For a general break-down on furniture shopping, groceries, alcohol, and a few others, please read my article from last year on the cost of living here.
Muscat is a large area, and depending on where you are working, you will most likely want to live in a particular area. This map is the best online map resource I can recommend, and it has helped me countless times. This is not an exhaustive list of all the residential area's within Muscat, and please comment if I've forgotten a major area frequented by expatriates.
"Central Business District"
This is sometimes referred to as the CBD, or downtown, or city centre. The residential neighbourhoods in this locality are, as a trend, usually occupied by people of Asian decent. There are not many Villa's available here, but there are plenty of flats. 1, 2, 3 or 4 bedroom apartments are commonly found here, and prices for a 1 bedroom apartment can start as low as RO 200 a month. Many people also choose to co-habit and rent just a room in an apartment here. CBD is considered as the following areas: Muttrah, Darsait, Ruwi, Wadi Kabir & Hamriyah.
Qurum runs from the PDO camp along the coast up until the Wizarat area where many Ministry and Embassy buildings are. It is one of the most popular residential locations, and apartments are hard to find in this area (except at Bareeq Al Shatti). Rental for Villa's can range from RO 1500 - 6000 a month, depending on where exactly you want to live. There are many 5* hotels in this area, complete with bars, restaurants and night clubs. There's a cinema, the Beach road (nice to walk, have coffee). Shopping area's are in abundance: The CCC Complex (contains Al Fair, and recently renamed the Al Qurum Complex), The Sabco Centre and associated commercial buildings around it, the Qurum City Centre (containing Carrefour), The Jawharat Al Shatti shopping complex, The Al Harthy Complex (contains The Sultan Centre), the Al Masa Mall and also the Sarooj Centre (containing Al Fair)
Al Ilam sits between Qurum and Medinat Qaboos (MQ). It is not on the coast, and is considered an upscale neighbourhood. There are not many apartments available for rent here, but many Villas. Rents start at around RO 1100 and range up to RO 2500 per month. It is very close to Qurum City Centre, MQ, and Al Khuwair.
Medinat Qaboos (MQ)
MQ is the original spot where Western ex-pats live. There is the British School Muscat, and the American British Academy located here. There's a wide range of both Apartments and Villa's available here, with rents starting around RO 700 - RO 3000 depending on what you are looking for. There is an Al Fair supermarket in the shopping centre in the middle of MQ. Also, of note, there are 4 or 5 alcohol retail outlets, and the popular Mexican restaurant, Pavo Real. Other restaurants of note here are Silk Route and Kargeens.
Al Khuwair is next to MQ, and fronts onto Qurum, Wizarat and Ghubra. Al Khuwair has a good split of apartments and Villa's and is an area lived in by people from all walks of life, but is very popular with Indians. There is the Zakher Mall and the very popular service road for retail elements. Supermarkets are a plenty, LuLu's, Safeer supermaket and Rawasco. Rents can start as low as RO 200 and up to RO 1500.
Bowsher is a large area, predominately with nothing in it. It's mainly Villa's and is where you will find the Muscat Private Hospital, and the Sultan Qaboos Sports Compelx. It also houses the TAISM school. Rents are usually for Villa's, all though a few apartments are starting to come on to the market, Villa's can be rented for RO 800 - RO 1800.
Ghala is the industrial hub of the city. It is where there are many ware-houses, labour camps and Contractors HQ's are. Most of the manufacturing that occurs in Muscat, occurs here. However, this area has been slated for redevelopment and will become the "downtown" of Muscat in the coming years. The Bank Muscat HQ is now complete, Ministries are starting to build their offices here, Muscat Hills (and it's golf course) is now open, and the Convention Centre site are all to be located here. There are currently no main-stream supermarkets here. It's hard to price rents here, but small apartments can be rented right now at Muscat Hills for RO 850 a month.
Ghubra is a lot like Al Khuwair, but has some coast line. Villa's here can be rented from RO 1200 - 1800, and apartments can be rented for as low as RO 350 for a 2 bedroom. There is a 24 hour supermarket there, called Al Maya, and a supermarket called Mars. There are many other shops to be found here, particularly carpentry and drapery shops.
