Summer is rumbling along, and the traditional peak of new immigrants to Oman is well underway with lots of people moving here before the new school year gets underway (it's already started in some schools). Moving country is obviously a stressful experience and different people have different priorities when they move, but here are my top ten things I think people should do when they move here, in no particular order! I'd probably come up with a different ten if I were to write this again, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to share!
I'm going to assume that you have your labour card already sorted out, although the reality is a lot of people enter the country on a tourist visa and then get then get an employment visa once all the tests have been done.
1. Get connected. Before you get your resident card, you'll not be able to sign up for any Contract (post paid) services from phone or internet companies. Fortunately, the prepaid market here is pretty competitive, and fast. You can get a prepaid sim from any of the operators for your phone, and even a decent mobile data plan if you want. My rule of thumb for people wondering which internet provider to use (there's really only 2, Omantel or Oordeoo) is very simple: If you download a lot, get Omantel ADSL (this will require you to register for a land line and getting ADSL installed - this can take quite a bit of time - weeks sometimes). If you don't download a lot, get Ooredoo Wimax (wireless) as long as the area you plan to live in is well covered (they have a map you can use). My definition of download a lot is: if you download more than 150gb a month, get Omantel (12 mbps), if not, consider 4G Wimax on Ooredoo (usually a lot faster than 12 mbps).
2. Get a place. Now, some people when they move here get their accommodation provided as part of their package - if you're one of those people - good for you... you can skip this one! If you are like me, then you'll have to find a place to live, and until you do you're probably staying in a temporary rented accommodation. For me, I spent a month living in a terrible rented apartment in Al Khuwair when I first got here. It was good motivation to find a place to live! There are a number of estate agents in the city and a little googling can find them for you, I wrote about some estate agents earlier this year in this post if you're looking for a headstart. Where you choose to live will depend on your own set of circumstances (budget, desires and commute time acceptability) but essentially if you work in Ruwi and live in al koud and work typical working hours, you're probably looking at somewhere close to an hour each way in the car. There's no real public transportation network to speak of, other than the baiza buses (mini buses) that run up and down the highway stopping at every exit.
3. Get mobile. Again, some people will have a company car provided to them, others will have an allowance and will need to rent or buy a car, and others won't be able to afford this and will need to work out how to get around town. Muscat is a very spread out city and transportation is a really big issue, especially because there's no public transport to speak of in place yet. If you're renting a car, my advice is weigh up the pro's and con's of renting versus owning - if you are going to be here for more than 2 years, I'd say buy a vehicle - 24 months at RO 200 a month is RO 4800 which is plenty of money to buy a decent used vehicle that will have some residual value at the end of your 2 year stint. As for getting to know the city, well there are not very many streets with names here, and directions are typically given on a landmark basis, eg: My house is on the second street past the Oman Oil on 18th November Street in Azaiba (it's not by the way). It's going to take some time, you're going to get lost. Accept it!
4. Learn the supermarkets. If you like to cook something a little more challenging than sticking something frozen in the oven or getting pizza delivered, then you'll have to start exploring the supermarkets. We're pretty lucky here, with a lot of variety and usually you can find the things you want (or an alternative) with some searching. Different chains stock different things. There are a lot of different supermarket chains in Oman, but these are the biggest: Al fair (Spinneys in The Wave), Lulu's, The Sultan Centre, Carrefour and Al Meera markets. There's lots more, but those are the biggest. Typically you'll find a lot of European goods in Al Fair, as well as pork products, and their breads are pretty good too. Lulu's is the biggest supermarket chain in the country and they have an awful lot of stuff, and they're pretty cheap too - just VERY busy at times. Carrefour is similar to Lulu's and is (I think) the second largest chain of supermarkets here in Oman. The Sultan Centre is the place to go if you're looking for imported products from the USA mostly (but not exclusively!) and Al Meera is a chain of markets that has recently started up here in Oman and they're a smaller version of Lulu's in essence.
5. Join a club. Part of the key to enjoying your time as an expat will be your ability to have your own social network of friends. Unless of course you are a loner! You could be into rugby or kite flying or sewing or whatever. Google is your friend, and it'll help you find all sorts of clubs here in Muscat. My life here got dramatically better once I joined a club because it tied me into a social network that transcended many different groups of people in the City and afforded me the opportunity to meet a lot of people I wouldn't have met in my working life.
6. Go to the Turkish House. Seriously, it's an institution. Go to the Turkish House in al Khuwair for dinner. Get whatever you want, as long as you try the mix appetizer. That bread and appetizer will change your life! If it doesn't, then at least you can be the one person on the planet that won't miss Turkish House once you move away from Muscat! Their phone number is 2448 8071 and this is their location in Google Maps. In fact I think I'm gonna get TH for dinner tonight after writing this!
7. Be a tourist. You're in an astonishingly beautiful country. Go explore. There are fabulous hotels across the city, up in the mountains, down the coast and even in the Wahiba sands desert. Salalah is a RO 63 return flight away... go and see the natural beauty of this country. I personally highly recommend that you go and spend a night camping (or at one of the hotel camps) in the Wahiba sands. The sky at night, it's breathtaking. Similarly, a boat trip to Bandar Kiran is fantastic. It's all great - go and experience it.
8. Learn how to be respectful here. Omani's are just like every other people - there are nice people and there are not nice people. However, Omani culture is built on being respectful to each other. Here are my top tips: A firm handshake is seen as a sign of aggression - loosen that hand up when shaking hands with people here. If you're a girl, cover your shoulders when out and about, and don't be wearing short-shorts to the mall either. You can wear whatever you want here, but just be mindful - don't wear something revealing if you're going to do the weekly shop at Carrefour - but if you're going out to a bar, then wear whatever you want. If you're a guy... shorts that go down to the knees is a good bet. When meeting people, always allow time for the "how's your family" non-conversation that precedes pretty much every conversation here in Oman. Under no circumstances, ever, use the middle finger to express your anger at someone, whether in the car or in person. Just do not do it - bad things will happen to you.
9. Always have an exit strategy. Oman is a lovely country, and many people spend a long, long time living here. However, as an expat, you could be forced to leave the country at a moments notice. Have your exit strategy planned and keep to it. Make your own decisions about what you want to do, but always have a plan. Cash, passports and a little bag of essentials ready to go all the time isn't a bad idea. Set your financial targets and stick to it. Life in the middle east can get very expensive very quickly, it's easy to fall into the lifestyle and before you know it you might not be saving anything each month.
10. Get a bank account. You can only get a bank account once you have your resident card. I'll save you the hassle, all of the banks here are terrible. I've suffered for 8 years with HSBC Oman and they have been absolutely awful for me. They might be great for you, and I hope they are, but I can only relate my own experience. I've not changed banks because quite simply, all the banks here are as bad as each other. Get a bank account that will allow you some sort of perk (eg a credit card with travel points or something). If wiring money back to your home country, chances are that the bank that you use here will not offer you the best available exchange rate - go and check out some of the money exchange places around town - personally I have had good experiences with the Oman-UAE Exchange place found in the Avenues mall in Ghubra (or is it Bowsher?).
Well there you have it, my top 10 things to do when you first move here. Do you have any suggestions - if you do then share away!