral roots to other parts of Arabia.
From the 6th century BCE to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century CE, Oman was controlled or influenced by three Persian dynasties: the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids. By about 250 BCE the Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman and established garrisons in Oman. In the third century CE the Sasanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam four centuries later.
The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures reaching 54°C (129°F) in the hot season, from May to September.
Annual rainfall in Muscat averages 100 mm (3.9 in), falling mostly in January. Dhofar is subject to the southwest monsoon, and rainfall up to 640 mm (25.2 in) has been recorded in the rainy season from late June to October.
While the mountain areas receive more plentiful rainfall, some parts of the coast, particularly near the island of Masirah, sometimes receive no rain at all within the course of a year.
- Explorer Publishing, Oman Off-road: 26 Adventurous Routes. Given the dearth of available topo and road maps for the country, this book is indispensable for visitors looking to explore Oman's most outstanding sights, many of which are off the tarmac. Routes and points of interest are described in detail, with satellite imagery and GPS coordinates. Outside of the Gulf region the book may be difficult to find, but it is usually in stock at the bookshop in the arrivals terminal at the Muscat airport, as well as in select bookshops in the city and in the UAE, where it is published.
Ibadi is the official denominational religion of Islam in Oman. It is one of the most tolerant branches, causing Oman to be a more liberal society, and puts Oman in stark contrast with neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose "state religion" is the conservative Wahhabist interpretation of Islam.
Arabic is the national language, but most Omanis will speak good to excellent English, and particularly so in major tourist areas and cities. In the southern Dhofar region, a Semitic language called "Jibbali" is spoken. Swahili and Baluchi are languages spoken by ethnic minorities in Oman, especially in the capital Muscat. The presence of a large number of Malayalees expatriates from the Indian state of Kerala, has made Malayalam a prominent language. The historical presence of Indian traders has meant that Hindi is understood in some urban areas. An English-speaking traveller should have no language difficulties unless he or she really travels "off the beaten track".
A single entry visa can be obtained upon arrival at any air, land or sea terminal by citizens of the following countries:
- EU citizens and other Europeans including nationals of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and Vatican City but not Cyprus and Malta.
- Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Moldova, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, USA, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The 30-day visa costs 20 rials, 10-day one - 5 rials. You can pay online before arrival at the Royal Oman Police e-visa website or at MCT airport where you need to get the visa from the money changers which add a 1 rial commission. Your passport should be valid for no less than 6 months from the date of arrival. Any visa fees can be paid using UAE dirhams at a rate of ten dirhams to one Omani rial. At the airports, visa fees can be paid in any Gulf Co-operation Council currency, euros, and US dollars.
Oman has a common visa facility with the Emirate of Dubai. If you pass through Dubai immigration and are granted a visa to Dubai for at least 3 weeks, you will then be entitled to a free-of-charge visa for 3 weeks to Oman. You will need to show your passport stamp from Dubai to the Omani immigration officers. Visas are sold by private businesses at some ports of entry and these people may not be familiar with this and will try to convince you that you need to buy a visa from them. If it is your first visit to that particular port of entry, it may be difficult to know how to navigate past these people. If you make it to an immigration officer they will be familiar with the visa fee waiver and allow you to enter without paying. The countries benefiting from this type of visa are: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Britain, Sweden, Greece, Austria, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Belgium, Norway, The Netherlands , Denmark, South Korea, Japan, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong kong, Luxembourg, Vatican, Monaco, Andorra, San Marino.
This scheme is with the Emirate of Dubai only and not with other emirates of the UAE, therefore, if you enter the UAE via Abu Dhabi or elsewhere, then your UAE visa will be granted by some other emirate and while this allows you to travel within the UAE and to Dubai, the Omani visa fee will not be waived.
