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Egypt - useful tips for expats
Founded by Betty Atherton, the wife of a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, The Community Services Center (CSA) in El Maadi is a resource every expat can utilize. For women in particular, it's a wonderful starting point to obtain information and recommendations for just about any product or service you need and to meet other women. In addition to newcomer orientations, language, cooking and craft classes, one can join their modern health club and exercises classes. A charming mini cafe offers coffee and snacks you can enjoy outside on a private patio. Their monthly magazine will put you in touch with other expat organizations, trips and volunteer opportunities. There are also bulletin boards advertising used furniture, mobile phones, cars, and small appliances being sold by other expats.
Choosing a neighborhood in Cairo to call home is usually dependant upon the needs of the family or individual. Couples and singles who will be working downtown might prefer living close to work in Zamalek or Mohandiseen. Those with children generally prefer to live in the El Maadi/Digla area where the American, British and German schools are located, or in Katimaya or Mirage City, gated communities.
In Cairo, expect to pay a minimum monthly rent of $4,000.00 for a villa and $2,500.00 for an unfurnished or furnished flat with a modern kitchen, three, or more bedrooms and two full baths. Furnished properties often overflow with the landlords tired or gaudy rejects. Since new furniture is a bargain and you can have anything made to your specifications at a reasonable cost, you can augment your furnishings with ones you'll cherish.
Mosques dot every neighborhood. Five times each day (from predawn to night) the followers of Islam are summoned for prayer from loudspeakers positioned at the top of each mosque. During the month of Ramadan, they're turned up to full capacity. To avoid being blown out of bed each morning, before signing a lease, go by the property at a time that coincides with the duration of a prayer call to check the sound level from inside the property. Because the streets are quiet then, remember it will be even louder at dawn.
No matter what the real estate agent or owner tells you about completion dates, do not lease a property that is unfinished or in a building containing units that have not been finished. Everything is made of cinderblock. To create living space, sledge hammers are required and workmen will wield them from dawn to dusk. The vibrations, noise and construction debris that will find their way into your home and body are not conducive to a happy adjustment.
If you have a dog and your budget doesn't allow for a villa, you might want to consider leasing a flat on the ground floor with a private yard. There are few places to walk a dog and some domesticated animals have been poisoned by tainted food left out by those intent upon eradicating the homeless dog and cat population.
Because late model cars carry a heavy import tax that can double their value, if not provided by their company, most expats rent one. Depending upon make and model, the monthly cost can range from $750.00 to $1,500.00+ Cairo International airport offers flights around Egypt as well as direct or connecting flights to any place in the world you need to get to.
First class trains are available between Cairo and Alexandria and to Aswan in Upper Egypt. Since the Nile flows from south to north, areas of the country south of Cairo are called "Upper Egypt." Cairo is in "Lower Egypt."
In Cairo and Alexandria, inexpensive taxis can be found on every street corner. Don't take mini vans or buses. Not only are they poorly maintained and overcrowded, most drivers are untrained and drive like Kamikaze pilots.
Cairo's subway system is one of the best in the world. It goes all over downtown Cairo and to El Maadi and Helioplois.
If you don't have a regular driver, when you find a taxi driver you like, get their phone number. For about 25 LE per hour (currently about $5.00), they'll take you on all your errands, help you with your Arabic and introduce you to the places where they shop.
Anything that's available in Cairo can be delivered to your front door. Even the veterinarian will make house calls! Year round, one can purchase fresh baladi (locally grown) and imported flowers, fruit, herbs, vegetables, chickens, lamb, veal, beef, and a cornucopia of Middle Eastern and Western breads, cheeses, eggs, juice, flour, spices, cereals, and other basic food and cleaning staples. Although Muslims do not eat pork, there are specialty shops where you can buy it.
Each day, more Western products like pet food, kitty litter, snacks, cleaning products, prepackaged foods, etc. become available in Western style grocery stores, but the price is higher than it would be at home.
You can bring wine and liquor into the country or buy it twice a year (in limited quantities) at a duty-free shop. Many shops sell beer and Egyptian wine as well. Do not buy hard liquor at these stores as it may be the Egyptian version of moonshine labeled with a brand name.
It is wise not to drink or cook with tap water. It is also advisable to soak fruits and vegetables in a bath of white vinegar and water before eating them. In addition, I wash raw eggs, oranges and lemons in a mixture of water, vinegar and soap.
Don't eat food and juices sold by street vendors. Hotel and restaurant food is generally safe.
In El Maadi, there are many European and American trained physicians and dentists who follow Western safety protocols. I utilize the services of one medical group for all my healthcare needs. However, unless it is a medical emergency, because there aren't enough nurses and hygiene is substandard, I would choose to have surgery outside Egypt rather than in an Egyptian hospital.
Language and Customs
Egypt is an Islamic country. While women are not required to wear a hijab (headscarf) or a robe, be sensible and conservative in your wardrobe choices. At a minimum, keep your legs, breasts and stomach covered. It's okay to wear a bathing suit at the pool or on a beach, but please don't go topless like some tourists do. The inappropriate attire of female tourists and the stuff that comes over local satellite dishes and the Internet gives many Egyptian men the impression that Western women are more sexually available than an Egyptian woman. When you're respectful of the culture you make life easier not only for yourself, but for every foreign woman.
The Egyptian people are their countries greatest asset. They're kind, gentle, and have a wonderful sense of humor. You can't buy their respect or friendship, but once you have it, they will become your Egyptian family. In the suburbs of Cairo, most shopkeepers speak English, but many taxi drivers and repair people don't so it's important to learn some basic Arabic to make your life easier.
The greatest hazard of living in Egypt is not from terrorists, but from Egyptian drivers. There are some traffic laws, but no one obeys them. Many expats opt to hire a driver rather than face road insanity alone. Pedestrian right-of-way? Get real!
The Egyptian government posts police officers at all the tourist sites and in the residential areas where expats live. Unlike most major cities, crime is nearly nonexistent.
Egypt's topography is as varied as her people and ancient history. The expats who live here take every opportunity to enjoy her natural as well as her ancient sites. Within a few hours, one can leave Cairo and relax on a beach on the Mediterranean or Red Sea, climb mountains in the Sinai, or search for fossils in its Western deserts. One can enjoy a gourmet meal at a luxury hotel, feast on local fare at a native restaurant, stay in a five star hotel or camp on a beach.
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