In recent business surveys conducted internationally, Oman has come out as a favorable and relatively easier place to carry out business. In the year 2018, Oman was ranked 71st out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” rankings in addition to faring well for other factors such as attaining 31st rank for “Starting a Business” and 11th rank for paying taxes, etc.
It is greatly possible that expatriates carrying out business in Oman would mostly deal with other expatriates in a usual westernized business context, but with a unique Arabic flavor.
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Current Business Situation
The economic position currently in Oman is that of economic open-mindedness. Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has sought policies to modernize the economy and place the Sultanate of Oman as a dynamic player in the global marketplace. Oman is aggressively seeking to reduce dependency on oil, develop robust national infrastructure and leverage benefits of a growing tourism and service sector.
Official and Business Language
The official language of Oman is Arabic, nonetheless, English is widely spoken in business.
Hours of business are generally 8 am – 1 pm and then 3.30pm – 6.30pm, from Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday is the weekend in Oman.
Dress for a business meeting is always smart and conservative. In a business fraternity, typical dress for men is a business suit and tie. Women’s shirts should cover shoulders and arms and Skirts should fall below the knee. For evening functions, the dress can vary from a sports coat to a business suit with a tie and for casual occasions, trousers and a shirt are good enough for men. Women can wear loose-fitting garments, such as a long dress or loose fitting trousers and a baggy shirt, though the head does not need to be covered. Except for the dressing, Oman is considered amongst the most progressive of the Gulf countries when it comes to attitudes towards women in the workplace.
Meeting and Greeting
Handshakes are an accepted greeting between men and it is usual to shake the hand of the most senior person first while maintaining strong eye contact. Use appropriate Arabic titles (such as Haji and Sheikh) where applicable, to show respect to your Omani counterparts.
Exchange of gifts is a common practice in business circles, but items are often confined to small corporate gift items such as pens and brooches. Presenting alcohol or anything made of pigskin as a gift is not appreciated.
Exchange of business cards is quite common when meeting potential new associates for the first time. Make sure that your business cards are double-sided (English & Arabic) and that you present the card with both hands. Also, ensure you take the time to read any cards you’ve been given.
It is quite usual in the Arab custom of having a number of people in an office all discussing diverse topics simultaneously. On being invited into an office, you would be offered a seat, refreshments and be engaged in an introductory conversation, after which your host may possibly break off the conversation with you and start entertaining one of his other invitees before coming back to you.
Refreshments (e.g. coffee, tea) should always be accepted and is offered to guests in order of their rank if known to the host. It is customary to drink more than one cup of the beverage offered, but not more than your host or others present. To deny a further serving, you shake the cup when handing it back to the server.
Punctuality is expected in business meetings. Omanis are of the belief that ‘Small talk’ is crucial to the foundation of trust amongst business associates and must not be hurried or dispensed with. In introductory business conversations, talk often centers more around personal information like health and well-being of the other person, than the business. The host rarely initiates business discussions. Mostly, you would be expected to commence the meeting with a business proposal. If there is a plan it should be typed out in English and Arabic and shared with the concerned associates, with short and to-the-point descriptions, at least two days prior to when the meeting is due. A ‘yes’ does not necessarily mean agreement, but could just mean, ‘yes, I hear you’.
It is quite common for a meeting to go off on a tangent, or even for the agenda to be discarded totally, so you need to keep patience through all this. Above all, make sure that you are accepting and respectful towards Islamic culture and traditions at all times.
Managing Omani Employees
A paternalistic approach to management style is usually adopted and Omani managers generally think of their internal relationships as their family. Mostly, decisions are made by the top level managers and clear, direct instructions are given to staff to follow, which in turn are expected to be carried out to the letter. The manager looks after the staff and cares for them and in turn, the staff is expected to show great respect towards the manager. All this can sometimes lead to a lack of initiative, as staff are not encouraged to think and speak for themselves. Doing more than what you are asked for would be seen a disobeying your manager and expressing extreme views may be taken as a sign of inflexibility.
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Setting Up in Market
As the market is rapidly evolving, it is highly recommended to visit, meet with potential clients and establish a strong local presence. Finding a suitable local partner or looking to other well-established companies from your own country of origin, in the Middle East would be beneficial. It is also advantageous to be aware of Omani culture and etiquette.
Banking and Finance
Liberalization and modernization of finance are objectives of the Omani Sultanate. Islamic banking has recently been permitted and is an emerging trend. The Omani banking sector is quite developed, with a variety of local and foreign commercial banks available, providing a full range of services. Almost every well-known bank and financial organization in Oman offer financing solutions to support your business. It is advisable to do some research work on how well we meet their eligibility criteria, the applicable rates of interest, loan tenure and so on. This groundwork could help us list out at least a few banks before we decide with the best available option.
Attitude towards Foreigners
Oman is one of the most broad-minded and acceptive nations in the Gulf region, and the general attitude towards foreigners is one of respectful curiosity. However, to earn this respect, it is imperative to treat Islamic culture and traditions respectfully.
Dos and don’ts of doing business in Oman
- Always look forward to nurturing personal and cordial relationships with your Omani business counterparts.
- Learning a little basic Arabic, like a couple of words and phrases, will go a long way towards fostering profound personal relationships as well as dealing with business associates in work.
- Do remain respectful and acceptive towards Islamic culture and traditions.
- Be prepared for the fact that in Oman, the line between professional and private lives often blurs. You might have to compromise a bit on your work-life balance.
- Be respectful towards everyone during business meetings. Being loud, undermining and disrespectful towards anyone in Oman, would ruin any chance of fostering good business relationships with your Omani associates.
- Do not be critical of either Oman or Islam. It is advisable to evade any discussions of politics or about the Sultan. General topics of discussion surrounding your origin, family, and positive, non-political thoughts about Oman are welcome.
See also: Currency and Accommodation advice for first-time travelers to Oman