The visa can be extended another month by submitting your passport to the Royal Omani Police in Muscat, however there is one line, and the wait can be as long as 2 hours. The concept of personal distance is different in the Middle East than it is in Europe. Queue jumping may be a problem for Europeans unless you set aside that personal distance concept. If you are on a budget and need to extend your visa, consider taking a trip to the United Arab Emirates. Buses are 10-12 rials return. A same-day round trip flight to Sharjah on Air Arabia costs about 50 rials. Even a taxi would be an option. Visa is not required for nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states and a short stay visa will be granted on arrival to residents of GCC member states and regardless of nationality.
GCC expatriate residents are granted a visit visa valid for up to 4 weeks (extendable by 1 week) for a fee of 5 rials.
It is prohibited to bring firearms, narcotics or pornographic publications into Oman. Non-Muslims are permitted to bring two litres of alcohol into the country at Muscat International Airport only. You are not allowed to bring alcohol into the country in private cars at land border crossings.
Virtually all international flights arrive at Muscat (Seeb) International Airport (MCT) in Muscat. There are also regional international flights to Salalah (SLL). Purchasing a visa on arrival in Salalah can be quite difficult, as the airport is small and immigration officials tend not to have change for larger notes.
There are scheduled services by many airlines, including Oman Air, Emirates, Gulf Air, Etihad, British Airways, Kuwait Airways, Saudi Arabian Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Swiss International, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Air India, Air France, and Thai Airways International. The most frequent connections are via Dubai (DXB).
There are also direct flights from India by Air India.
The port in Muscat is used by cruise ships, however there are no regular passenger services to Oman. This is slowly changing, with more cruise ships (generally smaller ones) making port calls.
There are multiple border crossings from the United Arab Emirates into Oman some of which are listed below:
- Hatta border at Wadi Hatta and Al-Wajajah (this crossing can only be used by GCC Nationals)
- Wadi Jizzi between Sohar and Buraimi,
- Jebel Hafret leading to Ibri and Nizwa,
- Khatmat Milahah from Fujairah
- from Ras al Khaimah emirate to Bukha/Musadam
- from Fujeirah emirate to Dibba/Musadam.
- Al Ain (Abu Dhabi) 3 border posts, 1 Khatam Al Shukla (Khattm Al Shiklah) street border post (serving expatriates)
Driving directions and border crossing from Abu Dhabi to Muscat- For Abu Dhabi residents crossing to Oman, there are 3 border posts in Al Ain - Buraimi Border post (reserved exclusively for GCC Nationals)), Hilli Border post (also exclusively for GCC Nationals) and Khatam Al Shukla street border post (serving expatriates, you will not find any traffic signal in the city indicating the direction of the border).
Roads are excellent and the border crossing is quite easy. Don't forget to bring along some cash, as you have to pay for the visa to enter Oman, and also, as of 2019, many petrol stations, especially in southern Oman, take only cash. If you are taking a car from the UAE into Oman, you will need to produce evidence at the border that the car is insured in Oman. There is a departure tax of 35 UAE dirhams when leaving the UAE by car, and an 2 rials tax when leaving Oman by road.
Weekends and public holidays are very busy at the various borders that UAE shares with Oman as residents and visitors cross into Oman for tourism purposes as well as visa runs. Crossing during the work week (Sunday to Thursday) will avoid much of the crowds.
Additionally, make sure that your passport is stamped with the relevant entry and exit stamps. This should go without saying, but some border officials will forget part of the procedure and cause administrative hassles later. Additionally, crossing from Oman to the UAE is often a chaotic business, so it is easier to miss out on the all-important stamp than one might expect.
Crossing from Oman to Yemen is significantly more challenging, and those of an adventurous bent should familiarise themselves very carefully with the regulations regarding that border. In previous years, there has been a law that no solo female travellers can exit Oman to Yemen. Additionally, bear in mind that the easternmost parts of Yemen are exceptionally remote.
While a border (unmarked) exists between Oman and Saudi Arabia, this is a very inadvisable crossing, as it involves going through most (if not all) of the Empty Quarter and there are no permanent roads.
There is a regular bus service between Muscat and Dubai in the UAE. There are private operators as well as the state owned Mwasalat (formerly Oman National Transport Company) and the ride (which usually takes between 4 to 5 hours) is quite comfortable, thanks to the excellent roads.
