Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 05/25/17
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?
I have previously lived in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
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?
3. How long have you lived here?
Two years: 2014-2016.
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?
I lived in a rented 3-bedroom apartment in the Zamalek neighborhood - really, an island in the middle of the Nile close to downtown Cairo. .It was spacious, but there was limited storage, and the kitchen had limited counter space and storage. Housing stock in Cairo is old and tends to be in poor repair. The embassy did a good job upgrading the unit I lived in, but the rest of the building was dirty and in disrepair - common conditions in Cairo, as far as I could tell.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Seasonal produce and chicken or lamb are fairly easily-available. Pork is hard to come by; there are a few stores that discreetly sell it. Produce prices are fairly good - below U.S. prices - and the quality is fairly high. You still need to bleach/sanitize anything you're not going to cook, though. There's a good variety of international prepared foods - pasta, curry, sauces, cookies, chips, etc. - available in grocery stores at higher prices than in the U.S. I was surprised by the variety and availability of Asian prepared foods in grocery stores. Household supplies are a mix of Egyptian and international brands. The quality is OK, though paper products are generally below U.S. standards. Embassy personnel have access to a robust commissary; talk to the embassy for more information on what's available there.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I had access to American-quality products and didn't really need to ship anything.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
otlob.com has a great app to order delivery food - in English - from a variety of Cairo restaurants. The international food scene is remarkably limited, but there are still options. There is also the full range of international (American) fast food, from Hardee's to Papa John's.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I used embassy mail facilities to send things home. International mail is possible via the Egyptian postal service, but it seemed to take a long time to reach the U.S. International courier services (FedEx, DHL) operate in Egypt.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There is a large Filipino expat community; many Filipinos fill domestic helper roles. Some people employ Egyptian domestic staff. My helper came twice a week, and I paid US$200/month (on the higher side).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some gyms in the expat areas of Cairo; some Egyptians are intense gym-goers. They tend to be expensive, however. I know people who worked out at Egyptian CrossFit gyms and who became members at social and/or golf clubs.
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 used a credit card at malls, major grocery stores, and established restaurants; however, I almost always carried cash for smaller purchases. ATMs attached to banks tend to be fine to use.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Arabic is helpful for getting around and negotiating at markets. Most people in the expat areas and at tourist sites speak *some* English, however.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are high curbs, few sidewalks, and many piles of rubble or trash on the street/sidewalk.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Security limits precluded me from using the subway, but other expats did. I took taxis and Uber on a regular basis without any issue. If you take a taxi, negotiate the price when you get in (or before) and try to have small change to cover the fare. Taxis should be metered.
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?
The roads are a little rough, but they're navigable with most kinds of vehicles. Parking and traffic are both nightmarish in Cairo, and taxis/Uber are relatively cheap. It is feasible to do without a car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet service is available, but it is DSL over copper phone lines. It's sufficient for streaming, but service can be spotty at times. It's also expensive for the quality of service you get. Configuring the service is a major pain, but if all of the infrastructure is in place - likely if an expat lived in your unit before you - it is actually quick to turn on after the paperwork is done. Many people use "fixers" to be go-betweens with the ISP, but it was fairly easy (but tedious) to navigate the process on my own.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The two major mobile service providers are Orange (Egypt) and Vodafone (Egypt). I used a pay-as-you-go chip while I was there with no problem. Starting and exiting a contract are bureaucratic processes; avoid them if at all possible.
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?
I didn't have pets in Cairo, but people who did used several vets and seemed happy with them. Be careful about tarmac temperatures if you are shipping pets in/out of Cairo. I think there are vaccination requirements, etc. but don't know too much about them. Lots of people have pets in the areas in which expats tend to live.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress code is somewhere between business casual and business day-to-day. Bigger meetings are more formal - suit and tie.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Women are catcalled, and I know of many who are harrassed on the street. As a man, I never really felt uncomfortable, though. It's a large city - crime happens. If you exercise the same kind of caution you would in New York, Bangkok, or London, you will probably be OK.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air quality is very poor; even with air purifiers at home, people had a lot of respiratory problems. While there are hospitals that are OK for emergency treatment, I would prefer to be evacuated for any kind of surgery or complex medical procedure.
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?
The air quality is very poor; even with air purifiers at home, people had a lot of respiratory problems.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cairo is the desert. The Nile adds some humidity at times, but it's basically hot and dry all the time.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There's a large expat community that spans the socio-economic spectrum. Morale is mixed and significantly impacted by the changing security situation.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Once they get settled, families seem to enjoy it here. I wouldn't recommend it for singles.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. While there are plenty of LGBT people in the city, there's no real sense of community. The scene is totally underground, and same-sex romantic relationships are totally taboo. That said, I know a number of same-sex expat couples that were enjoying their time in Cairo.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are definite issues with gender equality, and there is a religious divide between Muslims and Christians. In general, my impression was that the people I interacted with dealt well with religious differences but that gender issues were a bit more challenging.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling through Upper Egypt (Luxor, Aswan) and Alexandria.
Words of Wisdom:
1. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
2. But don't forget your:
Sunblock, frequent flyer numbers.