If you’re a road-trip enthusiast planning a trip to Oman, you’re in luck! In this article, we have summed up some valuable tips for driving in Oman.
Oman, situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, has gained immense popularity among tourists due to its natural beauty, rich culture, and warm hospitality.
Whether you are interested in exploring the vast deserts, rugged mountains, pristine beaches, or ancient forts and mosques, driving is undoubtedly the best way to experience the country’s diverse landscapes and attractions.
However, driving in Oman can be pretty challenging for first-time visitors, especially those unfamiliar with the local road rules and driving conditions. Those coming from other Middle East countries, however, will argue it’s far easier to drive in Oman than elsewhere in the region!
In this article, we have put together some essential tips for driving in Oman, including how to hire a car, various rules, speed limits, road conditions, and safety measures, to help visitors decide whether self-driving is the best option for them.
But first, let us take you through the process of hiring a car in Oman.
How To Hire a Car in Oman
When it comes to road-tripping across Oman, we suggest hiring a car for self-driving. The reason is pretty straightforward: It gives you the freedom to get around the place on your terms, conditions, and, obviously, your convenience.
Most of the east coast attractions are within an easy day’s drive; however, you won’t find easy public transport connections.
So, how to hire a car in Oman? The first requirement is that tourists must have a valid international driving license. Secondly, we advise booking a car for hire in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to avoid any last-minute hassles.
Most major international car rental companies, such as Avis, Budget, Europcar, and Hertz, and local companies like Sixt, National, and Thrifty, have offices in Muscat, at the airport, and in the city, so hiring a car won’t be an issue.
As for the prices, they vary based on the type of car, rental duration, and additional services like insurance and GPS. The minimum age to hire a car in Oman is 21, though some companies may charge a premium for young drivers under 25.
We use DiscoverCars.Com as a good starting point for searching across car rental platforms and finding the most competitive prices:
Will I need a 4WD in Oman?
This depends on the type of travel you’ll be undertaking. Most tourists can get away with a standard 2WD vehicle to see the major attractions between Muscat, Sur, Nizwa, and Sohar. And if you are heading to Wahiba Sands, for example, you will take your car to a designated parking spot and be escorted to camp across the dunes by a 4WD.
If you want to explore deeper into the mountains and around wadi’s, you MUST be an experienced driver and take a 4WD. Or, again, go with a tour driver who knows what they’re doing.
- Driving to Jebel Ahkdar, you’ll be turned around at a police checkpoint if you don’t have the right vehicle.
- Although theoretically possible to drive Jebel Shams with a 2WD, we’d highly recommend a 4WD for the last unpaved 10km section.
Wadis in Oman can be susceptible to flash flooding, too. If roads have red flood water markings DO observe these signs and don’t be tempted to try and drive through, even in a 4WD. You can access most popular wadis with a 2WD.
Overall, we’d only suggest the additional cost of hiring a 4WD if you’re truly planning to get off-road and go camping in Oman – which brings with it everything you’ll need to go camping in the desert, too!
Do check if your rental car allows you to do any sort of off-roading, too; your rental policy is likely to strictly stipulate that a 2WD must not be taken off-road in Oman.
With your vehicle sorted, let’s take you through the tips for driving in Oman.
Tips for Driving in Oman
Here are some common tips you must keep in mind before you get behind the wheel and drive off in Oman.
1. Drive on the Right Side of the Road
Like most countries in the world, Oman drives on the right side of the road. Tourists coming from countries that drive on the left should be extra cautious and take some time to get accustomed to driving on the right side (remember, the driver should be in the centre of the road!)
2. Carry a Valid Driving License
To drive in Oman, tourists must carry a valid international driving license, which you must obtain in your home country. Licenses are accepted as long as they are in English or Arabic.
You should obtain an International Driver’s Permit if your license is in any other language or script.
You should always carry other necessary documents, such as car rental agreements and insurance papers, with you while driving.
(If you are driving across the border from the UAE, it is essential that you have Oman insurance; they will ask for this at the border crossing).
3. Follow the Speed Limits
Oman has strict speed limits, with a maximum of 120 km/h on highways and 60 km/h in urban areas. If you exceed the speed limit, it can result in hefty fines or even imprisonment. Therefore, this is one road rule you must follow at all costs!
Unlike neighbouring Middle East countries, drivers in Oman tend to stick to the posted limits and are not as impatient. If you get a tailgater, though, it’s best to let them pass you rather than antagonize them further, even if you’re driving at the correct speed.
