Spotlight on Expat Living – Oman

MuscatOman

Oman – The Market
Brian’s recent visit to Muscat (Oman) was long overdue. Expecting to find a largely laid-back Middle East location I was quite surprised at just how industrially developed it was. I really should have known better; I do now… and it is certainly a place worthy of serious consideration when contemplating working abroad as a financial advisor.

Oman has a population of around 3 million, of which approximately one-third are foreigners. Expats are heavily represented in the private sector whereas most Omani nationals tend to be employed in the public sector where pay is better and working hours shorter. But Oman is not as financially strong as other oil-exporting Gulf nations and the government there is keen to move more Omani nationals into
the private sector. Despite this, there was a 16% rise in foreigners filling private sector jobs in 2012 while local unemployment rates have lingered at around 20%.

In an effort to reduce its reliance on the oil & gas industry the economy has been slowly diversifying into petrochemicals and other industries, including tourism. The main business centre is Muscat where there are large contingents of British, French, Dutch, Italians, and South Africans. One of the largest businesses is the PDO (Petroleum Development Oman) which is a consortia of oil businesses, including Shell. There is also the full range of multi-national banks, telecommunication companies, and many construction and exploration firms. Many smaller scale businesses operate out of villas rather than use a formal office. Most business is done face to face and by word of mouth so websites tend to be used as a back-up tool rather than anything else.

Many expat postings are for 2 or 3 years only, so there is a high turnover of expats with a constant flow of clients needing good financial advice. However, there are very few IFA businesses in the country and the ones that are there tend to be small scale. Bearing in mind the number and the turnover of expats this represents a huge opportunity for financial advisors looking at their options in the Middle East.

Oman – Living and Working there

I am very lucky that one of my colleagues, Christine Rose, lived in Oman for nearly 3 years and was able to contribute handsomely to my local knowledge. She tells me: “In terms of where I would base myself, Muscat is fabulous; there is a choice of restaurants and hotels with lots of local eateries (not licensed) too. For a full ‘western fix’, many expats hop over to Dubai for the weekend. Muscat has a much calmer lifestyle than Dubai, with the mountains and sea within easy reach. It is a wonderful location if you like sailing, decent scuba diving and desert trips.”

Muscat is a cheaper place to live than Dubai or Abu Dhabi – consumer prices (including rent) are approximately 30% lower – and is more beautiful. Several airlines now fly to Muscat, either direct or via Dubai/Abu Dhabi from the UK and Europe. It is also very easy to trip between different locations using a low-cost airline or by car – Muscat is just a few hours’ drive from Dubai and Abu Dhabi – great fun to do, with breathtaking scenery along the way. There are plenty of Irish and English bars there (I watched 6- nations match between England and Ireland in the bar at the Crowne Plaza in Muscat – bad result for me, but what a wonderful view!). In 2012, Muscat was named the Second Best City to visit in the world by the travel guide publisher Lonely Planet and was also chosen as the Capital of Arab Tourism.

All things considered, if you are considering a move to the Middle East and want to avoid the kitsch of Dubai, would prefer to work in a market that is open to opportunities, and wish to live more economically and in a beautiful environment, then Muscat should be on your list.

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