Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 05/12/13

Personal Experiences from Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt 05/12/13

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Fourth expat experience. Also lived in Tunis, Tegucigalpa, and Buenos Aires.

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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 still live overseas, but home base would be New York, I guess.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Four years, leaving this summer of 2013.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government, U.S. Dept. of State.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Apartment living both downtown and in the suburb of Maadi. Commute time for those of us in Maadi depends. Hubby takes metro, so it's 30 minutes (and $1) door-to-door, including taxi. Shuttle can take 20 minutes to over an hour, depending on the day.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We used the commissary, so we had access to everything we need. Friends buying on the local economy also had a fairly easy time and found things to be relatively cheap for living. We saved money here.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing really...everything is available here. But we tend to eat naturally: no canned or frozen foods, so we have had no problems.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are decent, fairly inexpensive restaurants all over Maadi. I don't do fast food, but I have noticed McD, KFC, BK, and every other chain. around.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants in our apartment, that's all.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have APO, but people not with an embassy do have problems. Not sure how they manage.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Expensive. Workers from the Philippines can command $600 a month or more. We had a part-time Egyptian maid (3 partial days a week) and paid her $250 a month. I know a decent maid from Uganda who charges US$5 an hour for cleaning.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, all over the place. In Maadi there's CAC, CSA, and private gyms of all flavors. There are also personal trainers for hire.

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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?

We have used them without problems. There is an ATM in front of our building. Never had a problem in 4 years.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

All denominations and in English.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, again, everything. And cheap.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It is not really needed, but it is always helpful. Shopkeepers have basic English. Arabic for taxis is helpful.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

There is absolutely no way that people with physical disabilities would do well here, because there are no sidewalks and the streets are in awful condition for walking, let alone for someone with a disability.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Trains for work are fine --- a bit stinky and crowded, but cheap and fast --- and very affordable. Buses? No way! Taxis are generally safe, although single women need to be careful.

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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?

A 4x4 would be good. We have a CRV, and it is good. We don't drive outside of Maadi except to go to the beach, because the driving is absolutely crazy. Do not bring a new car or a nice car.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, from $30 a month and up depending on speed.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Local cell phone companies are fine. There are three of them, and service is pretty good and cheap.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

Nope.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

In public, women have to dress conservatively: no shorts, no tank tops, covered arms (at least short sleeves).

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Crime is on the increase since the revolution, but this is still a safe city.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

My hubby has been hospitalized twice with serious problems, and both times worked out fine. Local doctors and technicians are very good. The nursing and cleaning staff, less so, but survivable. The Embassy has great doctors and nurses.

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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?

Awful, most of the year. I was really sick during my first year, but then I adjusted.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The weather is lovely, always sunny and clear. It rains once or twice a year. Hot summer, warm winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

CAC is the school we used, and it was fine. It has a lovely campus and lots of extra-curricular activities. My kids were happy with the school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

My older son had one year in high school and had access to a special teacher for his ADD, but CAC isn't too keen on taking kids with special needs. I had to persuade them to take him, and it worked fine for him.

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Absolutely. There are plenty of activities for kids.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large. Don't know numbers.

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2. Morale among expats:

At the moment it is pretty low because of the uncertainty. Crime is on the increase, and people are worried---not sure what is going to happen. The U.S. Embassy community is struggling because of our location right near all the activity of the last two plus years. But, having been here four years, I don't regret it. I have enjoyed my time here and, if I had a choice, would have done it again. It's been good for family. But I definitely see that many people are unhappy.

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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?

There is plenty of stuff to do: balls of all kinds, clubs, sports events, eating out --- lots and lots.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Living in Maadi is like living in a village. One can walk everywhere, and kids have lots of activities to choose from. It's a great location for families. Harassment is minimal in Maadi, and crime, although on the increase, is still very little compared to what we faced in daily life in Latin America. Singles and couples tend to live downtown, and some love it, some hate it. It probably depends on the person. Females alone obviously are going to have a MUCH harder time.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I haven't heard much, but gay friends do not come here, so there's probably a reason why.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Gender is most definitely an issue here. It is very hard for women, all women, with harassment. It existed before the revolution and is much worse now. It doesn't stop me from going out biking around with my group, BUT it can happen at any time.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Being able to fly so many places on EgyptAir, biking in the desert and around Cairo, doing a Nile cruise.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Getting out of the city to do desert camping, or going to the beach, is the best. There are great beaches very close by, and there's nothing like desert camping. Flying out of Egypt is cheap, so we have visited Italy multiple times, Budapest, London, Paris, etc. We have also visited Jordan (Petra) and Cyprus and Istanbul, plus Tunisia and Morocco. It's all close by, and airfares are cheap. Diving in the Red Sea is a great experience!
Also: falucca rides on the Nile!

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Lots of local art, jewelry, etc. Khan Khalili is the place to shop.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Touring Europe, saving money, weather, ... lots of things.

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely! (Unless you travel as much as I did.)

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, I would do it again, but perhaps not four years. It's never boring, and I can't say that I love the place, or will ever come back, but I don't regret the four years. And yes, I would do it again.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

nice car and any revealing clothing.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of humor, sense of adventure, and open mindedness.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Cairo is what you make of it. It's probably a lot easier for families with small children, but any post is what one is willing to make of it. Don't hang out with the people you work with; seek those with positive attitudes. Find opportunities to volunteer and help, and your time will be fine. It's a fascinating country undergoing big changes.

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