The Sultanate of Oman is a fascinating exotic pearl full of history. For example, Oman’s history of maritime trade dates back 5,000 years. Long before the Greeks, this small spot on the Arabian Peninsula supplied the advanced cultures of Mesopotamia. The country has a huge, 3,000 kilometer (1,864 miles)-long coast that connects the Arabian Sea in the north with the Indian Ocean in the south. At the same time, it contains the highest peak of the Arabian Peninsula.
Important Travel Tips for Oman
In our guide, you can get answers to all your questions about traveling in Oman and the Arabian Peninsula before you go. Oman is a Muslim country and you will see many mosques and hear the call to prayer five times a day, so expect to be woken up at dawn. Out of the 4.5 million inhabitants, 46% are expats, mainly from the Indian subcontinent.
What Should I Pack?
- Oman is hot. Really hot. Temperatures vary from between 77° F (25° C) in winter and 122° F (50° C) in summer. Leave any winter clothes at home, especially the wool sweaters or parkas.
- The sun and UV rays are a real danger, and their strength is often underestimated. Sunscreen with high SPF and sun hat are mandatory, as is avoiding the midday heat.
- Other countries have other customs. Just as you observe the customs in your country, you should also take them into consideration when traveling. Also, remember that the deeply religious Omani culture is very conservative.
- The men wear a dishdasha, a long piece of white or colored cloth, and a kummah, the traditional Omani cap. Women wear the black abaya and a scarf covering their hair.
- The region around the capital city, Muscat, is relatively cosmopolitan. However, shoulders and knees should still be covered in public. Incidentally, “smart casual” applies and you should wear swimwear only on the beach or at the hotel pool.
- Speaking of swimwear, women should wear a more conservative swimsuit rather than a bikini, and men swimming trunks rather than a Speedo or something tight. Going topless or nude is an absolute no-no. Long trousers/skirts and long-sleeved tops are a must when traveling outside of Muscat or other cities.
What Documents Do I Need to Enter the Country?
First things first: You will need a passport to enter Oman. A driver’s license or ID card will not suffice. If you are coming from another country, airline personnel will check your passport when you check-in and likely when you board the plane. You will also need a visa. The costs are as follows (as of December 2019):
- Single entry tourist visa with a stay of up to 10 days: 5 OMR (about $13).
- Single entry tourist visa with a stay of up to 30 days: 20 OMR (about $52).
Money in Oman
- The national currency is the Omani Rial (abbreviation OMR, OR, or RO), which is divided into 1,000 Baisa or Baiza (Bz). Banknotes are available in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 Rial as well as 500, 250, 200 and 100 Baisa. Coins are 50, 25, 10 and 5 Baisa.
- Banknotes have Arabic and regular numerals. Coins carry only Arabic numerals but are also rarely used.
- Cash is still king here and payment by credit card is generally only available in international hotels, upscale restaurants, large department stores and supermarkets. You will need cash to pay in souks, local restaurants and gas stations.
- Larger banks have ATMs for credit and debit card withdrawals. National Bank of Oman and Bank Muscat also have machines for EC/Maestro cards.
- Bonus tip: US dollars can, in some places, be used as a means of payment.
Do I Tip?
Tipping is not common in Oman, but you can still do it if you appreciate the good service.
Language in Oman
Arabic is the official language in Oman. But many people also speak English.
Food and Drink
Omani cuisine usually consists of traditional bread, rice, beef, chicken or fish mixed with special sauces and local ingredients. From Indian rice dishes to Chinese dumplings and, of course, shawarma you will find almost everything in this melting pot of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. And for those who want a taste of home while on vacation…almost every larger city in Oman has some American fast-food chain.
Oman is more liberal with alcohol than neighboring Saudi Arabia, where it is strictly forbidden without exception. In most international hotels and restaurants and some clubs, you can order alcoholic beverages (at accordingly high prices). But be aware: Despite the relative tolerance to drinking, the laws regarding drunk driving are very strict.