Mwasalat operates the Dubai to Muscat and Dubai to Salalah routes. The bus to Muscat departs from Al rigga road in Deira, Dubai at 07:15 and in the afternoon. The bus to Salalah departs at 15:00 from the same bus station. The tickets are bought at Al Manhal stationery by the bus stop and cost 55 UAE dirhams one way to Muscat (Dec 2010). The bus stop is hard to find, it is close to the Caravan restaurant and close to the Dnata building, the taxi drivers know where the bus stop is. To go to Nizwa you need to go with the Salalah bus. Dress warm for the bus ride and prepare for border control including baggage check! If you enter UAE through Dubai you don't need to pay for Visa for Oman, show your stamp at the border control.
Oman Air is the national carrier and flies regularly between the two airports in the country (Muscat/Seeb, and Salalah). Air Arabia offers flights to Salalah and Muscat from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
There are regular, daily bus services connecting the bigger cities within Oman (Muscat, Salalah, Sohar, Sur and Nizwa). There are several, daily bus services from Muscat to Dubai. There is one bus a day from Muscat to Abu Dhabi. For details see the pages of the Oman National Transport Company .
Mowasalat is state-operated public transportation company in Oman. The company operates bus lines which connect some of the major cities in Oman.
All taxi drivers in Oman are Omani nationals as this is a protected profession. In Muscat there are call/telephone taxi services. Whilst safe and generally turn up when you want them to the costs are comparatively high. Look for "Hello Taxi" and "Muscat Taxi" amongst others.
The orange-badged taxis are usually owner-operated, these are un-metered with negotiated fares before departure. If you get a very cheap price, then do not be surprised if the Taxi stops to add extra passengers unless you request for it to be private. You may ask for engaged, just say 'engaged taxi' to the driver, and you will pay for all the seats (4) and now have the taxi to yourself. Women must always sit alone in the back. This is for your own safety and comfort.
There are also mini-buses (Baisa buses), the principle is you share the bus or car with others and pay a lower price as a result. This is how women living in Oman travel if they must use public transport. Women should sit next to other women if there are any in the bus. Men should move to other seats. If they do not move immediately, simply stand at the door, looking at them expectantly. They will take the hint and move. Although this might feel strange to foreigners, it is expected behaviour for Omanis. Not sitting next to a man will avoid any unfortunate situations of mixed signals.
Believe it or not, but it's actually illegal to drive around in a dirty car in Oman. You may get stopped by the police who can fine you 10 rials, although they are more likely to just tell you to wash your ride.
Driving around Oman in your own (rented) car is quite easy. A four-lane road connects Muscat and Nizwa and a four-lane highway goes from Muscat to Sur (however, between Muscat and Quriyat it is still one lane each way through the mountains).
There are still large parts of the Sur - Muscat route that has no mobile phone signal. If you break down be prepared to wait it out. Or hitch a ride to the next town and find a mechanic to bring back to your vehicle.
Lovely seaside camping can be found between Muscat and Sur. Best to take the paved route to Sur, then over to Wadi Shab to find your way safely into this coastal road. If you intend to drive in wadis (unsealed valley roads in river beds) a 4WD is highly desirable. You can never be sure how the road will be and if it starts raining the wadis will turn into rivers quickly.
If at all possible, hire a 4-wheel drive. There is spectacular off-road driving to be had in Oman, and you will want to veer off the tarmac again and again.
Since about 2001 Oman has been experiencing severe flash flooding annually. The force of the water rushing down the rock hard treeless mountains do push even landcruisers off the road and upside down. Beware. If you see dark clouds or rain starts, find high dry ground, shelter and stay put. You can put a call into the local authorities to see if they can advise you better. The problem is the flash floods move quickly from town to town; it is easy to get trapped by washed out roads. Many wadi crossings have white and red poles to indicate when it is safe to cross the wadi in case of a flood. These are painted white on the bottom and red on top. If the water level reaches the red-painted part, do not attempt to cross, even in a 4WD.
