Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 01/18/13
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?
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is affiliated with the US Embassy and has been living in Cairo for a year and a half, a ftfth expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Families generally live in Mahdi, which can take up to 1 hour to reach from the embassy due to traffic. Homes are fairly nice--mostly apartments. Some embassy people live in Zamalik, which is closer to work. Muhandasin is usually for singles, and there are only apartments there. CAC, the school, is in Mahdi, which is why most families live out there.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Like the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Patience and high blood pressure medication for dealing with Egyptians who try and take your money every moment of your life in Egypt.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Every fast food chain is here and they all deliver.
5. 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?
APO at Embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and cheap.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there are nice gyms in Cairo--a nice Gold's Gym in Dokki/Zamalak.
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 use them and have not had problems.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots of Christian Services.
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 need some basic Arabic -- some Egyptians will try and speak English to you, but then it's usually some type of scam.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
That would be inviting disaster. Egyptians will even happily run down anyone who is walking, and there are no sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses? Forget it, unless you want to get groped and/or robbed. Taxis are great and very cheap, but be careful if you are a woman.
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?
The drivers here are worse than in any country I have ever been to. They will hit you and just keep going. Do not bring a nice car here. Traffic is so bad that you never really drive fast. I would suggest a small car because parking is hard to find.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes -- I pay about $80 US per month and it's good.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cheap and readily 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?
There are plenty of jobs available for foreigners, but wages are pretty low.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Egyptians are pretentious and fairly formal.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
During Mubarak's regime, Egypt was extremely safe. Now there are few police, and they are quite scared themselves to intervene. On a daily basis you see more and more disorder and chaos. Women are regularly accosted throughout Cairo, and crime has become a real problem.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Everyone in the Embassy has had upper respiratory problems-- Cairo-cough --that lasts for months. It's just such a dirty city.
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?
Extremely unhealthy. Save for China, Egypt is probably the worst country in the world when it comes to air quality. Cairo has about 30 million people, and it seems like all of them drive. The Egyptian government subsidizes fuel, which allows people to buy cheap gas. Therefore, the cars that are on the road are unbelievably poorly maintained, and there is zero environmental concern. It is among the dirtiest places on Earth. Johannesburg, for example, is much much cleaner. Furthermore, the stench of urine is everywhere.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm--up to 100 F in the summer and cool in the winters. No rain ever.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Cairo American School seems to be the only good thing about this post. It is extremely large and is an excellent school with excellent staff. The expat kids are very well behaved---in contrast to the Egyptian children.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Getting smaller by the day.
2. Morale among expats:
Poor. Egypt has always been very dirty and frustrating, but for some people it used to be fun and exotic. Now, with the increasingly poor security, deteriorating infrastructure and criminality, and sense of entitlement of its population, most people---Egyptians included---are desperately trying to flee. Morale at the Embassy is poor, with people hoping for an evacuation.
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?
Cairo still has a pretty vibrant nightlife, but who knows what the Muslim Brotherhood will do. There are lots of very pretentious Egyptians who go to the nightclubs throughout Cairo. Singles and couples can have fun going out.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Don't know, but I see quite a few gay egyptians.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Egyptian men are notorious for being very aggressive toward women. There have been several incidents when women from the US Embassy have been assaulted by Egyptian men. Women with blond hair seem to be at greater risk.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Nothing; Of the 100 countries I have visited, including many throughout Africa and Asia, Egypt is my least favorite, and I pray that I never have to return. Egypt has about a 10% recidivism rate for tourists, which tells you something. It is awful and just getting worse, as security is becoming a real problem.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Leave Cairo--maybe go to Sharm al-Shaykh or Guna. But you will have to deal with Egyptians in those places who will try and extort money from you at every turn: taxis, hotels, etc. This is a "bakshish" culture more than anywhere I have ever been.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing -- Egyptians have not produced anything since the Pyramids. All of the Egypcrap is produced in China now.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather in Cairo is quite good year around. During the summer it does get very hot, but the winters are very pleasant--down to about 55 Fahrenheit. It is also generally a cheap city: taxis are very very cheap and food is affordable.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, but you need to leave Cairo and Egypt regularly, so travel can get expensive although Egyptair is pretty good.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No way! Don't come.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
obsession with being clean;
3. But don't forget your:
soap and disinfectant
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?
Egyptians have a lot of justified pride in their history---mostly the Pyramids---but their achievements pretty much ended there. There is an incredible feeling of entitlement, but you will see Egyptians defecating and urinating in the street and throwing trash everywhere. It is truly a filthy place. As an example, you can wake up in a wonderful mood, and during the 30-minute-to-1-hour commute, dealing with the people on the street, you will be enraged. I have spent many years abroad and have loved all of my time in numerous different third-world places, but I cannot wait to leave Egypt and never come back. I read the last comment by a lady whose husband works at the US Embassy. Her 3 months in country and her lack of daily interaction with Egyptians should be taken into account. Morale amongst virtually everyone at the Embassy is poor, with most counting the days until they can leave.