Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 08/19/14
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?
No, previous African posts.
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?
East Coast...must connect through Frankfurt. Total trip= 20 hours.
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?
Apartment living, most very nice and spacious. Commuting for USGOV folks is in an armored van, about an hour each way to/from Embassy to Maadi, less for folks living closer in town.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are somewhat expensive, except at the commissary which is cheaper than in the U.S. Gas is super cheap, many local brands of household supplies are cheaper than imported items.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Everything is available here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Anything and everything including home delivery. Many restaurants, although no alcohol served.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Small ants, some cockroaches, an occasional mosquito, not bad after living in West Africa.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy DPO, but FedEx and UPS are available and will pick up.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
About US$5/ hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Golds Gym...reasonable prices.
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 both without incident, although our bank in the U.S. sometimes freezes us due to fraud alerts, which is a pain.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some,but English is widely understood in the expat areas.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be utterly impossible to easily live here with a physical disability. The electrical power goes out for one hour at a time several times a day in the summer and this affects elevators...
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap, the White taxis have meters, but sometimes the driver "forgets", so remind him to put the meter on to avoid an unpleasant altercation.
As I have said, traffic is awful and the driving technique is something out of a horror movie - NO regard for lanes, passing on left and right, sketchy maneuvers at high speed, drivers hanging out the window yelling at each other at high speeds, tailgating at high speeds...and sometimes it is your cab driver who is behaving badly, so it is best to use a cab driver you know or that comes recommended because otherwise you might be in the car with a lunatic driver and I speak from personal experience.
The Metro is actually a great way to get around, fare= @ 20 cents. There is a "women's only car."
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?
Traffic is a complete nightmare (worse than your worst dreams) so something already dinged up will save you a lot of stress. Road conditions are abysmal (potholes, crumbling infrastructure). Street parking is a challenge- the city and suburbs are so overcrowded that sometimes you have to navigate with less than 1" on each side and your side mirrors touched in....Bring as small a car as you can manage. It is totally possible to live car free and take taxi's.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Good connectivity relative to other posts, cost is reasonable, about US$100/ month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card that you can reload- we use Vodaphone for calls, text and data.
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?
Good local vets, many pet shops.
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 NGO's and American University of Cairo. Many major U.S. companies, although this footprint is shrinking...
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots. There are organizations that list all the opportunities, like CSA.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual, women need to dress very modestly, out of cultural consideration and to avoid unwanted attention.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Lots. Sporadic regional issues, although present government cracks down pretty hard, many areas simply off limits (most of the Sinai, the Western Desert)
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local medical care is pretty good and the International Hospital has modern state of the art equipment. nursing care is different than in the U.S.
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?
Outside of the city is generally not bad except in the really dry summer months with dust and pollution. And in the winter when lots of ash from stuff being burned. The city has 18 million plus people, so car pollution is bad....some days you can just see the haze...
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summer is ungodly hot and humid with little cloud cover. Winter is nice and it actually gets very cool. Very little rain, few cloudy days...
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our kids are at Cairo American College which is still a great school despite some upheaval with two revolutions. The school has had to accept more local kids to offset declining enrollment due to political unrest/businesses downsizing footprint in the region...therefore, the school is less "International"...the school has done a commendable job keeping things going despite evacuations of kids and staff, fluctuating enrollment figures.
There are many other schools to choose from...
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Through the school, many private programs (Wadi Digla) and community baseball for kids and adults.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Big community, morale varies. This is a tough place in recent years.
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?
Hmmm....we mostly entertain at home and go to friends houses. There is the Maadi House for Americans, the Maadi British Club ( open to other nationalities). There are many good restaurants and some of the hotel based restaurants serve alcohol. Felucca rides with a picnic are a great thing to do with a group of friends.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a challenge for anyone...infrastructure is poor due to lack of maintenance, including roads, sidewalks...public spaces are chaotic. Families tend to gravitate around the school and CAC is open on weekends for families to use the recreational facilities and library, which is really nice.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not in any open way, but probably ok if discreet.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, yes and yes...discrimination is pervasive.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Nile Cruise to Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbal, seeing the Pyramids, Coptic Cairo, The Khan, felucca rides, Nile River Taxi's, Egyptian Museum.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Coptic Cairo and the Khan, The Citadel, Al Azhar Park...
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Alabaster lamps, copper, nice jewelry.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Fascinating history, ability to see Middle East as it evolves, or does not evolve. Lots to do and see, however lots of restrictions on what one can do and see...many areas of the country are off limits to USGOV personnel. Things are relatively cheap, the weather is lovely, although very hot in the summer months.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, especially with travel restrictions.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but two years is plenty.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
High expectations, need for consistent electricity, short skirts and tank tops, bicycle, flashy jewels and taste for alcohol...
3. But don't forget your:
Patience, sense of humor, passport for periodic breaks, sunscreen and air purifier.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Cairo Affair,
Palace Walk: The Cairo Trilogy, Volume 1,
The Yacoubian Building: A Novel.