Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 08/04/11
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?
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 Washington, DC, 14 hours, connect in Frankfurt, or non-stop from NY
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Cairo is mostly apartment living. Embassy-owned apartments are spacious and well-maintained. Traffic is heinous; depending on what time you leave and whether public schools are in session, the commute from Ma'adi to downtown can take from 20 minutes to an hour.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find everything you need. Supermarkets are plentiful and reasonably priced. Local foods are safe to eat. American and European canned/boxed goods are widely available.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
a small SUV
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tons. They range from incredibly cheap to very expensive. A full meal at El Tabei El Damyati (an Egyptian fast food place) can run under a dollar, while gorging yourself down the street at Mori Sushi will cost you about $50.
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?
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?
We pay $5/hr for part-time help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, public (Gold's) and private. An expat community center in Ma'adi called Community Service Association (CSA) can help new folks find everything.
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?
Like the US, be choosy about where you use an ATM. I found a skimmer on one in City Centre Mall. We use CBI bank's when we need one.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, protestant, Roman Catholic, Coptic are all available in Ma'adi. There is a synagogue downtown.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
I haven't seen an English-language newspaper, though I'm told one exists. There is one local TV station that broadcasts mostly in English with occasional programming in French. Another local channel regularly broadcasts American tv shows with Arabic subtitles.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Depends on the neighborhood. Generally, Cairenes speak better English than I do Arabic.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Blocked and broken sidewalks, no curb cuts, heavy and random traffic, few accomodations. Challenging, but possible. Elevators and ramps exist, and people are massively helpful.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Stay away from buses and the ubiquitous blue-and-white minivans. The Metro train is safe and cheap (20 cents one way), and taxis are cheap. Negotiate the fare with black taxis; white taxis are metered.
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?
Bring a vehicle that looks good with dents. High ground clearance is good because of random speed bumps and potholes.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, with good quality. Cheap and slow (512kb) is $20/mo, with ADSL2+ at 4mbps going for around $80/mo
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are three GSM providers: Mobinil, Etisalat, and Vodafone. They are all cheap, all offer pay-as-you-go or monthly billing, and you get a decent signal pretty much everywhere in the country. International roaming isn't cheap, but it is available.
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)?
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?
Dress modestly in public. This is an Arab country. I am occasionally embarrassed by what Americans and Australians think of as proper dress to go out in public. It gets hot here, so suits are fairly rare most of the year.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. These are civilized people.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good. Ambulances, not so much. If you need to get to a hospital in a hurry, get someone to drive you or take a cab.
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?
Usually smoggy with find sand. You do a lot of coughing in Egypt
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry, though not usually unpleasant. It rains a few times in January and February. Dusty year-round
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My daughter graduated from Cairo American College and my son still attends there. It is a top-notch IB school. CAC is one of the big draws attracting Americans to serve here.
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. Don't expect American football, but a wide variety of sports are available, mostly through the schools.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Varies wildly. One wonders why some people ever leave their birthplace.
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?
Tons of it available. Egyptians will use any excuse to celebrate.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I've had several single friends bemoan this as a bad place to find a partner. My family has enjoyed it here. It's safe, there's lots to do, you can eat at the restaurants without fear of becoming ill.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is a Gold's Gym near my house that seems to be a meet-up spot for gay men. Like all sexual expression in Arab countries, it is discreet, but it does happen.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The 25 January Revolution, the Great Pyramid, Road 9 in Ma'adi, Alexandria/the Med, Egyptians
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Tourist bits are everywhere. Living in Ma'adi, a suburb of Cairo, there is an expat haven called Road 9. If you're homesick, you can walk down Road 9 and get KFC, McDonald's, Auntie Anne's Pretzels, stop in Radio Shack, etc.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
pottery, silver jewelry
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Egypt is friendly, even during the revolution. It isn't cheap, but for the natural tourist there is much to see.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably, at least for a short tour.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Buildings erected in the last fifty years are largely architecture-free. Because of this, many parts of the city are ugly and soulless. There are jewels hidden between the slab concrete monoliths, though. Mostly mosques. It seems they reserve actual beauty for sacred places.