Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 09/20/11
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?
No. Yemen (villages), Sudan (villages), Addis Ababa
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?
Richmond, VA, US16 hours or so.12 1/2 hour direct flight Cairo to NYC, then a commuter flight to Richmond. Or, Cairo to Frankfurt. Overnight in Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to DC and drive to Richmond.
3. How long have you lived here?
May 2009-February 2011
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 choose to live in Maadi, as it is greener, and has a good American school, some international churches and more flats with a garden option. Commute to downtown Cairo from Maadi could take up to an hour, but usually 45 minutes. Living downtown in Dokki, Zamalek or Mohandessin is an option for couples or singles, but I would discourage it for kids, due to pollution and no play areas.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available if you are willing to look for it and pay for it.
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?
McDonalds, KFC, Baskin Robbins, Chili's. Food is varying quality. Cheaper than in the US.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Organic produce can be grown and delivered locally by a few different companies. Few meat subsitutes available, but I did see Soy Milk and occasional Tofu. If you are there with the US Government, you may have commissary shopping privileges, and you can buy almost anything you want there.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, due to the heat.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the APO at the US Embassy. DHL is available.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Highest hourly rate you will pay is equivalent to 5 USD/hour, and that is usually only for a Filipina nanny/maid.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gold's Gym, Curves. US Embassy and USAID have nice gyms.
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?
ATMS are everywhere and work with most US banks.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
At least 4 international, English speaking churches: St. John the Baptist (Anglican/Episcopal), Maadi Community Church, Heliopolis Community Church and All Saints Cathedral (Anglican). Also St. Andrew's downtown, and a catholic church in Maadi.
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?
Very little. However, many signs aren't in English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Very hard. No handicap ramps, few usable sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are very cheap, but often poor condition and without seatbelts. The Metro is very cheap, but hot in the summer. Difficult to take the metro with a small child, and occasionally women have trouble taking the metro alone, although there are women-designated cars. No reputable bus system.
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?
Most expats drive SUVs due to road hazards (poor road conditions, but mostly poor driving habits of local people). A sedan or small SUV would make it much easier to park and fit down too-narrow city streets, but would provide less visibility. I hated driving there, to be honest.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
about $35 a month for medium-speed DSL.Able to do Skype chats, but not smoothly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
No, unless you speak some Arabic, or are willing to work for VERY little salary.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Women should dress more conservatively (i.e. cover your knees, shoulders, and cleavage).Men in shorts is not generally acceptable, although many expat men do wear them.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We had to leave with the "revolution" of Jan. 26th, and are now in our next post. There is the continual worry of another evacuation, due to continued political unrest in Egypt. Always plan to be evacuated, assume that you won't come back and pack accordingly. We learned the hard way! Keep a stock of food and water at home in case you aren't allowed out of your home due to unrest in the streets.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Many doctors there, but of varying clinical knowledge and ability. Can buy most meds you need over the counter, at low prices.
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?
Very unhealthy. Winter is the worst, due to crops being burned. Occasionally we had ash falling from the sky. We used a heavy-duty large air purifier in the living room at all times, and small ones in the bedrooms. Black sooty deposits collected on many things in our well-sealed house, including on curtains and toys.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
A few weeks of very hot in the summer (July-Aug), down to 50 degrees F in the winter (Dec-Jan).Need a light jacket in the winter, but can generally wear T shirts year round.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Cairo American College is large and has a great reputation. Although I had no personal experience with it, I knew many parents who sent their kids there, and I wouldn't hesitate to send my son there when he is school age.
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?
Lots of "nurseries" available from birth age, although varying quality. Most popular ones in Maadi used by expats were Small Talk, Small World and Irish Nursery. All run by expats but with some local teachers. Expensive, but often the only social/outdoor play options available in the city.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through CAC and other international schools. None for kids under 5 that I saw....
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Middle of the road, depending on happiness of their kids, sickness due to pollution, issues with driving, etc.
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?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a hard city to live in with a young child, unless you are very brave and interested in traveling a lot. School age kids have great opportunities with the American College.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
As in all Middle Eastern countries, women are often not well-respected, and are harassed on the street. Black people (African-American, British African, etc) were often assumed to be Sudanese, and faced prejudice due to that.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting Sharm El Sheikh, seeing Luxor and Aswan
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Pyramids, Cairo Tower, Saqqara, Dashur, diving in the Red Sea, antiquities in Upper Egypt, Nile Cruise, camp in the desert, bike in the wadis, bowling, cinemas, lots of restaurants. Limitless options if you are intrepid and willing to travel.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Middle Eastern carpets, artwork, souvenirs.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Tourist opportunities, beautiful weather in the winter, cheap prices
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Not now, with the political unrest. Perhaps when the govt stabalizes, and when our son is school age and could attend CAC.Not a bad post, but the future there is very uncertain right now.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, AIR PURIFIER!
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?
The expat community in Maadi is very warm and open to new people constantly coming and going. We enjoyed having friends from all over the world (Bulgaria, Italy, Canada, Zambia), and many were people like us who had lived all over the world themselves. This is unique to Cairo and other mega cities, I think.