Muscat’s bustling new international airport, which opened in March 2018, not only boasts a greater number of terminal concourses, boutique shops and restaurants, but also enhanced visitor-processing facilities. More spacious entry halls and new queuing systems have been built, and rows of e-gates supplement the normal passport control stations.
For many, gaining entry to Oman involves obtaining a visa of some kind, either prior to arrival or at the airport. This had sometimes been a cumbersome procedure in the past and relatively expensive for shorter stays after prices were increased in 2017. Now, however, the sultanate has eased some processes, with the authorities hopeful the changes will help boost arrival numbers.
As with most countries, visa availability and cost for Oman depends on the nationality of the applicant, the nature of the trip and the length of stay. For a touristic trip of a few weeks, GCC nationals do not need a visa to visit, but citizens of all other countries do. If a visa is required, the next step is to determine whether a sponsored or unsponsored visas applies. For many tourists, such as those from “Group 1” countries – European, North American and Australasian nations, as well as some Asian countries – an unsponsored visa is available. This means that it can be applied for without an Omani national to act as a guarantor. Unsponsored tourist visas can often be secured upon arrival at an Oman airport or obtained in advance.
As part of government revenue raising measures, in April 2017 the price of this visa class was hiked from OR5 ($12.96) to OR20 ($51.94). However, the length of stay permitted was also increased from 10 days to one month, with extensions possible. The increased cost drew some complaints from tourists and tourism outfits, with the latter saying it was harming a sector that was otherwise being promoted as part of the sultanate’s economic diversification plans. The government took this issue into consideration and acted in 2018. In June of that year, the Royal Oman Police announced it was re-introducing the old short-stay visa, valid for 10 days at a cost of OR5 ($12.96).
Earlier, in March 2018, the government introduced a new e-visa portal, whereby visitors from the Group 1 countries could apply for their tourist stamp in advance, online, via the Royal Oman Police website. While it was still possible to purchase a visa on arrival as of September 2018, most embassies were advising their nationals to apply online in advance if they are able to. Indeed, government-owned management body Oman Airports stated in May 2018 that visa-on-arrival desks would be kept open for some time, but would eventually be phased out. Tourist visas – whether for 10 days or one month – also continue to be available from Omani embassies and consulates around the world.
Extending the Benefit
Oman has also been steadily expanding the number of countries whose citizens can obtain an unsponsored tourist visa. In October 2017 some 25 nations were added to the list, including India, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Peru, Vietnam and Azerbaijan, albeit with some restrictions remaining in place. Citizens of those countries are permitted to apply for an unsponsored visa if they also hold residency or a valid visa to the European Schengen bloc, the UK, the US, Canada or Australia. They are also allowed to bring their spouses and children to Oman.
Furthermore, an agreement in April 2018 allowed people with tourist visas issued by Qatar (at a cost of QR100, or $27.46) to enter Oman without having to pay an additional fee, if they arrived directly from Qatar. Citizens of 33 nations should benefit from this, with the scheme also enabling those with the Omani visa to enter Qatar from the sultanate at no extra charge. The joint visa is valid for one month from the date of issue.
In May 2018 citizens of Russia, China and Iran were added to the list of those not requiring a sponsor, bringing the number of countries whose nationals are eligible to obtain an unsponsored visa to 68. The changes are expected to boost tourist numbers in the years ahead.
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