Cairo is known as the Mother of Africa and you can see why. A maelstrom of 20 million people, awake and active 24 hours a day, and this city is truly alive. The Nile is the lifeline of the city – bringing a wash of air that prevents Cairo from choking itself on its own smoke, dust and heat. Living in Cairo is generally cheap and easy – despite being home to the revered Al Akhsa School of Islamic jurisprudence, Muslim law is very moderate, and there are even places where you can grab a cold crisp bottle of Egyptian beer and listen to some jazz. Cairo is incredibly safe, with the lowest crime rate in the world for such a large city. With the exception of along the Nile, walking isn’t done in Cairo. Taxi’s are cheap and plentiful, just hail one down.
The weather in Egypt is hot all year round, with a dry desert climate.
Employment, Work Permits and Visas
Cairo has a huge expat population, mainly people from Europe and America. Foreign teachers make up a large portion of this, as well as those who work in IT, oil and media. Most expats secure employment before they venture to Egypt, without a job offer in place it may be difficult to find work, unless you have personal connections in the business world. Also, people employed before they travel are most likely to receive good salaries that are paid in a foreign currency. Those that find employment once already in Cairo are generally paid lower salaries in the local currency.
To gain a work permit it is beneficial to have secured a job prior to travel, this way your new employer can assist you in applying for a visa, acting as your sponsor and generally making the whole process fairly simple. Without a sponsor, gaining a permit will be more difficult and you may end up disappointed, with an employment offer in place you are almost guaranteed a visa. To stay in Egypt for more than three months you must apply for an entry visa three months before your trip.
Egyptians follow the rules of Islam and so these sensibilities often carry into the workplace. The main language is Arabic but English is widely spoken. The business week will begin on Saturday and break for weekend on Wednesday. As in many other places away from the western world, Egyptians are not too careful with regards to timekeeping, however that’s not to say you should turn up late for everything; as an expat you should be prompt yet aware that sometimes you may have to wait a little.
In Egypt personal relationships and business are intertwined, thus networking is very important; who you know can outweigh the importance of what you know. Always be courteous, friendly and interested in what new people have to say. Unlike the western world, if an Egyptian doesn’t like you as a person he simply won’t do business with you. Meetings often have a relaxed attitude around them so do not be alarmed if they are interrupted by unscheduled visitors.
They say that patience is a virtue but in Egypt it is an absolute must. Egyptian business can often move at a slow pace, if you are used to the high impact and fast decision making pace of western offices then this may be hard to adjust to at first. Hierarchy also plays a strong part in Egyptian business, senior individuals will always be shown a high level of respect so of course you should do the same, and where possible align yourself with such individuals.
To find somewhere to live in Cairo you can either look through listings magazines and consult an estate agent or check bulletin boards around the city. There are many apartment complexes and villas that are popular amongst expats in areas such as Garden City, Digla, Maadi and Zamalek. Rent differs from place to place but in general it will be much cheaper than in the UK.
The metro system in Cairo is one of the best ways of getting around the city; it is cheap and reliable and has extensive coverage. Buses are also found in the city but these can often be crowded and uncomfortable in the blistering Egyptian heat. The buses are also known to be targeted by pickpockets and with limited English signage you will have to get to grips with Arabic too. Taxis have a strong presence and are fairly cheap so they will prove to be a good method of transport.
If you wish to drive an automobile in Egypt and you already have an existing license then this will be valid for three months before you will be required to update to an Egyptian license. To gain one you will have to undergo medical and sight tests, and need a passport with a residence stamp and two passport pictures. You should be aware that driving on the streets of Egypt can be a very different experience to the well managed roads back home. Driving etiquette is non-existent, haphazard driving and speeding is the norm and even road signs are difficult to find. Unless you are a very skilled and experienced driver, the streets of Cairo may prove to be too much of a challenge to justify driving.
Even though public healthcare in Cairo is better than the rest of Egypt it is still advised that you seek out private healthcare. It is also advised that as an expat you should take out some form of health insurance in case of emergency care. Cash up front is the norm, so make sure you receive paperwork and receipts for the services so that you can correctly claim via your health insurance.
One should also be careful with drinking water as sanitation levels can sometimes be below standard so try and use bottled water at all times. Also be vigilant with regards to the intense heat, making sure you are hydrated and have adequate skincare against the sun.
If you are travelling to Egypt with children then you will be thinking about the best way of ensuring they receive a good education. The best way of doing this is by enrolling them in one of the international schools found in Cairo. The British International School supports the UK curriculum and is located in Zamalek. Potential pupils will need to take entrance exams to assess their academic abilities. There is also the Cairo British School, The Cairo English School and a selection of others, with varying fees.
Entertainment and Lifestyle
One of the hallmarks of Cairene life is the Khan al Kahlili, a souk or market that is the size of some major cities and from which anything can be bought. ‘Fishawis’, a famous ahwas or cafe, is located in its depths and is a place to get a cold mango juice and shisha at 3am while watching the people rush by – it’s open 24hours a day, 7 days a week and has been for over 150 years.
Upon first travelling to Egypt your initial leisure activities will no doubt be to see the amazing landmarks on offer, namely the Pyramids of Giza and the majestic Sphinx. These incredible landmarks are more than just tourist attractions, they are true wonders of the world and a journey to Egypt without basking in their marvel would be foolhardy at best. Other storied landmarks include the City of the Dead and the Ramses II statue.
Apart from sight-seeing there are many other decidedly Egyptian ways of passing the time. Coffee shops, or ahwas as the Egyptians call them, are a popular haunt for relaxing during both day and night.
Cairo is famed for having a wonderful array of restaurants and dining establishments, there is home-grown Egyptian fare on offer and also a wealth of international cuisine that is proving to be quite popular and trendy. Felfela is the home of real Egyptian food and can be found in the centre of town (the business district) – just ask a taxi driver. Don’t leave without sampling the lentil soup, or looking at the menagerie of live animals, the cages of whom decorate its walls.
The Fish Market is a popular establishment that serves a variety of fresh fish without a menu, you simply pick the type of fish you want from the display! Kandahar is found near the Sphinx and offers a delicious selection of Egyptian and Indian dishes.
There are a number of alcohol-serving bars and clubs in Cairo should you want to let your hair down in the evenings and weekends. In the large hotels you will come across the more westernised establishments but even these will often have a refreshing Egyptian slant.
For further information about Egypt and travelling to Egypt visit the Egyptian Consulate website.