Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 11/27/12
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?
Woodbridge, VA - 13 hours
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is four months into a 3-year posting at the U.S. Embassy, a first expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most houses for singles and families are flats. There are some villas available. We have 4 children and have been given a 5-bedroom flat - - - NOT on a compound. There are a few government compounds, but I think they max out at 4 bedrooms. Most families live in Maadi, with couples and singles living in Zamalak. Outdoor play space for children is very limited. The compounds and SOME flats have some outdoor space for children, but not much. Most kids play outdoors at the schools or at the Maadi House (embassy club). Commute times from Maadi (though not far in mileage) are about an hour each way. The compounds have another advantage - they have generators! They rarely lose power (we lose it at least once per week for a few hours and at most 5 times per week for a few hours), and we also lose water at least once per week for a few hours. I don't hear of this happening from the compounds.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
We have an AWESOME commissary with very reasonable prices. We really aren't left wanting---well, I do want Haas avacados, but I can deal with the California ones. They even sell different varieties of soy and almond milk. On the local economy, things are more pricey, but it's convenient to have them deliver or be near your home. The commissary is about 4 miles from Maadi, but in traffic it can be a small hassle.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
An ironing board! They take the one from the Welcome Kit. Also: mattress cushions - the beds are NOT comfy. Most things, however, you can get here or get delivered here. Amazon and Target are lifesavers (especially with free shipping offers!).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Hardee's, KFC, Papa John's, Domino's, Subway. Be aware that food from these places will not taste the same as in the US, and there will be no real bacon! The costs are very reasonable, and EVERYTHING in Cairo can be delivered! Grocery stores, pharmacies (you don't even need prescriptions here and the pharmacist acts as a doctor), fast food, even greenhouses.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are little no-see-um's that I'm not familiar with, but they do bite, nut not like mosquito bites. When we moved in, we had an ant problem (thankfully in our bathrooms instead of the kitchen - - - but still!) that was hard to conquer. Flies bother you (due to the trash everywhere), but you get used to them!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have an APO with an office in Garden City (where the Embassy is) and in Maadi at USAID.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very large pool of help available. For a maid working 20 hours/week, we pay $400 (US) per month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. There are a few gyms to purchase memberships from - including USAID in Maadi and the U.S. Embassy gym. In Maadi there is CSA, Fibers, and Gold's Gym, to name a few.
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?
Debit/credit cards are accepted in most large restaurants, but this is a mostly a cash society. They use the Egyptian Pound (LE), and it is currently about 6 LE to the $1. Lots of folks want tips for nothing here, i.e., a random person "helping" you park your car by waving their hand.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Absolutely. I've seen many, many different churches of varying denominations here in Maadi!
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
OSN offers cable services as does AFN.There are many channels available in English. OSN is about $50 (US)/month. I don't have AFN and don't know about it!
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is a bit helpful to know numbers and directional words (left, right, straight). Pleasantries are appreciated. :) In Maadi, at least, many know English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. The curbs here are nearly up to my knees. There are only sidewalks sometimes and there are many potholes and unmarked/unpainted speed bumps everywhere. That and all of the sand...maybe wheelchairs wouldn't work well with all of the sand.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
White taxis are safe. Avoid black taxis (no meter). The Metro can be used with viligence, and there are busses, but I don't believe we are to take them. Walking is big around Maadi. Taxi's and the Metro are very affordable!
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?
I haven't dealt with repairs yet, but I was happy to find a gas station with Nitrogen to refill my tires! The cost was less than $1. It's bumpy here, and there are unpainted/unmarked speedbumps to control traffic (no stoplights and VERY FEW street signs).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Well...it is. Our internet speed varies GREATLY and I wouldn't think you could stream from it... It is about $30 (US) per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone or have yours unlocked online for about $30. Then buy a sim card from one of the local providers for about $20. They do sell phones here (they call them "mobile phones" here...referring to a "cell" means very little to them). There are cell plans available on a monthly basis, but I've been using scratch cards for minutes and data.
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)?
Sorry - don't know. Many have their maids care for their pets when absent.
