Oman Country Report
While Oman (population 4.4 million) is generally safe and politically stable, travelers preparing a trip to the small country should be aware that Oman is in a region experiencing instability and shares a 300 km (185 mi) border with Yemen to the southwest.
AREAS TO AVOID
The Dhofar region (south Oman) is under heavy surveillance by authorities. It is advised to avoid traveling near the border with Yemen and to be vigilant in the Dhofar region.
Access to areas considered strategic by the government requires official authorization.
Travel to the Wahiba and Rub Al-Khali deserts should be planned in advance and travelers should be well equipped (with maps, water, GPS, additional fuel, etc.).
Although Oman appears relatively neutral in regional geopolitics - despite its active role in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - the country remains a potential target for Islamist terrorism. The threat is heightened due to the country's proximity and shared border with Yemen, a war-torn country where Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qa'ida cells have wielded significant influence.
The Sultanate of Oman is politically stable and has been governed by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said since 1970. Although Oman is member of the GCC, the Sultanate is not as rich in oil as its neighbors and can be distinguished by its particular culture (home to the Ibadi sect of Islam) and history (colonization of east Africa in 17th-19th centuries). Oman has leveraged its strategically important location at the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and the Strait of Hormuz to play an active role in regional affairs, acting as a mediator between Iran and the GCC. Oman also has close relations with India, Pakistan, and the US, and is widely considered the only Gulf country to publicly maintain good relations with Iran.
The sultan does not have an heir apparent but has arranged for his dynasty to continue even after his death; the name of his successor is in two sealed envelopes (one in Muscat and one in Salalah), to be opened simultaneously in the event the royal family members do not agree on an heir after his death.
The Sultanate was largely unscathed by demonstrations during the regional Arab Spring protests of 2011. Isolated demonstrations calling for economic reforms and reduced corruption resulted in sporadic traffic and commercial disruptions over several weeks, and were met with quick and effective action by the Omani government by augmenting social benefits programs and the powers of the Consultative Assembly. Other small-scale demonstrations took place in 2013, but the situation has remained calm since. In general, social unrest is rare in Oman.
Legislative elections for the lower house of parliament - the Consultative Assembly (Majlis al-Shura) - took place in October 2015. However, it should be noted that this advisory body does not possess any substantive power to propose legislation. Instead, nominal legislative power is held by the upper house - the Council of State (Majlis al-Dawla) - whose members are appointed by the Sultan, though all legislative actions must be ultimately sanctioned by the Sultan.
Oman has high rates of unemployment (approximately 17.5 percent), particularly among its youth. This trend has the potential to create social tensions.
Political demonstrations and protests are rare; all should be avoided as a precaution.
Crime rates are low. However, cases of sexual harassment have been reported; women should be vigilant while traveling alone, especially at night.
The sustained drop in oil prices since 2014 has led to an increase in the unemployment rate, which could increase crime rates in the future; however, the latest crime statistics released by the Omani National Center for Statistics and Information (NCSI) recorded a 25 percent decrease in the overall crime rate compared to 2015.
The road network is well developed. Authorities strictly enforce traffic laws; running a red light results in automatic arrest and detention for 48 hours as well as the suspension of the offender's driving license until a judge's decision.
(Unmetered) taxis are available all over the country. In general, it is advised to discuss the price before departure.
Driving outside Muscat can be hazardous due to the presence of free-roaming animals.
The Oman National Transportation Company reliably operates bus routes between major cities.
The rainy season lasts from May until September in the extreme south of the country and is often accompanied by floods.
In late 2015, the country experienced repeated flooding, worsened by poor drainage systems in urban areas.
Cyclones infrequently strike the sultanate, mainly in the months of June and September as the monsoon arrives and recedes. Tropical Cyclone Ashobaa struck Oman in June 2015 resulting in heavy flooding and significant property damage.
During the summer, extreme temperatures (higher than 50°C [120°F]) and humidity can be dangerous to health.
Sand and dust storms can impact air and ground traffic.
Good quality emergency medical treatment is available in hospitals in the capital Muscat, but the quality of care is lower in areas outside the capital. All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance prior to departure.
Tap water is safe to drink in cities and in places usually visited by tourists. Boil or sterilize water in rural areas, especially if extracted from a well, to reduce the risk of acquiring water-borne diseases.
There are sporadic cases of malaria reported, mainly in Dakhliyah, North Batinah, North Sharqiyah, and South Sharqiyah provinces. The risk however is low and preventive medications are typically not recommended.
A case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) was reported in Oman in late August 2017. It was the ninth laboratory-confirmed MERS-CoV case in the country since September 2012, and the first reported since late November 2016. Approximately 36 percent of reported patients with MERS have died (typically those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly).
In March 2017, nine cases of Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever were reported in Oman, including three fatalities, an increase compared to the three cases reported last year during the same period. The virus is generally transmitted via ticks but can also be contracted by coming into direct contact with the blood or bodies of contaminated livestock.
There are numerous species of venomous animals and insects in the wadis (seasonal ravine oases), in mountainous areas, and in the desert (such as snakes and scorpions).
There are cases of animal rabies in the country. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic, feral, and wild mammals (bites, scratches).
The mobile network is good but means of telecommunications are expensive. Oman's authorities may cut the mobile network for security reasons. Intelligence services monitor all calls and many communications tools such as Skype or Facetime can be blocked by the government.
When in Oman, travelers should respect local traditions and customs, especially those linked to Islam: do not eat, drink, or smoke in public during Ramadan, avoid public displays of affection (particularly near religious places), etc. Entering mosques or other Muslim religious sites is generally prohibited for non-Muslims, except for sites oriented toward tourism, such as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat.
Importing pork or alcohol is forbidden, as well as any pornographic material. Luggage is systematically searched upon arrival in the country.
Alcohol can only be found in hotels, restaurants, and duty-free shops and can be consumed in homes after obtaining a license from authorities. However, drinking alcohol in public is forbidden.
Any immodest behavior (e.g. public sexual acts) can be severely punished by law.
Homosexuality is illegal in Oman.
Oman launched a new e-visa platform on July 26, 2017, which provides tourist visas for nationals from 67 different countries, in addition to those from the GCC. In October 2017, Oman extended eligibility for non-sponsored e-visas for nationals of an additional 28 countries.
Tourists from countries not eligible for the e-visa can obtain a tourist visa upon arrival.
The sultanate of Oman has a Mediterranean climate (hot and dry summers, mild winters) in the north and the east, tropical in the south and west, and arid in the center. Summers last from March to October and winters from November to February. Temperatures are the highest between October and April (around 30°C). In the tropical zone, remnants of the monsoon bring rain from June until September. Humidity levels are high throughout the country (despite low annual rainfall), except in the desert regions where temperatures are relatively steady throughout the day and the night, contrary to usual desert conditions.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +968 Emergency Services: 999
Voltage: 240 V ~ 50 Hz
Oman: Eid al-Adha expected to begin September 1
TIMEFRAME: from 8/29/2017, 12:00 AM until 9/1/2017, 11:59 PM (Asia/Muscat).
Oman: New tourist e-visa platform launches July 26
TIMEFRAME: from 7/26/2017, 12:00 AM until 7/26/2017, 11:59 PM (Asia/Muscat).