Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 06/07/13
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?
No, this is my 6th expat experience. I've also lived in South America, Asia and Europe.
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?
Washington, D.C. The trip is between 14 and 16 hours with 1 connection.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost 2 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most folks live in apartments, either in the suburb of Maadi (about 8 km south of downtown Cairo) or downtown in Zamalek (the island on the Nile) or Dokki in Giza. The Embassy owns three compounds, where many Embassy employees live. Commutes from Maadi by car to the Embassy vary between 20 min to 1.5 hours, depending upon the traffic. The metro takes 20 minutes and is clean, although it is not air conditioned in the summer. Commutes to Zamalek and Dokki vary bewteen 10 and 30 min, depending upon the traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Excellent and cheap. There is a huge commissary in Maadi and many families mainly shop there. Food on the local market, especially fruits and vegetables, is cheap and delicious.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. With the commissary and APO, we can get almost everything we can't find on the local market.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything imaginable can be found here. Costs are about equivalent to the U.S.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Very few. I've never seen a rat nor a cockroach. This may be because of the hundreds of street cats. Very few mosquitos.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
As an Embassy employee, through APO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very cheap. Between $3 - $5/hour, depending on if they are Egyptian (cheaper) or Filipina (more expensive).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there is a gym at the Maadi house and also at the Embassy. Local gyms are well-equipped.
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?
No problems. Most people use cash, although credit cards are becoming more common.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, there are churches in Maadi in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, both. The English language newspapers are also available on the Internet. For TV, you must have a satellite dish for OSN or Showtime. Both are relatively cheap. Many folks also have AFN.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Knowing Arabic has definitely enriched my experience here and made me feel more comfortable. However, many do not speak any Arabic and they are doing just fine.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Lots of difficulties. Travel would be difficult, no work environments are equipped for folks with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The train from Cairo to Alexandria is quick (2.5 hours), regular, cheap ($15) and clean. Sometimes Embassy personnel are not allowed to take the train depending upon disturbances. Mini buses in the city are consider unsafe and Embassy personnel are not allowed to take them. Taxis are (kind of) safe (no seat belts) and very, very cheap. The metro is safe and clean - although hot in the summer.
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?
That depends. Do you want to drive in the city and find parking? Then bring something small. Will you primarily want to go desert camping and off roading? Then you will need a 4x4. Either way, bring something that you don't mind getting scratched up, since - if you drive often - you will be in numerous little accidents. You can find parts for most cars here - although they won't be the originals!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes and it is inexpensive. It ranges from 2M (about $35/month) to 4M (about $60/month).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
All phones will work here, if they are unlocked.
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)?
Yes, there are vets. Most people with pets have their maids walk their dogs and find friends to pet-sit on trips.
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 really, although there are some in CAC.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Women are advised to cover their arms and knees. At work, it is similar to the U.S. - suits for men and business attire for women. Jeans are also acceptable, depending upon your responsibility.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
That depends. I feel quite comfortable and safe; this is one of the safest cities of its size in the world. However, many expats here feel less secure. Naturally in tourist areas (the market, the pyramids, the docks for Nile cruise boats), there are touts who are very persistent, but this is no more than in many other parts of the world - even less. Women often feel harassed by men and this is of concern. Over the last few years, there have been a series of demonstrations, often on Fridays, which can get violent. Embassy employees are warned via text and email, so it is easy to stay away.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air is of concern. Medical care is quite good (and there is also a medical unit in the Embassy), although people tend to be medivaced for anything serious. Dental care is good, but expensive.
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?
Cairo is extremely dirty and polluted. Mild spring sand storms can make the air quite bad.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cairo has great weather, with four distinct seasons. Cool winters, warm springs and falls. A few of the summer months can be hot - and that's a great time to escape to the beaches or head north to Europe. But even in the summer, it cools down at night and you can dine outside every evening. It rarely rains, but, because of the Nile, it is more humid than one would expect in a desert country.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most children and teenagers go to Cairo American College in Maadi. The school has a great reputation and students have a variety of extracurricular activities that take them to other countries in the region - a great experience. The expat community is huge here, so there are students from all over the world.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Some, at CAC. But for children with severe disabilities, this would not be a good place.
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?
Many families with young children hire nannys to help with daycare. Most nannys are Filipina. Day care is rather inexpensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, the Maadi House, near where most of the families live, has dozens of sports programs.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge. From diplomats to oil to education (there are many Americans and Europeans here studying Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies).
2. Morale among expats:
This depends on who you talk to and who you spend time with. Many people really like it here, others cannot wait to leave. It really is what you make of it.
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 are restaurants, felucca rides :), bars (yes, there are), Maadi House and entertaining with friends at home.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, Cairo has something for everyone. The Maadi House is an American expat club within walking distance of many of the families housed in Maadi and offers everything that a club usually does, including a great pool. There are hundreds of restaurants and many new sushi, burger and upscale Egyptian street food restaurants are popping up all over the place. There are movie theaters, malls, a few museums, lots of interesting neighborhoods to explore. Felucca trips on the Nile are always a highlight. The Embassy community is huge and someone is always entertaining. The only problem is getting to all these places - traffic can be exhausting and the city IS huge - 20,000,000+ people!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I wouldn't think so. Although I do know several couples who have successful relationships here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women are definitely "protected" by family, while at the same time often objectified by outside men. Christians, especially since the revolution, feel nervous about the future; some feel victimized.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Felucca rides on the Nile, wandering the streets of Islamic Cairo, shopping in Khan el-Khalili, the camel market, traveling all over the country, desert camping.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Islamic Cairo, felucca rides on the Nile, Khan el-Khalili, camel market, felucca rides, sitting in local cafes and meeting friendly Egyptians, did I say felucca rides?
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Travel, furniture, cotton sheets and pillows, pottery.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Travel, including the Red Sea, the North Coast, Nile cruises, desert camping and great connections to lots of places in Europe and Africa. Cairo itself is fascinating and very accessible. Caireens are friendly and helpful and will go out of their way to make you feel very welcome, no matter what neighborhood you are in.
11. Can you save money?
Definitely. Things are very cheap here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. I've really enjoyed my time here and I know that I will come back again, at least for a visit. It has been a very interesting time, especially with all the changes that Egypt is going through, and I know that I have been witnessing history. I wish all the best for this country and its kind people.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and sense of adventure.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Cairo Time (okay, the plot is not the best, but the scenery is breathtaking)
Death on the Nile
The English Patient
Lawrence of Arabia
5. 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
Anything by Naguib Mafouz
Vertigo by Ahmed Mourad
Taxi by Khaled Alkhamissi
Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al-Aswany