Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 10/08/14
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. France, Japan, Bolivia, Zambia.
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?
Vermont, USA. From DC, the connection is in Germany to go to Cairo. 24 hours door-to-door for us.
3. How long have you lived here?
Starting our second year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works for USAID.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most people live in very spacious apartments (We have a five bedroom, three bathroom). Our three children are very happy at school, and we live only 10 minutes from both school and work (USAID).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The Commissary is like a full-stocked grocery store. I have never thought to myself, "I wish they had....." There is everything unless you are looking for something bizarre for your dietary needs.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Glad we have our bikes. I can't think of anything we are missing other than our winter clothes. We now get a second R&R, and we are psyched to be going to Europe for Christmas! Wish I had packed a few of my winter clothes. I'll have a friend send them, though. No biggie.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Oh, my! There is great food here. I just had Thai food for lunch. You can have cheap, authentic Egyptian food for US$1.50, or the normal fast food American fare for the same price in the U.S. There is McDonald's, Hardee's, Auntie Anne's, KFC, Subway, Papa John's, Chile's, Friday's, Domino's, Pizza Hut, the list goes on and on.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No problems, per se. There is the occasional fly, mosquito, or ant.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO, we love you!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a part-time Fillipina housekeeper. She is fantastic at US$5.00 per hour. It's a little more than we paid at previous posts but many people here go with the Fillipino community because of their work ethic.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. There are gyms at USAID and the Embassy. There is Gold's Gym, and there are a couple of clubs nearby, too. There is the Maadi House with a pool, and CAC with an exercise area (I haven't been, but I hear that classes are good).
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 tend to use them at known establishments. The ATM at the Commissary is great, as is the one here at USAID, and the one at CAC is good, too, though it just disperses local currencies unlike the former two mentioned.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
We go to Maadi Community Church which has a vibrant congregation and children's services. We are quite happy with it. Other people attend Saint John's Episcopal and The Holy Family Catholic Church. There are mosques, a synagogues downtown, and a Mormon community.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's nice to know common greetings but so many people speak English here.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think that they would but there might be some accommodations if they lived in the U.S. Government compound housing. Our apartment building, for example, does not have an elevator until the second floor. Go figure.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We aren't allowed to take the trains, buses, and metro right now. Taxis are safe, though we are told that the white taxis are the safest. Make sure to name your price at the beginning or have the taxi driver turn on the meter. Just around Maadi is less than a dollar, so, yes- it's affordable.
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 have a Toyota Sequoia. It is hard to get into our small garage below the apartment building but we manage. It is a large car that has high clearance. Expect to ding your car a bit while here. Egyptian drivers are CRAZY! No carjackings that I know of. You can order some parts from home if you need to. We have an APO.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Pretty comparable to the U.S.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Vodafone seems to be the service of choice. It's pretty good. Our kids even have the small Nokia pay-as-you-go for emergencies (or for the phone call after school, "Mama, can I go to so-and-so's house?")
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. We have two cats. There is ample pet care available. The only complaint I have heard is that dogs are confined to the apartment. There are a lot of dogs on leashes in the early evening, though. They seem happy.
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?
Yes. There are teaching jobs, EFM jobs (I'm part-time at USAID in Education), online jobs, etc. I suggest looking right away, though, if you want to work. The interview process and security clearance process both take time.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty! Orphanages, animal shelters, hospitals, schools....
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People dress up here a little more out on the streets than in the U.S. I am comfortable wearing short sleeves outside, but not shorts unless I am at the beach. At work, it is mostly business dress, though you do see some jeans with dressy tops.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We get security alerts sometimes via text telling us to avoid certain areas. "Protest in such and such area. Avoid for the next two hours." Usually it is something happening very far from our hometown of Maadi (outside Cairo).
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Not really. We have just had to use the Embassy clinic which has met all of our basic needs.
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?
Moderate. There have been a couple of times during the year that I have had to close my balcony doors because people were burning something nearby but otherwise it's OK. Great evenings to sit on the balcony.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring Claritin, I suppose. The spring brought some allergies but nothing horrid.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
I have seen it rain only once or twice. It's mostly hot and dry in the summer, warm in the spring and fall, and even chilly in the winter. We definitely wear long sleeves and jackets in the winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Great schools! Our kids go to Cairo American College (CAC). Some families use the British School. As for CAC, we are very pleased with academics and after school activities. Our children are involved in Girl Scouts, swim team, pottery, running, soccer, baseball, origami, painting, recycled toys, violin, strings orchestra, etc. etc. It has been wonderful. Our three children are in the elementary school and I have nothing but praise to sing to the school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
We have a first grader under the umbrella of "special-needs" as he receives speech services three times a week. He has a couple of other minor delays which were evident after a full psycho-educational evaluation over summer break in the USA. This year we qualify for the special-needs allowance and I have ordered quite a few things to help him with at home. I'm a teacher by trade which makes this a little easier to be able to help him myself but the allowance is fantastic. If a child is an extreme case for special needs, I don't think that this post would be too accommodating. Speech, organizational difficulties, lower reading skills- I think that these items are addressed. CAC states on its website that learning support needs are addressed with level 1 students and level 2 students for up to 300 minutes per week of support. CAC states that it does not have the resources to meet the needs of students who are classified as level 3.
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?
Yes. Many families use nearby preschools. One I hear of often is the Irish Nursery.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes! Our kids play soccer and baseball, and there are other sports programs as well. Swimming is huge here.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's pretty large. The morale seems to be good though people are often happy to go on vacation.
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?
Take a picnic basket and some wine and hop on a sailboat on the Nile. The boats, called feluccas, can be rented for about US$10 per hour and can hold up to 20 people.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes! I think that families especially are happy.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don't think so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
We are Christians and have not felt prejudices but I wouldn't say that I feel a lot of "religious freedom." Many Egyptian Christians here feel the prejudices. For example, you will find more Egyptian Christian workers at USAID because of the anti-discrimination laws that we have in the U.S. Not so in Egypt. There are sectors of work where Christians are not promoted or not even allowed in the workplace to begin with.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There is a large expat community we enjoy mingling with. We have also enjoyed our Egyptian friends. We have very nice colleagues who have invited us out/over on several occasions.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Pyramids, Red Sea, Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, Desert Camping (off limits at the moment but will hopefully open up again soon), Nile Cruises, Old Souk (market) downtown, etc. etc.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Egyptian crafts such as lanterns, ornate room dividers, large serving trays to turn into coffee tables, ottomans, etc. etc.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There are so many fantastic things to see. The weather is great although it does get hot in the summer. I admit I love my air conditioning in the summer months. We drive an hour and a half to the Red Sea a couple of times a month. It has great snorkeling just a few feet off the beach.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, but we are a family of 5 so we don't save a lot.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That it's a LOT safer than people expect.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter clothing unless you plan to travel to Europe for winter.
4. But don't forget your:
Snorkeling gear, extra swim suits, Egyptian Arabic phrase book, next size up of clothing for your kids (local U.S.-type clothing can be expensive).
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Anything from National Geographic is good for the tourist spots.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
7. Do you have any other comments?
Egypt has a bad rep since the evacuations but we have been very happy here. The political situation is much, much calmer now, and we expect more people to be drawn back here. It is a great post with great people, good work, wonderful schools, good weather, good food, and an overall good morale at post.