This information is derived from the State Department’s Office of Investment Affairs’ Investment Climate Statement.
The U.S. Department of State’s Investment Climate Statements provide information on the business climates of more than 170 economies and are prepared by economic officers stationed in embassies and posts around the world. They analyze a variety of economies that are or could be markets for U.S. businesses. The Investment Climate Statements are also references for working with partner governments to create enabling business environments that are not only economically sound, but address issues of labor, human rights, responsible business conduct, and steps taken to combat corruption. The reports cover topics including Openness to Investment, Legal and Regulatory Systems, Protection of Real and Intellectual Property Rights, Financial Sector, State-Owned Enterprises, Responsible Business Conduct, and Corruption.
To access the ICS, visit the U.S. Department of State Investment Climate Statements website.
Oman’s location at the crossroads of the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and South Asia and in proximity to larger regional markets is an attractive feature for potential foreign investors. Some of Oman’s most promising development projects and investment opportunities involve its ports and free zones, most notably in Duqm, where the government envisions a 2,000 square-kilometer free trade zone and logistics hub. With a “friends of all, enemies of none” foreign policy, Oman does not face the external security challenges of some of its neighbors. Oman’s domestic political situation remains stable, despite increasing economic pressure and the need to create employment for young Omanis.
Oman’s economy and government finances rely heavily on oil and gas revenue. High energy prices in 2022 are improving Oman’s economic prospects but will not immediately overcome the effects of years of relatively low energy prices, weak economic growth, budget deficits, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government announced a medium-term fiscal plan in November 2020 to fix its heavily indebted finances by cutting down on spending and raising revenues, primarily through taxes. Some of the measures negatively affected capital flow, and in an economy dependent on state spending the suspension or cancellation of government projects during Oman’s economic contraction further hit the struggling private sector.
Government leadership recognizes these challenges and is working to improve Oman’s investment climate and to achieve its economic development goals under Oman’s Vision 2040 development plan. Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik al Said, who assumed the sultancy in January 2020, has prioritized foreign direct investment (FDI) attraction as an imperative to boost local job creation, particularly as COVID-19-related restrictions have loosened. Toward this end, Oman is in the process of developing further advantages for foreign investors, including a program of tax and fee incentives, permissions to invest in several new industries in the economy, expanded land use, increased access to capital, and labor and employment incentives for qualifying companies. In September 2021, Oman allowed expatriate residents with work visas to own residential units and offered long-term residency visas to attract investors. Five- and 10-year renewable residence visas are available to foreign investors in the tourism, real estate, education, health, information technology, and other key sectors. In March 2022, Oman announced that it would reduce the cost of foreign worker permit fees by up to 85 percent, reversing a hike in the fees it had implemented in June 2021 that some businesses had found problematic.
The success of Oman’s reform efforts will depend on its ability to open key sectors to private sector competition and foreign investment, minimize bureaucratic red tape, pay off its overdue bills, balance its desire for “Omanization” with the realities of training and restructuring its work force, and translate its promises of economic reform into increased FDI flows and job creation. The government also needs to undertake more fundamental reforms for investment such as making its tender system transparent, increasing access to credit, and speeding up approvals for new businesses.
Sultan Haitham and his government are actively courting FDI into many of its sectors. In February 2021, the Ministry of Finance signed three memoranda of understanding with the Saudi Fund for Development to finance several projects amounting to about $244 million. In January 2022, Oman also signed a Sovereign Investment Partnership with the United Kingdom, its largest FDI partner, to facilitate joint investments in both countries.
Sultan Haitham and his government are also seeking to make fuller use of the 2009 U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA), under which U.S. businesses and investors have the right to 100-percent ownership of their companies and can import their products to Oman duty-free. U.S. companies operating in Oman sometimes raise concerns over a lack of clarity and consistency on business license and visa renewal criteria, as well as an increase in associated costs.
The top complaints of businesses relate to requirements for hiring and retaining Omani national employees and a heavy-handed application of “Omanization” quotas. Payment delays to companies that completed work on government infrastructure projects are also a problem across various sectors. Smaller companies without in-country experience or a regional presence face considerable bureaucratic obstacles conducting business here. Beginning in 2020, the government also temporarily ceased the issuance of most new project awards and purchases to curb expenditures.
Companies created under Oman’s new Foreign Capital Investment Law (FCIL), promulgated in 2020, have come under the government’s radar and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion (MOCIIP) is re-evaluating investor visas that it issued in 2020. The FCIL removed minimum-share capital requirements and limits on the amount of foreign ownership in an Omani company.