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 that I've seen.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Covered shoulders and knees are the norm. In Maadi you can wear a skirt that skims your knees and a wide-strapped tank without too many cat calls or gropes! At work, I'd say business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Post-revolution Egypt is still figuring itself out. There are small crimes of opportunity (purse snatchings), and some women report gropings (usually when alone), but I have not heard of major incidents against Americans specifically.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Unknown as of yet, thankfully. We do have a medical clinic from the Embassy in Maadi and at the Embassy in Garden City most days of the work week. There are reliable doctors in the area...and dentists, too.
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?
The air quality is moderate to unhealthy, especially in late Summer/early Fall when they burn all of the trimmings from trees and bushes. And, of course, all year when they burn trash!
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is a dry climate (just next to the Sahara Desert). When we arrived in August, it was approximately 110 degrees F during the day, and we had lows near 85 degrees F at night. Currently the daily highs are about 75 degrees F and lows are in the 50 degree F range. We have not had rain (with the exception of about 12 drops of precipitation one day) for the entire time we've been in country (4 months). Mostly it is sunny or hazy (because of the pollution). Some days this month have been partly cloudy. It's a great place to have a balcony!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I can only speak of Cairo American College (CAC), where our children go. We have two in elementary, one in middle and one in high school. The children love the school. I think that they are adequately challenged and like the smaller class sizes (vs the US). There is a great community within the school - great since the school is also one of the FEW green spaces where children can play at freely! It is a secure compound (you need to scan-in a badge to enter). There are afterschool activities --- even for elementary! The older children have some amazing travel opportunities with their classes. One problem I see is that they really seem like they have TOO much happening - and with 4 children in 4 different sections of school, it feels like a full-time job to read all correspondence from the school. That being said, they also tell you of events with short notice!
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not many that I am aware of. There are ramps and elevators. I don't believe there are many special-education classes. They do have a very active counseling department.
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, via CSA, school, private groups and the Maadi House.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Mostly positive. Demonstrations wear on moral, but overall people are happy.
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?
Mostly home entertaining. There are dance clubs (salsa and popular) that I've heard of. Lots of restaurants to sit and eat at.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it can be. It is mostly what you make of it. You need to remain aware at all times. Crossing the streets was a challenge for my younger ones - people honk their horns for no reason here! It's how they let you know they are around...in case you are a blind driver or something. No traffic laws are enforced --- but it kind of makes driving an adventure! You are rarely going fast enough to get into an accident that would have an injury - unless you are a pedestrian!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I believe there is a large underground GL community here in Egypt by Egyptians. I don't have any friends here that are G or L, so I don't know first-hand how they are treated.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women certainly don't have to worry about being offended by chivalry here - it doesn't exist. But if you have a child, they LOVE them! There is a separate train car on the metro for women. That being said, I haven't had too big of an issue living everyday life here as a woman.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Maadi House (an embassy club), pyramids, museums (although they are not well-labeled and don't give much info about displays), the Khan al Khaili market, beautiful deserts, diving (in the Red Sea), bowling, and movies.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Alabaster, silver and brass lanterns and platters/hangings, jewelry (silver and gold - made to your liking), papyrus paintings.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The embassy has a fantastic commissary, and there is a great school community. Also, tourism is popular.
11. Can you save money?
Sure - if you eat at home!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. Even with all of the unrest, Cairo isn't too bad!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
short dresses and slinky tops - or slinky clothes of any kind! Also, no winter gear is needed. Bikes for small children are iffy - teens and adults use them. Leave behind your ideas that the streets will be clean and the place will smell fresh. Also leave behind ideas that rules will be enforced . But, overall, people are kind. You can also leave behind your worries about stationary and framing needs - - - shops for those are everywhere!
3. But don't forget your:
Sunblock and water bottles. Nerves of steel when driving or walking! Swim goggles and nose plugs, scarves, summer clothes, light jackets, XM radio and .mp3's or CD's (only 2 stations on the radio to listen to and they are not filled with much variety).
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?
This place would be terrible for our family (picky eaters!) without the commissary. Do bring physical things to do INSIDE as your children will not just be able to run outside and play after school. Be prepared to make lots of playdates! But the expat community really is great and, besides an incident with bad lettuce when we first arrived, things are going well. :) Good luck!