Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 07/23/13
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?
Yes it was and I think this is why we loved it so much! We haven't yet seen what we could have been missing in another country!
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. About a 18-20 hours depending on your connecting flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Tiny little appartments with no yard. If you live in Maadi the commute is awful and can take 1-2 hours because traffic is so terrible. If you are childless you can live in Zamalek and have a thirty-minute commute. Housing is a huge morale killer in Cairo and something very few people are happy with. I'm glad we only had to live where we did for two years.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Our commissary provides all your American foods for around the same price you would pay in America. Locally-bought veggies are cheap and great.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
An air purifier. And anything where quality is important -- like sheets, towels, etc. Natural specialist foods,
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything. Egyptian fast food is the best, koshary is a rice and pasta mixed dish, and we feed a family of four (with desserts) for five dollars. I have no idea what American fast food costs, but McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and lots more are all here.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
A few tiny ants. Wild dogs and cats are a much bigger problem.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Variable depending on the nationality. Egyptian, Zimbabwean and Phillipino mostly. Egyptians are the cheapest and Phillipinos are the most expensive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, they are fine.
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 an ATM all the time with no problems. Very few places take credit cards. This is a cash culture.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. All kinds, but we didn't go to any of them.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are a few options for tv-watching people. I'm not sure what they are.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not a bunch. People appreciate you speaking it, but you don't really need more than 5 or 6 phrases to get by.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Lots. I can barely walk down the street without tripping. I would hate to think of needing a wheelchair.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. Metro and taxis are cheap, easy, and safe. I rode the metro daily and never had a problem. I've heard reports of taxi incidents like drivers pulling knives, rapings, etc. Thankfully this has not happened to me but it is highly possible. You get to know particular drivers whom you can trust and call.
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?
4wd SUV. The roads are terrible and speed bumps are huge. You will need high clearance. The bigger the better.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It was around $300 for six months. Speed was variable and sometimes non existent. Don't expect American standard Internet, but at least you can get something.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Pay as you go.
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 unless you want to work for 50 cents an hour. Lots of spouses get jobs at the embassy though.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business at work -- and cover at least knee to elbow in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Egypt is on the way down security-wise. Through the last two years it has gotten worse and worse. Police are useless. Sexual harassment is a daily event for any woman who leaves the house. Muggings are also extremely common. Rumors of more serious rapings are a daily event in Maadi.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is a med unit at the embassy and in Maadi with American doctors, but for routine stuff I would never see an egyptian doctor for anything -- and never allow them to give me so much as an X-ray. I've heard way too many horror stories. I heard someone say this before I got to Egypt, and I thought they were paranoid. But since being here and seeing for myself, I would recommend getting Medivac'd for anything the embassy can't handle.
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?
Horrible. Burning trash, ancient cars, everyone smoking. Cairo is an assault on the lungs. If you have asthma or breathing problems, it will not be good. Plenty of people develop asthma here.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Pretty great! Spring, fall and winter are beautiful, summer is hot hot hot, but no hotter than D.C and without the humidity. It never rains.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
CAC is getting better, most people are very happy there. It has had quite a few terrible years and has survived on the reputation it had 10 years ago, but this year they got a lot of new leadership and it seems to be turning a corner.
MBIS is also well liked by people.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not a whole lot. If your special need is not a huge problem - and not very obvious - I would keep it under your hat until you have been admitted. It is actually very easy to get the extra help once you are admitted to CAC, but they really are quite nasty about admitting kids if they have any kind of special consideration. Many parents have been extremely upset with their level of understanding. CAC's understanding and acceptance of different learning styles is quite outdated.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, same as you get in America for the same prices. All are in Maadi.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty large. This can cause it to be a less cohesive community.
2. Morale among expats:
Not great. With two evacs in two years, crime on the rise, and a general anti-American sentiment everywhere you go, morale is pretty darn bad in Cairo.
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?
Great. There is always a party going on every weekend, and with the large expat community you will surely find a group of friends to have fun with.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's is a great place to live for anyone who is adventurous. If you like clean, quiet, safe, living -- like in the USA or Western Europe -- then you will likely hate it here.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Egyptians are definitely not accepting of gay people, but having said that -- the men are extremely touchy feely with each other, and it is nothing for a straight dude to hold hands or kiss another dude -- so you could easily go by unnoticed if you like to walk around hand in hand!
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, yes and yes.
General thinking is becoming more and more anti anything non-Muslim. As a woman you WILL experience sexual harassment as a minimum; no matter what you wear, men will leer at you, make disgusting comments to you, try to kiss you, and make disgustin han motions in your direction. If you are lucky, this is all you will get. Covering yourself up won't help much. Egyptian men believe it is normal for western women to jump into bed with everyone.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Desert camping is number one. Felucas on the Nile, snorkeling in the Red Sea, being assaulted by bedouins at the pyramids.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Feluca sailboats on the Nile, traveling to the Red Sea, desert camping, khan al khallili, bulak shopping, Islamic Cairo, garbage city: there are lots of things to do for the people willing to leave the Maadi bubble.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Local alabaster, silver lamps, furniture.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Traveling Egypt, easy weekend trips to the Red Sea. Great weather. Cheap living. Seeing a totally different world.
We requested Egypt because we wanted a total change from America and to see the world. This exactly what we got. Our whole family was truly able to appreciate just how different life is for an egyptian and our tour in Egypt was a social studies lesson for us. It has opened our eyes to a life we had heard of but never seen, and this was probably the greatest take away for all of us. It literally taught our kids the 'there are starving children in Africa' statement to life through first hand experience.
11. Can you save money?
Sure you can, but if you want to eat at American-style restaurants every night and drink beer in an Egyptian 'made for expats' bar -- then you will probably spend every last penny.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. We went for the adventure -- and that is exactly what we got.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Short skirts and tank tops -- and your need to be respected as a woman.
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure and willingness to be harassed and looked down on for being a slutty American woman.