Egypt is a land rich in culture, heritage and natural beauty. There are many job opportunities for those expats who can speak English, and despite the ups and downs the country has experienced in the past few decades, it has a strong and enduring history dating back millennia.
Many aspects of our current civilisation were developed in Egypt, such as agriculture, government structures and writing. Thanks to this illustrious history, Egypt is now filled with hundreds of places of interest, from ancient temples to the iconic pyramids.
The country has been influenced by African culture to the south, Europeans to the north and the Arabs to the east, making it a melting pot of influences, all of which have impacted its traditions. The country used to have a large Christian population, however, it became Islamised from the 7th century and remains so to this day, with Coptic Christians existing in a minority.
The local population are for the most part friendly, generous and hospitable to both expats and tourists. It is a large country measuring over one million square kilometres, and boasts the 3rd largest of all African economies. However, as the population of 100 million is centred predominantly along the Nile Valley, with the rest being arid desert, 98% of the residents only occupy around 3% of the total country. It is a member of multiple national organisations such as the UN, the African Union as well as the Arab League.
By far one of the largest sectors of the economy is tourism, with over 12 million visiting annually which generates approximately $10bn in revenue. 12% of the workforce are employed in the tourism sector, making living here as an expat highly desirable.
With the vast majority of the country comprising large swathes of desert, the climate in Egypt is generally hot, dry and experiences lots of annual sunshine. Having said that, Egypt does experience all four seasons, with temperatures highest in the southern regions over summer.
In the north, the country benefits from cool breezes from the Mediterranean Sea, but during spring and summer, a hot wind blows from the south, known as the Khamasin, and can dump dust and sand in the northern cities. This wind allows temperatures to soar, reaching over 50°C in some places, and humidity can fall as low as 5%.
When it comes to rainfall, it is almost non-existent even in winter, with a maximum of 5mm falling over the course of the year. Along the strip of coastline, it shares with the Mediterranean Sea, higher rainfall is possible, up to 200mm per annum, around cities such as Rafah and Alexandria. Snow can fall on the highest mountains in the country, but it is rare for snow or frost to form in the country.
This temperature is a draw for both expats and tourists, and the 4000 hours of annual sunshine that soaks the country is welcomed in combination with the myriad of activities you can take part in based around the beaches and waterways.
You can always expect a clear and bright day in Egypt with blue skies, and aside from some central African deserts, it is known as the most rainless and cloudless place on earth. The heat for the majority of the year is actually quite bearable, but taking steps to keep covered and protected, as well as staying hydrated is imperative if you are not accustomed to hot weather.
For thousands of years, Egypt has built up its culture from a variety of influences, with successive government styles taking over from one another, and migrants from the rest of Africa seeking work opportunities.
Egypt consists mostly of ethnic Egyptians, however, there is a minority of expats from the UK and USA, as well as native Bedouin and Berber tribes. Sudanese immigrants are the highest proportion of non-native residents, but there are also immigrants from South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea – all adding to the country’s cultural diversity. As the country expands its reach from the Nile Delta, many of these traditional tribespeople are being incorporated into the modern way of life.
As Egypt is an Arab nation, there are tell-tale signs of this form of culture in everything from literature to music and film. Egypt is looked upon as somewhat of a trendsetter in the Arab world when it comes to cultural practices, and this is reflected in the music and religious aspects of the country.
Islam has a strong foothold in the country, and you will see the largely Muslim population praying five times per day, with Friday being the holiest day. As an expat from Western nations, it may be a little daunting at first as opposed to the mainly Christian or secular nature of the West, and in addition, many shops and other facilities are closed on Thursdays and Fridays.
There is also the month of Ramadan to take into account too, where a maximum of 6 hours are able to be worked daily, and they must not eat or drink anything from sun up until sundown. Whilst expats obviously are exempt from this festival if they are not Muslim, they still cannot eat, smoke, chew chewing gum or drink anywhere in public.
