Omanis celebrate royal decree allowing marriages to foreigners

In a historic move last week, the sultanate's government outlined relaxed provisions that allow citizens to wed expatriates without seeking the state’s permission

Rahma Al Balushi with husband Justin Halls and her daughters. Photo: Deeba Hasan for The National
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A royal decree allowing Omanis to marry whoever they choose, regardless of nationality, has been welcomed by many in the country.

They see the decision last week by Sultan Haitham as a positive step towards establishing Oman as a more global and tolerant society.

“I am extremely happy that this decree has been announced in my country,” said Mohammad Al Balushi, 31.

“It is step forward for the future of Omanis, where people can register their marriage now by following simple steps. Now, everyone looking to get married to a foreign national will not have to put in the kind of effort I did.”

It took Mr Al Balushi about a year and a half to obtain approval to marry Pakistani citizen Hira Ishtiyaq, 31.

“Initially, they refused to give me permission to get married to a foreigner because, as part of the criteria to marry an expat, one should be above 40 years old, and I was only in my late 20s,” he said.

“It took me around 15 months of putting together the right documentation and a great deal of leg work to have all the formalities completed.”

He says marrying his wife was the best decision he had ever made.

“When I came to know that as an Omani, I wouldn’t be allowed to marry her, I was distraught. However, the process of seeking permission gave me hope and I applied to the Ministry of Interior. We have been happily married for the last 3.5 years.”

'Heartbreak in the past'

For decades, Omanis had to seek the approval of the state before marrying someone from another country.

The process could take months and, in some cases, couples were denied permission, often resulting in heartbreak.

That all changed with last week’s issuance of Royal Decree number 23/2023, which outlined new and relaxed provisions governing marriages involving foreigners.

Fahad Al Ruzeiqi, who has wanted to legally marry a Romanian citizen in Oman for 13 years, said the decree had made him very happy.

“People should have their freedom to choose their partner, and it's good to see that this royal decree is allowing individuals to do so without unnecessary obstacles,” he said.

Mr Al Ruzeiqi said the coming together of two cultures was never easy “but with respect and communication" it is possible.

Mohammad Al Balushi with his wife Hira Ishtiyaq. Photo: Deeba Hasan for The National

According to the National Centre for Statistical Information, more than 370 new marriage certificates were registered by Omani men who wed foreigners in 2021.

Permits were issued only if the applicant fulfilled certain conditions.

“For example, if an Omani man were to apply to marry a non-Omani, he had to prove he was financially able to afford the costs of marriage and to provide suitable housing," Saif Al Mamari, a partner at Addleshaw Goddard, a law firm in the sultanate, told The National.

“Also, an Omani man couldn't take a non-Omani woman as a second wife, unless his Omani wife — the first wife — was unable to carry out her marital duties.”

“People who have been married without permission previously should be fine now with the announcement of the royal decree, if their marriage documents are in order,” Mr Al Mamari said.

Rahma Al Balushi, 46, no relation of Mr Al Balushi, said she was pleasantly surprised when she heard the news.

“I never expected this day to come because the whole approval process would take a while and was quite rigorous,” said Ms Al Balushi, who is married to Justin Halls, 47, from Britain.

As required by Omani law, Mr Halls had to convert to Islam to marry Ms Al Balushi and the approval process took about a year.

“For Justin and me, the approval process was easier because I met the criteria of being able to marry a foreign national. I was over 40 years of age and a divorcee.”

Before marrying Mr Halls, Ms Al Balushi was married to a Dutch citizen and had two daughters who are now aged 15 and 16.

“I was 24 when my ex-husband and I decided to get married. We went ahead to seek approval from the Ministry of Interior, where they rejected my request, but I was determined. We were granted permission after three long years of persistence and continuous follow-ups. We eventually got married when I was 27 and my husband was 36.”

Ms Al Balushi said it was important to be careful as marriage is a big decision.

“Both partners should be well aware of their rights and seek legal support wherever necessary. Omanis that are married to foreign nationals should be given counselling and the rights to a lawyer who can advise them to ensure their rights are protected,” she said.

The law officially came into effect on Tuesday, after Article (7) of the decree said that the law shall be published in the Official Gazette and enforced the following day.

Updated: April 28, 2023, 9:46 AM