Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 05/28/14
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 post with US Government. Other expat living: Uzbekistan (3), Armenia (2), Jakarta (4.5), Guatemala City (1), and growing up overseas.
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?
Oregon - not sure, haven't gone yet! guessing very long!
3. How long have you lived here?
A little over a year, with 4.5 months of it on evacuation.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I live here because I work for the US Government. I live and work in Maadi.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
As USG we live in a local apartment that is spacious and light, with tall ceilings, and an excellent location. We do get power outages - hardly anything - usually 1 hour at a time max, for several nights in a row, at about the same time. (During the day, I don't know)
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Non-imported items are pretty cheap and choices are wide. But something like smooshed tortilla chips are super pricey on the local market. I am of the mind that if there is a Carre Four store, I am fine - and they have Carre Four in Egypt. So lots of kinds of cheeses, breads, etc. These are not always in stock when you want them, though. Fresh veggies at expat-targeted convenient markets in key spots of Maadi are SUPER pricey, on their own, let alone compared to the prices elsewhere in the area. Fresh bakeries, OK bagels, etc.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Camping gear, bikes.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McD, and ?? Oh, pizza places. Decent restaurants - there are a number of good Italian places, Gaya - Korean place that sells fresh tofu on the size (for 25% of what the commissary charges), cafes, sweets, Indian, Asian food, American burgers, excellent gelato, etc.
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?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is relatively expensive for poor work, in my opinion. We came from Asia, where the cost is super low and you can have live-in help 6 days/week. None of those apply here. A decent, full-time Filipina maid is about $700/month. An Egyptian equivalent is $350 and is much slower and less skilled in cooking, reading recipes, thinking on her feet, taking initiative, not ruining your clothes in wash or by ironing. We always have full-time so there is always someone at home - child care, after school, house repairs, errands, etc. Ours takes care of dry cleaning, shoe repair, grocery shopping, payments, etc., in addition to regular cleaning, dishes, laundry etc. some food prep and occasional cooking.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes they are available, at work and on the market. I'm not sure of the cost.
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 never had a problem. I can use at larger shops and busier restaurants - often cash is easier and safer all around, especially outside Cairo.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
A few. General ones. Catholic.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Arabic helps a lot - for taxis, green grocer, etc.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Of course. Bad roads and sidewalks
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are many accidents on trains. There is supposed to be a nice train between Cairo and Alexandria that a lot of expats use. Taxis are generally safe, but not knowledgeable about directions! Look for orange license plate and white taxis only. Metro is awesome to avoid traffic jams to get to downtown - but often crowded and women-only cars get full.
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?
They advise getting a car with "clearance" but I am not a fan of SUVs. You need 4-wheel drive to go out to the desert camping, but you can easily find one of many companies to rent you the driver and vehicle for such trips. A vehicle is convenient; gas is dirt-cheap (but not for much longer). Just read of a carjacking, but generally your car is more likely to get dinged than stolen.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, cheap: US$30/mo
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 - I don't use my personal phone much. I bought an old phone in Asia and just use a SIM card wherever I go.
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?
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?
Some. That's always tough. There are a TON of schools in Cairo - and some pay decent salaries - but the commute might be a pain. There are fewer IGOs than in many other posts, but they exist. Jobs with the UN and private sector also.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty! Plenty! Syrian and African refugee groups. The USG Niler just listed a bazillion opportunities. With animals, people, environment - all kinds if you seek them out.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
You can get away with smart casual. Offices are air conditioned. Suits at intervals expected. In public - modesty - the key thing I didn't realize was that the solution for women (since you cannot wear shorts on the street) is ... capris! not short, and not suffocating long. A good casual option. No spaghetti straps, etc. Or even tank tops. You can wear with a scarf or over-shirt, maybe.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes - depending on your level of comfort, and rules you have to go by. As a USG employee, I can't travel to many places and I have to get authorization. As non-USG you can do plenty of traveling that I'd like to do, and that I consider safe!
