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OMAN – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Oman Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Oman occupies the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, with a total area of 119,500 sq. miles (309,500 sq. km or roughly the same size as Italy) including the coastal islands of Masirah, Halanyat, and Salama, plus Musandam and Madha which are surrounded by the United Arab Emirates.  It borders Yemen to the south, Saudi Arabia to the west, and the United Arab Emirates to the north-west.  The coastline runs along the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Oman features deserts, valleys, and mountain ranges.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Oman is the site of pre-historic human habitation, stretching back over 100,000 years. In the 6th century BC, it was incorporated into the Persian Achaemenid Empire. After the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century, Oman followed the lead of Persia and converted to Islam which led to the rise of Islamic dynasties. Oman was ruled by several foreign powers and in 1515 Muscat was taken over by Portugal as a result of the emergence of colonialism. Ottomans controlled Muscat from 1550-1551 and 1581-1588).  During that period many of Oman’s famous fortresses were constructed.  Oman later became a major trading empire, owning colonies itself as far away as central Africa and Zanzibar. The Omani economy centered on the spice trade and slavery. A treaty of friendship was signed with the UK in 1798 and Oman became a British protectorate in 1891. Britain guided the politics of Oman through to the 1950s until it gained independence.  Since the accession of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, in a bloodless coup in 1970, Oman has undergone significant political, economic, and industrial reform, particularly in industry, communications, transport, and education. Ahead of most neighbor nations in the Gulf, women gained the right to vote for local majlis (councils) in 1997 and universal suffrage was introduced in 2002.

THE PEOPLE

The nationals of Oman are Omanis. They have inhabited the territory that is now Oman for thousands of years.  In the 18th century Muscat became the leading port of the Persian Gulf. Omani people are ethnically diverse; the Omani population consists of many different ethnic groups. Most are Arabs, with many of these Arabs being Swahili language speakers and returnees from the Swahili Coast, particularly Zanzibar. Additionally, there are ethnic Balochis, Lurs, Lawatis, Swahili and Mehri. Omani citizens make up the majority of Oman’s total population. Over one and a half million Omanis live outside the country in other areas of the Middle East and the Swahili Coast.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting. A small gift, either promoting your company or country, is well received. Dignity and respect are key in Omani culture and public criticisms are rare. It is polite not to smoke in public but in general no-smoking signs are posted where appropriate.  Smoking is banned in public places in Muscat. Visitors should ask permission before attempting to photograph people on their property. “No Photography” signs exist in certain places and must be observed.

LANGUAGES

Arabic is the official language however English is widely spoken. Baluchi, Urdu, Hindi, and Swahili are also spoken.

GOVERNMENT

Absolute monarchy led by a Sultan who is head of state and government.

TIME ZONE

UTC+4 (9 hours ahead of New York City, during Standard Time)

ELECTRICITY

240 volts, frequency 50Hz.

Power plugs and sockets are of type G.

 CLIMATE

The weather is warm and sunny, from October to April, with temperatures from 77°F (25°C) to 95°F (35°C) during the day. It’s cooler at night with temperatures between 63°F (17°C) and 66°F (19°C). From May to August it’s hot and humid in coastal areas while the interior generally remains hot and dry. Between May and September, the southern Dhofar region has its own microclimate. Known as the khareef, the area catches the Indian Oceans monsoon season and temperatures can be 18-27°F (10-15°C) lower than the rest of the country. Most of the rain falls during the winter months and varies according to the region. Other than in Dhofar, it is rare to see rain between May and November. It’s common to see snowfall on the highest mountain peaks during winter.

 Clothes to Wear

Lightweight cottons are advisable throughout the year, with warm wrap for cooler winter evenings. When touring, khaki or beige are more suitable colors to wear than white as the dry, dusty conditions can discolor clothing.

Women should not bare shoulders or show low cleavage and shouldn’t wear short shorts or short skirts.  Long shorts should ideally be below the knee.  A large scarf or pashmina should be carried at all times in case you need to cover your head. This is essential when visiting mosques. Men should only wear long baggy shorts and preferably trousers outside hotels. Beachwear is prohibited anywhere except the beach.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements

U.S. and Canadian citizens require a valid passport (for at least 6 months) and visato enter Oman for all purposes, as well as have proof of adequate funds and an onward/return ticket. This is usually issued at the airport upon arrival however it is recommended should apply for tourist visas in advance via the on-line Visa Application system run by the Royal Omani Police at https://evisa.rop.gov.om/.

Visit the Embassy of Oman website for the most current visa information. We cannot intervene on your behalf when applying for a visa, nor can we assist if you are denied entry into Oman.

Embassy Locations

U.S. Embassy Muscat

JamiatA’Duwal Al Arabiya Street,
Al Khuwair Area (Shatti Al-Qurum), Muscat
Oman
Telephone: +(968) 2464-3400
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(968) 2464-3400
Fax: +(968) 2464-3535
Email: ConsularMuscat@state.gov

Muscat – Consulate of Canada

7th Floor, Getco Tower,

Muscat, Oman

Telephone: + (968) 2479 4928

Fax: +(968) 2470 3826

Email: CanadianConsulate@daud.om

 HEALTH
Modern medical facilities and Western-style pharmacies are available. Local medical treatment varies from average to inadequate, depending on location.

Hospital emergency treatment is available.

We do not pay medical bills. Be aware that U.S. Medicare does not cover costs overseas.

Medical Insurance: Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments.

We strongly recommend supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.

Medications: Carry prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor’s prescription. Check with the Government of Oman to ensure the medication is legal.

Vaccinations: Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

BANKS & CURRENCY

Oman’s national currency is the Omani Rial (OMR) divided into 1000 baiza;(symbol:ع. ر).  You get notes in denominations of OMR50, 20, 10, 5, and 1.  Coins 50, 25, 10 and 5 baiza.

