Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 06/05/11
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?
This is our first overseas post as a family. My father and mother have traveled overseas before.
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?
We were based in Washington, D.C. before arrival at post. We took United Airlines to London for a layover which is required by Government policy. The flight was 9 hours and enjoyable. We then took an British Midlands to Cairo which was a four hour flight and decent.
3. How long have you lived here?
I've lived here for 1 year. But was evacuated for 3 months due to the popular uprising with the people. You can ask for further details about the revolution anytime.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My parents are both diplomats of the US Government and work at the US Embassy Cairo.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is spread out. Singles and couples live near the embassy in downtown Cairo. In either Zamalek, Dokki or Mohandasieen. Families live where the school is located in Maadi further away from the embassy. Most are housed in apartments, senior officials in Villas. Housing is very comfortable and nice. We live in a large apartment due to family size. It's enjoyable. Employees are brought to work in armored shuttles. They pick people up at certain locations and then drop them off the same place later. From Maadi it can take 30 - 50 minutes commuting depending on traffic. For those closer it should only take 10 - 20 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local markets are everywhere with readily available products. Some at high prices. But if you are with the US Embassy or Military, you have the DeCA Commissary (a huge compound!) and AAFES post exchange---which is a HUGE benefit!
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?
Auntie Anne's, MacDonalds, Subway, Hardee's, KFC, Domino's, Papa John's. You name it, and everything delivers right to your door! Some products cost less than in the states. Restaurants are available everywhere, you just have to find one. The embassy issues a great guide.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
I wouldn't trust the local markets to have cleaned their vegetables or fruits well. I wouldn't trust the meat either. But you can find good stuff. It's readily available. The commissary has a large produce and frozen meat section. The meat is USDA inspected and from the states. The produce is shipped weekly from Germany.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I've never really noticed any regular annoying insects other than the flies.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the diplomatic pouch system. You can ship from the States, too, using APO (Embassy only).
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is plentiful and very affordable. Some people will have a cook, maid, gardener and driver for the price of one in Europe! They are usually reliable and some come with certain requirements if not native.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The school offers one, so does the embassy. There are a few community association gyms, too.
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?
Their are ATMs. Some stores have credit card capability, but don't rely on it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are plenty of English services and denominations. Holy Family (Catholic), St. John's (Episcopalian), Maadi Community (non-denominational), and more. There's also a synagogue run by the Israeli Embassy.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Their are a few providers offering English channels such as CNN, Boomerang, Disney, Food Network, etc. I'm not really sure about English newspapers.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A bit. English is prevalent. But in a taxi or most stores you need basic Arabic.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It's not a good city for the physically disabled. The sidewalks are terrible or non-existent. Poor elevator service. And emergency response is awful.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The Metro system is reliable, if sketchy and unnerving. Taxis are plentiful and very cheap, but most of the time they are in poor condition. The new white ones are very nice. The buses and micro-buses are not used by Mission employees and Westerners in general.
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?
Something sturdy with four-wheel drive, like a Land Rover, Pajero, Toyota, Suburban. Something that can take atrocious road conditions and the harsh desert landscape. Their is a serious lack of parts in Egypt. I'm not sure I've seen many repair shops. Carjacking isn't a problem. But repairs - if available - will be very expensive. But on the plus side, gas is dirt cheap.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Through most cellphone providers. It's pretty fast and reliable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Their are plenty of services. Vodafone and Mobinil are the two largest providers, with good coverage, even in the middle of nowhere.
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?
I don't think so, never heard it mentioned.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes good vets and pet services. If you like cats Cairo's the place to be. They are everywhere and that means everywhere. You might see a hundred a day. Not to mention the packs of wild dogs roaming around.
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?
Not really, their hard to come by and work out. Your best bet is looking at the schools.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal dress at work. Conservative all the time. Egypt is not super conservative. Shorts by a Westerner is acceptable. Females should be especially careful. Not for offending them but more being harassed.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
After the revolution security became much tighter. Curfews for embassy staff and various other security directives. Walking around is very safe though and crime is rare. But has slightly spiked since the revolution. Their are police everywhere yet they do little if nothing. Driving at night is prohibited, driving out of Cairo at night is extremely dangerous. Certain provinces within Egypt are prohibited for travel, too.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Their are decent medical facilities. Check with community first good hospitals. Very good Embassy Med Unit.
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?
It's very unhealthy but bearable. After awhile you don't notice it. But you can tell it's not good and their is always dust in the air and sand.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Climate is hot most of the time. Dry and not very humid, very little cold periods. And it never rains, if it does it's a drizzle and it brings down all the pollution.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Their are two schools used by embassy personnel. CAC (Cairo American College) is an extremely respected private school more commonly used. Their is also AIS (American International School) which is the second choice. I attended CAC and my brother and sister did too. We liked it, it's located in a quiet part of Cairo with housing located all around it. Its academics are highly regarded and its sports teams are quite competitive. It's an American curriculum K - 12. It offers full IB and various AP courses. Sports include Water Polo, Soccer, Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Tennis, Swimming, Cross Country and Track. (Seniors graduate at the foot of the Sphinx near the Great Pyramids, an amazing ceremony!)
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I'm not sure of any programs for special-needs kids. At CAC they have LSP (Learning Support Program) but I'm not sure it's geared towards special-needs.
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?
Their are lots of daycares available. Many are located in Maadi.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, mostly through the school. There are leagues for Rugby and soccer. Sporting clubs are also popular.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large. American, British, Canadian, German, Polish, Italian, Korean. Their are lots of different types. Each will have their own amenities clubs, shows etc.
2. Morale among expats:
Very high, lots of social activities. Everyone gets along and helps each other out. Strong Embassy morale and Diplomatic expat community too.
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?
Lots of entertainment and social things. By the school's, communities, Embassies. There's nightlife downtown.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's good for everyone, there's lots to do. For families and couples their are trips organized by the CLO. Plenty of tour groups or you could just take a day trip or get lost in Cairo. For singles, I believe their is nightlife activity in downtown Cairo.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. It's probably not a good idea, as Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country. It's not a good idea to by gay/lesbian. They are not tolerant.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I don't think there are many racial issues. You will get looks, being a Westerner, (all the time). Religious issues are relevant. There are constant disputes and clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians. Being Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian is not much of an issue. Their are lots of churches. Women have to be careful. Their are reports of sexual harassment and such. Men will stare at women, and cat-calling isn't unheard of.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Their are many. Seeing the Great Pyramids at Giza riding around the complex on a camel. Hiking Mt. Sinai and Mt. St. Catherine's. Living through the Egyptian Revolution (part of it) it was both extremely fascinating and scary at times.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Their are unlimited things to do: The Giza Complex, Khan el Khalili, Mt. Sinai. The Red Sea, Gouna, Sharm el Sheikh, Ein Soukhna. The list goes on.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Their are tons of advantages living in Cairo. It is one of the most fascinating cities in the world! The Pyramids, Sphinx, Khan el Khalili, Alexandria, Sharm el Sheikh, El Alamein the list goes on. The culture is rich and beautiful, the Arabs are wonderfully nice people, the food is amazing (if you go to the right places). Everything is cheap and affordable if you can find it. The weather is hot all year round except for like three months of October type weather stateside (occurs around December). It never rains, their are occasional sand storms.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, any day!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy coat, gloves, umbrella (except for the sun).
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, hat etc.