Oman’s Diplomatic Locations in the US
You can find 2 diplomatic locations of the Sultanate of Oman in the US. The Permanent Mission of the Sultanate of Oman is located in New York City and open Monday through Friday. The Sultanate of Oman Embassy is in Washington, D.C. and is also open Monday through Friday.
How Safe is Oman?
In the area near the border triangle of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Oman, attacks stemming from the conflict in Yemen, as well as travel restrictions can occur. There is still a risk of pirate attacks off the coasts. Theft is particularly common in places frequented by tourists. Because of these things, it’s always a good idea to look at the US Department of State website to see any current threats and travel advisories before planning your trip to Oman.
Driving in Oman
- The roads in Oman can vary in quality. The cities are connected by well-built, Interstate-like highways, but in more rural areas four-wheel drive is recommended. Road signs are in Arabic and English. The traffic rules are largely the same as in the US and Europe, but it’s good to read up on the basic road rules before driving in Oman.
- The maximum speed limits on most roads are between 40 and 80 km/h (25-50 mph). The speed limit is usually 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas and a maximum of 80 km/h (50 mph) out of town on single-lane roads. On some stretches, a maximum speed of 120 km/h (75 mph) applies. Radar traps are stationary and the boxes measure your speed and photograph in both directions.
- In Oman, using seat belts is mandatory, and phone use while driving is only permitted with hands-free equipment. Also, note that at night there is an increased risk of accidents due to free-running camels.
A US driver’s license is generally enough to rent a car in Oman. An international driving permit (IDP) is recommended, which is only valid when used with the US driver’s license.
No vaccinations are required for entry to Oman. Only those who have been in an area where yellow fever was present have to prove that they have been vaccinated. Oman has been considered malaria-free since 2001, but you should still take care of mosquito protection in the hilly regions. It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that you be up to date on your routine vaccinations before traveling to Oman, and consider getting the Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines because both can be contracted through contaminated food and water. You should also take care to eat only cooked dishes and no fresh fruit to avoid food-borne illnesses. Do not drink tap water.
The central emergency number for ambulance, police and fire brigade is 9999.
Homosexual acts are a crime in Oman. Those convicted can even face the death penalty. Same-sex marriages are not recognized.
Visiting Oman during Ramadan
Restaurants outside the hotels are closed. Eating, drinking and smoking in public are forbidden, even to non-Muslims. A decree of the Ministry of Religion requires the full body to be covered by clothing during Ramadan.
The outlets in Oman are the same as in the UK, with 3 plugs. So you will need an adapter in order to stay connected.
In Oman, the Gulf Standard Time (GST) applies and there is no Daylight Saving Time during the summer months. The time difference from the Eastern time zone in the US is + 9 hours in the winter and + 8 hours in the summer.
What to See in Oman
Every city in Oman has charming architecture and natural beauty. In addition, each region offers festivals all year round. But Oman is also 82% desert, whether it’s the gentle dunes of the Wahiba Sands or the rocky, barren mountains around Nizwa. So always bring water with you when traveling outside of the cities. Here are some top things to do while visiting Oman:
- In Muscat, you can visit the Great Mosque (with the second largest carpet in the world), take a walk at Mutrah Harbor, and go to the fish market early in the morning. Haggling takes place at the Mutrah Souk.
- On the coast, visit Sur to see how traditional dhows are still built by hand. And check out the beaches of Ras al-Jinz and Ras al-Hadd where the turtles build their nests.
- The Wahiba Sands (also known as Sharqiya Sands) are breathtaking and it’s worth staying in one of the camps in the region.
- The Musandam Peninsula is a beautiful enclave separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. Dhow cruises along the coast are very popular and it is also a well-known diving site.
- Salalah and its surroundings have a very different atmosphere from the rest of the country – subtropical and more relaxed. Explore the secluded beaches and buy incense in the souk.
What Not to Do When Visiting Oman
While Oman is slightly more tolerant about some things than neighboring countries, there are still some things that are absolutely not tolerated, even if you’re a tourist. These include:
- Kissing in public
- Photographing local women
- Using VPN networks
- Using or buying drugs
- Watching or accessing pornography
- Consuming or importing pork products