If you managed to get a map of Oman regard it as how Oman would like to have the roads. Some roads might be drawn as well-built streets but are not even paved. Roads not visible on the map might just end and may even be painted till the end!
The typical rented car has a limit of 200-250 km per day. Prepare to pay and negotiate for extra kilometres. Monthly rates sometimes include unlimited kilometres.
Petrol in Oman is very cheap by European and even North American standards. As of June 2016 the price for regular petrol was approximately 0.17 rials per litre, even cheaper than in neighbouring United Arab Emirates.
In order to try and limit the rather frightening road death toll, the motorways/dual carriageways are littered with speed cameras. In the centre of Muscat they are every 2 km, not all look like they are active - but be warned. According to locals, the tolerance on the speed cameras is 19 km/h.
Oman is famous for its historic forts which are the country's most striking cultural landmarks. There are over 500 forts and towers which were the traditional defence and lookout points to deter potential invaders. Some of the best examples are in the capital, Muscat. Jalali and Mirani forts stand at the entrance to Muscat Bay and date from the early 16th century.
Bahla Fort at the base of the Djebel Akhdar highlands is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 7 miles of walls. It was built in the 13th and 14th centuries when Bahla was a thriving oasis town.
Oman's rugged mountains offer some stunning scenery and probably the best opportunities for driving in dry wadis anywhere in the world. Many of the wadis have made roads (often unsurfaced but decent enough) while others require serious off-roading. You can easily get well off the beaten path into remote areas.
Huge desert dunes roll for as far as the eye can see at Wahiba Sands.
Oman's beaches are major breeding locations for various species of sea turtle. Masirah Island is the perhaps best bet where four species breed, including the largest number of leatherbacks anywhere in the world.
The country has vast expanses of desert, hundreds of kilometres of uninhabited coastline, and mountains of over 2740 m (9000 feet).
- Drive off-road to explore Oman's most outstanding sights.
- Go SCUBA diving off the coast of Oman in places like Masirah.
- Visit tribal Bedouin villages in the Musandam Exclave.
- Take a cruise on a dhow, an Omani/Emirati traditional fishing boat.
- Bargain in the souks and markets of cities like Muscat.
Exchange rates for Omani rial
As of January 2019:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency in Muscat is the Omani rial, denoted by the sumbol "ريال" (ISO currency code OMR). One rial is made up of one thousand baisa (also written baiza, Arabic: بيسة). The Omani rial is tied to the US dollar at 1 rial = US$2.6008 making it one of the largest units of currency in the world; exchange rates on the streets are a percentage point or two lower.
Banknotes that circulate are in 0.100 rials (physically a rather small, green banknote and not to be confused with the 20-rial note), 0.500 rial, 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50-rial denominations.
There are ATMs at the airport and plenty of them in Muscat and every main town, although not all of them take foreign cards. You can change foreign currency at the counters inside the airport and at money exchanges throughout Oman.
The Omani national symbol is the silver-sheathed dagger known as the khanjar. These vary widely in quality and cost, but almost every shop will stock several different models. Most of the modern ones are made by Indian or Pakistani craftsmen under Omani direction, while many are actually made in India or Pakistan. There is a large variety in quality, from the handles to the sheath. The best handles are made of silver-adorned sandalwood, while the lesser quality handles are made of resin. Look carefully at the sheath to determine the quality of the sliver work. A good quality khanjar can cost more than 700 rials. Typically, those will come in a presentation box, and include a belt.
Another reminder of the country's tribal past is the walking stick known as arsaa. This is a cane with a concealed sword in it, which can prove quite a talking point at home. In many countries, it will prove a talking point with customs officials rather than friends and family. In Musandam, the khanjar is frequently replaced by the Jerz as formal wear, a walking stick with a small axe head as the handle.
Omani silver is also a popular souvenir, often made into rosewater shakers and small "Nizwa boxes" (named for the town from which they first came). Silver "message holders" (known as hurz, or herz), often referred to in souks as "old time fax machines" are often for sale as well. Many silver products will be stamped with "Oman" on them, which is a guarantee of authenticity. Only new silver items may be so stamped. There is a large quantity of 'old' silver available which will not be stamped. Although it may be authentic, stamping it would destroy its antique value. Caveat emptor are the watch words. Stick to reputable shops if you are contemplating buying antique Omani silver of any sort.
