Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 01/03/18
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, I have also lived in New Delhi and the Pacific Islands.
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?
Washington, DC. Most of the time you connect through Europe. There are a variety of flights from Cairo to most major European cities (Paris, London, Frankfurt, etc) and then you fly on from there. Expect about 16 hrs+ travel time depending on how long your connection is.
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?
We live in Maadi, where many expats and people with families live. We live in US government owned housing, which all have 3-4 bedrooms and a common area with small playground. Leased housing in the area varies greatly in size, but some are huge and can easily have 6 or more bedrooms. Layouts vary. A few are ground floor with outside private garden/yard. However, most do not have their own green space though many have large balconies.
Commute times to downtown where many embassies are is 45-60 minutes or more, depending on time of day. Typical commute times are on the longer side. At off-peak times, you can do it in 30 minutes. Maadi is popular because the Cairo American College is here, where many American kids go to school. The British School is also in Maadi.
Many people without kids like living in Zamalek, Dokki and other downtown areas. Fewer resources for kids, but a much shorter commute and lots of nightlife.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local "Baladi" items are pretty cheap. If it's grown or made in Egypt, it is cheap. You can get a variety of fruits and vegetables easily. Imported items are pricier because of import taxes. You can find most things locally, though you may have to go to a variety of places. The US Commissary is fairly well stocked and has good prices. You can find gluten-free things and organic options.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Specialty cooking items--coconut aminos, vital wheat gluten. I also find it cheaper to ship in diapers and wipes. Otherwise I can find everything between the commissary and the local market.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Delivery is cheap and popular! There is an app called Otlob that has menus for a ton of restaurants and you can order through the app. Delivery takes 45-75 min depending on the restaurant. There are many local restaurants with a wide range of foods. You can find almost any type of food.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have not had many issues with bugs, except for ants. After finding their entry point we haven't had more issues. Some people have many issues with ants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I have not tried the local mail system. We simply use the US embassy mail system. Mail takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months, but a month is common. Currently mail is only delivered every 2 weeks and comes in on military plane from Europe.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is fairly cheap, about $4-8 per hour. It is widely available. Having a part time housekeeper is fairly common, though not everyone (such as me) has one. If both parents work, having a full time nanny is common. If one is at home, people might have a part time nanny a day or two a week to allow time for running errands, as it's not very easy to do with kids.
Some people have drivers, though many people drive themselves, use Uber or walk. Some household help is Egyptian, but many are Filipino, Sudanese or other foreign nationalities. This typically means sponsoring a visa for them. Local staff is cheaper than foreign staff.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a number of gym facilities. In Maadi, the two most popular are Gold's Gym (very similar to the US Gold's Gym. My husband finds it quite adequate) and the CSA gym (which I use--it is smaller, but more convenient to my housing). There are also many places for yoga and Pilates, including my favorite Osana Family Wellness. Drop in classes are in the $6-8 range often. Monthly gym memberships are $20-40/month depending on place and deals. In Zamalek there is the Gezira Club which is a huge facility with many work out options, but I haven't been. Some people have treadmills and other equipment at home. Running is possible, but really only early morning due to traffic.
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?
Credit cards are safe to use at restaurants, hotels, etc. ATMs are common and safe to use. I use Uber a lot and pay via the app. Local markets, non-Uber taxis, admission to sightseeing, you'll need cash. Commissary you can use credit card.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The Jewish population is very small here and I am not sure about services. Christian services are easy to find, Catholic, Protestant, non denominational, and Mormon. Most are on Fridays as that's the holy day here. Some are in the morning and some in the afternoon depending on the church.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need a little bit for taxis and the market but I don't use it as much as I thought I would. The embassy offers language classes both in Modern Standard and in the local dialect. There are also local tutors that are affordable (about $10/hr for private)
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes! Poor or non-existent sidewalks, large holes in sidewalks and roads, large curbs, many stairs, not always elevators and little to no handicapped parking. The US embassy residential compounds do have ramps, elevators and a handicapped parking spot. But getting around the rest of the city would be hard.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and very cheap. Uber is popular. Often taxi drivers do not know where they're going (including Uber as many can't read maps) and you'll need to navigate. Knowing a few words like left, right, stop here, straight ahead in Arabic is handy. US embassy personnel are not allowed to use the Metro, trains or local buses. I gather the Metro works well. Buses are very crowded and drive crazy. It is also cheap to hire a car and driver for the day if you have a lot of errands or for sightseeing. Many people drive themselves as well. Within Maadi, I walk most places.
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?
You want a car with high clearance as there are many potholes, speed bumps, etc. It will get banged up, hit, scratched, etc so bring an older one! Older 4 wheel drive Nissan Pathfinders and Rav4s are popular. Thinks cars that will be safe in accidents and can manuever well. We prefer a 4 wheel drive car that can off road if necessary. If people can't find parts here, they often order them.
