Collectively, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East and anyone that follows me on social media knows that I LOVE DOHA!
I titled this trip report “From Hot to Cold And Checking the #1 Country off of My Bucketlist” because of my destinations. Stockholm (ARN) was cold, Doha (DOH) was hot, and Oman (MCT) was the #1 country on my bucketlist. I’ve never traveled to (or through) Oman but something about the country has fascinated me for years.
I booked QSuites from Stockholm to Doha so I could finally review it and thought “well since I’m so close to Oman, I may as well jump over to Muscat and knock that off my list too.”
Countries Requiring A Visa
Although the United States passport is not the “strongest” in the world, it is one of the world’s most travel-friendly passports as it allows visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 184 countries (out of ~200 countries).
Personally, I have avoided visiting countries that have required visas (unless I had to visit for a work reasons) because I tend to think “why spend money to visit countries that require a visa when there are still a lot of “free” countries that I haven’t visited yet?!” This is one of the reasons that I have not traveled to Brazil…but that may change really soon.
Additionally, visas often require more paperwork and submission of passport photos and I see the process as a big hassle.
Oman requires a visa and, prior to March 2018, you could obtain a visa in advance by visiting a consulate or obtain a visa on arrival which I read was a quick and easy process.
However, on 18 March 2018, Oman implemented new visa rules and were no longer allowing visa on arrival. Instead, they transitioned to an eVisa system, allowing visitors to apply online rather than having to go to a consulate. In other words, the only way to get a visa to Oman would be online and not at a consulate or on arrival.
In fact, here is the announcement:
— eVisa Oman (@OmanEvisa) February 18, 2018
Through my online research, I determined the single-entry, tourist visa would cost OMR 20 (~$52USD). I would consider this one of the more expensive visas in the world. But I also discovered that if you were arriving directly from Qatar or United Arab Emirates, you did not need a visa. At least, that was my understanding prior to arriving in Muscat.
When I checked-in for my flight from Doha to Muscat, this is the conversation between the First Class reception agent and I:
“Where are you flying to this afternoon?”
“Ahh, I’ve heard it’s beautiful. I hope you enjoy it.”
*agent scans my passport into computer*
“Do you have a visa?”
“No, I was under the impression that I did not need a visa if I was arriving from Qatar or UAE. Is this correct?”
“The computer says that you need a visa.”
*Shows me the computer screen*
“How long will you be staying in Muscat?”
“Just a few days.”
“Do you have a hotel and departure ticket from Muscat?”
“Can I see them?”
I presented my hotel and departure ticket. He entered the information into the computer and I assumed everything was ok since he let me depart for the immigration checkpoint.
At the checkpoint, there was only one counter open, and the lady asked me about my destination as she scanned my passport.
“Do you have a visa?”
“No, I was under the impression that I did not need a visa if I was arriving from Qatar or UAE. The gentleman that just checked me in asked the same thing, but he entered my hotel and departure flight info into the computer and let me proceed. Is this correct?”
I’m not sure if “Ah” means yes or no but she let me pass through immigration so, again, I assumed everything was ok.
ARRIVAL IN OMAN
When I arrived in Oman I entered the business class/first class “fast track” line. I was the first person in line so I approached the counter. The officer was chatting with another officer in a different booth. I find the “no rush, do it at my own pace” the norm in the Middle Eastern region.
He continued to talk to the officer (in Arabic) despite me standing there for about 60 seconds.
He quickly grabbed my passport, flipped through the pages, and the following conversation ensued:
“visa” (not a question, not a statement but just the word)
“I just arrived from Doha. Here is my ticket. I was told that I did not need a visa if I was arriving directly from Qatar. Is this correct?”
“You go back.”
“Sure. No problem.”
He pointed away from the booth and with a dismissing flick of his hand directed me away.
Internally, I panicked.
Go back? This had never happened before. How does this work with booked hotel reservations? How does this work with prepaid scuba diving reservation? I redeemed miles for my flight to Muscat, how do I get back to Doha? What happens with my flight from Muscat to Istanbul if I’m not even in the country?
As I walked away from the booth, I saw a counter that said “visas.” I remember reading that at one time you could buy a visa on arrival so devised a plan. I would attempt to buy a visa and then go to a different line because that guy was not nice.
To be completely candid, I was no longer interested in Oman and my excitement for Muscat had completely disappeared.
I approached the desk and stated that I needed to buy a visa.
The woman behind the desk asked for my passport and quickly said “it will be OMR4 (~$16USD) before seeing my passport. I quickly gave her my credit card hoping she would charge it because I remember that it was far more expensive online.
After she processed my payment. I then told her I was arriving from Qatar and was seeking clarification about the visa process stating that I thought “it was free but when I told the gentleman at immigration that I was arriving from Qatar but did not have a visa, he told me that I needed to return to Doha.”
In Arabic, she asked the other women working at the visa processing table and no one seemed to know the process.
She then invited me to go with her to speak to the gentleman that would not let me through immigration.
My heart sank even more. I was not trying to make anyone mad or get anyone in trouble. I was simply trying to understand the process. I attempted to stop the inquiry by saying “nah, don’t worry about it. I already paid for it. It’s ok.” But she was insistent.
As we approached the fast-track immigration officer, a couple of guys in police uniforms (but different than the uniforms worn by the immigration officers) appeared and escorted us to the desk.
I was thinking “this is not good.”
She began explaining the situation in Arabic to the officer and although I couldn’t understand the conversation, he became very agitated (in body language and tone).
She asked for my passport and Qatar business class ticket and handed it to the officer.
He flipped through the pages and says (in English) “he did not come from Qatar.”
He, again, pointed away from the booth and with a dismissing flick of his hand directed us away.
She turns to me and says “he’s telling me that you need a third stamp in your passport..one entering Qatar, one departing Qatar and another one.”
I wanted to ask how and where I was supposed to obtain the third stamp but I did not say anything.
She began speaking to the other (escorting) officers and then said “he will take care of you in his line and you can go to your hotel.”
Fortunately, as quickly as it all started, I was sent on my way, as the guy escorted me to his line, typed a few things on his computer, and said “go.”
This was certainly one of the stranger and scariest situations I’ve faced at immigration.
It’s rare that I discuss the challenges that I have at security or immigration but there are certain airports that I avoid (e.g. London Heathrow (LHR) because of the consistent challenges I’ve had in the past.
For roughly 30 minutes, this process sent me into a brief panic. I’m glad that it worked out the way that it did because I had a fabulous time in Muscat (review coming soon).
NOTE: Once I arrived at my hotel, I did some further investigation to confirm my thoughts about the visa and it turns out that there is competing information. Per the Royal Omani Police FAQ page, the visa is free but you have to apply.
And on the application page, it says…
So maybe the immigration agent was correct and I did misinterpret it?
Has this or anything similar happed to anyone else? What do you make of this situation?