In Oman, visitors find pristine desert landscapes and nature experiences, all in a modern Gulf country with a vibrant cultural heritage.

This heritage is apparent in the many languages spoken in the country, forts and archeological sites along ancient trading routes, and traditional practices such as rosewater distillation.

Today, warm and welcoming Omanis still live by their classic societal values of humility, kindness and hospitality. They’ll invite visitors to share a meal, or go out of their way to guide a lost traveler.

To make your trip a truly memorable exercise in cultural exchange and mutual respect, here are some things to know before head to to Oman. 

Two people swimming in the turqoise waters of Wadi Shab, Oman
Always dress modestly in Oman – even when swimming at beaches and oases © Marc Guitard / Getty Images

1. Dress modestly, even when swimming 

Female visitors do not need to wear a hijab in Oman, but dressing generally modestly is recommended. While Omanis will be too polite to say anything, clothes that don’t appear respectful to the culture will certainly affect the quality of your interactions. 

Women should wear clothing that covers their shoulders and reaches below the knees (and also covers their arms and ankles, when visiting a mosque). Avoid low-cut tops, short skirts, shorts and dresses, and garment that’s transparent or clings to the body. Women must wear a headscarf (they can bring their own) while visiting a mosque. 

Men should avoid tank tops and instead wear shirts or t-shirts with trousers or shorts that are at least knee-length. While visiting mosques, men must wear full-length jeans or pants. 

Outside of swimming pools located in international resorts and hotels in Muscat, swimsuits and bikinis are inappropriate. This is true for natural pools located in the wadis (valleys) that you might come across while hiking in places like Wadi Tiwi and on public beaches around fishing villages. 

Even the sight of foreigners in skimpy bathing suits h increasingly common to see foreigners in skimpy bathing suits, it’s wise to remember that these places are also frequented by Omanis. You might notice Omani men swimming in t-shirts and shorts – this should give you an idea of how important modesty is in the culture. 

While swimming on public beaches visited by Omani families and pools close to villages, women will appear more considerate when they’re wearing a long t-shirt and shorts over their swimsuits.  

Merchants in market shops of the old town Mutrah, Muscat, Oman, Middle East
In sophisticated Muscat and other major tourism centers, you’ll hear English spoken often © Shadow of light / Shutterstock

2. English is widely spoken in cities

Oman’s official language is Arabic, and English is widely spoken in the cities and to a good extent in areas that have tourism infrastructure, such as the villages of Jebel Akhdar. Other than Arabic, you might hear such languages such as Kumzari, Baluchi, Swahili and, thanks to a large immigrant population, perhaps Hindi, Malayalam and Urdu, too.  

3. A few local greetings will get you far

Omanis are friendly, hospitable and courteous, and these qualities are likely to permeate every interaction that you’ll have as a visitor. In Oman, conversations, however brief, and whether between strangers or friends, always begin with a proper greeting, usually “as salam alaykum” which translates to “peace be upon you.”

In some parts of the country, you might find yourself the subject of much curiosity, apparent from glances in your direction every few minutes or questions about where you’re from. Don’t be alarmed: Omanis take a genuine interest in visitors and want to make them feel welcome.

As such, it’s nice to greet people appropriately. Some useful phrases to know (in addition to the essential “as salam alaykum” and “walaykum as salam,” said in reply to the former), are “sabah al khayr” (good morning), “misa al khayr” (good evening) and “shukran” (thank you).

A man serves qahwa, traditional coffee, from a thermos, Oman, Middle East
If an Omani invites you over for coffee, do accept © Katiekk / Shutterstock

4. For a richer experience, don’t hesitate to accept invitations 

Omanis are incredibly friendly and welcoming of visitors, and it’s not unusual for visitors to receive a few invitations during their time in the country. Whether it’s an invitation to someone’s home for a chat over qahwa (Arabic coffee) and dates, a group of friends paying for your meal at a restaurant or a meal brought over by a family camping nearby, accepting such generosity will only make your trip more memorable.  

Offering a guest coffee is a respect toward them, and accepting indicates that you reciprocate. In Oman, coffee is ground with spices like cardamom and cinnamon, and qahwa is brewed with saffron and rosewater and served alongside dates. 

Don’t be surprised if your cup of qahwa continues to be refilled each time you return it to your host. If you’ve had enough, indicate this by tilting your cup gently from side to side before you hand it to them. A bowl of water might be placed before you: dip the fingers of your right hand in it to wash them before you pick a date or begin a meal. 

The traditional way of eating is with the fingers of the right hand while seated on the floor. As a guest, wait for the host to begin and then follow their example. Don’t attempt to do this with your left hand – in Omani culture (and much of the world) that is your toileting hand.

If you find yourself visiting an Omani home, take your shoes off before you enter. Any host will deeply appreciate even the smallest of gifts, such as a box of dates, nuts or sweets from the souq (market).

Children at a toy market on Eid al Fitr, Nizwa, Oman
Never fail to ask for permission before taking photographs of Omanis, especially women and children © Katiekk / Shutterstock

5. Ask permission before you photograph people or their homes

Whether you find yourself captivated by the scene of a vendor selling handmade silver jewelry at the Mutrah Souq, admire a group of Omani men wearing beautiful kumma (traditional patterned or embroidered caps) sipping coffee by the sea or are invited into a traditional village home, resist the urge to point your lens without asking for permission first.

