Living and Working in Egypt
The majority of international expatriates living and working in Egypt are based in the capital city of Cairo, although growing numbers of expatriates can be found working in Luxor, Alexandria or in Red and Mediterranean Sea resorts for example, often in the fields of tourism and lately in real estate too.
It’s estimated that there are currently around 30,000 European and Northern American expatriates in Egypt and particularly for those living in Cairo an excellent support, social and business networking environment exists which for many makes the whole experience of living in this fascinating country an absolute pleasure.
Naturally enough the customs, traditions and general way of life lived by Egyptians is markedly different to that which the majority of Western Expatriates have experienced before which makes organizations such as Cairo based CSA invaluable. The CSA or ‘Community Services Association’ in el Maadi in Cairo serves the entire international community living and working in Egypt and offers everything from Arabic classes to seminars and sessions for those newly arrived and who want to learn about the fundamentals of living in Egypt.
The organization was established in 1980 by the wife of a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and is referred to as an ‘informal social network’, whereas in reality it is an excellent first port of call and first point of reference for anyone from anywhere in the world and any background thinking about relocating to Egypt. The support network offered by the CSA is incredibly broad reaching and if nothing else it offers expatriates a security blanket when they first arrive in Egypt and begin establishing their new life abroad.
To travel to Egypt, citizens of most nations require a visa. Tourist visas can be obtained in advance from an Egyptian consulate or embassy in the country from which the individual is traveling. Citizens of certain nations can also get their visas when they arrive at the airport in Egypt although queues can be quite long and the process and wait frustrating. Because requirements, costs, duration of visa etc., vary for citizens on a country by country basis it’s very wise to check out requirements before traveling.
Those with a secure job offer in Egypt will require a work permit but this is usually secured by their employer. Others who travel to Egypt looking for work can enter on a tourism visa and apply for temporary residency and a work visa once they arrive, settle and secure work. However, it’s important to reiterate that Egyptian visa requirements vary greatly depending on the country from which the individual originates, and for up to date information the individual’s local Egyptian embassy should be contacted prior to travel.
It’s possible to split the majority of expatriates living in Egypt into two quite distinct groups; there are those who have secured relatively well paying employment before expatriating usually in the fields of education or working for NGOs - and there are those who travel to Egypt, settle down and then find a job. The latter group often take jobs and work within the local Egyptian economy and earn their wages in Egyptian pounds or guinay which can make money quite tight for some. The former group tend to be paid in US dollars or another Western currency and have far more disposable income - luckily the cost of living in Egypt, even in the capital city of Cairo is relatively cheap though having said that, money will buy you almost any luxury you want in Egypt!
To settle in and really get the most out of Egypt be prepared to get stuck in, make contacts and friends, socialize and network, try and learn some Arabic - although English is widely spoken and understood and French is also a useful language skill to have. Don’t be afraid of the chaotic, exciting, fast pace of life, be prepared to socialize until all hours of the night and ignore much of the media’s portrayal of Egypt because it is in fact a very safe place to live apart from the odd bit of pick-pocketing that goes on in the most popular tourist haunts.
Expatriates who move with their families to live in Egypt will find that there are a range of international schools and educational establishments available, although costs and standards vary greatly. One of the most popular schools for expatiate children is the British International School Cairo and most international schools are centred in the capital city of Cairo; the Google Directory has quite a comprehensive list of what’s available. Anyone being relocated to Egypt for employment should discuss with their employer their right to have their children’s school fees paid which is quite common among many employers.
In terms of where in Egypt to set up home, the city or town you choose will often depend on which company you work for or which industry you’re seeking employment in. As for which district of a given city to choose, some are more international than others, some more family friendly and some more dynamic and chaotic. In Cairo for example the El Maadi/Digla area is popular with families who have children attending nearby international schools whereas Zamalek and Mohandiseen are popular areas with younger professionals and couples who want to be nearer both work and the social scene in Cairo. The best advice is to take a short term rental if possible then take advice and seek assistance from a range of fellow expatriates living and working in Egypt already.