With two million + annual visitors, the Sultanate of Oman is quickly shifting from a sleepy little-known country to a popular and safe destination that has a lot to offer visitors. Culture, History, Adventure, Beauty, Uniqueness… Oman has it all!
Tourism is currently undergoing a big push as part of the government’s economic diversification plan, and this translates into good services offered to guests. It all starts at the airport, and getting into Oman as a tourist is very straight forward and simple:
UPDATE (May 2017): Oman revamped their visa schedule, eliminating the 10-day visa option for tourist. GCC residents still can purchase the special visit visa for 5 OMR (see below).
UPDATE (March 2018): Visa-on-arrival will cease on March 21, 2018. You must get your visa beforehand via the eVisa system (new eVisa rule details here).
UPDATE (October 2019) Apparently, the Oman-Saudi border crossing is not open.
The Sultanate has only one tourist visa option available online; and on arrival at air, land, and sea ports:
- 30-day Visa, single entry (20 OMR)
To be eligible you must have a passport valid for 6 months from of one of the following (Group 1) countries or regions:
European Countries (Group 1)
Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedon, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Vatican, Cyprus
South American Countries (Group 1)
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela
Other Countries and Regions (Group 1)
Australia, Brunei, Canada, French Guiana, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, New Zealand, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United States of America
Visas for Countries Outside of Group 1
If you are traveling on a passport from a different country you must be locally sponsored. This can be easily arranged with any of the tour companies if you are coming for tourism. Or through employment sponsors if have friends or family working in Oman. More information about this and other types of visas can be found from the Royal Oman Police using the eVisa eligibility wizard.
Nationals of New Zealand, South Korea, and Brunei all receive their visas for no fee! Kiwis have one better and get 3 months in total.
Tourists with GCC Residency
If you have a GCC residence visa already, you can obtain a visit visa on arrival for Oman as long as you have one of these well-to-do jobs, no matter your nationality. The cost is 5 OMR for a four week stay.
Entering with an Israeli stamp in your passport is no problem, thanks to Oman’s high level of tolerance.
UPDATE (December 2016): Female tourists from some nations will not be allowed to enter Oman on tourist visas unless they have a booked return flight and 4 star hotel reservation. On top of that, the maximum stay will be 10 days, and it is not extendable. It’s unclear which nations fall under the “some” category. Read the news article here. My guess it affects Thailand, Philippines and Ukraine.
Visiting a muslim country requires an extra level of respect and understanding. For the most part, this respect and understanding is reciprocal, but not always. Certain items you may wish to bring into the sultanate may be banned due to modesty or security concerns. Here is a detailed list of banned items to make your entry more smooth and respectful:
- Guns and ammo (sorry Yanks)
- Ladies vibrators and ‘toys’ (seriously)
- Handheld radios (requires licensing)
- Drones (requires licensing)
Alcohol and Pork
Being respectful towards visitors, Oman allows you to bring pork, and two liters of alcohol for non-muslims, but only via the airport. I encourage you to bring in the maximum as bar prices are steep. There is a duty-free shop just after immigration, but before customs. This allows you to stock up so you don’t have to lug that homemade schnapps all the way to Oman; unless of course you will be sharing it with me. Transporting alcohol by car through the land border is a big no-no and could cause a lot of problems for you. Keep in mind that the no alcohol is sold in the airport shop or any bar in the country during the month of Ramadan.
Coming by Plane
Seeb International Airport is my favorite international airport in the world. It is small, easy to navigate, close to the city, and has a special character that really makes you feel like you have arrived in a developing third world country.
I say that with all respect. If I wanted to visit a modern metropolis in the middle east I would visit Dubai and consume all it has to offer in that regard. You come to Oman for its rustic charm, and that experience starts at the airport, even before you step foot off the plane; when that blast of hot air hits you in the face.
In Oman change is inevitable due to the rate of development at the moment, and the airport is no different. While landing and/or taxiing you might notice a bevy of construction along with an unusually long taxi time. This is due to the construction of Muscat’s new airport terminal tied to the sultanate’s economic diversification plan.
After reaching the terminal by bus you will notice two groups of people: those rushing through the sliding doors, and those who are a not in such a hurry. The travelers who are rushing are most likely local residents (expat or national) who have a resident card and are afforded e-gate entry. A resident can literally clear immigration and customs with hand luggage in 2 minutes flat, the terminal is that small and efficient. Travelers who are not in such a hurry are most likely tourists or fresh expat workers from the Asian sub-continent.
