The following story details the ins and outs of entering Oman. This is in itself a smooth and simple process. However, I – and several others I have met since – encountered some major problems as they embarked from their home countries. The events begin at Heathrow in London as I checked in at the Emirates desk and the check-in clerk rifled through my passport.
"Good Morning Mr Bacon."
"And, what is your final destination today sir?" asked the rather officious check-in clerk. As he had the print-out of my E-Ticket firmly in his hand, he knew very well I was going to Muscat. Because of the way he asked and the rather pedantic tone he was adopting, I began to see there was going to be a bit of a problem.
"Muscat in Oman" I answered.
"Yes, I see that. But, I don't see a visa". He replied.
Now, at this point, I ought to establish the reasons behind my trip to Oman. I was planning on staying for a few days. And, then, if things went well, taking a job I had been offered. In preparation for this, I had read up on the visa requirements online. I had been reliably informed by many different sources that all I needed to do was get a tourist visa at the airport, which could be changed to a working visa if I took the job. Also, because I thought I could be staying several months, I had not booked a return ticket.
The guy on the Emirates desk did not like this. He sternly informed me that he could not let me on the plane if I did not have a return ticket. He insisted that the visa officer in Muscat would not let me in without one. I would then have to buy a ticket back without ever entering the country.. At this point, I felt the need to inform him that almost every website I had read said I would be ok with just a one way ticket and that I was pretty sure I could enter without the return ticket. He shook his head ruefully and sighed. It appeared we had reached an impasse. I started to worry that I would get no further than the check-in desk.
After much head scratching and scowling – from each of us – he came up with a suggestion. He told me I should make a reservation with the Emirates ticket desk for a return flight. This idea did not impress me at all.. I told him categorically that I was not buying a new ticket and that my contacts in Oman told me I would be fine with a one-way ticket. Thankfully, he informed me that I would not have to buy a new ticket, instead they could issue me with a document that showed I had a scheduled return date, but which was not actually valid for travel. He also went on to tell me that he was not sure this would actually be enough and I should consider buying a return ticket. I took the reservation, ignoring his other advice.
And, so, my problem was solved it seemed. Let's now fast forward around 11 hours to my arrival at Muscats tiny and very quaint airport. I joined the queue for the visa desk. After events at Heathrow, I was nervous that the visa officer would drag me away to a tiny office and grill me on my reasons for coming to the country. I had visions of interrogations, cavity searches and deportation. As I stepped up the desk and approached the lady behind it, I was almost shaking.
"One tourist visa please".
"Okay, passport please. How long will you be staying?"
At this point, my pulse began racing. Should I tell the truth or give her the date on my reservation slip? One false move could surely spell the end of my Arabian adventure. My reservation was for three weeks later. So, nervously, I responded, "Three weeks."
"Okay, that is great. If you want to stay longer, we can extend it. That is 6 Omani Riyal;s please".
After handing over my money, we were finished. I was astonished. All the fuss in London had been for nothing.
I was relieved that my story had a happy ending. However, a colleague I met a few days after I arrived went through the same tale, except his had a far less pleasant finale. He had met the same problem with Qantas when he flew from New Zealand. However, they forced him to buy a ticket out of Oman. He would then have to go to the Qantas office in Muscat to try get it refunded.
So, what is the moral behind my story? I think the first point is that it is a good idea to have a return ticket booked before you fly to Oman. That will certainly prevent most problems. However, if you are not sure when you will leave, be strong at the check-in desk. It is perfectly possible – and perfectly legal - to enter the country with a one-way ticket. Do not be fooled into buying a return ticket.