Good To Know - Oman
Citizens of most countries, including the UK, US, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, require a visa to enter Oman. You will need to have a valid passport at least 6 months beyond your scheduled return date to enter Oman. Tourist visas can be bought on the spot on arrival at Muscat airport, costing ca. 20 OR (52 USD) depending of the length of stay. Only single-entry visas are available at the airport (despite what signs say); multiple-entry visas have to be applied for in advance online (see Omani embassies and consulates abroad). If you’re driving from the main part of Oman up to the Musandampeninsula through the UAE you’ll need to buy a new visa every time you cross an Omani border for details. Note that embassy website aren’t well maintained, and the visa information and prices found on them may well be out of date; if in doubt, ring.
It’s also possible to get your visa in advance by applying online at http://www.rop.gov.om and then sending your passport into your nearest embassy or consulate. There’s no point in going through the hassle of applying for a visa in advance unless you’re going to be entering and leaving the country a lot and thus need a multiple-entry visa. Note, also, that when applying online for a multiple-entry visa you’ll be required to fill in a section giving the details of a sponsor in Oman: enter your hotel name as your sponsor name and, for the sponsor ID, the figures “1111”.
Having an Israeli stamp in your passport is not a problem when entering Oman.
For more information on Passport, Visa & Health travel document requirements please check:
Please note that visa, transit and entry requirements vary from country to country, and can change with little or no notice. The resources listed on this page are intended as a guide, but please refer to the relevant embassy or consulate of all the countries on your itinerary as well as your destination country for the most up-to-date information.
Oman runs on a basically Islamic schedule. The traditional working week runs from Saturday to Wednesday, although some businesses also open on a Thursday morning, while Friday serves as the Islamic holy day (equivalent to the Christian Sunday). Usual business hours are 8.00-17.00; government offices open 8.00–14.00. Banks are usually open Saturday to Wednesday 8.00–noon and Thursday 8.00–11.30. Shopping hours are slightly different. Shops in most souks generally open seven days a week, although most places remain closed on Friday mornings. Most places also shut down daily for an extended siesta from around noon or 13.00 until 17.00 or 18.00, lending many smaller places a rather ghost-town ambience during the hot afternoon hours. Local cafés may stay open, although there’s unlikely to be much food available past around 13.00 (more upmarket restaurants tend to stay open until 14.00 or 15.00, but then usually close until around 19.00). Things fire back into life as dusk approaches, usually remaining busy until 21.00 or 22.00.
Museums tend to follow a similar pattern, opening Sunday to Wednesday from around 9.00 or 10.00 to 13.00 and from 16.00 or 18.00 to 19.00. Some remain closed for the whole of Thursday and Friday; others open, but only during the afternoon/evening. Forts broadly divide into two categories. Smaller forts tend to be open Saturday to Wednesday 8.00–14.00; larger forts are generally open Saturday to Thursday 9.00–16.00 and Friday 8.00–11.00.
With the exception of the southerly region of Dhofar, the Oman's climate is hot and dry all year round. Summer begins in mid-April and lasts until October. While Muscat's mean summer temperature hovers around 33°C, the interior frequently registers readings above 50°C in the shade. Winter temperatures are mild and pleasant, ranging between 15°C and 23°C. The Dhofar's climate differs from the rest of the country because of the annual khareef or monsoon. While the rest of the Middle East bakes in the June heat, cool winds sweeping in off the Indian Ocean bring mists and rain in southern Oman. The moisture prompts lush, green vegetation to spring up until September when the rainfall recedes and the parched desert returns.
The Omani currency is the rial (usually abbreviated “OR”, or sometimes “OMR”), subdivided into 1000 baiza (“bz”). Banknotes are denominated in 100, 200 and 500 baiza and in 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 rials (there are two types of one-rial note, coloured either red or brown). Coins are denominated in 5, 10, 25 and 50 baiza. Exchange rates at the time of writing were 1 OR = 2.60 USD.There are plentiful ATMs all over the country, virtually all of which accept foreign Visa and MasterCards, as well as numerous banks, all of which will change travellers’cheques and foreign cash. Many more upmarket hotels will also change cash and travellers’cheques, usually at poor rates.
