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?
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?
Our home base is the southwest United States. We fly through Europe on our way home.
3. How long have you lived here?
My children and I have been here for 8 months. My husband moved here months before us during ordered departure.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works at the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The Embassy is downtown so if you do not want a long commute you can live within 10-15 minutes drive. There are U.S. compound apartments as well as housing options on the economy. There is a suburb, Maadi, where a lot of expats live because it is near the school. Maadi is a long drive with traffic sometimes around an hour commute through the hectic traffic here. Most living is in apartments with very few villas.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The commissary is wonderful for those with that privilege. It is not as large as our last area with commissary access (Puerto Rico) and all the meat and bread are frozen. The vegetables and fruits are from Europe so sometimes they are not as fresh. We shop there once a month and then buy local fruits/veges, milk and bread. Local products are not expensive but American products that are imported into the local grocery stores are very expensive. We order a lot from Amazon.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Gift wrap/tissue paper for gifts, ink for our printer - it has been difficult finding those items and in the case of ink impossible to order over the Internet to have shipped here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a lot of American fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Pizza Hut. Of course there are some excellent Egyptian restaurants nearby. Everything is within walking distance or delivery since everyone delivers here. The prices are better than the States and the delivery fee is less than US$1.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None. We did have some small ants for a few days in our apartment but the Embassy got rid of them.
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?
US$5-6 per hour, usually paid monthly. During Ramadan (if help is Muslim), 1/2 month bonus before and 1/2 month bonus after. Also, another 1/2 bonus during Eid in October. For each year of service, 1 month of severance upon termination.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, the Embassy has facilities. We joined the Gezira Club. It is pricey but worth it to have a safe playground and pool to swim in.
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 haven't had a problem using credit cards or ATMs. We usually use cash because that is what is always accepted. Make sure you have small bills since people rarely have change.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I don't know what is available but we go to church in English in Maadi. Friday is Egypt's holy day. The work week runs from Sunday to Thursday. So we have had to adjust to going to church on Fridays.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's definitely a strong advantage, but a lot of people speak English well enough and we can get by.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
YES - the sidewalks are broken with high curbs or non existent curbs. There is trash and dog poop on the sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The trains and buses are not safe and the U.S. Embassy currently (as of August 2014) prohibits such travel. Taxis are affordable but I worry about our safety or being able to communicate with the driver. It is pretty affordable to hire a driver.
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?
We brought our minivan. It is kind of big for the tight roads and traffic here. Although there are Toyota dealerships here, our particular car is not part of this market so things have to be ordered and it can take a long while.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but it is not always as fast as you are paying for it to be. We can usually watch Netflix or stream a movie. US$168 for 3 months service. They come to your door to collect the money and will make service calls if needed. Probably the most you'll get for speed is 4MB, but we typically run anywhere from 500Kbps to only 2Mbps. Forget about streaming HiDef!
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I bought one here and prepay. It is very affordable for local calls and Internet on my Smartphone.
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?
No. I don't believe this is a pet friendly post since there is no green space near our apartment, lots of strays and trash on the streets. Also, Egyptians use poison liberally for rats and strays. We chose to leave our beloved dog with family in the States.
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?
I don't know. I know of people working in schools.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There seem to be a lot. I do not have time but if you do then there are opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual for women and suits/tie for men. Modesty everywhere is a must. retty much no shorts - but no morality police like in KSA. Lots of hisses and cat calling if you reveal too much.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
YES, we have to check the alerts from the Embassy whenever we go anywhere. There are weekly protests and bombs and shootings throughout Cairo and other parts of the city. Street crime isn't that high, but harassment against women is very high. I do not feel comfortable walking alone. I have 3 young daughters and a lot of men feel very comfortable hissing at them and reaching out and touching their heads. We really hate it. There are approx. 20 million people in Cairo. So although bad/scary things happen in the city sometimes not very far away, actual personal impact is low. More than anything, it heightens stress and causes us to have to plan more carefully before venturing out.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We have the Embassy doctor for routine care and check-ups. We've used a dentist and eye doctor with general satisfaction, but not on par with what we enjoy in the States.