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We haven't had issues. Not great.
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 is bad. I checked the WHO site and it's as bad as Beijing, just not in the news for that.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
October is pleasant, cools down to 40s and 50s F at night, then warms up by March, April, and hot in June-July-August - really hot!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I believe that CAC is by far the best school here, and has been well established for 60 years or so. No problems, lots of activities offered because of the size.
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?
Yes, through schools as well as many clubs - including "country clubs" that you can join.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The size of the expat community is shrinking in my sphere because of the USG security stance and reduction plan. Plenty of expats with UN agencies, many women from all over Europe and the US married to Egyptian men. expats are active, mostly in downtown/Zamalek. The morale is simply characterized by uncertainty, since history has shown that we are unable to predict much about Egypt. So you never know what will happen next.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think this is a fine city for families/singles/couples - there are a ton of things to do - there are several balls a year; Cairo Opera has stuff all year round on Zamalek; there are really nice restaurants; lots of classes and communities to join: HHH, cat rescue, yoga, roller derby, running club, biking in Wadi Degla, community religious services, British club, tennis, biking on Friday mornings with a group in Maadi, dance classes, language lessons, women's groups for lots of nationalities if you don't work - like Chinese, Spanish-speaking, Filipina, Indian, etc. Music lessons, bands to join, choirs (several), etc.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not great.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Many women hate the harassment here - I have a good street face and really it washes over me like water off a duck's back. But it's kind of pervasive and really bad, relatively speaking. It wasn't this bad in Indonesia, Morocco...maybe India...
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Highlights - desert camping, Luxor, felucca rides, community feeling, beaches, proximity to Europe for travel... The school CAC is great.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I like to go out to Wadi Degla because it's Near Maadi (no travel time needed), and you can be outside, not harassed, and get some exercise. Ain Sokhna beach is about 1 hour away, so it's a good day trip or stay for the weekend. I don't think I know any hidden gems, sadly. Felucca ride with snacks and bottle of wine is always welcome.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
alabaster, funky lamps, brass/copper items and table tops silver jewellery (not super cheap, I think Istanbul is cheaper).
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Advantages are tons of Egyptian sites for all types: Luxor, Aswan, Edfu, Alexandria, Egyptian museum, Coptic Cairo, Khan al Khalili bazaar, also outdoors - "camping" they call it - with cooks and stuff, tons of beaches, nice hotels. Golf, I hear. Horseriding, I hear. Also, based on my experience in developing countries, Maadi is wonderfully walkable (esp. because it's pleasant most of the year) to shops, school, yoga, restaurants - it's not more dangerous than any big city. There are malls if you need them. The weather is nice. Sinai - driving to Israel, Dahab in the Sinai, St. Catherine's Sinai (not that I've done those); monasteries out by Ain Sokhna; the food is ok-good.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Sstuff isn't that expensive, as long as you don't fly everywhere - in-country and/or to Europe.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How unstable it would be politically.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
nice shoes - we walk everywhere b/c its so nice to move outside - so bring walking shoes.
4. But don't forget your:
Hat, super tough sun screen.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Cairo: The City Victorious
- started to read it b/c I "should" - turned out to be one of my favorite books ever.
7. Do you have any other comments?
I wrote this report b/c I read some others and was appalled at how negative people were. It all depends on your expectations, tolerance for uncertainty, etc. There is unrest downtown that does not affect me in Maadi. There is street crime in Maadi that is very low. Be smart! Don't live abroad if you can't adapt. That being said, the place is hot in summer. Not very green, and very very dusty - everything is dusty. People are nice, foods are good, foods are available (hey, I made borsch, eat brussel sprouts, have plums, avocados, etc. - it's a global world, I guess), it's an adventure. It's a historic time, and the sites? Timeless wonders of the world!! The Sphinx! Valley of the Queens - the tombs! wow! Would not change it.