During the whole month, businesses open and close at odd times, and generally, the pace of life slows down. In the shops around the marketplaces, you can expect to haggle for the price of goods and services.
Egypt has numerous museums, art schools, theatres and other places of culture in addition to holding various sporting events.
The official language of Egypt is Egyptian Arabic, with around 68% of speakers using this most common form. The vast majority of businesses and governmental organisations will adhere to this style. Sa’idi and Bedawi Arabic are also spoken, and a small number of lesser languages such as Beja, Domari and Siwi also exist.
There are pockets of Italian and Greek, and even Armenian, among expat communities, but some African dialects like Tigringa can also be heard. In schools, English is the main subject taught as a foreign language.
As with many places in the world, English is widely spoken, especially by the youth. Tourists and expats don’t have many issues communicating in the country especially at tourist attractions, as the tourism industry has grown to accommodate speakers from Britain, Ireland, America and Canada. The country does have colonial links with the British Empire, and retains fragments of the language from its occupation.
All in all, the transport infrastructure of Egypt is pretty poor. From the bus system and trains to planes and boats, you can mainly expect a low quality, with accidents happening on a regular basis due to the lack of maintenance or simply not adhering to safety guidelines.
Expats are advised to follow the speed limits on roads and take extra precaution when driving at night due to the condition of road surfaces.
Most of the transport in the country is in the largest city, Cairo, which is home to 9 million people – more than London and New York. As you can imagine, with not much investment in the infrastructure of roads and railways and such a large population, travel can become pretty hectic in the large cities – the outlying rural areas do not fare much better.
The city of Cairo does boast a metro system though, and is one of the only in Africa. It cost billions of Egyptian pounds, and connects the city quite well when you need a fast way to travel underground, beating the traffic and heat above.
Buses are not really the best option to travel across the country or within cities as the routes can be confusing and they’re not the most comfortable. If you need to go somewhere specific, it’s often better to jump in a taxi who can take you directly on the shortest route, but check fares in advance as many are not metered properly.
If you head out on a boating expedition on the Mediterranean or the Nile, you can find some well-maintained boats operated by tour companies who meet the high standards demanded by international travellers.
With a low world ranking of only 121st when it comes to healthcare, Egypt is lacking in this area. The government does not invest nearly enough money when it comes to public health, at less than 5% of GDP in total. Hospitals are not properly staffed and many healthcare workers are not properly trained to deal with the range of illnesses and healthcare situations that can arise. There are only 16 physicians per 10,000 of the population, for example.
Aside from Cairo, you won’t find specialist medical care in the country due to the sparsity of the population and demand. Those needing operations and other specific healthcare are usually transferred to Cairo for treatment.
Whereas the overall public healthcare fails, strides have been made in some areas, and now nearly 100% of the population can receive the necessary vaccines they need. In the past 50 years, healthcare has improved, and the life expectancy rose from just 44 years to 72. They’ve also managed to reduce infant mortality from 100 per 1000 births to just 30.
When it comes to health insurance in Egypt, many have opted for this coverage to receive the proper care should the worst happen, and in 2009 it was estimated that over 37 million Egyptians had bought healthcare insurance in some form. Should you plan a trip to Egypt or are planning on becoming an expat, be sure to take out adequate private health insurance.
Egypt has been battling cases of Hepatitis C for many years, and rabies and tuberculosis also pose a serious threat to health, so be sure to get your vaccinations before making the move to Egypt. If you have issues with breathing, then the large cities rank highly for traffic pollution which may cause issues.
When it comes to drinking water, it is always advisable to only consume bottled water in Egypt. In Cairo, the water is fluoridated heavily and might not appeal to travellers and expats.
Public Healthcare in Egypt
The public healthcare in Egypt, in general, is quite poor, despite numerous attempts by the government to initiate reform in all parts of the healthcare system. It is a world away from the modern and efficient health services found in Western nations, and even though you can avail of the health service provided free of charge if you’re a local, many residents themselves avoid using these public facilities.
