Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 07/17/13
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?
No, this was my fourth expat experience.
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. About 16-18 hours via a connection in Frankfurt or London.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work at U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Almost all apartments. I've been in small, poor posts up this, but this is by far the worst (smallest, poorest-maintained) housing I've had.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you shop at the commissary, you will pay more. If you are willing to buy off the local markets, you will spend about half of what you do in the U.S. Between the two, pretty much everything you could want is available.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
high-top shoes or short boots. You will turn an ankle on the street if you don't have some support.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything. Not just McDonald's, but Cinnabon and Fudrucker's -- but they charge close to U.S. prices.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We had a bad ant infestation in our apartment and at one point had an incursion of half-dollar sized roaches.
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?
We paid $300/month for a three-day-a-week housekeeper, but everyone thinks we paid too much. A combination of Egyptians and Filipinias available, with the latter being more expensive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has gyms both downtown and in Maadi; both have pools, but the Maadi pool is the only one that is heated.
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 have only used credit cards at major hotels, but I know that others have been using credit and ATM cards regularly without incident.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic in English. I can't comment on anything else.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
TV via satellite and AFN are cheap. Ahram online is the best English newspaper.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some taxi Arabic is extremely useful (left, straight, right, stop, and numbers). The American commiunity is quite large and it is possible to not really interact with Egyptians over the course of a given day. On the flip side, if you don't want to go overseas just to talk with other Americans, some Arabic (especially Egyptian dialect Arabic) is a must.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot. This city is not handicap-accessable.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes they are affordable, and some of them are safe. Metro and white cabs are fine and cheap (the metro is 1 EGP a ride; that's 17 cents). Black-and-white taxis are less reliable, and god help you if you decided to take a microbus or a tuk-tuk.
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?
For some reason, Egyptians have a national obsession with over-grown speed bumps, which -- combined with the potholes -- argue for a car with high clearance. There's an increasing carjacking problem.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get a cell phone. You can get a basic prepaid handset and sim card for under $50. Air time is cheap.
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?
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business at work. In public, shorts are out (unless you are in a tourist area or maybe Maadi) -- women need long sleeves.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
At the embassy, absoultely. A man was stabbed at the gates of the embassy this spring simply for being an American. The embassy is on the edge of Tahrir square, and the guards have been victims of regular attacks (rocks and Molotov cocktails). During the first year we had people blocking an entrance for a sit-in demanding the release of the Blind Shaykh. I really miss those guys; they scared off the punk kids trading rocks for tear gas with the police.
The good news is that the housing is relatively secure. Crime is on the rise but is not out of control, and the mayhem in Cairo seems basically concentrated around Tahrir Square and, more recently, the presidential palace, neither of which is close to the main housing clusters.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care at the embassy is good (a good team of docs there), but if it's something serious you are taking a major risk at Egyptian hospitals -- which don't believe, for example, in medical recordkeeping.
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?
Terrible. We brought four air purifiers with us, and I really noticed the difference once we packed them out. This is a bad post for people with asthma or who are susceptible to sinus infections. If you pick up a cough or respritory infection it will take weeks to get rid of because of the dirt in the air.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot in the summer, pleasant in the winter. Not a lot of humidity, but more than you would expect if you think you are moving to the Sahara.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our son was in preschool and LOVED it -- there are a ton of preschools in the Maadi area where most families live. The American school is in the same area, but I can't comment on it.
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?
There are some programs via Maadi House (the U.S. Club), but as the western presence draws down, these will be harder to find.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge -- by far the largest I have seen. You lose a bit of your sense of comeradery in a post this big because the American community breaks into subclans.
2. Morale among expats:
Not terrific with the ordered departure. But there's a divide between people who are on their first tour or who have served only in Western Europe (on one hand) and those who have been in tough assignments before (on the other). Morale is much lower for the first group.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots of restaurants. Getting a sailboat for an hour on the Nile is cheap and lets you connect to a bygone era of Egyptian history.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Two evacuations in three years have really put a damper on what used to be a primiere family post for the Middle East. We've been generally happy here, but over time this is going to take a toll. If you are single, you should really live downtown, as Maadi will probably be too sleepy for you.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I can't imagine that it is.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women have a real problem with harassment by Egyptian men (and not just foriegn women - some Egyptian women have even posted a map of the areas with the most harassment).
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I've bridged two revolutions; we were on ordered departure when I arrived for this assignment and are on ordered departure as I leave. The highlight has been Cairo's now-chronic instability, which has dramatically changed the face of this tour from people serving in Cairo as late as 2010.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The history is amazing. Even when you get past the big sites, there's still Coptic Cairo, the Citadel -- and if you like kitch, the 1973 Victory Museum (a gift from the People of North Korea).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can find some good artwork at Khan al-Khalili.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There is no substitute for Egyptian history. The Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum (where King Tut's regalia reside) and other key sites are all in greater Cairo. Luxor is an hour away and is amazing. Plus, you can golf in the winter.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you focus on living off the economy.
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. It only rained twice in 2 years, and then it just spit.
3. But don't forget your:
sense of adventure.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Forget watching Indiana Jones - that era of Egypt is long ago.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Anything by Nagiub Mahfuz.