- Full name: Sultanate of Oman
- Population: 3 million (UN, 2005)
- Capital: Muscat
- Area: 309,500 sq km (119,500 sq miles)
- Languages: Arabic is the official language. English is widely spoken. Swahili is also spoken by the population from East Africa. German and French are spoken in some hotels
- Major religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Rial = 1000 biaza
- Main export: Oil
- GNI per capita: U.S. $9,070 (World Bank, 2006)
- Internet domain: .om
- International dialling code: +968
- Sultan, prime minister, foreign minister: Qaboos Bin Said Al Said
Oman is bounded in the north-east by the gulf of Oman and south-east by the Arabian Sea, south-east by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
There is an enclave at the northern tip of the Musandam Peninsula between the United Arab Emirates of Ras al-Khaima in the west and Fujairah in the south-east.
The months between May and August are particularly hot. The climate is best from September to April.
Rainfall varies according to the region. During the period from June to September, there is light monsoon rain in Salalah.
Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world and one of the most traditional countries in the Gulf region and was, until the 1970s, one of the most isolated.
Occupying the south-east corner of the Arabian peninsula, it has a strategically important position at the mouth of the Gulf.
At one time Oman had its own empire, which at its peak in the 19th century stretched down the east African coast and vied with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.
Oman under Sultan Said bin Taimur, who came to power in 1938, experienced decades of international isolation, a society run along feudal lines and internal rebellion.
After deposing his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said opened up the country, embarked on economic reforms and boosted spending on health, education and welfare.
Oman was acutely underdeveloped until the discovery of oil and natural gas in the early 1970s. In 2005, this accounted for 79.5% of the government revenue.
Despite the fact that oil is the mainstay of Omanís economy -- providing a large chunk of its GDP -- compared to its neighbours, the country is a modest producer.
Agriculture and fishing are important sources of income.
Agriculture, owing to Omanís desert land, is confined to the coastal plain and a few irrigated areas in the interior. Dates, limes and alfalfa are the main products; some livestock is also bred. There are mineral deposits of copper, chromite, marble, gypsum and limestone, manganese ore and coal.
Another source of revenue is tourism. Oman's attractions include a largely-untouched coastline, mountains, deserts and the burgeoning capital Muscat, with its forts, palaces and old walled city.
The government has used some of its oil revenues to develop indigenous industries such as construction, agriculture and tourism, and to build up the countryís infrastructure; these projects are incorporated in the Vision 2020 economic development program.
In the late 1990s, Oman started to privatise major government-owned parts of the economy and introduce a legislative framework to encourage foreign investment. The economy grew 5% in 2005 and enjoys low inflation.
Oman is a member of various pan-Arab political and economic organisations. However, it is not a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Ė although its pricing policy tends to follow that of OPEC fairly closely.
The Omani culture has its roots firmly in the Islamic religion. Oman developed its own particular form of Islam, called Ibadhism, after its founder, Abdullah ibn Ibadh who lived during the 7th century AD.
However, not all Omanis are Ibadhis. There are also Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims.
Omanis are not only tolerant of the beliefs of different Muslim sects, they are also tolerant towards believers of other faiths, who are allowed to practise their religion in churches and temples.
Qaboos Bin Said Al Said is the Sultan, prime minister, foreign minister of Oman. He seized power in a coup against his father, Said Bin Taimur, in 1970.
As sultan, he took on the role of prime minister and heads the foreign, defence and finance ministries.
His policies have proved popular in spite of the lack of a democratic government. He instigated the use of oil revenues to develop the country's infrastructure and modernised the government structure with the establishment of a Consultative Assembly in 1981, replaced by the Consultative Council - the majlis al-shura - in 1990 and the Council of State in 1997.
However, all important decisions are still made by the sultan.
Introduced in 1971, a corporate income tax on commercial enterprises other than individual traders remains the only tax in the country. Rates range from 5% to 50%.
Legislation in 1981 reduced the maximum tax rate to 15% for companies in which Omanis hold at least a 51% equity, and to 20% for companies in which the Omani equity is between 35% and 50%.
Companies engaged in agriculture, fishing and any other essential activity deemed by the government are exempt from income taxes.
Oman has a comprehensive double taxation treaty with France.
Oman is a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and has ratified ILO conventions against child and forced labour.
Recent changes to Omanís labour laws allow the creation of worker representative committees that can define dispute resolution procedures, call strikes, and ensure that collective bargaining provisions are fair and comprehensive.
Moreover, reforms were instituted so that these legal protections apply to women and foreign workers just as they do to Omani men.
The U.S.-Oman FTA fully meets the labour objectives set out by the American Congress when it granted the U.S. president Trade Promotion Authority. As part of the FTA, each government reaffirms its obligations as a member of the ILO and commits to keep its laws consistent with internationally recognized labour standards.
Moreover, the FTA states clearly that it is inappropriate to weaken or reduce domestic labour protections to encourage trade or investment. Finally, the FTA requires each government to enforce its labour regulations or face monetary fines and possibly the loss of preferential trade benefits.
In short, Oman has made significant progress in workersí rights in recent years. The FTA builds on these gains and would accelerate future reforms.
The general lack of taxation has a significant impact on the cost of certain items, e.g. cars.
On the other hand, the cost of accommodation is sometimes high, as is that of certain food items, particularly imported foods. If you buy internationally recognised branded foods and household goods, you might pay higher prices than in your home country, but there are usually plenty of cheaper locally and regionally produced alternatives that are of excellent quality. Clothing can also be expensive if you favour designer labels Ė this isnít peculiar to Oman Ė although thereís little need for winter clothing.
Utilities, such as electricity, water and gas, are subsidised to some extent by the regionís governments, which own the services (except for bottled gas supplies) in order to provide inexpensive electricity and water, mainly for the benefit of the local population. Utilities are therefore cheaper than in most European countries. However, at the height of summer, air-conditioning costs will escalate, rather as the cost of heating increases in winter in colder climates. Newcomers sometimes make the expensive mistake of keeping their air-conditioning on even when theyíre out, but this is unnecessary, as air-conditioning systems reduce the temperature in your accommodation quickly when activated on your return home.
You should also allow for the cost of international telephone calls, although these are kept low by Omanís government, which wants to encourage international business and investment in the region.
Your cost of living will obviously depend on your lifestyle. When youíre negotiating a work contract, itís usual for your prospective employer to produce detailed cost of living figures for his country, which are useful in helping you to decide whether the proposed job is financially attractive or not.
In an effort to boost the country's tourism industry, the Ministry of Tourism relaxed visa requirements in 2001.
Acquiring the right visa is one of the most important details which should be followed on Oman tourist information.
Cost may vary according to nationality, but generally it is as follows for tourist/business/sponsored visas: Single-entry: £12 for all EU nationals; £14 for other nationals (enquire at the embassy/consulate for specific details). Multiple-entry: £20