Almost all expats heading to Egypt will find themselves based in Cairo. For thousands of years, the city of a thousand minarets has been the bustling hub of business and government in the country.In recent years, Cairo has lost some of its appeal as a trading city, with political unrest and terror attacks scaring away investment. Since 2011’s uprising, the country has been rocked by changes of power and frequent attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. However, HSBC’s annual expat survey found that money is starting to trickle back into Egyptian businesses.
International investment is dipping a cautious toe back into the market as the situation starts to settle down. Oil still dominates the expat job market, with engineering and technology growing as stand-alone sectors. Education and agriculture are also growing for those with the right qualifications.
Expat jobs which had dried up in the desert country are starting to slowly flow back – and Egypt hasn’t forgotten how to host its international residents.
Thanks to a historic link with the UK, Egypt is no stranger to British migrants, and has a great range of international schools and universities to prove it. Expats have carved themselves a definite niche in the city, with whole neighbourhoods being home to international residents, as well as boasting a booming nightlife and family-friendly facilities.
On the outer edges of the city are the purpose-built gated communities; plush, well-kept compounds where expats can comfortably escape the conservative restrictions of Egyptian daily life.
Many companies bringing expats into the Egyptian workplace will provide accommodation or at least support them in finding the right place. HSBC’s expat explorer survey places Egypt 19th for satisfaction of accommodation, a very respectable score on the global stage.
That said, there are challenges for those expats looking to go it alone by finding their own accommodation. Most expat contracts will include some provision for accommodation, so house hunting is a heartache only a few have to contend with.
We’ve drawn up a list of the tips expats need to know when looking for their home-from-home in Egypt.
Don’t get caught out by the pound
As proof of Egypt’s past links to the UK, the currency is known as the Egyptian pound (EGP), not to be confused with Britain’s pound sterling (GBP).
The symbols for both the same and there’s a chance that you can get caught out with budgeting in the wrong currency. However, with £23 EGP to one pound sterling, it is possible to make some grave errors when balancing the books.
Don’t let agents waste your time
Anecdotes from house-hunting expats report that lettings agents are keen to show off every property on the books. Having been dragged around the city on a whirlwind tour of unsuitable properties, these migrants often find themselves having to take the least objectionable apartment they’ve seen without really having the chance to inspect it.
Be firm with Egyptian agents and clear with your expectations. If you are being given the runaround by an agent, limit your viewings to two or three properties a day and insist on spending a decent amount of time at each location.
Set your boundaries
Nightmare landlords are a common theme in expat tales. There are tales of migrants being woken in the night to find the landlord in a haze of cigarette smoke, having their own private drinking party in the living room.
Landlords will keep a key to the apartment and may think nothing of visiting the property with no notice. Push for the locks to be changed and get the landlord to agree rules for giving notice of any visits or inspections.
Read the small print
Egypt is a conservative country, and your tenancy agreement may reflect this. Hidden in the small print may be rules about guests and use of the apartment.
These rules will be stricter than you are used to for a private rental and may give the landlord power to turf you out at short notice.
Insist on a translation of any contracts and get this checked over by a third party if any of it sounds questionable. Pay the same level of scrutiny to renewals of existing contracts.
Research the city
Cairo, like any ancient city, struggles with traffic congestion. The rush hours can bring the city’s business district to a standstill of choking car fumes.
Factor the journeys to work and school into your decisions about your new home, as there is a chance that the ideal house will be in a less-than-ideal location. If this is the case, you will be spending more time sat in traffic than in your lovely accommodation.
Keep your receipts
Renters are liable for the cost of all utilities. Setting up these contracts can be frustrating, but it has to be done and it is well worth keeping a record of all contracts and payments. Landlords may request to see proof that you have been paying all the required bills so that they can ensure you are not giving their address a bad record.
Tenants are also responsible for the upkeep of utility equipment on their property. Although normal wear and tear shouldn’t incur a bill, make sure that you check over any meters, piping or storage tanks before finalising, and ensure that all issues are logged.
You need A/C
It shouldn’t be any surprise that Egypt gets very hot.
Summer temperatures can push the mercury up to 50C, with still air. Even when the winds are blowing, they can be hot and bothersome, carrying desert sand into every nook and cranny through an open window.
Sandstorms can be damaging, stripping away paint and clogging machinery. Between March and May, the Khamaseen winds sweep in at 140 kilometres per hour, hampering visibility and sometimes causing health issues. Since these winds can last for up to 50 days, people living in Cairo spend much of this time indoors, so air conditioning will be a lifeline in these sweaty, sandy conditions.
Shipping furniture to Cairo is relatively easy but can incur costly duties. In addition, transporting your property onward can be difficult to arrange.
Despite this, it’s often advisable to plump for an unfurnished property. Egyptian landlords don’t always splash out on designer furnishing. Plastic-covered sofas and garden furniture as dining tables are not going to wow expats who have interior design aspirations!
Going unfurnished also allows you to take advantage of the good quality but cheap furniture that can bought in Cairo.
Don’t make verbal agreements
Be wary of agreeing to anything when chatting to an agent. Even offhand comments can be taken as commitment to taking on a property and all the charges associated with it.
Without anything on paper, these agreements leave expats open to all sorts of shenanigans with no legal protection.
Get your employer to do the work
Big companies often have generations of experience in relocating their staff around the world. Research this before you sign on the dotted line to ensure you are getting all the help that might be available.
Employers may be able to put you in touch with expat employees who are already in Egypt as well as points of contact within the business. There is nothing more valuable than local knowledge when it comes to big changes, so learn from the experience of others.
Push for the company to pay for a visit in advance of your move, as this will give you the chance to check out several neighbourhoods and visit any schools you are considering.
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