Do be aware of traffic calming markers on the road. These painted ridges on the road indicate sharp bends of stopping points ahead. They’ll make a loud noise warning you to watch your speed.
4. Obey Traffic Rules
Like any other country, Oman has some traffic rules you must adhere to, such as wearing seat belts, not using a mobile phone while driving, and not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you violate these rules, it can result in penalties or even arrest.
The blood alcohol limit is strictly zero. That said, random checks are not in place; they are only likely to test or fine you if you are involved in an accident or found to be driving erratically.
There is also, theoretically, a fine imposed if your vehicle is too dirty. We are not aware of any tourists who’ve ever been fined for this. But nonetheless, if you have been off-road, be aware this rule exists. Make sure your number plate is always visible.
If you are in an accident, 9999.
5. Road Signs
Oman has a comprehensive system of road signs that everyone must be followed while driving. Tourists should familiarize themselves with the most common signs, such as speed limits, no parking, no overtaking, and roundabouts, to avoid confusion and accidents.
The good news is that these signs are usually in English and Arabic, making them easy to understand for tourists – speed limits are marked in both.
However, some signs might be a tad bit confusing for tourists. For instance, a road sign with 3 dashes means “300 meters to the roundabout.” Similarly, a sign with two dashes means “200 meters to the roundabout.”
Note, although signs may appear in English, you will find frequent differences in spelling! This is because the Arabic word can have different phonetic translations in English.
6. Gas Stations
One thing you’ll find readily available in Oman is petrol! It has a vast network of gas stations open 24/7, even in remote areas. Plus, petrol costs are relatively cheap compared to other countries, with the current price of regular petrol at around 0.22 OMR per liter.
We would only caution filling up whenever you see a stop if you are heading to Salalah in the country’s far southeast or Jebel Shams, as fuel stops will be less frequent. They should all be using card machines, but keeping some OMR in cash doesn’t hurt!
7. Road Conditions
While Oman is a developed country, you will find diverse road conditions ranging from well-maintained highways to narrow, winding mountain roads.
It is important to exercise caution when driving in remote or mountainous regions and to ensure your vehicle is in good condition before long journeys. If you’re using a hire car, you should have no problems as the major companies operate modern fleets.
In short, if you’re self-driving across the country, be prepared to encounter gravel, potholes, speed bumps, and even livestock on the road! It is all part of the driving experience in Oman.
As we mentioned above, do not attempt to take a non-4WD vehicle off-road!
8. Weather Conditions
Beware of Oman’s weather conditions! It can get scorching during summer, with temperatures soaring over 50°C. Tourists should avoid driving during the hottest hours of the day and carry sufficient water and sunscreen – we have more desert driving tips here.
During the monsoon season (June to September), flash floods and landslides can occur, making it difficult to pass some roads. It is wise to check your route using apps such as Waze before setting out on your journey.
9. Insurance & Vehicle Permission
It is important to have comprehensive car rental insurance while driving in Oman. This will protect you in case of accidents or other legalities.
Another important thing to bear in mind, particularly for drivers crossing from the UAE, is that you must have the vehicle owner’s permission to drive in Oman. Not all hire car companies will let you cross the UAE/Oman border!!
Likewise, if you are not the primary vehicle owner but using a friend/relative’s car, you need evidence you have permission to use the vehicle in Oman and that their insurance covers UAE & Oman (or a policy can be bought from a broker at the border).
10. Traffic Lights
Traffic lights indicate the same thing worldwide; red means stop, and green means go. And the amber light indicates that the signal is changing from red to green or vice versa. In Oman, traffic lights have the same meaning; the only difference you may note is a green flashing light before the amber light.
One aspect of self-driving in Oman to be aware of is parking your car. Whilst in most situations you should have no issue parking your car, at your accommodation or at attractions, there a few spots to be mindful of where parking can be difficult:
- Near the Mutrah Souq and along the Corniche – staying in Muscat, you might find this one easier to tackle taking a taxi from your Muscat accommodation
- Near Niwa Fort – you might want to park further out in town and proceed on foot, especially if its a market day.
- At popular wadis on weekends
These were some of the standard rules and tips for driving in Oman. Now, it’s time to tell you about the alternatives to self-driving, in case you’re considering other means of transport.
Alternatives to Self-Driving in Oman
While self-driving is one of the best ways to explore Oman, there are some alternatives for tourists who prefer not to drive or don’t like being the driver in unfamiliar surroundings.