The reasons for this are primarily because long wait times can be expected, staff are rarely trained to the degree needed to administer proper care, old equipment is used and there are overall low levels of sanitation. Less than 5% of GDP is dedicated to healthcare in Egypt. Most healthcare facilities can be found in Cairo, but outlying and remote areas of the country face a real lack of proper healthcare.
Private Health Insurance
In stark contrast to the public hospitals and clinics, facilities offering private healthcare in the country are of an acceptable standard. Here you will find doctors, nurses and other well-trained professionals able to offer a high level of treatment for numerous illnesses and emergency treatment.
What’s more, these facilities are used to caring for expats and tourists who have private health insurance. Communication at these private facilities too doesn’t present a problem, as most of the staff will be bilingual, having trained in places such as America and Europe. Some private hospitals may request an initial small security deposit or cash for treatment which can be returned via the insurance company.
Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements
There are no reciprocal healthcare agreements between Egypt and other countries, primarily due to the lack of their own ability to provide a high level of care. This means having private health insurance is imperative if you plan on visiting Egypt in both the short or long term when travelling from places such as Europe or America. This is especially useful if you need to be repatriated for long-term health issues.
The official currency of Egypt is the Egyptian Pound, and 1 British Pound Sterling is equivalent to around 22 Egyptian Pounds. Every banknote in Egypt is in both Arabic and English, and features either Islamic buildings or Ancient Egyptian monuments and motifs. From 2021, banknotes in the country will be made from polymer, a change seen around the world for enhanced durability.
As opposed to banks in the Western world, expats and tourists may find the slow and undigitized process of national Egyptian banks more than a little frustrating. It’s probably best to stick with an international name like Citibank or HSBC if you plan on opening a bank account.
They’re much more convenient, and even though they have higher fees you will find dealing with them is not so much of a chore and they’ll be guaranteed to speak English. It doesn’t take more than proof of who you are, your residence and a deposit to open a bank account in the country, and you’ll be issued a card within days.
You can use debit cards and credit cards in most places throughout the built-up areas of Egypt like Cairo and Alexandria, and you’ll always find an ATM inaccessible locations in these areas too.
The education system in place in Egypt has two options: one secular and one Islamic. In the former, you can find public institutions as well as private schools to send your child to, but in Islamic schools there is a strict Islamic emphasis and study of the Quran. What’s more, public schools function fully in Arabic with English only taught as a foreign language.
Public schools are unlikely to appeal to expats because of the low standards and subsequent illiteracy in the country, but the good news is that there are some excellent international private schools to consider to give your child the best education. These are predominantly in English with tutors and trained educational professionals from countries like America, Canada, UK and other parts of Europe.
International education establishments aim towards the International Baccalaureate which is recognised in many countries, and in English schools, you will be able to achieve iGCSEs.
Children in Egyptian schools start at age 6 and at 15 years old the students are placed in further education to follow either an academic plan or a vocational course to train for either 3 or 5 years.
The country also has some great universities, such as the American University in Cairo and the Alexandria University. Research facilities are also being built in recent years, in a bid to modernise the research and development sector.
Food & Drink
The main food types of Egypt are vegetarian, as the land does not easily allow cattle or other livestock to be tended to. The price of meat is high in Egypt, so they have turned to producing a wide variety of vegetable and plant-based foods, with influence from the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
In the coastal regions like Alexandria and Port Said, fish is eaten frequently as well as other seafoods that can be found thanks to their proximity to the Mediterranean. Sayadeya is also a staple of these coastal populations, created with white fish and mixed with tomato sauce, onions and rice.
Further inland, you will find a host of delicacies such as kushari which is a blend of macaroni, onions, rice and lentils. Ful medames are also popular, made from fava beans which are the key ingredient in falafels. Soups like molokhiya with great flavour combinations can be found in towns as well as remote areas, each with their own recipes for this green soup.
