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Focus On Oman

VitalStatistics

Population: 2,968,000
Monetary unit: rial Omani (RO)
Capital city: Muscat
Major languages: Arabic
Major religions: Muslim c. 89%, of which Ibadiyah c. 75%, Sunni c. 8%, Shi(i c. 6%; Hindu c. 5%; Christian c. 5%; other c. 1%
Ethnic composition: Omani Arab 48.1%; Indo-Pakistani 31.7%, of which Balochi 15.0%, Bengali 4.4%, Tamil 2.5%; other Arab 7.2%; Persian 2.8%; Zanzibari (blacks originally from Zanzibar) 2.5%; other 7.7%
Age breakdown: under 15, 32.1%; 15–29, 32.2%; 30–44, 22.0%; 45–59, 9.1%; 60–74, 3.6%; 75–84, 0.8%; 85 and over, 0.2%
Life expectancy: male 71.9 years; female 75.6 years
Education: Percentage of population age 10 and over hav- ing: no formal schooling (illiterate) 15.9%; no formal schooling (literate) 22.3%; primary 35.3%; secondary 17.0%; higher technical 3.3%; higher undergraduate 5.2%; higher graduate 0.7%; other 0.3%. Literacy (2008): per- centage of total population age 15 and over literate 86.7%; males literate 90.0%; females literate 80.9%
Urban/Rural split: urban 72.8%; rural 27.2%
Income per household (USD): $17,884
Broadband internet users (%): -

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Introduction

As with many developing economies, the PR industry in oil-rich Oman has come on apace in recent years.

As Hannah Naji, marketing director at Jaguar Land Rover for the Middle East & North Africa observes: “There is definitely an increased understanding of PR in Oman with clients better appreciating the role it has to play and how it can deliver against business and communications objectives.”

However, it remains primarily limited to media relations and stuck in outdated practices. Naji continues: “PR in Oman is almost entirely media relations. Few clients even consider consumer engagement activities, experiential programmes, sponsorships, stunts, social media, corporate social responsibility, issues and crises management, or internal communications. Furthermore most media still link advertising to editorial column inches and just cut and paste press releases from major advertisers.”

There are though signs that this might be changing. Ghaya Mohd al Barwani, head of marketing & communications at Ahli Bank reports that following the unrest in the country at the start of 2011 several publications – most notably the Times of Oman – began relying less on press releases and more on finding their own stories.

“They’re beginning to ask challenging questions of brands,” she says. “While not everyone is happy about this, we’re a young company with a dynamic leadership team and we welcome a media that makes editorial decisions based on reader interest as opposed to advertiser spend.”

 

Working There

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Fabric Recruitment

Up until 1970, Oman was almost completely closed to foreign visitors. Things have changed a lot since then and the country’s education and tourism industries have improved a great deal. Expats are attracted to Oman for a number of reasons: a decent, tax free salary; sublime weather; low crime levels; good medical care; excellent private schools; and an easy lifestyle.

 

Red Tape

Visa requirements in Oman have been simplified over recent years, particularly as the current Sultan is keen to encourage the increase of tourism and international business.

 

Visas

To work in the country you have to be sponsored by an Omani company and it’s illegal to work on a tourist visa

There are two main types of residence visa. The first allows you to live and work in Oman and relies on your employer acting as your ‘sponsor’. Your employer will usually sort out all the necessary forms and other documentation for you before you arrive to take up your new role.

 

The other visa is for residency only and is usually for people who are being sponsored by a family member or spouse.

 

 

 

 

All visa applicants will be expected to provide a medical certificate that shows they’re in good health and are free from HIV, AIDS and other STDs. Once you’re in Oman, you’ll be expected to carry your residence visa around with you at all times.

 

Omanisation

The most obvious setback to finding employment is  the popular ‘Omanisation programme’. The Omani authorities are extremely strict about employing foreigners and will scrutinise your qualifications and work experience. If it’s decided that an Omani employee could just as easily do the job then your application will be rejected.

 

 

 

Long-winded bureaucratic procedures occasionally arise if you try to change jobs while in Oman. Job contracts tend to be open-ended, directly linked to visa stipulations and are designed to protect employers who have spent time and money bringing foreign workers into their country. Some contracts include six-month waiting period clauses that, in practice, mean the expat has to leave the country for six months before reapplying for a new visa.

The way to avoid this potentially irritating problem is to persuade your employer to provide what’s known as a ‘no objection certificate’. Rather than holding their foreign national workers hostage, many employers would rather provide the certificate than pay to send them back home.

 

Costs

The cost of living in Oman varies depending on the sort of lifestyle you wish to have and what sort of employment package you’ve managed to negotiate. Many companies offer free company accommodation, an annual accommodation allowance or an additional amount in your monthly salary to help pay the rent.

Renting

Although foreign nationals have recently been given the right to buy property on certain developments, very few of them have been completed, which means that renting is really the only option for expats. Some landlords expect a full year of rent to be paid for up front, which can lose you money if you decide to move house before the year is completed.

Average monthly rental prices for unfurnished homes (converted into equivalent US$):

 

1 bedroom apartment         = 750 - 1,000
2 bedroom apartment         = 1,000 - 1,500
3 bedroom apartment         = 1,500 - 1,800
2-3 bedroom villa         = 1,800 - 2,250
4+ bedroom villa         = 2,300 and upwards

Serviced apartments are also available and cost between 30% and 50% more than unserviced ones. They do however come with laundry, cleaning and bed-changing services so - if you can afford it - they offer a luxurious element to your home life.