There is a wonderful selection of Omani silver available as jewellery as well. Items for sale in the Muttrah souk may not be genuine Omani items. Instead visit Shatti Al Qurm just outside of Muscat or the Nizwa Fort.
NOTE: For any purchases of the above mentioned silver, knives, and sword-canes, make sure that you can legally import the amount you purchase back into your home country. Travelers thinking of bringing their purchases home via airplane should rather mail their purchases back, as it is usually an easier way since you won't have to cart the purchases around Oman or through security and customs.
The distinctive hats worn by Omani men, called "kuma", are also commonly sold, particularly in the Muttrah Souk in Muscat. Genuine kumas cost from 80 rials.
Frankincense is a popular purchase in the Dhofar region as the region has historically been a centre for production of this item. Myrrh can also be purchased quite cheaply in Oman.
As one might expect, Oman also sells many perfumes made from a great number of traditional ingredients. Indeed, the most expensive perfume in the world (Amouage) is made in Oman from frankincense and other ingredients, and costs around 50 rials. You can also find sandalwood myrrh and jasmine perfumes.
Opening hours during the holy month of Ramadan are very restricted. Supermarkets are less strict, but don't rely on being able to buy anything after iftar. At noon, most shops are closed anyway but this is not specific to Ramadan.
Using credit cards in shops is hit or miss. It is better to get cash at an ATM. Small denomination notes are hard to come by but necessary for bargaining. Unless you are in a supermarket, restaurant or mall bargaining is recommended, and this should be conducted politely.
The food is mainly Arabic, Lebanese, Turkish, and Indian. Many Omanis make a distinction between "Arabic" food and "Omani" food, with the former being the description of the standard dishes found throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
Omani food tends to be less spicy and served in quite large portions - whole fish are not uncommon at lunch in some local restaurants (sticking to local food, it is quite easy to eat a substantial meal for less than OR2). As benefits of a country with a long coastline, seafood is quite a common dish, particularly shark, which is surprisingly tasty. True traditional Omani food is hard to find in restaurants. If you have Omani friends, being invited home for a meal is generally your best bet to try the local cuisine.
Omani sweets are well-known throughout the region, with the most popular being "halwa". This is a hot, semi-solid substance which behaves a little like honey and is eaten with a spoon. The taste is similar to Turkish Delight. Omani dates are among the best in the world and can be found at every social place and at offices.
American fast food chains, especially KFC, McDonald's, and Burger King, are not hard to find in the bigger cities, especially Muscat and Salalah.
In Khaboora you can get Pakistani Porotta. They are double the size of Indian Porottas and look like pappadams. But they taste like porottas and are much thinner and delicious. Three porottas are available for the equivalent of ₹11. Traditional Omani Khubz (bread) is hard to find outside of an Omani home, but for an experience one should try hard not to miss. This traditional bread is made of flour, salt and water cooked over a fire (or gas stove) on a large metal plate. The bread is paper-thin and crispy. It is eaten with almost any Omani food, including hot milk or chai (tea) for breakfast-- "Omani cornflakes".
In Sohar you may get an excellent lunch with Ayla curry, Ayla fry and Payarupperi. Expect to pay only 0.4 rials (₹44) which is considered very low lunch price here.
Alcohol is available only in some restaurants and large hotels and is usually very expensive (ranging from 1.5 rials for a 500 ml Carlsberg to 4 rials). Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited, but you can get your own drinks and enjoy at public areas but in privacy such as camping by beaches, sands, mountains, or actually in any remote areas. Only foreign residents can buy alcohol from alcohol shops and with certain limits. But an alcohol black market is widely spread around the cities and alcohol can be found easily.
Foreigner travellers are allowed 2 litres of spirits as duty free baggage allowance. Visitors can buy spirits at the duty free shop in the arrival lounge.
