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Mon 19 Oct 2015 01:57 PM

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Oman must speed up its border control

The picturesque Sultanate will never reach its tourism potential until it improves its excessively slow visa processing at the UAE border, writes Courtney Trenwith

Oman must speed up its border control

The jam-packed car park was all the confirmation we needed of warnings that we would be waiting hours to cross the UAE-Omani border.

“Shall we take some magazines in,” my friend asks, registering the same dreaded information.

We walk into the Omani visa processing office at Hatta, armed with magazines and headphones plugged into our iPhones, and sigh as at least 1500 people are already crowded into four lanes.

Four lanes. Four of the eight existing booths are open for visa processing on a long weekend. The inefficiency of the Omani border control was immediately evident.

Extra lengthy queues are expected on a long weekend and tourists should be ready to wait longer than usual. Three hours is asking a lot but the experience was made all the more sour by the obvious lack of efficiency among staff.

Oman has stated it wants to increase visitor numbers from 1.5 million in 2014 to 3 million by 2020. Much of that – and I would argue, far more - can come from the UAE, a country of 9 million people, at least half of whom have the means to travel to Oman for short or longer breaks.

Long weekends should be a boon for Oman, a country boasting spectacular coastlines, depth to its usually very welcoming culture, cooler mountains and an all-round sought after break from UAE city life.

But it will never fulfil that potential while its inefficient road border crossing process continues. I, for one, will never again drive to Oman for a short break.

To have only four of eight visa processing desks open on a long weekend is an affront to the country’s tourists. Then, when we finally reached the front of the queue, the visa processing officer was apparently deliberately slow; laboring over our passports, his eyes darting everywhere but at the pages and asking us irrelevant personal questions.

Then three Omani citizens (who were not dressed in border patrol uniforms) entered the room where the visa officers were seated, and they all stood up to greet them, taking a few minutes to chat before eventually returning to their jobs.

It took 7-8 minutes for our visas to be processed once we reached the counter. Given my friend and I both have UAE residency and had both been to Oman several times previously (via air) this seems a particularly protracted period of time.

Crowds of more than 1000 people are not uncommon at Dubai International Airport’s immigration on any given day, yet visitors rarely wait an hour to be welcomed to the country.

There is no reason why the same efficiency should not be applied in Oman. The country could start with an online visa system, at least for some categories of applicant, such as expatriates with residency of another GCC country.

I have previously written about the magic of Oman, a country I do truly believe is a tourist must-see. However, sadly, the Sultanate will not reach its tourism potential until it fast-tracks its immigration processing procedures.

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khalifa 4 years ago

It seems that you took the wrong idea about border crossings in Amman to do I manage on one experience I hope to try again Oman is a beautiful country and hospitable and the Omani people of our best people, but your experience this was a quick and perhaps encounter emergency situations for some of the staff, and I tried to enter the United Arab Emirates but was tough and people know this fact transients to oman from various Gulf countries leave a good impression to the process of their income and they say it's more the speed of the border, the United Arab Emirates once again I hope that you are trying to access to oman and then type it

Khalid 4 years ago

you article was very popular in social media last week. Every one was upset about this incident. Usually the border is smooth. Please come back again. Omani value visitors and welcome them. I am sure this article will make a difference in border control.

King Loofi 4 years ago

with all my respect to you,, you want our homeland security to be quick in giving you visa while your country humiliate us for hours in order to give a pass visa .. go correct the issues in your homeland then come talk about others ... and by the way .. you should respect our tradition before mocking!

Yahya Al Habsi 4 years ago

Dear Courtney, I totally agree with you and I totally disagree with what “King Loofi” wrote below. I am an Omani citizen born and raised and I can feel your frustration and I hope you can ignore what this person wrote. If our country wants to improve in its tourism drive, then it must improve the border control process, otherwise we are going to get a really frustrated tourists who may not come back and will spread the wrong message about our beautiful country. I hope your article reaches the higher authorities at the ROP who controls and manages border crossings. I also hope that the ministry of tourism should intervene in this and ask them to have some serious discussions with the ROP on how to improve our land border control, not only for expatriates and tourists but also for us citizens as we sometimes have to wait for hours on long queues in order to enter our country coming from Dubai. One thing to note

PJX 4 years ago

I went to Oman few years ago with my wife. After standing in a fairly short queue that moved incredibly slowly, it then took several of the border staff about 15 minutes to locate 'Brazil' on their computer as nationality for my wife. Considering the word is spelled 'Brasil' on the passport (portuguese) and is virtually the same sound in Arabic, it seemed hard to figure out exactly what the problem was.

Brazil is quite a big country, you might have heard of it. But apparently the border staff in Oman hadn't.

BBDubai 4 years ago

Couldn't agree more - 3.5 hours wait with family on 1st December. Lack of efficiency and complete disregard for visitors testing their patience to the fullest limit!