The past three years have seen a major influx of expatriate workers, many of them labourers from the Indian subcontinent. Expats now make up more than 40 per cent of the total. The governorates of Muscat and Al-Batinah in the northeast have seen the fastest growth and now account for more than half of the population.
Attempts by the government to redress the demographic balance through its Omanisation programme, which sets employment quotas for nationals in certain sectors, can add a layer of paperwork to the bureaucracy many foreign businesses encounter in the sultanate. The line between the private and public sectors is often blurry, with many local companies benefitting from familial ties to senior officials. For foreign investors, close contact with Omani clients or partners and even a permanent on-the-ground presence are advisable.
As in most other Gulf states, personal relationships are essential to securing local business. Courtesy and patience are highly prized commodities and it can sometimes take more than one meeting for a venture to be broached in conversation, let alone decided upon.
Appointments are frequently not fixed until a visitor has arrived in the country, and flexibility may be required with regards to timing. With the exception of the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during daylight hours, a meeting will typically start with tea, coffee or soft drinks and general conversation. What many Westerners would consider to be mere pleasantries are a vital part of building trust. Meetings may be interrupted by prayer times.
Oman is less strict than many other Gulf states in its enforcement of Islamic codes of conduct, but both men and women should dress modestly when in public.
Omanis have generally worked from Saturday to Wednesday, but in 2013 a royal decree set Friday, the Islamic holy day, and Saturday as the official weekend. Business hours are reduced during Ramadan and many officials may be unavailable.