1. Tour Group
If you want to travel across Oman and visit popular attractions, joining a tour group is the best alternative to self-driving. The upside of going with a tour group is that they provide transportation from one place to the other, include guided tours, and help you explore Oman’s diverse landscapes and cultural heritage.
Depending on your ease and convenience, you can choose from day trips from Muscat or multiple-day tours. Get Your Guide has some reliable day-tour and multi-day tour options:
2. Private Drivers
Hiring a private driver is another option for tourists who prefer not to drive. This is particularly useful for those exploring remote areas or needing transportation to and from the airport.
The good thing about hiring a private driver is that they know their way around the city and can easily take you from one place to the other via the shortest possible route. Secondly, unlike tour groups, you can travel around on your own terms and timings.
For private driving services, try:
- Welcome Pickups – they can pre-arrange your airport transfer for you at locations across the Middle East, seeking out the best local deals for you
- A Half-Day With Private Driver – booked via Get Your Guide, you can transport up to 4 passengers and pick your destination; likely much cheaper than point-to-point taxies around the city, and unlike a tour, you choose the itinerary.
3. Public Bus
You can also travel around Oman in a bus; however, public transport in the country is limited, with buses and taxis being the most common options for travelers.
The buses are operated by the Oman National Transport Company (Mwasalat) and connect major cities and towns across the country. However, the frequency and reliability of these buses can be inconsistent, making it difficult for tourists to plan their itineraries around them.
You will find most information on local buses is published in Arabic, though recently, options have opened to book tickets online in English.
The bus from the airport to the city centre in Muscat is around 1 OMR, whilst a return trip from Muscat to Dubai is 9 OMR.
4. Taxi & Ride Share Apps
Taxis are another option for travelers, with both regular and luxury taxis available.
Regular taxis are metered, while luxury taxis offer a fixed price for each trip. However, it is essential to negotiate the fare before starting the journey to avoid any surprises. Taxis in Oman are renowned for not being cheap!
There is no Uber, Lyft, or Careem in Oman. You can use OTaxi, but note they cannot pick you up from the airport, hotels, or commercial buildings such as malls; these can only be serviced by Marhaba or Mwasalt.
With OTaxi, you have options for standard taxis, a female driver, vans, or luxury vehicles.
5. Shuttle Service
In addition to private drivers, buses, and taxis, private shuttle services are also available for transportation between cities and towns. The most common services are the Oman Express and Oman Air shuttle services.
Driving Distances from Muscat
To help visitors plan their self-driving itineraries in Oman, here is a table of driving distances and times from Muscat to some popular destinations:
|Destination from Muscat||Distance / Approximate Drive Time|
|Nizwa||165 km (2 hours)|
|Wadi Shab||160 km (2 hours)|
|Sohar||200 km (2.5 hours)|
|Sur||220 km (2.5 hours)|
|Bahla||180 km (2.5 hours)|
|Ras Al Jinz||280 km (3.5 hours)|
|Jebel Shams||250 km (3.5 hours)|
|Salalah||1000 km (12 hours)|
|Musandam||540 km (8 hours)|
Salalah, located in southern Oman, is best explored by flying or taking a bus – if you want to drive, we have detailed instructions here Muscat to Salalah.
Meanwhile, the mountainous enclave of Musandam is located in the northern part of Oman, separated from mainland Oman by the UAE. It is best explored by taking a boat or a plane from Muscat.
However, if you are coming from Dubai, it is an easy road trip to Musandam along the Gulf coast.
More on Planning Your Trip to Oman
For further reading on Oman, you may also be interested in:
- What to pack for a trip to Oman, dress code advice for tourists, from the cities to the best of nature experiences in Oman
- How to pick the best time of year for visiting Oman – it’s not necessarily the same as other Gulf countries!
- The best family-friendly activities in Muscat – make the most of your time in the capital with these interesting stopping points, plus we share our favourite family accommodation in Muscat
- A Dubai to Muscat road trip planner – how to cross the international border with ease and the quickest and most interesting routes to take on this city-to-city Middle East road trip
- This sample family itinerary for Oman is a great guide for taking in all the highlights on the eastern side of Oman.
- Not sure if you’ll need a 4WD or what to include in your Oman road trip? Pop on over to our Facebook Group Family Travel in the Middle East, and ask your questions!
However you choose to explore Oman, you are most definitely in for a trip of a lifetime! It is one of the most unique travel experiences in the Middle East and an easy country to navigate in a car, where you can check out the diverse scenery at your own pace.
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