Visitors are allowed to import up to two liters (and not more than two bottles) of alcoholic beverages (non-Muslims only) and a “reasonable” quantity of tobacco. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers arriving within six days from infected areas in Africa and South America. Travelers carrying prescription drugs should take a letter from their doctor stating that they are obliged to take this medicine.
UK-style sockets with three square pins are the norm. The country’s current runs at 240 volts AC, meaning that UK appliances will work without problem directly off the mains supply, although US appliances will probably require a transformer.
January: Muscat hosts an annual month-long cultural and sporting festival, including beach concerts and children's shows. Secular holidays observed in Oman are New Year's Day (January 1), National Day (November 18) and the Sultan's Birthday (November 19). The National Day festival features all sorts of official celebrations, but the main significance of this day for visitors may be that everything closes down. The Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha (the pilgrimage to Mecca), the Islamic New Year and the Prophet's Birthday are all observed in accordance with the Muslim calendar. The two Eids are marked by traditional celebrations and dancing in the streets.
Influences on Oman's cuisine derive from its seafaring links with the Far East and East Africa. Meals are spicy, though not overly so, and generally served with rice. Dates, given as a mark of hospitality throughout the country, are served with khawa, or Omani coffee. Khawa is prepared from freshly roasted ground coffee mixed with cardamom powder.
There are no serious health risks in Oman (unless you include the country’s traffic). All the main cities in the country are equipped with modern hospitals and well-stocked pharmacies. Tap water is safe to drink, while even the country’s cheapest cafés maintain good standards of food hygiene. One possible health concern is the heat. Summer temperatures regularly climb into the forty-degree Celsius range, making sunburn, heatstroke and acute dehydration a real possibility, especially if combined with excessive alcohol consumption. Stay in the shade, and drink lots of water.Bilharzia is another possible risk if swimming in rock pools in the mountains.A very limited risk of malaria may exist in remote areas of Musandam Province in the far north. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers coming from infected areas.
There’s a decent number of internet cafés in some cities in Oman (Muscat, Salalah, Nizwa and Khasab, for example – all listed in the relevant guide chapters). Away from these places, however, it can be a real struggle to find anywhere to get online.Internet access is also available in many mid-range and all top-end hotels, either via cable or Wi-fi. Occasionally it’s free in these establishments, but most often chargeable, often at extortionate rates (2–3 OR/per hour is common).If you really need to be online you might consider subscribing to the mobile internet service provided by Nawras (www.nawras.om), which uses a small modem that plugs into your computer’s USB port, giving you your own portable wi-fi system, but with prices starting from around 25 OR it’s a bit of an investment.
There aren’t many safety or health risks involved in a visit to Oman, although it’s still strongly recommended that you take out some form of valid travel insurance before your trip. At its simplest, this offers some measure of protection against everyday mishaps like cancelled flights and mislaid baggage. More importantly, a valid insurance policy will cover your costs in the event that you fall ill in Oman, since otherwise you’ll have to pay for all medical treatment. Note, too, that most insurance policies routinely exclude various “adventure” activities. In Oman this will include adventure sports such as caving, abseiling and rock-climbing, and might conceivably also include trekking. If in doubt, check with your insurer before you leave home.
News and current affairs
Oman Daily Observer - state-controlled English-language daily with up-to-date news and oil prices.
Times of Oman - similar English-language daily, with slightly more emphasis on whimsical comment.
Arabic is the official language of Oman but English and Asian languages such as Baluchi, Urdu and Hindi are also spoken. Swahili is spoken by some, alegacy of Oman's former East African presence. English is widely used in business.
