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Interview with Jenny – a British expat living in Oman

Updated 16 Jan 2012

Picture of Jenny Benfield - a British expat living in OmanJenny, a British expat living in Oman, paints a picture of Muscat lovely enough to leave you looking for flights and scouring the job ads. She sheds some light on this Middle Eastern Los Angeles, and answers questions about accommodation, schools and culture shock. 

For more information on Muscat, access the Expat Arrivals Oman Guide.

About Jenny

Q: Where are you originally from? 

A: I am from the UK. We were living in Edinburgh just before we moved.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Muscat, Madinat Al Llam on a compound with 12 white-washed villas built in traditional Arabic style. There is a swimming pool and a well-kept garden with tropical flowers.

Q: How long you have you lived here? 

A: Since January 2011 – one year at the time of writing.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children? 

A: We moved as a family: spouse, 13-year-old son, 19-year-old daughter and six-week-old granddaughter. 

Q: Why did you move; what do you do? 

A: My husband was offered a job as director of customer affairs for Authority of Electricity Regulation in Oman. It seemed a wonderful opportunity at the time when any employment in the UK seemed tenuous. Just after he was made the job offer, they shut the Edinburgh office.

About Muscat, Oman

Q: What do you enjoy most about Muscat, how’s the quality of life in Oman? 

A: If you can imagine Los Angeles with a Middle Eastern twist – that’s Muscat. It is a city with beautiful beaches, palm trees and fresh sea air. There is lots of atmosphere: the haunting call for prayer; the skyline of minarets and domes, the traditional Omani national costume. Everything is beautifully clean and there is lot of greenery.

The quality of life is very relaxed and laid back. It is a quiet city.  

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home? 

A: The downside is it can be too quiet, too unadventurous. All the shopping malls tend to have the same shops – Next, Carrefour, Muscat Pharmacy. All the hotels do the same things. You get the urge to get away, which luckily is quite easy with Dubai within driving distance.  

Q: Is Oman safe?

A: Yes. From a crime perspective it is totally safe. Expats and locals walk everywhere even at night. As anywhere in the world, you should be careful of valuables, but that is more as a precaution. The main risk is from road accidents. 

About living in Oman

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Muscat as an expat?

A: It depends what you want. Each area has its advantages and disadvantages. You really need to explore for yourself. Unlike some parts of the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, expats can live anywhere. We live in Madinat Al Llam, which is close to all facilities and the schools. While we are by no means social butterflies, we do like to go out to lots of different places so it suits us. Lots of people swear by The Wave, which is a huge out-of-town, up-market development by the sea. But there are plenty of others.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Oman?

A: Good. There is a range of villas and apartments which should suit every pocket. Like everywhere, landlords can be neglectful of their maintenance responsibilities, so try to get a good one.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Oman compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: Petrol is cheaper than water. In fact it is so much cheaper than the UK I take visitors to the local garage as a tourist attraction. Labour is cheap too, so lots of things unaffordable in the UK – maids, drivers, tailor-made clothes, fitted curtains – become possible. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also on sale for a phenomenally good value. We found our grocery bill halved. However, we enjoy cooking, and we eat local produce. If you love branded goods, such as Heinz tomato-ketchup, expect to pay for it. Ham, pork etc. Can be bought at particular shop, and is very highly-priced.

The chief expense is entertainment. If you enjoy an alcoholic drink when you go out you are restricted to a few hotels and restaurants, which can be very expensive (and repetitive). Tour guides are excessively expensive. Another major cost (to those used to free medical care) is health. The actual prices are not bad value compared with the international medical market but even with insurance, you still seem to have to dig deep. 

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: The locals are very friendly and willing to mix, which is unusual in an Arabic country. My son in particular has been to an Omani farm, and has been invited to Ramadan feasts. Nevertheless, perhaps because of the cultural and religious divide expats mix mainly with other expats. This includes me, but over time I would like to change it. 

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A: Meeting people is fairly easy. The Women’s Guild of Oman and American Women’s Group both offer opportunities for women to meet new people. However, there is not a thriving social scene of parties, like in some overseas postings. You need to be proactive. 

Family and children in Oman

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?

A: I had the most difficulty adjusting. It was largely the loss of my friends and family plus hours of free time. There are women’s clubs, but it doesn’t replace friends.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?

A: Yes. The boy settled in very quickly and happily. 

Q: What are the schools in Oman like, any particular suggestions?

A: There are plenty to choose from. My son is at the British School, Muscat. It follows the English curriculum (GCSEs, A-levels) and has a friendly atmosphere. The American British Academy takes the International Baccalaureate. The American International School (Taism) follows an American curriculum. They all have good facilities – Taism has the best. There are other good international schools, but I know very little about them.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Oman?

A: I have used it extensively and found it very good. English-speaking staff, short waiting times (I can never get over how quickly I am seen), comfortable facilities. Expats can only use private facilities, except in an emergency. Medident is a good GP surgery. Kathy, the nurse, is a whiz at baby vaccinations. Muscat Private Hospital is for diagnostic and surgery. All the doctors seem to be well-trained. When my daughter had her wisdom teeth out, her private room had great facilities and the food was tasty too.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: RELAX. It’s Oman. 

~ interviewed January 2012

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