Currency can be exchanged in banks, money exchange centers, and major hotels.  It is advisable to take US Dollars or Pounds Sterling.

Banking hours: In general banking hours are Sunday to Thursday from 8:00am to 2:00pm. Moneychangers are also open 4:00pm to 8:00pm.

Credit Cards

All major credit cards are accepted in Oman, including (to a lesser extent) American Express.  ATMs are widely available throughout the country.

COMMUNICATION
Telephone numbers in Oman have a country calling code of +968 and an 8-digit National Significant Number (NSN) (e.g., +968 90126789).  To call a telephone number in Muscat from abroad, use your International dialing code plus the country code for Oman (968) and area code for Muscat (24). All telephone numbers begin with a “0” but for international calls, drop this leading zero. For example 024123456 becomes 011 968 24123456.

 

There are 7 area codes in Oman. Below is a list of area codes for calling Oman’s major cities/regions.

 

CountryArea Code
Muscat24
A’Dakhliyah25
Al Sharqiya25
A’Dhahira25
Al Batinah26
Musandam26

Cell Phone Usage

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food and Drink

Muscat is the dining center of Oman and the best place to try some dishes of the Sultanate, including the seafood which is caught fresh from the Arabian Sea. Omani cooking is less spicy than other parts of the Gulf, with lots of dishes based on lamb and chicken, usually served with rice, or fried together with rice in local versions of India’s biryani. Some of the tastiest dishes are reserved for big religious festivals. Locals do not drink alcohol; they prefer strong coffee, flavored with cardamom and served with dates and other sweet treats.

 

 Specialties include:

Ruz al mudhroub: A special rice dish served with fried fish.

Maqdeed: Dried shredded meat, often served at festivals.

Muqalab: Tripe cooked with crushed or ground spices.

Arsia: Lamb meat cooked with rice.

Mishkak: Skewered meat grilled on charcoal, marinated in a pepper, cardamom, clove, and tamarind sauce.

Shuwa: Meat cooked slowly for up to two days in underground clay ovens, marinated with herbs and spices.

Mashuai: Spit-roasted kingfish served with lemon rice.

Maqbous: Rice with saffron cooked over spicy red or white meat; also called kabsa.

Halwa: A sticky, gelatinous sweet made from dates or sugar and flavored with saffron, cardamom, and rosewater; nuts and preserved fruits are often added.

Lokhemat: Balls of flour and yeast flavored with cardamom and deep-fried, served with sweet lime and cardamom syrup.

Note: Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol, but most hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for guests.  Visitors are only allowed to drink alcohol if they purchase drinks from licensed hotels and restaurants.

Nightlife

In Muscat and Salalah you will find the main nightclubs and bars, however, most nightlife centers are in the hotels. A new convention Center was built in 2014 with an 8,000-seat auditorium, which doubles as an entertainment and sports venue, and includes new hotels and shopping facilities. As part of its long-term plan, the country is investing in more entertainment venues such as the Oman Royal Opera House, which opened in 2011. It will showcase Oman’s cultural heritage, as well as bringing international music to the local audience and visitors. Famous names include Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, soprano Renee Fleming, cellist Yoyo Ma, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the American Ballet Theatre, and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis with New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra.

 

The Royal Opera House shares the grounds with a small theatre, restaurants, luxury shops, and extensive gardens. There are several modern cinemas in Muscat, such as the Al-Shatti Multiplex, Ruwi and Star, showing a variety of international films.

There is little in the way of nightlife in other Oman towns except for Salalah which comes alive during the khareef (rainy season in July and August) with festival activities.

Shopping

Traditional souvenirs include silver and gold jewelry, khanjars (Omani daggers), coffeepots, saddles, frankincense (the sap of a tree that grows in Dhofar in the south of Oman), hand-woven textiles, goat-hair carpets, baskets and camel straps.  Antique khanjars (over 50 years old) may not be exported.  It is wise to check with the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture for the necessary documentation before purchasing.

The two main souks (markets) are in Muttrah and Nizwa, although most towns have a souk of some description.  The Muttrah souk is fairly small compared to souks in other countries, its shops in winding streets stacked high with gold, silver, frankincense, and other trinkets. The vendors will try to encourage you into their shops, but they are fairly good-natured and not too persistent once they know you are not going to buy. Nizwa used to be one of the Arab world’s biggest souks, but modernization has stripped it of some of its old-world charm. It is known for its silver, and you can still see artisans of all types working.

Muscat has several large shopping malls including the Markaz Al-Bahjah and Lulu complexes and Muscat City Centre, which boasts nearly 150 shops.  Here, you will find famous international women’s fashion brands such as Mexx, Monsoon, and Mango alongside electrical, cosmetics, sports, and jewelry shops. The centre’s Magic Planet indoor family entertainment area offers games simulators, arcades, and themed rides. You can find other modern shops around Shatti Al-Qurum.

Western-style shopping malls are air-conditioned and comprise of shops, car parks, cafés, food courts, and play areas for children.

 Shopping hours:Sun-Fri 10:00am-1:00pm and 4:00pm-9:00pm (precincts 8:00pm); Sat 4:00pm-9:00pm.  Opening hours may vary during Ramadan.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

About 10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Tour directors and coach drivers may be tipped based on $1.00 per person per day for the driver and $2.00 per person per day for the tour director (2020). If you travel on a private arrangement with a tour director performing well, you may want to tip a bit more.

LAUNDRY

Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers. Generally, you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge. Pack lightly and rather use such laundry services on a longer trip. It may in fact save you baggage fees with the airlines (see baggage).

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases, drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone, please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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