Where meat is available, dishes such as liver, sausages, kofta and kebabs can also be found, served in hot flatbreads and salads, alongside a variety of spiced side dishes and salads.
As an expat, you’ll need to discover your adventurous side to enhance your palate in restaurants and small marketplace eateries, but there are still supermarkets selling more familiar items.
Since the Arab Spring of 2011, there has been a largescale upheaval of the political system in Egypt, and in 2020 although the situation has calmed, tourists and expats should remain alert. Protests, demos, minor disturbances and marches can happen with little notice, and at times deaths have occurred.
If you know of a local protest about to take place, or encounter one as you are travelling through Egypt, then it’s advisable to take yourself out of the situation. Police in Egypt are strict enforcers and can use everything from tear gas and water cannons to live rounds to disperse crowns.
Crime in the rural areas is less than that in cities, where armed robberies can occur in addition to small item theft such as purses or mobile phones, car theft and sexual assault. If you are a lone female, then you should take extra precautions when travelling or drawing attention to yourself with revealing attire.
At high-profile tourist destinations such as the pyramids of Giza, tourists can be subject to intimidation for valuable items, money or even demanding you use their tour service. This can happen even if you are travelling inside of a taxi. It is advisable to use a tour guide that you’ve booked in advance who will be able to offer great service and take you away from potentially dangerous areas and situations.
Many of the tourist destinations and residential areas are gated and offer walled protection for added security, and many employ private security guards as well as offering their own transportation services for the peace of mind of customers.
Places to Visit
Home to civilization for thousands of years, you can count on the fact that Egypt is filled with tourist treasures. From museums displaying antique artefacts to open landscapes and ancient buildings, Egypt is sure to ignite the inner explorer in you. Here are five of the most popular places to visit in the country.
The Pyramids of Giza
Known and recognisable around the world, the pyramids of the Giza plateau are some of the most impressive feats of human engendering, even today we are still not sure exactly how it was accomplished. They are believed to be tombs for the pharaohs, and although many areas of the site are blocked off to preserve them, you can still go on tours inside these impressive monolithic structures. A trip to Egypt is really not complete without paying a visit to the last remaining Seven Wonders.
An amazing piece of architecture located in Luxor, the Karnak Temple is an impressive building where the ancient city of Thebes was based. Inside the temple you can marvel at hieroglyphic-engraved pillars, statues and obelisks, transporting you back in time to the New Kingdom over 2000 years ago. Not far from the site you’ll also discover the Valley of the Kings, named so because of the large amount of pharaohs buried here. There are tombs aplenty to explore, and you will be enamoured by the coloured paintings inside.
Another blast from the past can be found at the sacred Egyptian site of Abu Simbel. It was created by Ramses II over 3000 years ago and the sheer size of this temple complex will awe you. On the outside, you’ll find four huge statues carved directly into the rock, but inside there are wall paintings that have been preserved for millennia. There’s nothing quite like staring at intricate wall carvings that have endured the test of time. The temple is located at the southernmost part of Egypt, so is best experienced on a cruise down the Nile taking in the monuments on the way.
Egyptian Museum of Cairo
Spanning a history of thousands of years, Egypt has been through numerous phases, and this museum has carefully catalogued so many discoveries that give us a glimpse back in time. The museum is large and spacious, although not the best designed, but it has a charm all of its own as you wander from room to room uncovering fascinating artefacts. Here you’ll find exhibitions of ancient styles of art, items from tombs and mummies. It is one place you cannot miss if you are in Cairo for more than a few days, and is an interesting afternoon outing for expats.
The Nile is the longest river in the world at 6,650km in length and has been a vital supply of water and life to the country since Biblical times. Now you can chart the waters of the Nile like millions of Egyptians before you and learn the rich history along the way. A fertile floodplain, many of the inhabitants of Egypt flock here to build their towns and villages in order to sustain themselves, and these charming habitations can be seen as you drift along, taking in ancient gems such as the Luxor Temple, the Aswan region, the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Kom Obo and the Pyramids of Giza.