Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 08/10/22
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 served overseas for the State Department in three prior tours, plus lived abroad before the Foreign Service.
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?
United States. There are direct flights on EgyptAir to locations in the U.S., including Washington, DC. The Cairo to DC direct is about 11 hours. For those with the U.S. government, the official route is usually through Europe (Frankfurt, Paris, or London).
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.)?
U.S. Embassy job
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live in an Embassy-owned apartment building with other Americans. There are several Embassy-owned buildings downtown and in the suburb Maadi, where the schools are located. We are very happy in our Embassy-owned apartment. Other folks live in leased housing, which can vary in quality of landlord but are typically larger than the Embassy apartments. Those I've seen have high ceilings, nice balconies, etc. but the trade-off is working with the local landlord to fix issues, versus working with Embassy staff. The Embassy apartments have back-up generators which is nice when the power goes out.
For commute, for those downtown it's very quick - 10-20 minutes depending on traffic. For those in the suburbs, the morning commute isn't bad, but in the evenings depending on traffic and construction it can take 45 minutes or longer.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very available and very cheap. Embassy commissary has everything you could imagine brought in from the U.S. and Europe. The local grocery stores are also cheap and have good produce and meat and deliver to your house.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Just the Trader Joe's creature comforts we miss. Pretty much everything else we can get here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of good food delivery services, the most prominent is Talabat and is very cheap to have food from restaurants delivered.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
In the summer we are having a lot of ants if there's food on the ground, but it appears to be seasonal.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use Embassy DPO, which can take several weeks and can get backed up at Christmas time.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Extremely affordable and wonderful. Our nanny is the absolute best thing about life here - she's more than a nanny, she's a house manager. She helps us with so much and she adores our child, and is teaching him Arabic!
Many people employee housekeepers or nannies. Some also employ drivers. Cost is very reasonable and the cost of living in general is low here, plus the hardship pay from the U.S. government is very good, so it's easy to save.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms available for the Embassy employees in several locations, also local gyms are active. Not 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?
It's mostly a cash economy but we've found it easy to also pay with card at many stores for larger items or even at restaurants. In our experience it's been safe to use cards and ATMs. Many ATMs around.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I have not attended any but know of other colleagues who have found English religious services available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is helpful to have some Arabic, but it's not impossible to get around without it. Uber is everywhere and the ability to input your current location and destination in the app means you don't need Arabic to navigate cabs, for example. A typical Uber ride is under 5 dollars.
There are many Arabic tutors available, however, as well as local schools. Egypt has long been a destination for students interested in Arabic so there are plenty of opportunities for those who want to learn it once here.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It depends on the disability, but there are few sidewalks and few accessible buildings, so if the issue is mobility, then yes I think this would be very difficult.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and affordable. Uber is as well. Embassy employees are currently not allowed to ride buses or metro or trains, but European diplomats use them and say it's very easy.
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?
We have a fully-paid-for, 2015 crossover. Cars will get dinged up, there are a lot of speed bumps, driving is chaotic, and the dust and sand in the air means it will always be dirty. I would NOT recommend bringing something new.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is available. Some people use a service and can have it installed before arrival. Others can get it installed a day or two after arrival.
The main problem is that if you use Orange, for example, they don't take foreign credit cards so you have to go to the store to pay every month. And sometimes if the internet goes out you have to go deal with the people at the store who may not speak English or who are confused by diplomatic IDs. Internet, when it's on, is great and good enough for streaming shows. But when it goes off it's a big hassle and headache, but manageable. (This why there is hardship pay!)
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have an Embassy-provided phone and got a local SIM card for my personal phone. It's very 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?
No quarantine. Friends with pets have been able to find veterinarian services, but I don't have a pet so cannot speak to the quality.
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?
I know some people with jobs in the Embassy, some with teleworking jobs from the U.S. My family doesn't have personal experience with this so can't comment much on it.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Have not explored this personally so not entirely sure.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
As a woman I was concerned about what I could wear in public, but really my only rules I follow are nothing above the knee and no tank tops. I feel fine wearing a shirt without sleeves as long as it's covering most of the shoulder. I wear skirts but try to have them cover my knees. When I'm among Americans, like at a party in the Embassy compounds or our American club, I'll wear shorts and tank tops though.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Cairo is still a danger pay post due to terrorism threats. But personal security-wise I have felt safe here. I even left my iPhone in a cab once and it was brought back to me a few hours later. I get catcalled sometimes when walking down the street alone, but honestly that has happened only a few times.