During Ramadan, drinking anything in public is prohibited, even for foreigners. Take care to drink in the privacy of your room.
Oman has the full spectrum of accommodation - from ultra-luxurious hotels to extremely rustic huts in the desert constructed from date palm leaves.
Oman has been attempting to turn itself into something of a five-star destination for the well-heeled traveller, there are five five-star hotels in the capital. This does not pose a problem to the budget-minded in Muscat, and even outside of the capital there is still a range of budget options. In some parts of the country, however, accommodation may be limited to higher-end hotels and resorts.
Working in Oman requires that you hold a residence permit. In common with other Gulf countries, you must be sponsored by an employer to obtain a residence permit. It's not uncommon for people to enter on a tourist visa then look for a job - this is fine. Penalties for the employer are substantial if they are caught employing illegals, although this naturally varies depending on how good their connections are.
The majority of positions are filled by expats from the sub-continent. Positions for Europeans tend to be restricted to upper management levels or specialised occupations, so don't expect to pick up a position as you pass through unless you are prepared to work for very little!
Homosexuality is a crime in Oman. LGBT tourists should be self-aware.
Driving in Muscat can sometimes be a problem, although this is due more to congestion than bad driving on the part of the locals. Outside of the major cities, a common driving risk is falling asleep at the wheel due to the long stretches of featureless desert. Driving in Oman calls for attention to the unexpected. It has 85.3 road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles, which is more than double than UAE and much bigger that most European countries.
Omani drivers outside of the cities tend to drive very fast and pass with impunity. Driving at night is especially hazardous as many drivers fail to turn their headlights on, or people crossing the road by feet for example in road from Sohar to Muscat. Camels will walk into the road even if they see cars approaching, and collisions are often fatal for both camel and driver.
See the above section on driving in wadis for off-road safety.
Female travellers should be careful to dress modestly, as not to offend local customs.
Visiting gambling and adult sites is also a crime in Oman. Internet censorship in Oman is very serious. So you need to be careful to stay safe on-line.
Bottled drinking (mineral) water is easily available at most stores. Tap water is generally safe; however, most Omanis drink bottled water and to be safe, you should too. 500ml bottles of water will generally cost 100bz in the majority of shops with a 1.5l bottle costing only 200bz.
Oman is warm year-round and summers can be extremely hot. Always carry drinking water with you and be wary of de-hydration in high temperatures. If you're not used to the heat it can sneak up on you and cause serious health problems.
Several people have tried to cross stretches of the Omani desert on their own in a rented 4WD. Some of these people have died or got rescued just in time.
Travelling through a desert requires proper preparation. It looks easy from a modern air-conditioned 4WD, but if that fails you are suddenly back to basics.
Never go off-road alone. A minimum of two to three cars (of the same make) is the rule. Leave your itinerary with a friend with clear instructions if you do not return in time. Take at least:
- recovery tools: spades, rope (and attachments), sand mats or ladders
- two spare tires and all required equipment
- a good air pump (high capacity)
- sufficient water (at least 25 litres more than you think you will need for drinking)
- sufficient petrol: there are no petrol stations in the middle of nowhere.
If you have – or can get – a satellite phone, take it. (Mobile phones work only in limited areas.) Check your car before embarking on such a trip.
As he has done more to develop the nation than any Arab leader, or most world leaders for that matter, in recent history, Sultan Qaboos is a figure who is held in the highest regard – even revered – by the vast majority of Omanis. Visitors should refrain from making any comments or statements that could be construed as disrespectful.
The Omanis are generally humble and down-to-earth people. The usual rules of respect when travelling in a Muslim country should be followed in Oman, even when locals appear to be a little less "uptight" than their neighbours. Homosexuality is illegal due to Islamic law but is practised with discretion; however as elsewhere in the Gulf it is taboo to discuss such topics.
While Omanis may not say anything to foreigners who dress in tight or revealing clothing, it is considered to be very disrespectful. Yes, some visitors push the goodwill of the Omanis in choosing their attire, but a little sensitivity goes a long way. A general rule of thumb is that women should always keep shoulders, knees, and midriff covered, and avoid tight or revealing clothing. For men, shorts should be worn only for outdoor activities; longer shorts (i.e. at or below the knee) are fine in the city.
