Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 05/22/13
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?
This is my first expat experience.
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?
California is home base and it is a minimum of a 17-hour trip. You have to connect in, Frankfurt, Amsterdam or London. Egypt Air operates one (mostly daily) direct flight to New York.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work at the US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most people are in apartments with no yards. From Maadi to the embassy by car is 20 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic. The Metro (subway) is a viable option, but there is no A/C in the summer. I take the Metro every day and love it.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The embassy has a commissary, which is a very nice small grocery store. But there are several grocery chains in Egypt, such as Metro Market, Carrefour, and the Alpha Market. All have a wide range of products, so it is possible to live well "on the economy."
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
No, most things are readily available here, or you can order by mail.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food is everywhere. Restaurants are plentiful. Most are fair -- not too many really great places. They range from cheap to moderate. A family of four can eat out for less than 40 USD at an average restaurant -- even less if you eat "local." Anything can be delivered, but going out is generally nice.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Flies in the hot times can make sitting outside unpleasant. Some people have ant problems, but I have not had this issue.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use the APO for mail. Packages take two to three weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plenty of domestic help. Egyptians are cheaper than Filipino or Sri Lankan maids. I pay 400 USD for a part-time Sri Lankan maid. She cooks and can read and write English. An Egyptian maid would run about 250 USD.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, US Embassy and US AID have gyms, but also there is a Gold's Gym and other facilities available.
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?
Many small stores are cash only, but credit cards are widely accepted. I have never had a problem with the ATMs. I tend to stick with the CIB ATMs.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, it is all available.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. The International Herald Tribune can be delivered, but it is kind of expensive. We have OSN cable; it has many English-language shows and movies. We have HD service and it runs about 60 USD a month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. It is helpful to know your numbers and directions for cabs. Also grocery store stuff, such as weights and names of foods. Time is also another good one. Many Egyptians in the expat and tourist areas speak a little English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Forget it. This city is impossible for someone with a disability.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The local train or subway (Metro) is safe. Most taxis are safe, but women should be careful in the taxis when solo. Stay off the buses, both large and small.
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 recommend a small 4X4, such as a RAV 4, Explorer, or Honda CRV. I brought a sedan and regretted it.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
"High speed" is a relative term. It is okay service at about 30 USD a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
No, the cell phone service is good and cheap. I purchased a phone for my daughter for 50 LE (8 USD) and use scratch cards for phone service. For about 16-25 USD you can have decent cell service. Everyone in the family who can operate a phone should have one. Things are unpredictable here, and it helps to be able to call your kids.
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)?
Pretty good. There are good kennels; we used them when we first arrived (East Winds Kennel). We have a dog, and our maid watches the dog in our flat when we travel. If you plan to do that, make sure your maid is not Egyptian -- they are generally not too fond of dogs.
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?
Conservative. Men can wear shorts, but women should refrain from wearing tank tops and showing cleavage.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime in general has increased, and purse snatching has always been a problem. Drive-by gropings of women seem to be increasing. You definitely have to be aware of your surroundings. I use the same caution I would in a any big city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Not too many, but be careful where you eat. Wash hands often. The embassy has a good health unit.
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?
Air quality ranges from moderate to unhealthy.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cool and pleasant in the winter, very hot May thru October, some winds in the springtime may create sand storms of a sort.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
CAC is the school my children attend. It is a mixed bag. Athletic opportunities are decent; some people have issues with the math program. Overall, I would give it a B to a B+.
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?
It seems it is available. My kids are older.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, most are through Cairo American College.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty big, but shrinking. There are many expat clubs such as the ACE club and the British Club. There are also several expat organizations that either run (Hash House Harriers), bike, or scuba dive. Most of expat community is in Maadi.
2. 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 are many clubs in Zamaleck (such as the Jazz Club), and there is the Opera House. In Maadi there is the ACE Club and other private clubs. Most have live music on weekends. There are two good movie theaters in Maadi: Bandar and Family Cinema. There is also the City Stars Mall in Nasr City, which is a 20-30 minute drive from Maadi. There are restaurants such as Macaroni Grill, good movie theaters, and retail stores such as H&M.
3. Morale among expats:
I would say mostly low. Things are changing, and there is an uncertainty in the air. No one knows where the country is going,s and most change that occur appear to be negative.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is best for couples and families with kids under 12. Teenagers can be bored here, and there is very little supervision by expat parents in regards to alcohol and drugs. Marijuana is readily available.
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?
Absolutely. Harassment of women is an issue. My wife curtails her travel due to the hassle she receives.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Touring the country has been the best part of the tour. Prior to the revolution, my family and I went to Mount Sinai, which is now off limits to US Embassy personnel. However, I have toured extensively since the revolution, including Sharm El Sheikh, Aswan, Luxor, Lake Nassar, the White Desert, Alexandria, Hurghada, and El Gouna -- as well as all over Cairo. I usually drive myself and have no problems. Desert camping in the winter and sand-boarding are definite highlights.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Local travel, sightseeing, Aqua Park (water park), camping in the desert, sand boarding, kite surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving. There are also several bike clubs and runners' clubs.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Metal works, handicrafts, art work in general, and some nice furniture.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The advantages are saving money and touring, no question. Egypt has much to offer -- even post-revolution.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not, although I have had (and continue to have) a good time. It is more about making the best of the hand you are dealt. If you have to come here, you can make it work, but I can't say I would do it again. Living through the revolution and the constant threat of being evacuated again is stressful. Egypt is on a slow decline -- and may continue to be for the next several years.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
umbrella and rain coat.
3. But don't forget your:
sense of humor, patience, and understanding. Also, if you like to camp and have a 4X4, bring your camping gear. That is one of my favorite things to do here.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Cairo: The City Victorious
by Max Rodenbeck, and Culture Shock! Egypt
by Susan L. Wilson. Loved them both.