Utilities

Utility bills are your own responsibility, and can be much higher in summer months when air-conditioning units are needed almost constantly. Thankfully, electricity, water and gas costs are subsidised by the region’s government, which owns the services. This is intended to aid locals and benefit the population as a whole. It’s worth keeping track of your payments and receipts so that you don’t get overcharged.

Other costs

The price of wines and spirits is slightly lower than in the UK and US but higher than average European prices. But, because of lower import duties, most electrical items - such as TVs, DVD players, camera equipment and computer hardware/software - are generally less expensive.

 

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of buying or renting a car. Taxis are very expensive but, as you’d expect, petrol is extremely cheap so it’s wise to procure your own transport.

Tax-free?

The lure of the tax-free salary is, of course, huge. But don’t be too blinded by it: you may still be required to pay taxes in your home country. Not only that, you’ll still pay taxes on products such as pork, alcohol and tobacco as well as other ‘hidden’ taxes in the form of fees, tourism levies and service charges.

Also bear in mind that the Oman rial is linked to the US dollar and you may find that the recent currency fluctuations decrease the actual value of your salary when compared with what you’d be earning at home.

Lastly, some states impose a local tax (known as baladiya) on properties to cover expenses like refuse collection and road maintenance. Usually the owner of the property is liable for this cost but you may still find yourself paying it.

 

Culture Snapshot

Oman mixes Bedouin traditions, diverse natural beauty and Arabian history to create a varied and stimulating culture. It is a predominantly Muslim country and expats should be aware that, as with other Muslim nations, this has an impact on every aspect of personal and professional life.


Religion

Most Omanis’ follow the Ibadi sect of Islam - created as a result of one of the first divisions in the religion. Oman has, as yet, not been subjected to any of the militant Islamist violence that occurs in some of its neighbouring countries.

 

It’s important to remain aware of the usual codes of conduct that apply to Muslim countries. For example, clothing should be conservative, particularly for women; behaviour should be polite and moderate; alcohol can only be consumed in licensed bars, restaurants and hotels; and pork products are prohibited.

 

However, Omani women are not as subservient or restricted as the women in some other Gulf countries. They’re even increasingly being accepted into the workplace, although often after long battles with employers and on significantly lower salaries than their male counterparts.

Muscat

The capital city of Muscat is considered to be rather beautiful and has a skyline that’s decorated with golden minarets against a backdrop of brown mountains. The city is a delightful blend of old and new and is surprisingly green for a desert region. The roads are often lined with carefully maintained lawns, trees and brightly coloured flowers.

The older parts of the capital city retain a deep sense of history, with a profusion of Islamic architecture such as forts, castles, mosques and the Al Alam Palace. The Corniche, with its promenade and souks selling various local

spices and treasures is a real highlight of Muscat. The newer part is the location of many of the high-rise offices and business buildings. The wealth brought in by the oil industry has led to top quality developments and, subsequently, Muscat also boasts excellent new roads, elegant mosques, well-maintained parks, archaeological sites, museums, restaurants and 5 star hotels.

 

Schooling and medical care are both of a high standard and there’s plenty to see and do in your free time. You can browse the souks for treasures, watch the popular sport of camel racing, go scuba diving, sunbathe on the long stretches of sandy beach or go turtle watching. And there’s also the usual range of more common Western leisure facilities such as cinemas and shopping malls.

A good expat package in a good company in Oman is a golden opportunity to experience a different culture in a country where the sun always shines.

MyMove

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Media

Print media dominates in Oman. In English the Times of Oman is the main paper and in Arabic it is Alwatan. Muscat Daily, which was founded in 2009, is also picking up readers.

 

There is very low use of television, but outside of Muscat papers are not always delivered every day, so Oman TV can be an important news outlet.

 

There are only three or four radio stations of any size: Hala FM, Al Wisal FM and Hi FM. Merge FM set up in June 2011 and with its Hindi music playlists is rapidly picking up listeners among the large Indian ex-patriate population.

 

Major Brands

Three brands that traditionally dominate editorial coverage are Oman Air, Oman Oil and the Ministry of Tourism, although this is gradually changing as brands like the Bank of Muscat and Ahli Bank invest in PR and multinational FMCG, telecommunications and automotive brands begin to establish a presence in the country.

 

In the financial sector multinationals such as HSBC and Standard Chartered have already established a strong presence.

 

Agencies

Momentum PR, TRACCS Oman and Zeenah PR are the main agencies in Oman, but further development of the market is to a great extent held back by the tendency to develop in-house departments. The Bank of Muscat set up its PR department five years ago. Head of corporate communications, Mohammed Mubarak Al Hassani, says: "Back then it was rare for an Omani company to have a PR department. Those that did exist were closer to a human resources function."

 

He says he has struggled to find a suitable agency and has instead focused on building up an in-house resource. He explains: “In a previous role I used an agency that was based in Dubai and found they just lacked sufficient knowledge of the Omani market. So, we look for people with journalism degrees and train them ourselves. We frequently send them out to see how our target publications work. They spend some time there really understanding what journalists need and how to give it to them.”

 

It seems likely that in the coming months and years more international groups will enter this growing market, and the nascent Omani PR industry will continue to mature.

 

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