Staring is quite common in Oman; children, men and women are likely to stare at you simply for being a foreigner, especially if you travel off-season and in out-of-the-way places. This is not meant as an insult, it rather shows an interest, and a friendly smile will leave children giggling and showing off, and the adults happily trying out their few English phrases. Depending on which area of Oman you are in, smiling, though, may not be a good idea. In larger areas in which the locals have had excessive amounts of one on one experience with foreigners, smile-away. Outside of Muscat and Salalah, it's not advised to smile at anyone of the opposite sex regardless of how friendly they are (save for tour guides) as nearly any interaction with the opposite gender (even holding doors open, picking up something that has fallen and handing it to the owner, eye contact, etc.) is viewed as flirtatious. It is especially important for Western women to take into account that an innocent smile saying, "I see you seeing me, do you need something" means "I'm interested, come closer" to most Omani men. They live in a heavily gender segregated society and so any chance they have to speak to the opposite gender is usually viewed as having at least semi-sexual overtones.
Under Omani law, an Omani can be taken to court for insulting another person, whether it is calling them an insulting name (one of the more common Arabic insults of "donkey," "dog," "pig," "sheep," etc.) or worse. Omanis, although "humble" are extremely sensitive to anything they perceive as criticism whether personal, national, or anything they perceive as being directed at the Gulf. Although Saudi Arabia is usually a fair target for jokes in the Arab world (especially in the Levant), Omanis don't take well to it. What Westerners would usually consider hypersensitive is fairly normal in Oman and due largely to the fact that Omanis have grown up in an environment in which criticism and name-calling is more or less outlawed. This is especially important to know for those who come to teach Omanis, unlike those from the Levant and parts of north Africa where teasing and intellectual "jousting" can be used as a form of building relationships or a sign of friendship, it doesn't work here and Omanis do not interpret it positively, save for those who have lived in the West or have worked with Westerners for extended periods of time.
As Oman is a member of the Arab League, its stance on Israel is one much like the other members, including the boycott. However, the Omani government was one of the first to recognize the existence of Israel, and has essentially been a liaison between the Arab League and Israel on multiple occasions, including setting up a meeting between the Israeli government and PLO leaders in the mid-2000s. Oman allows foreigners who travel to Israel to enter it for similar reasons, but it still participates in the boycott and holders of Israeli passports (citizens of Israel and dual-citizens of Israel and another country) aren't allowed entry. Due to this, the topic of Israel is best left undiscussed.
While Oman is very socially and politically liberal compared to its neighbors in the region, it remains an absolute monarchy where criticism of the Sultan is rare and the citizens can't elect direct leaders (they can elect representatives for certain positions, but the true power remains with the Sultan). On the flipside, most Omanis love and/or respect Sultan Qaboos, so very few Omanis ever lodge any complaints. It is best for the traveller to avoid talking about the Sultan in a negative manner, and with Omani politics in general.
The "official" state religion, the Ibadi branch of Islam, is one of the most tolerant branches of Islam, in stark comparison to the Wahhabist Saudi Arabia. Ergo most Omanis will be open and accepting with travellers of other religions and creeds. However, Islam is still taken very seriously in Oman (not as much as in other states, though), so the traveller should refrain from making anti-Islamic comments or degrading Islam.
The country code for Oman is 968.
Dialling out from Oman you will need to dial 00 + International Code + Number
Dialling into Oman callers use +968 followed by an 8 digit number...
These 8-digit numbers generally start with a 9 if it is mobile number, and with 2 for land lines, though other numbers will eventually start to get used.
Pre-paid mobile SIMs are available from several counters at the airport arrivals area. Your passport details are required to register the SIM. Often the staff will be helpful in activating the SIM for use when you buy.
Visitors may be interested in the monthly English language lifestyle magazine, Oman Today [dead link], which is widely available in Oman.