Azaiba is next down the coast from Ghubra and is fast becoming a popular hit with Western expatriates. Rents for Villa's range from RO 1000 - 2000. There is a large Horizon Fitness gym, and a branch of The Sultan Centre supermarket, and also a Safeer Hypermarket. Many people living here are working either in Qurum, or the Airport area, as this is a convenient "half-way" point (but Azaiba does butt-up to the Airport land, and Ghubra is also popular for people working in either area).
Al Hail, Seeb, Mawaleh
I've bunched these three together because they're all the same really. Al Hail is home to the popular The Wave development, and is literally minutes from the airport and Muscat City Centre (contains Carrefour), and also the Markez Al Bahja mall (contains a cinema and Al Fair). Rents here are generally cheaper due to the fact they are so far out from town, but rents in The Wave are amongst the highest in Muscat. Commute times to Qurum from Mawaleh in the morning rush hour are easily over an hour if that is an indication. However, one can rent a villa here for as little as RO 650 - it's just the commute that is hard - not such a problem if you are working at the airport though!
Here's a list of estate agents in town that can help you find a rental property:
Gulf Property World
Taif Real Estate
Engel & Volkers
Banking in Oman, much like the rest of the region, is fairly frustrating. Most landlords want their rent paid up front - be it 12 months, 6 months or 3 months and so you may need to take a loan early on to pay for this. Consider yourself very lucky if you get to pay your rent monthly.
There are quite a few banks here, and let me stress that they are all terrible. I personally use HSBC, because everyone in my office uses them, and my company banks with them. I would not trust them to do anything but peel a banana for me (because I firmly believe they are staffed by monkeys).
Here is a list of banks here in Oman:
National Bank of Oman
Oman International Bank
There are a few more, but these are the biggest ones. I believe Bank Muscat has the most branches.
There are a lot of schools here in Oman, and here's a list of them (thanks to Muscati for compiling it on the very useful Oman Forum). Fee's can be quite high - TAISM for example is over RO 7850 per year for a child in grades 9-12. There are also waiting lists - so do not delay getting on the waiting list once you know you are going to need schooling here.
British School Muscat
Ecole Francaise de Mascate
Azzan bin Qais
Indian Schools: Darsait, Ghubra, Wadi Kabir
British School Salalah
Al Batinah International School
Telecommunications here in Oman has been improved dramatically in the last few years. There are two main players in the market, Omantel and Nawras. There are a few niche market mobile phone operators, such as Friendi and Renna, but I've not used their services (however their neworks are leased from Omantel's).
Omantel services are:
Fixed line phone over copper - RO 4.900 a month plus usage - calls within Oman (to land lines) are free.
ADSL (Speeds range from 512 kbps - 8MB for residential customers)
Mobile phone service - 3G (And just pioneering 4G as well) (Contract and PAYG)
3G Mobile internet
Fixed line phone over Wimax (VOIP product) - recently launched, can be as little as RO 15 a month with a 1MB internet account (6GB of usage) + cost of calls
Wireless internet over Wimax (speeds up to 5MB)
Mobile phone service - 3G (Contract and PAYG)
3G Mobile internet.
Both offer blackberry plans, as well as data plans for smart phones.
At a glance costs
A loaf of bread - RO 0.500
A litre of fuel - RO 0.120
A litre of milk - RO 0.700
4 chicken breasts (boneless) - RO 1.850
A Mcdonalds meal - RO 2.000
A news paper - RO 0.100
A 6pack of Pepsi/Coke - RO 0.650
A pint of beer in a 5* Bar - RO 2.700
Interest on a personal loan - 8%
A KG of local tomato's - RO 0.330
A KG of Holland tomato's - RO1.925
A 5KG sack of rice - RO 1.500
A 1.5KG bag of flour - RO 0.520
A large Water Cooler bottle - RO 1.000
A 250g pack of frozen bacon - RO 1.900
A case of Heineken - RO 13.000
I hope that helps. I welcome comments, but please do not ask a question such as, "I've been offered a job doing X for RO X per month - is this a fair salary". I'll only ignore them.
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