Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 02/13/13
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?
USA. 12 hours, transiting Frankfurt
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Government and has lived in Cairo for one year, a seventh expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is generally in modern (though poorly made) apartments that are subject to some serious problems, such as burst pipes, electical fires, and even structural collapse due to the lack of any building code enforcement.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find most everything, sometimes cheaper, sometimes MUCH more expensive. The insecticides are more effective than in the US. I think that they use DDT still, which kills everything.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Bed linens. I thought, with Egyptian cotton being so famous, that we could buy them here. But it turns out that they are more expensive and of lower quality here than they are in the US.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can find the American standards, but don't expect the quality to be the same. Cost is comparable to in the US, in a major city.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing real bad, but there are some mosquitoes, chiggers, fleas, etc.
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?
Quality can really be poor, so be very careful and don't jump into this too soon. There is some quality help available, but it takes some careful screening. Prices are reasonable. Our maid is good, but we got her from another family leaving the country. Sometimes that works, but sometimes people just want to pawn off bad help on an unsuspecting newcomer.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
there are plenty of ATMs, but remember that crime is out of control here, so there is some risk.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, there are many English-language services for major denominations.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A lot more than people tell you. You will feel pretty isolated if you don't have some level of conversatinal ability, and everything will cost three times as much.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be impossible to get around Cairo with disabilities. The sidewalks are almost nonexistent, there are huge curbs, breaks in the pavements, and drivers have absolutely no respect for anyone who can't run out of their way fast.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are absolutely not safe and should be avoided. Taxis are not at all a good idea for women traveling alone, or for anyone without some level of Arabic. Trains are not safe. They fall off the tracks, and train stations in Alexandria are popular sites for riots. The train station in Cairo is definitely not safe and not navigable by non-Arabic speaker. Prices on all the above are affordable, though.
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?
Don't bring a car. It will get trashed, you will absolutely get ripped off on maintenance, and they are already starting to have diesel shortages. Regular gas is soon to follow.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is not really high speed, but the cost is reasonable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Buy a cheap throw-away phone and buy the phone cards with the pre-paid minutes. Don't get hooked into one of their plans.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
No, absolutely not.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress tends to be a bit more formal. Just don't show much skin in public and you'll be okay.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Absolutely. This place is a war zone. The police are totally ineffective and will stand there and watch while you get robbed or are groped and molested. Carjackings are becoming a problem, with even a senior government minister falling victime to a random carjacking.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The recent outbreak of polio is a concern. The quality of medical care is poor, but it is expensive. Dental care costs more here than in Washington, DC. Just like everything else, if you don't speak Arabic you will get gouged.
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?
Very unhealthy. They burn everything here. But when they burn crops, you do get a nice popcorn smell everywhere.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Extremely hot in the summer, but surprisingly cold in the winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Adequate but extraordinarily expensive. As long as your employer is paying that is not a problem; but don't expect the programs to match up seamlessly with programs in the US, such as how math is taught.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
You can create your own, with some effort.
3. Morale among expats:
Extremely poor. Everyone is trying to get out at the earliest opportunity. It has clearly not always been that way, but the country is going downhill fast.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
No, absolutely not. You really can't take kids out on the streets much around here. It is expecially terrible for girls. The life for singles used to be better, but now that it is really not safe to be out at night, it is not a lot of fun. The real problem is you just don't know when or where protests will erupt. And crime targeting westerners is rampant.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Absolutely not. This is a very homophobic society. You can go to prison for being LGBT here. It would be uncomfortable to even go out to dinner together.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, all of the above. The country is quickly becoming anti-Christian, and the new constitution enshrines Sharia law in a special place above all law. Persecution of Christians is getting serious, especially in the south, and now it is reaching even into the cities. Women are treated like property.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
getting to see riots, political violence, and crime scenes up close.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Everybody wants to see the pyramids, even if they do look like an abandoned construction lot with trash everywhere, and VERY agressive vendors who won't leave you alone.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Junky egypto-trinkets made in China. But don't try to mail it out, or they'll think you're smuggling ancient artifacts.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Cheap fruits and vegetables on the local market---as long as you thorgouhly soak them in chlorine due to the current outbreak of polio in Cairo.
11. Can you save money?
Sure, if you live in dump and eat rice and bread.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. It's an experience that eveyone should have at least once in their lives---unless you have already lived in a war zone.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
sense of security.
3. But don't forget your:
laptop. Oh, wait, the courts just decided to ban YouTube. So maybe you won't need it after all.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Yes, there are a lot of down sides, but if you can just learn to laugh at the crazy quirkiness and idiosynchrasies of living in a developing country that is going though a rough patch, you will really find it the adventure of a lifetime. Go for it!