UPDATE (March, 2016): Oman now has an eVisa Option, allowing you to skip the visa purchasing process. My Oman eVisa commentary is here. Purchase your Oman eVisa from the Royal Oman Police here. The traditional visa process below remains as well.
|Oman now has an eVisa option. While Visa-on-Arrival is still available, I do recommend obtaining your eVisa while preparing for your visit to Oman. I have more Oman eVisa info available here.|
Tourists should walk straight through the automatic doors, and up a few steps. Search for the money exchange line; this is where you will purchase your visa. Currencies accepted: any GCC currency, USD, EUR or OMR.
Once you have paid for and collected your visa you can then move to the tourist immigration line to your right to gain entry into the Sultanate. It is all very straight forward and simple.
After immigration and 20 meters down the hall you will find the duty-free shop where you can stock up on two-liters of alcohol per person (closed during Ramadan). Just beyond the duty-free shop you will find the luggage carousels on your right and customs on your left. Welcome to Oman.
Coming by Car
Traveling by car from the UAE has become more challenging recently, and I do not recommend this way of entry anymore, especially on a holiday weekend. I used to take the 5 hour drive to Dubai and Abu Dhabi by car semi-frequently but the road conditions and border procedures have become too stressful when compared to the cost of a short flight. Save yourself the trouble and book a flight.
The biggest problems are the changing procedures for security checks and the changing of allowed crossing points for non-GCC nationals. Things seem to be settled for the moment, but time at the border could take more than 2 hours for clearance if you are unlucky.
Paying for your Omani visa is straight forward, however credit or debit cards are the only thing accepted.
UAE – Oman Crossings for expats/tourists
All UAE borders now charge 35 AED to exit the UAE. Vias fees at the Omani border are the same as discussed above.
From Dubai using “Dara – Bukha” to Musandam, Oman
Use this crossing for visiting Musandam from the UAE.
From Dubai using “Kalba – Khatmat Malahah”
I used this crossing in Spring 2019, and I didn’t find any problems other than major congestion returning to Oman because foreigners are forced to get out of the car and queue for passport stamps.
From Dubai using “Hatta – al Wajajah”
This is the best route from Dubai to Muscat. It used to be better with access to Madam border crossing using Highway 5, Oman/E44, UAE, but now Madam is only accessible for GCC nationals. You can still use the Hatta border crossing, you just have to drive around the bit of Oman that is between Madam border and Hatta by taking the Sharjah-Kalba road north of Oman and turning south for Hatta. This route adds about 30-40 minutes onto your journey now. After exiting Hatta you will quickly reach al Wajajah border post in Oman.
From Abu Dhabi using “Hili – Wadi al Jizi” at al Ain
This crossing can be busy and difficult to find parking to complete your passport formalities, but otherwise it’s a fine crossing point. After the Hili border post you will continue 40 kilometers to Wadi al Jizi border post in Oman to compete your entry into Oman.
From Abu Dhabi using “Khatm al Shakla – Wadi al Jizi” at al Ain
I have been twice through here. It’s mainly geared toward handling trucks, but passenger cars are accepted, and you might find it more quiet than Hili. After exiting Khatm al Shakla UAE border post you will need to continue to Wadi al Jizi Oman border post, about 25 kilometers down the road. This border crossing is best for reaching Muscat from Abu Dhabi.
From Abu Dhabi using “Mezyad – Hafeet” at al Ain
This is the best border crossing for reaching the interior of Oman, like Nizwa, or southern areas like Salalah. Crossing here at peak holiday times like long weekends or Eid can be very busy.
Yemen – Oman Crossings
There are one or two crossings, and I have no experiences.
Saudi Arabia – Oman Crossings
“Ramlat Khaliya” – The only Saudi/Oman crossing
opened in October 2015 after years of road construction through the Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter). Actually, the news was wrong, and as of Fall 2019 this crossing is still not open, likely do to construction on the Saudi side. :(
Coming by Bus
|You can listen to firsthand experience of arriving to Muscat from Bob and Anthon in episode 013 of the Sultanate podcast. Listen to the whole episode, or skip to 47:22 for the bus description.|
You can get lucky and have only a few passengers on your bus, making the immigration and customs procedures very quick at the border. Readers, Bob and Anthon explained this in episode 013 of the Sultanate podcast.
There are several private companies providing service as well as the government owned Oman National Transport Company. The clock tower in Dubai is where all the buses depart from. Expect 5 OMR for a one-way journey.
While the route between Dubai and Muscat is generally safe, bus travel is more dangerous compared to flying. In May 2017, there was two high profile deadly bus crashes on the stretch of highway between Muscat and Salalah. Also in 2019, a very deadly crash in Dubai, where an Omani driver of a government Mwasalat bus was sentenced for the wrongful death of 17 passengers. Be safe!