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?
Unhealthy from exhaust and cigarette smoke. I have heard that breathing the air here is comparable to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cool in winter (jacket, long sleeves, pants) and hot in summer. Very little rainfall and just the right amount of humidity. Last year it snowed for the first time in 100 years!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
CAC is in Maadi. I homeschool so we can be close to the Embassy and have dinner together as a family. There are not acceptable English alternatives in the downtown area (Zamalek/Garden City) so most families with school-aged children have no real choice but to live in Maadi.
2. 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?
Yes, but we have not used any preschools here.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are a lot of sports available at our club such as tennis, soccer, gymnastics, fencing, karate, swimming, diving, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are a lot of expats from various countries here. The morale is low due to terrorism and lack of funds for the local government. The electricity is cut multiple times a day for 1-3+ hours each time lately. That is terribly frustrating and annoying.
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?
Dinner cruises, dinner out, opera, ballets, touring, shopping, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is tough because there are no other families in our demographic where we live (downtown) so we feel isolated. I think there is more socialization for families in Maadi, but the trade-off is a longer, stressful commute and less face time with family.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, it would be tough. Egypt is a very conservative society (not as strict as some like KSA) and people have even been arrested and prosecuted for homosexuality.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Most people are Muslims and some extreme groups do not like Christians. Many Christian churches were burned in the past couple of years and even some have gone so far as to say that a specific car logo looks like a cross so they should be burned. That said, there are many Christian churches available. If you look "Western," it is possible that you will be discriminated against. Supposedly Egypt is the #4 country in the world right now that likes Americans the least. Personally, my limited interaction with the locals has been mostly positive. I find Egyptians to be kind and welcoming - the ones I meet, anyway. Right now Egypt is notorious for the severe sexual harassment problems afflicting women.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Seeing all the sights that I had only seen in movies or read about in books. I also like that we spend a lot more time together as a family here.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Luxor is a quick flight or cruise. There are a lot of pyramids, mosques, and museums in Cairo. We love being able to drive to the Red Sea in under 2 hours time for a long weekend getaway.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Alabaster, handmade dolls, clothing, jewelry, linens, brass/copper, papyrus, ceramics and TRAVEL.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Touring the sights and the weather is nice most of the year. The summers are a little too hot but bearable because of the dry heat.
10. Can you save money?
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, the uneasiness caused by the continuous "low level" terrorist attacks and unreliability of electricity (knowing what we know now, we definitely would have chosen to live in a compound [backup generators!] in Maadi [other families and school!]). We would not have come here if we would have known there would be an ordered evacuation (2 in three years). Plus it's tough living with the threat of protests and potential bombs.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not the way it is right now. It has dropped down to a 2 year tour, but we got slammed with the ordered departure. Quality of life has really dropped over the last few years. Tourism is way down and extremism is up (in place of mass protests). Egypt is an amazing place with phenomenal history, but it's very tough to enjoy under current circumstances. And did I mention the power outages during the hot summer??? Complaints aside, we're grateful for this unique opportunity and we'll cherish the fond memories (and photographs!) we're making.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, but long sleeves and lighter jacket for winter months is sufficient.
4. But don't forget your:
Flashlights (tons of power outages, if you are not in a U.S. compound, especially during the summer). Good walking shoes and a small patio charcoal grill (for when you do not have electricity). My husband wishes he would have brought his CDs since he cannot take an MP3 player into work. Anything else you need...order on Amazon.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
All the amazing National Geographic/Discovery Channel documentaries and of course all the Hollywood movies like Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, The Mummy, etc.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Anything by Naguib Mahfouz - he is a Nobel prize-winning Egyptian author. And of course the Old Testament!
7. Do you have any other comments?
If you're headed this way, you're in for quite an adventure on many levels!