Frankly, a lot of places in the United States are less safe due to the threat of gun violence.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Quality of medical care is a concern for my family. I've had to go to the doctor at an Egyptian hospital once and it was an odd experience. BUT the doctor the embassy recommended did speak English and I spoke with a U.S. physician after the fact who said they followed all the same protocols that would have been done in the U.S., even if the hospital felt a bit dodgy. The Medical Unit in the Embassy is huge and is always the first stop - there are multiple doctors and nurses on staff, and they've answered my calls at all hours.
For my child, I'm very pleased as there is an American-Egyptian pediatrician in our neighborhood who did his residency in the United States and makes house calls! That's been a fantastic benefit.
But all the doctors say if there is a real medical emergency, the immediate response is medevac.
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?
Pollution is a problem in the winter. It can get VERY bad. But it's a mixed bag - some days it's beautiful and the next day atrocious. We've found going to the beach outside of Cairo on the weekends to be a good way to escape it, and we have a ton of air filters blasting in our house. The air in the house has been fine as a result.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The dust storms and sandstorms and the pollution can make allergies difficult.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It's a temperate climate, so it's really the pollution that keeps people inside in the winter and the heat during the summer. I have not seen Seasonal Affective Disorder be an issue.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot in July/August. Moderate in fall/spring. Can get to 40s and 50s (F) in winter. It NEVER rains.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Excellent international schools. The Cairo American College for K-12 is seen as fantastic and has a great campus. Many options for schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I haven't experienced this personally so can't comment.
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?
Excellent preschools and many options! Our son is in a half-day French preschool for $350 a month! I know others who use in-home preschools or there is a German-run preschool in the suburbs people really like. Plenty of options for English or other languages.
Nannies are abundant and very affordable and we've had a wonderful experience with our Egyptian nanny.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, definitely available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This is one of the largest cities in the world. There are PLENTY of expats. We've made friends with diplomats from other embassies. We have friends who are Egyptologists doing research here or working for museums. A lot of journalists from the big papers. Expats all seem to really enjoy it here.
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?
Best way to socialize is to rent a sailboat and take it out on the Nile with drinks and snacks! Around $10/hour to have someone take you out on the boat. It's fantastic!
We also are a member of a local sporting club where we've met friends (like a U.S. country club, but bigger). There's also the Maadi House - which is our Embassy-run American Club that has pools and playgrounds. Other countries' diplomats can join so we'll meet people there on the weekends.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I have friends of all family types here and nearly everyone has said it's been a good post for their lifestyle.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes! We've definitely made friends with Egyptians and have found them very welcoming.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
This is unfortunately one of the downsides. LGBTQ+ diplomats have been unable to secure visas for their spouses.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender prejudice is real for women, I've experienced it. But frankly not much more than I've experienced in other developing countries.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Luxor, Aswan, Red Sea, Alexandria - there is SO MUCH TO SEE. That's the hardest part, finding time for all the tourism!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
As mentioned above, it's a tourist's dream. There is just too much to do. Some people even take their kids horseback riding by the pyramids every weekend!
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes there are cool stores in the souk (Khan al-Khalili) - for example some cool carvings made from camel bones, or unique glassware. We've also had furniture made that is very high quality.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Tourism is outstanding, cost of living is low, pay for U.S. Embassy employees is high, childcare is fantastic. There are also flights to Europe readily available if you need to escape!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I honestly didn't know how much tourism there would be to see. I feel overwhelmed by how much cool stuff there is to do.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. It's a great place to live as an expat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter coats.
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure! It's still a hardship tour, but the creature comforts are available for expats and there's always a crazy story with every sightseeing trip.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Buried, by Peter Hessler is the best one that most people read
6. Do you have any other comments?
This isn't Europe or Japan or Australia - it is still a hardship tour. So for those looking for easy living, Cairo is probably going to disappoint you. But if you are adventurous, like different cultures and cuisines, enjoy history, and recognize that the benefits offered - like cheap, excellent schools and childcare - outweigh the hardships - like the crazy driving - you'll have a great time.
My family is VERY happy here!