Was writing a Guide for Expat Women - City Experiences and thought of posting the information here too to benefit my blog readers
A copy of this post is available on their site at http://www.expatwomen.com/city_experiences/cairo_egypt_jan1908.php
Cairo if described in one word is "Chaos" But you soon realise there is some innate method in the madness & things somehow pull together & work.
It has extreme weather conditions. Temperature reaches almost upto 50C in Summer and down to 3-4C in Winter. March is the month for the Khamseen (sand storms). You can expect light rain in January.
Pros and Cons:
The traffic, the pollution, the dust, the lack of respect for time and the cacophony can be nerve wracking at times.
Women have a lot more freedom and rights in Egypt than I have noticed in other Middle Eastern countries. Quite a large number of women in Egypt work outside their home.
In general it is a good practice for women to cover their forearms and knees when out in public. This is more to avoid unwanted attention than anything else.
Tourists do wear everything from halter to bikini tops, but keeping in mind local sensibilities it is better to avoid this display of skin.
Many Mosques and Coptic Churches will insist on arms and knees being covered for both men & women visitors. Some will ask you to cover your head. A loose shawl or cap will suffice.
Avoid public displays of affection like kissing and hugging.
Immigration / Visas / Work Permits:
Visitors from some countries require visas before arriving whereas passport holders from USA and some other countries can apply for visas on arrival at the airport for about 15USD.
If you are hired by a company before you arrive, try and get your work permit from this company before you actually arrive in Egypt. Its not as easy to find a company to hire you and sponsor your work permit after arriving in Egypt.
Apartments range from unfurnished to fully furnished. Fully furnished means all the furniture, AC's in every room except the kitchen. A TV, washing machine, refrigerator, cooking stove and dishwasher.
Maadi is the number one choice for most expats. Zamalek, Mohandaseen, Katameyya, 6th of October City, Heliopolis, Rehab are some other areas expats may choose to live in. I have a detailed article posted at Where Should I live in Egypt/Cairo
Rent could range between 500USD to 6500USD per month depending on various factors.
Is there a typical payment process?
The typical payment process is a one month security deposit and quarterly payments in advance. The agreement is typically for one year. At the end of the year, they may ask for a 5-10% increase in the rent.
When looking for accommodation, always get all the jobs that you want done in the house accomplished before you move in to the house. Thats when most landlords/landladies will work the fastest. Once you move in and ask for things to be done then it could take weeks even to get them to change a lightbulb.
Look for water pressure in the taps.
Check for earthing of the electrical connections.
Check who pays which utilities.
Parking is a pain in most areas, check if your landlord/landlady has any ear-marked parking of the apartment (almost impossible but worth a try)
Every price in Cairo is negotiable including house rent. You can try to negotiate rent downward or ask for extra utilities like a 2nd TV, a microwave etc.
Help is easily available in Egypt. Finding good help is a matter of trial & error and requires patience.
Help is available from locals, rest of Africa (mainly Sudanese) and South East Asian.
Maids charge upwards of 30LE per hour. Monthly rates to be negotiated.
Drivers 800LE upwards.
Gardeners and Nannies are also available
You will have to pay more for English/French speaking staff.
You can give your clothes out for ironing/pressing at the rate of 1LE per item of clothing.
Dry Cleaning is also pretty reasonable.
Vodaphone & Mobinil are the 2 long term mobile players in the market. Etisalat has just come in last year.
The fixed line is only available from the government provider, if I'm not mistaken.
Free Wifi is available at most McDonalds, Cilantros and other cafes and restaurants.
ISP's provide various packages starting from 45LE per month.
You can pay for bouquets from Showtime and Orbit among others.
Al Ahram and a couple of other English language newspapers are available.
I personally prefer the magazines to the newspapers.
Local Language :
Tutors and language schools abound. Kalimat is quite reliable as are locations like the CSA.
If you are here for a short while then a translation book will be enough to get by.
I buy Aqua Fina 1.5 litre bottles. My local neighbourhood grocery guy delivers 2 crates of them to my house at an hours notice.
Water is available 24 hours a day from the municipal connection and doesn't need to be stored.
Gas and electricity are both supplied by the government.
Not too easy to find a job if you aren't a local. Your personal network is better to help you than any other source.
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available.
Money and Banks
The local currency is Egyptian Pound/Lire Egyptian or LE.
Currently 1 USD is roughly 5LE.
Setting up a bank account was pretty simple as far as I remember but it was done through my husbands company. Passport and visa and letter from company is what they required.
The exact medicines you are looking for may not be available but they will search for something with similar composition and offer it to you. Imported medicines are available but expensive. Locally made ones are available for 1/5th the cost.
Pharmacies are available on every street. But check to find one that you are comfortable with.
Always check expiry dates on your medication.
It may be better to get Hepatitis shots before you arrive.
If you like playing with the many street cats on the road in your building - a rabies pre-exposure shot is also recommended.
Universities of America, Germany, Canada, and other countries are present in Cairo.
Some schools have their own buses. Most expats are provided with a car and driver by their company and sometimes use this to drop their kids to school.
Its not very easy to drive in this city. Most expats go for a course in Defensive Driving before they can drive in the less populated areas.
You have to apply for a local drivers license if you are in Egypt beyond 15 days. (Your IDL will be valid for 15 days) Present yourself for a simple driving test and if you clear it you get your license.
The metro is safe and reliable but does not cover all areas in Cairo. I have friends who have taken the mini buses but this is not recommended for the faint hearted. Taxis - black and white and yellow (air conditioned and metred) are available.
Grocery Shopping in Cairo
I would carry my electric/electronic items that I cant do without from home. It may not be possible to get your brand or model in Egypt. Any specialty food or food items would be best brought from back home. Medicines that you are accustomed to. These are the things that may not be available or easy to find in Egypt.
Haircuts, manicure, waxing are easily available all over the city.
Sports and Entertainment:
Football is the number one sport in Egypt.
The expats have formed a ton of clubs for Rugby, Hash House Harriers and Cricket etc. There are local clubs for rowing, cycling etc.
Entertainment ranges from movie theatres, to book clubs. There are plenty of activities organised by locals, clubs, expat groups, churches etc. To be informed of local events, you can sign up to http://groups.google.com/group/whazzupcairo
There are very good veterinary doctors available in Egypt. I highly recommend my own - The Pet Clinic in 6th of October City.
I'm not too sure about documentation needed to bring a pet in. I think its mainly the vaccinations have to be in order.
My Blog - whazzupegypt
My blog has a ton of links that are useful.
Cairo Family Guide for sight seeing in Egypt.