For tourists visiting the Sultanate of Oman, leaving is a relatively simple process. They can just show their passport at immigration and the officer will put a stamp on their tourist visa in way of cancellation. They are then free to leave. For those who have lived in Oman, things are a little different. If you are leaving for a vacation and intend to return, things could not be more simple. When I took my Christmas vacation to the UK, the only time I showed my passport was when I checked in for my flight. The rest of the process was completely automated. All I needed to do was swipe my Omani resident card at immigration and I ambled through to my flight. However, when I left for good, the process was far more complex.
As in most Gulf countries, Oman is strict with its working visas. There is a detailed visa cancellation process and it does not allow people to run out on employment contracts at all easily. My process began almost two weeks before I actually wanted to leave the country. I had to begin by getting a clearance certificate from the university at which I worked. To get this, I had to amass nine different signatures from every department relevant to my job – not an easy task in a country where people break for coffee and dates on an almost hourly basis. Without this piece of paper I would not have been allowed through immigration. The immigration officer would most likely have stopped me and called my boss.
I also had to get a 'Certificate of No Objection' from my bank to show that I did not owe any money within the country. Without this I would have been unable to take any money out of the country. Again, this was not a massively easy process. The first major problem was that the banks in Oman are closed for much of the afternoon and the staff take regular breaks for lunch and dinner. Therefore, finding the right person on their office to issue the certificate was a matter of trial and error. It took me four visits to finally get my piece of paper. I was also told by friend that anyone who has a fixed telephone line – as opposed to a cell-phone – has to also get clearance from the telephone company.
With those two documents in hand, I then had to meet a visa agent at the airport. This agent then guided me through check-in to the immigration office. He had to present all my documents, my passport and my ticket to the immigration officer. After the officer approved everything and cancelled my visa, I could then leave. It was a bizarre process that actually seemed quite similar to an inmate leaving prison. The agent stood by my side whilst the immigration officer checked my papers and barked questions at me. Then, once the officer was satisfied, a thick glass door with an electronic lock buzzed open and allowed to me to leave, a free man.
The whole leaving process was bizarrely complex and not a little stressful. It certainly gave me a few headaches as I was on a deadline to start a new job and was worried I would not get the appropriate clearance in time. I could not book my flight until I had all the requisite documents signed and/or stamped. All this complexity got me thinking if there was any way I could have circumvented the process. The first idea I had was simply to buy a ticket and claim that I was taking a holiday. However, the likelihood in that situation was that the airline would ask for a return ticket when I checked in. Therefore, the only option I could think of was to buy a return ticket and simply not use the return part, which would probably have proved an expensive way to avoid the bureaucracy.