Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 09/22/10
Personal Experiences from Cairo, Egypt
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I lived before in Erlangen, Germany, and Abu Dhaib, UAE.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
From U.S. east coast, expect about 14 hours of travel time. I recommend a rest stop in Europe, like Frankfurt, Paris, or Amsterdam. U.S. Airways also flies to Athens from Philadelphia.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most families prefer to live in Maadi because it is close to the school, is quieter,and has the most suburban feel to it. Many singles like Zamalek because of the proximity to night life. I wouldn't recommend any other neighborhoods to expats.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything you need, and very cheap. Most supermarkets carry European products. Embassy and U.S. military staff have access to an awesome commissary.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Most all the fast-food chains you know and love are in Cairo, and they will deliver. You can even order your dinner online through otlob dot com. A standard McDonald's meal starts at around three dollars.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some ants in the appartment in the summer, but that can be controlled.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of very affordable domestic help. You certainly can't live so well in Europe.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
YES. Gold's Gym has several branches in Cairo. Aurthur Murray has a dance studio in Maadi.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I had no problem using ATM machines and Credit cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by without learning Arabic, but you'll have a much richer and rewarding experience if you obtain at least a basic understanding.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Forget it. There is no accommodation for the disabled in Egypt. The sidewalks are blocked by parked cars, there are no ramps to access the sidewalks, and the curbs are impossibly high for wheelchairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The Cairo metro is safe and the fastest way to get downtown from Maadi. The Alexandria train is a nice way to get to visit Alexandria. The newer taxis (white) are modern and comfortable, but the older black/white taxis are scary. Both should get you downtown (a 40-minute trip) for about five dollars.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
A 4x4 with a high clearance is best. There are many high speed-bumps and large potholes that can ruin standard cars. Korean cars from KIA and Hundai are the most popoular with the locals.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
DSL up to 4 MB costs about $40 per month. Note that although Voice over IP applications, like Vonage and Skype, are technically illegal, the restriction is not enforced, and ISPs do not block the use of these applications, so I could talk very clearly over the internet.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Nokia and Vodafone have the best reputations.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are vets, but I don't know about kennels.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I found most Egyptians overall to be very friendly to me and to each other. I felt much safer in Cairo than in most large cities in the U.S.Traffice is going to be your main security risk, since the local driving style is simply dangerous, and more so during Ramadan in the hours before the breaking of the fast. Driving on the highways at night is considered extremely dangerous because of crazy drivers.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We had our first baby in Cairo, and the quality of care that my wife and baby recived was probably much better than most places in the U.S.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Unhealthy, but livable. This is a bad place for those with upper resperatory problems. However, there is very little pollen, so I didn't experience my annual allergies to grass and tree pollens.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Except for a few days in the winter, it's sunny all the time. The summer can be hot, but there is usually very little humidity.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The international school makes this a good choice for families.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through the school. There are several amusement parks around Cairo.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community. Most expats either work for oil companies, the embassies, or the U.S. military.
2. Morale among expats:
Morale is mixed. You'll find some like me who have found their niche and love living in Egypt, and then you'll find those who typically are overwhelmed by the noise, the garbage, and the crazy driving and so hate living in Egypt. You usually won't find many people in between.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
You never have to be bored. There are lots of places to go out and visit. The Opera House is excellent, and much cheaper than the European equivalents.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
If you are single, male, looking to get married, and either muslim, Eastern Orthodox christian, or Coptic Orthodox christian, this is your eldorado. I've been told that for many reasons a majority of the local men are unqualified or unwilling to marry, so the country is full of beautiful, nice, young ladies praying for a prince charming to save them from spinsterhood.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Egyptians are openly hostile to homosexuality. I understand it is an act which can be punished by law. If there is a gay/lesbian scene, it would be very secretive.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Although Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, the Israelis are the people that the Egyptians love to hate. So if you are Jewish, it would not be a good idea to publicize it.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Exploring Egyptian history, learning to dive and taking extended live-aboard dive trips, enjoying the Red Sea resorts.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
In Cairo, take history tours. The Opera house is excellent and affordable. Outside of Cairo, visit the Red Sea resorts.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Papyrus paintings, silk tapestries, 100% Egyptian cotton bed sheets, dive trips.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Exploring history, diving, and Red Sea resorts. For those intested in history, Egypt has tons of amazing historical sites to explore. The diving in the Red Sea is some of the best in the world, with excellent water clarity and vibrant coral reefs. The Red Sea resorts offer complete luxury, relaxation, beatiful scenery, and night life for the price of a Best Western Hotel in the U.S.
11. Can you save money?
You should definitely be able to save money in Cairo. Most of the local population lives off of about 200 U.S. dollars per month, so services are always cheap for westerners.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, I had a great time.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bicycle. There is a cycling group that rides together every Friday morning, but there most of the sights along the way are eyesores. The crazy drivers make it too dangerous to ride your bike outside of Friday mornings.
3. But don't forget your:
Camera, swim suit, diving gear, softball gear, Boy Scouting gear.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Eyewitness Egypt (travel guide), ISBN 0756666775.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Don't miss: "Egypt's Golden Empire", by PBS DVD Video, available on Netflix as DVD or streaming video. Take the time to watch all 160 min of all the episodes. The explanations of all the tour guides will make so much more sense if you do.
6. Do you have any other comments?
There is just one park with green spaces in the whole city. Whenever you miss green nature and clean, modern campgrounds, you can fly to Cyprus in one hour. A weekend escape with Cyprus Airways leaves Thursday evening and returns Sunday evening