The country code for Oman is +968. All Omani landline phone numbers are eight digits long, starting with 2. Area codes (24 for Muscat) have now been integrated into the eight-digit format, and must be dialled irrespective of where you’re calling from. Mobile numbers also follow an eight-digit format, but begin with 9. To call Oman from abroad, you have to dial the country code plus full eight-digit number. Public phones are scarce in Oman and it’s well worth bringing your mobile (cell phone) with you; check the relevant charges before you leave home. European GSM handsets should work fine in Oman, although North American cell phones may not (excepting tri-band phones).If you’re going to be using the phone a lot while you’re in Oman, it might be worth acquiring a local SIM card, which will give you cheap local and international calls. The leading local phone operator is Nawras (www.nawras.om), which has shops countrywide where you can pick up a SIM card (you’ll need to show your passport when purchasing). The pre-paid NawrasMousbak scheme (5 OR including SIM card and 2 OR credit) is the easiest to use. Funds can be added to your account using the widely available scratchcard-style recharge cards, available from many local shops – look out for the window stickers. Other operators include Oman Mobile www.omantel.om and Samatel www.samatel.om, who run similar schemes at similar prices, although the shops and recharge cards are less widely available.
Oman is a very photogenic country, although the often harsh light can play havoc with colour and contrast – for the best results head out between around 7.00 and 9.00 in the morning, or after 16.00. Don’t take photographs of people without asking or you risk causing considerable offence, especially if taking photos of ladies without permission. In Arabic, “May I take you picture?” translates (roughly) as Mumkinsura, min fadlak? (to a man) or Mumkinsura, min fadlik? (to a woman). Men will probably be happy to oblige, women less so, while children of either sex will usually be delighted.
Oman has an efficient and reliable modern postal service. Postcards and letters cost between 200bz and 400bz to Europe and North America, rising to around 5 OR for parcels weighing over 1kg, although if sending anything valuable you may prefer to use an international courier such as DHL or FedEx, who have offices in Muscat and Salalah. There are no reliable poste restante facilities in Oman. If you need to receive a letter or package, it’s best to have it delivered to your hotel (and to warn them in advance of its arrival).
Oman is an extremely safe country. Violent crime is very rare, and even petty crime such as burglary and pickpocketing is significantly less common than in most Western countries.It pays to be sensible, even so. Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy before you arrive and protect all personal valuables as you would anywhere else, and take particular care of personal possessions in crowded areas such as Muttrah Souk.If you are unfortunate enough to become the victim of theft, you’ll need a police report for your insurance company, obtainable from the nearest police station. Don’t count on finding any English-speaking officers, however; taking an Arabic-speaker with you will probably be a major help.
Far and away the major threat to personal safety in Oman is traffic, whether you’re a driver, passenger or pedestrian. As a pedestrian, bear in mind that traffic will not necessarily stop – or even slow down – if you start crossing the road, and may also be travelling a lot faster than you might expect
Smoking is not permitted inside cafés, restaurants, bars, malls, offices and other public areas – although it’s usually permitted on the outdoor terraces of bars and restaurants. Cigarettes are cheap; a pack of Marlboros, for example, costs under 1 OR.
Oman runs on Gulf Standard Time (GST). This is 4hr ahead of GMT (or 3 hours ahead of British Summer Time), 9 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time, 12 hours ahead of US Pacific Time; 4 hours behind Australian Western Standard Time, and 6 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time. There is no daylight-saving in Oman.
The majority of visitors to the city do all their shopping in Muttrah Souk, although there are a few other places worth checking out. The most interesting area is the commercial district in central Qurum, around Qurum roundabout, where a cluster of old-fashioned malls harbours an interesting range of shops selling traditional arts and crafts, gold, jewellery and perfumes. Standard opening times for most shops and malls are roughly Saturday to Thursday, from 10.00–13.00 and 17.00–22.00, and Friday from 17.00–22.00.
What to buy
Muscat's Mutrah Souk is hassle free and sells everything from ornate silverware to cooking pots. Pashmina scarves, hubbly-bubbly pipes, frankincense burners, and silver kohl-holders or traditional daggers (khanjar) all make good souvenirs. Silver should be priced according to weight. Haggle for everything to ensure you are offered the "best price". The souk is located at one end of Muscat's waterfront Corniche which is a great place for an atmospheric evening stroll. At the other end is the main fish market where you can snap up whole tuna for a few dollars.