There are not really burglary/car jacking risks (well, none higher than normal). We don't actually use ours that much. We'll use it for the commissary and sometimes sightseeing or shopping but parking can be an issue as there are often no parking spots. Be prepared for parallel parking in tight situations.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Wifi is over phone lines. It is not super fast, but good enough for streaming videos like Netflix, FaceTiming, Skype, etc. There are routinely internet slow periods. Companies will promise fast speeds, but the phone lines are not high enough quality to handle those speeds. You do not have a choice of providers, it is whatever company your phone line is connected to already. Changing companies is a huge process. It took about 2 weeks for it to be installed and we had to hire a "fixer" to get the process rolling. Data on phones is cheap though, so we had internet on our phones sooner.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Data is cheap. I pay LE99 a month (about $6) for about 3.5 GB of data and a large number of minutes and texting. There are several local cell phone companies and they are all fine.
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?
We chose not to bring our cat to Egypt and left him with family in the US. We were concerned about evacuation and having issues getting him out during one. People do have cats and dogs and I believe are fairly happy with their vet service. Some speak English and many make house calls.
Walking dogs can be challenging as there are many street dogs, some of whom are very aggressive towards other dogs (though not typically towards people). Most apartments do not have green space, though there are a few ground floor apartments with small yards attached. The US residential compounds have green space. Commissary sells a variety of pet food and litter.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are a number of NGOs that use volunteers, especially for teaching English, helping with school work and sorting donations. I actually have found it harder to find volunteer work here than when I was in New Delhi where the big expat organizations did a lot of volunteering and had a database. People do find volunteer work here, including through churches.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work dress code is Western business attire. In public, locals and foreigners wear a lot of Western clothing. Women will want to dress modestly. Local women do not show shoulders or knees or cleavage. Most foreigners find it most comfortable to wear long, maxi length skirts and dresses or pants or capris. Women do not wear shorts. I don't wear sleeveless clothing and I find linen clothing very comfortable in the hot months--loose and long!
Winter gets chilly and I wear jeans and sweaters with perhaps a light jacket. Going out at night for nightlife or fancy dinners you can wear sleeveless and more Western style formal or dressy wear, though I wouldn't wear mini skirts.
Men do not wear shorts locally and doing so makes you stand out. The exception being places like Maadi House (the American club) and similar places where it is all Westerners. There can be some very fancy occasions so a couple pieces of formalwear is good.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are definitely security risks in Cairo and in Egypt. Pay attention to security warnings. US embassy personnel are not allowed in the Western Desert, oases, Sinai (except to Sharm el Sheik by air) and religious sites outside Greater Cairo. Within Cairo, avoid protests, crowds, and keep aware of surroundings. However, I do generally feel safe and I explore alone and with my children all over.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is fine. The pharmacies can give you many medicines that require prescriptions at home without a prescription. The Embassy health clinic provides all basic care. There aren't really major health issues here, except some respiratory things from bad air in the winter. The medical evacuation destination is London.
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?
In the spring, summer and fall air quality is moderate to fairly good. In the winter it is moderate to bad. On the PM2.5 scale, it can hit over 300 in the early morning in the winter but most days it drops to below 100 by afternoon. There are some days, especially when the air is still, that the air stays bad all day and there is a haze of dust and pollution. In the winter expect regular coughing.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
3/4 of the year is very hot. Mostly dry heat though. Winter gets chillier with lows in the upper 40s, but afternoons warm up to the 60s. Very little rain--just a few sprinkles here and there especially in November.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of good choices. Most US embassy kids go to the Cairo American College in Maadi. There is also a British School and others. CAC is great from what I hear with good facilities. We don't have kids there yet.
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?
Preschools are widely available. My experience is in Maadi. There are a number of schools with foreign kids. Most are all day programs--in the 8-4 or 9-3 range--and 5 days a week. Some provided extended day care. Baby Academy is probably cheapest at about $200 a month for all day. It serves kids ages 6 months to 4. It is mostly Egyptian kids with some foreigners. It does not do summer or winter break. Other schools include Small Talk, Small World (both about $350-400/month with I think parttime options) and Kompass (Montessori and highly regarded but about $8000 a year). CAC has a preschool and is about $10000 a year.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Maadi House has swimming lessons, tennis, tae kwon do, and archery (and maybe others). Osana Family Wellness offers some kid activities. CSA does ballet, gymnastics and Tae Kwon Do. There are also music classes around. CAC does many after school activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a large expat community and I have found it very welcoming and supportive.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
We have two little kids ages 2 and 4 and it is great. I think it is an underrated city with lots to do, as long as you have the right mindset. There is a hot nightlife in Zamelek. Maadi is quieter at night.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
You would not be able to live an open LGBT life style here.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, Yes, Yes. Locally there is no gender equality, though you don't feel it as much as an expat. Expect regular catcalls. Some women get groped or harassed more.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great exploring and history! The pyramids are as amazing as they sound. Abu Simbel was very cool and we plan to do a Nile River Cruise. The Red Sea resorts are amazing.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Walk Like an Egyptian is a great walking tour company in Cairo.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The souks are fun to shop in--oils, perfumes, cobra skin belts, silverwork, etc.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Easy access to Europe but much cheaper. Great history.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter coats, tank tops.
3. But don't forget your: