Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 02/11/21
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, this is our fourth post. We've also lived in Niger, Kyrgyzstan, and Germany.
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?
USA. Two flights to get there, usually Cairo to Europe, then on to the US. We use expeditors at the airport, makes getting in and out less of a hassle, but doable even without one.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Big! We live in Maadi in a leased apartment. It's in a great location near Cairo American College and within walking distance of shops, restaurants and almost anything you can think of. Most homes have marble flooring, lovely ceilings and plenty of room, although not a lot of storage space. Concrete walls, so drill is best for hanging art. Windows/doors don't seem to seal well, so dust/drafts seem to come in, even after they are "sealed". In our leased apartment, GSO takes care of some issues, landlord takes care of other issues. Boab takes care of trash and cleaning/maintenance of the building. This may or may not be up to your standards. From Maadi, commute to embassy is about 45 minutes to an hour in armored vehicle (required). To consulate it is about 15 minutes. Traffic can change everything.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local groceries are inexpensive, good selection of vegetables and fruits in season. Be aware of the source of your veggies, but I enjoy the produce and wash with water. Plenty of choices in grocery stores, some that import are priced higher, but it's nice to have some options. Grocery stores can deliver, even the veggie stands. We are so fortunate to have a commissary and PX at post, about 20 minutes from Maadi. You can get pork and Twinkies. If they don't have something you want, you can always ask and they will try to order. Most food from commissary is shipped from Germany. Pork can be found on the local economy but you have to look for it and decide for yourself if you trust the source. PX sells alcohol, not a lot of choices locally.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, most available from commissary or locally if you search. Or order stuff online, especially any ethnic foods you love.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
So many. Try it all. Lebanese food is very popular here and delicious. Other restaurants can be good, especially the longer you live here it becomes more delicious. When you return from R&R, you will realize the burgers just aren't as tasty as you thought....til time passes and you're desperate for a burger you didn't cook! Lots of good options and most restaurants deliver. There is Talabat/Otlob for delivery and if the restaurant doesn't participate with that service, they will usually deliver on their own.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have not had any problems personally, but I have heard some people have had problems with ants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy mail. Local mail will probably not make it. DHL is an option.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I have heard it's very reasonable, but I don't have personal experience with household help. Dust builds up VERY quickly in homes, so if you don't have a helper you will be dusting a least once a week. You can "write" in the dust on surfaces after two days. We have hired a gardener for our tiny yard and he does a poor job of maintaining it, but it's $20 a month. I've seen other expat yards and their gardens are so lovely!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I see many gyms all over, but I'm not a member.
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?
At most nice restaurants you can use them as well as large stores/malls. However, always ask because even if they have the Visa/MC sticker on the register/door, they do not always work. I've had to put purchases down because machines were not working. ATMs seem to be in shopping areas, they usually work to get pounds out, but the few that dispense US dollars do not always work, so just be patient/prepared.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a couple of different churches that have services in English in Maadi. The Maadi Community Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I think there are others, but I don't know.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much, but it would be really helpful to know a few pleasantries, taxi language, numbers. Embassy offers free classes and you can go to local Arabic classes as well, decent prices for those classes.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
YES. Sidewalks are laughable, if available, they are very high from the street and usually crumbly with small tiles. Anyone that uses a cane, or wheelchair will have problems. Stairs everywhere, usually no ramps. My elderly parents visited and had a great time but walking around with them always felt a little dangerous. Most people walk in the street.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains and local buses are off-limits to embassy personnel. Ubers are usually good but good luck getting one with a working seatbelt. Taxis are ok, but barter your price before you get in, they also usually do not have working seat belts. Both Uber and taxi drivers may smoke in their vehicles. They are very 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?
One that you don't mind getting dinged. Driving here is crazy and your car will probably get scratched by other cars, dogs climbing on it to sleep, pedestrians, kids playing ball off your parked car, etc. The parking garages are small. I'm grateful to have one and not have to park in the street, but I have to make a 4-point turn to get in or out of the garage and I "may" have scraped the front bumper once or twice... We drive to the Wadi Degla with our dog and travel a bit so we are happy to have a vehicle with a high clearance. Lots of potholes and huge speed bumps, rocky roads driving in the wadi. Embassy mechanics can take of a lot of work for you during their off time.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
HA HA HA HA HA!!! Yes, technically, but it depends. On where you live, who installs it, which way the stars are aligned and how much you need it at the time. If you have a large family that streams a lot on multiple devices, or likes to play multi-player games, it will be hit and miss. We've had problems and called "Internet Mike" (embassy will warn you to stay away from him) and he said, "The whole world is having problems with internet right now, give it some time." Okay. When it works, it works. We can't run our VPN and stream movies at the same time. But a friend who lives across the street can. Good luck.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Orange, Vodaphone, Etisalat. All fairly cheap for local numbers/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?