Omanis deeply respect their privacy, and a stranger taking your photo without permission is considered intrusive. A quick, simple greeting in Arabic helps break the ice; local men will generally oblige. 

In general, you should refrain from photographing women, especially those wearing an abaya (traditional long black robe). Under absolutely no circumstances should you attempt a photograph without first obtaining explicit permission (this is easier if you’re a woman yourself). 

Solo woman hiking in Jabel Shams, Wadi Ghul, Oman Middle East
On the beach, in the desert and on breathtaking hiking trails, spending time outdoors in Oman is a must © Larissa Chilanti / Shutterstock

6. Look forward to spending time outdoors

The most enjoyable experiences in Oman take place out of doors, from gentle walks through palm plantations and watching nesting turtles on the beach to scuba diving in thriving marine reserves. 

Any visitor to Oman should expect to spend a significant amount of time on road trips to get to historic medieval forts, charming fishing towns, picturesque tidal lagoons and freshwater pools hidden away in the valleys. 

Wild camping is allowed, and opportunities to do so abound around the country. Be sure to pack comfortable clothing suitable for the outdoors, a tent and a sleeping bag.  

7. Keep an eye on weather warnings

Low-lying valleys, beaches and wadis are prone to flash floods after heavy rainfall. It’s safer to camp on high ground and to check the weather forecast and warnings before you go.

As a result of rising ocean temperatures, tropical cyclones (most originating in the Arabian Sea) are an increasing risk leading to ocean surges, destructive winds, flooding and landfall. Pay close attention to cyclone and storm alerts and check the official website of Oman’s Directorate General of Meteorology.

A man explores the mountains during a storm, Al Hamra, Oman
The weather can get wild in Oman. Check the forecast before you set out for any outdoor activities © Abie Davies / Shutterstock

8. Don’t underestimate hiking routes

If you plan on hiking independently, weigh the length and difficulty of the trail against your fitness level and experience in the mountains. If you’re inexperienced with harsh environments, do not hike alone. Ensure you are carrying at least three liters of water, and always wear proper hiking shoes and a sun hat. 

Trekking guides not only safely guide you around the peaks and valleys, but they can also share information on the geology of an area and the opportunity to interact with communities where English is not widely spoken.

In the peak of summer, the heat can get intense in the Hajar Mountains causing dehydration and fatigue very quickly. We don’t recommend this season for hiking. 

Men and boys at a habta Ramadan market, Nizwa, Oman
Be extra respectful if you visit Oman during the holy month of Ramadan © Katiekk / Shutterstock

9. Be aware of the rules during Ramadan 

If you’re visiting Oman during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, remember that non-Muslim tourists are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke, play loud music or dance in public places during the day. 

Once the fast is broken after the prayers at sundown and Muslims sit down for iftar (the evening meal), it’s fine to eat outside. During the month of Ramadan, it’s even more important than usual to dress modestly.

10. When meeting a member of the opposite sex, wait for them to offer their hand 

While handshakes among men are common, don’t offer your hand to initiate a handshake when you’re greeting an Omani of the opposite sex. Physical contact between members of the opposite sex does not occur, unless they are related or deeply familiar. To see whether your counterpart is comfortable and want to be greeted that way, wait for them to offer their hand first. You must always shake hands only with your right hand. 

Worker rests in the shade in the Sultans Palace in Muscat, Oman
Avoid political or controversial topics when talking with Omanis © Jason Jones Travel Photography / Getty Images

11. Steer clear of inappropriate topics of conversation

Oman is a monarchy, and Omanis have deep respect not only for their country and culture but also for the leadership of the sultan. Any politically charged questions or discussions that might even obliquely criticize the ruler or the government are considered inappropriate. In any case, locals are unlikely to share their opinions on such topics with an outsider. 

Rumor-mongering is punishable by law and can result in both fines and imprisonment. In the same vein, never say anything that disrespects Islam (or any other religion), or attempts to challenge religious beliefs or practices. 

Foreigners might be surprised to know that it is also inappropriate for a man to ask an Omani man about the women in his family (even to inquire about his wife or daughters). It’s best to stay broad, by wishing good health to him and his family – and leave it at that.  

12. Don’t drink alcohol in public or exhibit drunken behavior

Alcohol should only be consumed in licensed restaurants and bars, most of which are in international hotels. It’s illegal to drink in public (outside of such establishments) – and anyone exhibiting overly drunken behavior or being extremely loud under the influence might face legal action. Oman has zero tolerance for drug use, and possession of even small amounts can result in fines, deportation and even imprisonment.    

Men in traditional dress playing pipes, singing and dancing around in a ceremony, Nizwa, Oman
Omanis love a good time – as long as everyone respects decorum © Petr Kahanek / Shutterstock

13. Don’t swear or make rude gestures 

Swearing loudly and making offensive hand gestures are illegal and can result in legal action should the recipient register a complaint. 

14. Don’t photograph government buildings or military checkpoints

In Oman, you’re prohibited from photographing and filming some government buildings, military sites and checkpoints, and military vehicles. Nor may you post photos and videos of these on social media. Doing so can attract fines and even imprisonment. If you’re unsure whether something is covered by this policy, or even unsure of what you might be photographing, err on the side of caution. 

15. Make note of emergency numbers

In case of emergencies and the need for rescue, evacuation or urgent medical assistance, contact the Royal Oman Police on 9999.

This article was first published Mar 12, 2022 and updated Mar 3, 2024.

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