The Gulf has a reputation for being a very expensive place to live and visit. And whilst the cost of living in Oman might be a bit more affordable than its neighbors, if you want to live a “western lifestyle,” you will find it more costly than the equivalent in your home countries. However, higher salaries for skilled expat workers make up for the higher costs of living and there is no income tax in Oman - which makes quite a difference to savings!
My husband and I have been living in Muscat for a few years, so here is a breakdown of our main costs of living in Oman.
Almost all expats in Muscat rent an apartment or a villa, and living space is generally spacious. The most popular areas for expats to live include:
- Al Mouj
- Dolphin Village
- Madinat al Sultan Qaboos.
There are a number of compound-style developments across Muscat, offering different types of accommodation usually with communal swimming pools, social clubs, and gyms included in the quoted rental price. Most villas or standalone houses will have their own private garden, and some have their own swimming pool.
It is worth checking with your employer on relocation packages as part of your contract negotiations – some employers provide accommodation as part of the remuneration for expat staff.
If your employment contract doesn’t cover rent, expect to pay around 500 – 800 OMR (£1,100-£1,800) per month for a two-bedroom apartment with access to communal gardens and pool, or about 1000-1500 OMR (£2,200-£3,400) per month for a three-bedroom villa with private garden.
One of the biggest shocks for expats moving to Muscat is that accommodation costs are usually paid in a lump sum – either quarterly, six months, or annually, instead of monthly like I was expecting. This means you are likely to face a big bill upfront, when you first arrive so be sure to factor that in. Utilities such as water, gas, and electricity are often included in the quoted rental price.
Accommodation is nearly always unfurnished – and there is a thriving second-hand market (although the opening of Oman’s first IKEA this summer was a very exciting development for Muscat residents!). You can easily buy second hand cars and furniture in great condition, and there is a booming trade in children’s clothes and toys. There are a number of Facebook groups to help you buy and sell, and the more expat oriented supermarkets (Al Fair and Spinney’s) have noticeboards offering everything from cars, sofas and TVs for sale, to domestic staff looking for new positions.
The Fine Print
Living in Oman can be complicated for expats new to all the bureaucracy so it is worth using an estate agent such as Savills Oman to register all leases with the municipality and Ministry of Housing if your accommodation is not included in your employment contract. For a relatively small fee, they will ensure all paperwork is in order, and save you time (and quite possibly your sanity!) spending a long time queuing at ministries.
Food and Drink
Supermarkets in Muscat are broadly good but the supply chain can be hit and miss, meaning the cost of food fluctuates. My weekly shop usually comes to around 70 OMR (£150) for the two of us. Given almost everything must be imported – especially during the summer months - fruit and veg in particular can be very pricey.
“Staples” such as rice, pasta, root vegetables, bell peppers and green beans are all pretty cheap year round, as are local products such as spices. But anything with a shorter shelf life is costly. For example, I have never paid less than 3 OMR (£6) for a small tub of tomatoes, and long ago stopped converting the price of a bag of salad leaves back into British currency (usually somewhere around a very costly £6-8…).
More frustratingly, given the long distances and heat involved in transportation, fresh produce is not always in top condition making the high prices somewhat harder to swallow. Strawberries are a serious treat in Muscat when they cost about 4 OMR (£8) for a small punnet… and even more so when you get home to realize half the packet are moldy.
Pork is forbidden in the Islamic faith, but there are a few supermarkets (Spinney’s) in Muscat that sell pig products to non-Muslims (from special, closed off rooms tucked into the back of a supermarket). However, unless you particularly love Spam (£20 a tin…) or a Ristorante range pepperoni pizza (£30 for a single pizza), choices are very limited and extremely expensive.
Buying alcohol in Oman is one of the highest costs of living in Oman. Non-Muslims can apply for a license to drink alcohol at home. However, the few shops permitted to sell alcohol are seriously pricey - a distinctly average bottle of wine will cost around £30.
If you aim to only eat products you're accustomed to back home and can't go without alcohol, your cost of living in Oman will skyrocket compared to others.
A car is absolutely essential for living in Muscat – there is simply no reliable public transport and pavements are a rare treat so walking is simply not an option in much of the city (or much of the year when it regularly tops 50°!).
Whilst a small city car is fine in Muscat, to get out and explore the amazing Omani landscapes you will want a 4X4. OLX is the main site for finding second hand cars for sale, with prices varying massively depending on model and age. Before settling, consider how common the car you are looking at is in Oman. Given the heat, dust and salty sea air in Muscat, parts need replacing fairly often and the scarcer they are, the more expensive the job!
The cost of using a car however, is surprisingly one of our cheapest expenses! Petrol in the Gulf is much cheaper than almost anywhere else in the world – it only costs about £35 to fill my huge SUV. Prices are regulated, so all petrol stations much charge the same price per liter.
Bonus Expenses for Most Expats
Expats are required to use the private healthcare system, except in emergencies when you may be taken to a public hospital. Employers are not required to provide health insurance, but the vast majority in Oman do. So either negotiate cover as part of your employment contract, or you will need to budget for comprehensive medical cover.
It is not unusual to have domestic staff in Oman – and many expats hire full time maids and nannies. The average monthly salary is around 170 OMR (£380), although a lot of expats choose to pay more. On top of salary, you are required to provide housing, healthcare insurance, and at least one return flight to a staff member’s home country every two years. You are also the legal visa sponsor for your member of staff, and multiple permits are needed. Most of the larger companies have teams which can advise staff on how to do this and the costs involved.
Factor in the cost of a good VPN if you are thinking of living in Muscat – both for TV programs from your home country, but also for those expat-essential services such as FaceTime and WhatsApp video calls, both of which are blocked in Oman (although WhatsApp chat not only works as a messaging function, it is how almost all business gets done!).
Internet and phone bills are comparable to the UK.
Prices to eat out vary wildly depending on what cuisine you are after. Prices are highest in the expensive "Western style" hotels, and you will pay considerably more on your food bill at any restaurants allowed to sell beer or wine. For example, main meals in an international hotel are usually around 16 OMR (£35), and a light lunch in café will cost about 6 OMR (£13).
But if you like to eat more "local" - such as Middle Eastern or Indian subcontinent cuisines - you will find many excellent and reasonably priced places in Muscat to eat out. Given the huge Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi worker population in Muscat there are some fantastically good value and delicious places to head for dinner – expect to pay around 10 OMR (£20) for an Indian meal for two people.
Coffee in most mid range cafes will set you back about 4 OMR (£9), whilst the ubiquitous local karaoke chai - cardamon flavored tea made with condensed milk - rarely costs more than 1 OMR (£2).
You can check out my foodie’s guide to Muscat if you want to find my favorite places to eat in the city – both on a budget and for a special treat!
The main draw of living in Oman – it’s natural landscapes – is completely free to enjoy, and camping equipment can be picked up cheaply in the big supermarkets or the new Decathlon in Mall of Oman. Second hand camping kit can also always be found cheaply on the expat Facebook groups.
Depending on the time of the year in Oman, there are endless outdoor adventures to be had.
The pace of life is definitely quieter in Muscat, so time away from work is usually spent having dinner with friends or heading to one of the city’s beaches. While there are plenty of things to do in Muscat, once you've lived here for awhile, you'll most likely have already visited these places more than a handful of times.
If concerts, exhibitions and theatre performances are your thing, I am afraid you are going to find Muscat very expensive – and pretty limited. The Opera House the only real venue, with tickets starting at 35 OMR (£80). Many expats instead head to other cities like Abu Dhabi or Dubai for a weekend when they want to see a concert or a show.
Many expats therefore choose to join one of the membership clubs in Muscat – usually at the big international hotels, or when they open up membership beyond staff, to the PDO (Petroleum Development Oman – one of the biggest oil and gas producers in Muscat, and a huge expat employer) club in Ras al Hamra.
Most memberships include access to a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a gym, and many also have discounts on in-house restaurants and programs of activities.
We are members at the W Hotel, and whilst it seemed very expensive at first (around 1475 OMR (£3,300) per couple, per year), it was such a great decision! In the summer months it is almost impossible to get much exercise when it is so hot outside and weekend camping is less viable, the gym is a bit of a life line. We also rather enjoy the included massages in the superb spa, and have probably made our money back already with the discount on food!
Navigating the Cost of Living in Oman
While living in Muscat might be more expensive than other countries you've visited, compared to it's Gulf neighbors, it's much more affordable. Here, your salary will most likely compensate for the upped prices of rents, goods, and services. If you decide to move to Oman, you'll be treated to a high quality way of life with easy access to some of the best nature in the world. For us, these benefits have far outweighed the costs.