No quarantine upon entry. We have a 50 pound dog. There are a couple of kennels, you will read good and bad posts about each one. We've had good service with East Wind (an hour from Maadi) but be sure to book them far in advance if possible. Veterinarians seem to be everyone, some speak English. Try to find one that uses more western practices. There are a lot of street dogs and cats. Be careful with them when walking your dog, they usually are not aggressive but that is just a risk. You will see people petting them and loving on them and swearing they are good dogs (usually they are) but we also know quite a few people who have been bitten by street dogs. Get your rabies shot. There is not a lot of green space for dog walking, you are taking them on the street (lots of dog poop everywhere) or into a green traffic circle. We take our dog to Wadi Degla to run free or even on leash but there are also a lot of feral dogs there as well. Keep your dogs shots up to date.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Be aware of pickpockets, including children. Many women have been harassed and there is typical petty crime. I am a woman, I've walked alone at night and I feel fine, but I'm definitely aware of where I am going and who is around me. I try not to walk alone though. Beggars can be aggressive, but it's usually at touristy places where peddlers like to really push.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The health unit at the embassy is very good and you can always call them for questions at any time or for routine exams or suggestions for local clinics to go to. They will help you get prescriptions, etc.
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?
Air quality is very bad, especially in winter. Looks like fog, but you just choke on it. If you have lung problems, bring your inhalers. The embassy provides air cleaners.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Lots of dust year round, but I guess it depends on how severe your environmental allergies are. Bring an EpiPen from the US if you use one, I don't know if they are available locally. The health unit might be able to help you order yours if you have a prescription.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's a little cooler in the winter, maybe the 60s, other than that it's usually hot. Hottest is the summer. Bring sunglasses and sunblock for sure. We do not get a lot of rain. Just a few light showers occasionally and it's a big deal when it happens.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Cairo American College in Maadi is the most popular/attended one. There is also a British School that some attend as well. There are currently a few homeschooling families as well.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
CAC advertises that they limited accommodations for special needs, but I find even that a stretch. If you're kid isn't mainstream or needs help, the school can make it seem like a huge deal.
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?
Lots of preschools available in almost every neighborhood. No personal experience.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, there is a local little league, boxing, soccer, swimming, ballet/dance. You need to look around for these at different sport centers. However, if your kid is competitive in anything, I would definitely research that first. Maadi House, the embassy "community center" offers classes in tennis, archery, karate, swimming lessons. There is also a Cub Scout pack (Covid has stopped it for now), and a very active Boy Scout Troop and Girl Scouts.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, good morale. Covid-19 has definitely changed things, but overall morale is good.
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?
Embassy offers activities (book clubs/outdoor groups), Maadi House always has activities (movie nights for kids/paint and sip), dinners. There are women's organizations. There are some night clubs and gaming groups that meet as well.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think for couples and families it is very good. Plenty of activities and outings. For single people I think it's fine, unless you are looking for a large dating pool. I imagine it would be harder to find people to date with western expectations. People here are super friendly, I think you definitely need to come here with reasonable expectations and just appreciate what Cairo has to offer. Lots of historic sights to see, travel to beaches, etc. Make friends and have a good time.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, the locals are very friendly. I would be cautious of people being your friend to ask you for money. But ultimately everyone here is very friendly and kind and willing to share what they have.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, lots of gender inequality. Men will talk to me, but if my husband shows up I become invisible.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
All the pyramids and historic sites! They are everywhere and AMAZING! Sharm el-Sheik!! Diving/snorkeling in Hurghada and Soma Bay! The different mosques! Boat cruise to Luxor and Aswan! Alexandria!!! Go everywhere you can! Egyptologist tour guides are inexpensive and you can hire them for private. So much history to experience here, it is just phenomenal!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Catacombs of Kom el Shuqafa in Alexandria. All the mosques, but talk to the people there and have them tell you about it. Everything I said in number 7.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, go to the Khan! Explore and explore and get lost in there. Kelem carpets, inexpensive silver jewelry, brass lamps, alabaster, leather, glass. You can get so many things custom made. Suits are cheap.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Seeing historical sights, warm weather, going to the beach. Egyptian museums.
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:
Umbrella and fancy car.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunglasses and sense of adventure.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Netflix documentary Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.
5. Do you have any other comments?
It's been a good desert post. Post-Covid has not been much fun, but as a community we are learning how to adapt.