6 things I hated and 4 things I loved about living in Cairo, Egypt

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I lived in Heliopolis, Cairo, for 6 months and that was enough time to learn that I probably would not like to live there again…

NB. I understand that these points do not reflect the views and experiences of everyone who has lived in Cairo. But for me personally, these are the things that influenced my life the most.

1. HATE: Environmental issues 

First of all, Cairo’s air is one of the most polluted in the Middle East and Africa. According to a study published in Nature, Cairo ranks as the 7th deadliest city in the world for air pollution. Practically, this meant that most of the days I did not see blue sky in the city. Instead, it was grey, smoggy and it was hard to breathe. I don’t even want to know what effect it had on my lungs and general health. Secondly, oh my god, it is so dirty! It is 2018 and there still isn’t a working functioning garbage recycling system in this 20 million city. Sure, the Coptic Christians are doing their part, but it is completely normal to see piles of garbage just laying around in the middle of the city. And I am not surprised because being environmentally-aware starts from home, and most people have no education on keeping their surroundings clean. When they have something to throw away then it will end up on the street, no questions asked. Anything: empty bottles, magazines, ice cream cups, wrappers – you name it! My Egyptian friend thought I am crazy when I kept a tiny plastic bottle neck wrapper in my hands until I found a bin – most people would have just thrown it on the ground instantly without even thinking about it twice. Oh, and the amount of plastic bags they use – WOW. Every time you visit the supermarket there will be an employee who will try to pack your groceries in 10-15 different plastic bags. I learned very fast that I just need to carry my own bag and tell them I’ll do it myself to save a bit of the planet.

Quite a common sight

2. LOVE: Huge selection of cheap fruit

One of the great things about Cairo though was that there was a huge selection of fruit in every store! I had not even seen some of these fruit in my life before. I got to try many new flavors and the prices were super cheap as well! I paid only 0.50€ for a whole kilo of grapes! And I did not even have to go to the supermarket to get it, because on almost every street there is a street vendor selling some delicious fruit. Just be sure to wash them veeeery properly unless you want to get a nasty stomach bug! I ended up in a hospital once because of some unidentified reason.

Fruit vendors are even working at night

3. HATE: Unhealthy lifestyle

Weirdly, even though they have great access to fresh fruit, Cairo is a very unhealthy city to live in. According to a survey by WHO, more than 62% of Egyptians are overweight. Moreover, Egypt has one of the highest child obesity rates in the world. I’m not surprised here – almost everything is cooked in fat and fried in oil. They manage to even make healthy ingredients into a very high-calorie meal. And the portions are HUGE. It took me a while to get used to the portions (that reminded me of American portions) because in Europe the dishes are 2-3 times smaller. Every time I went to eat out I took leftovers with me, I could never finish what I started. Nevertheless, I gained 5 kg living in that country. Not surprising since I hardly did any walking there as well. There are essentially no pedestrian sidewalks and I did not like to walk, not to even mention go running (!), on the street on my own. Unless you live in one of the more Western and safer parts of the city, the only way to stay active is to buy a gym membership.

Kusheri is a typical Egyptian street food

4. LOVE: Perfect holiday is just a couple of hours away

Okay, this is seriously my favorite part of living in Egypt. It’s not specifically about Cairo per se, because it involves other places around Egypt, but Cairo is a great gateway to many beautiful places in the country. I can’t even believe how versatile it is! In the North Coast, you can find the most amazing white beaches with blue sand, in Alexandria, you find so much Greco-Roman history and seafood. In the Sinai Peninsula, you find classic resorts and cheap hotels and the mountains. In Luxor, you find ancient temples. In Siwa, you find an oasis the middle of a desert. In Aswan you find peaceful communities living by the Nile. Egypt really has everything! It’s a perfect country to travel in. One of my favorite memories was climbing the Mount Sinai in the middle of the night, so we arrived at the top at the time of the sunrise. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and my legs were like jelly by the time the hike ended, but it was so worth it! I will always remember it.

Mount Sinai at sunrise

5. HATE: Animal Mistreatment

Okay, this was one of the most difficult things for me to witness in Cairo. I am so passionate about animals and I want them to be treated as humanely as possible. However, the level of animal mistreatment in this country is just baffling. There are hundreds of thousands (if not more) of stray cats and dogs living on the harsh streets of Cairo. And by harsh I mean that their whole life is a constant struggle for survival. They are lucky if they do not get hit by a car, tortured by a boy or poisoned to death. Poisoning dogs in Cairo is sadly a common practice, so is trying to kill them in other ways like throwing puppies down the balcony or letting the dog die in the heat on the rooftop. I saw dogs with missing limbs, missing tails, dead dogs, newborn puppies crying in the middle of the street etc. The story with cats is perhaps a little better but still horribly sad. There are some people who are trying to rescue as many animals as possible (adopting up to 30-40 cats and dogs) and those are some lucky souls who get saved, but unfortunately, there is a need for a bigger solution – neutering, and educating people on animal treatment. And work animals are not much better off either. Most horses and donkeys I saw were horribly undernourished and beaten. I myself adopted a cat who has now transformed into the most lovely fluffy little love ball and lives comfortably with my family in Estonia.

A scared dog

6. HATE: Corruption

So, none of the systems work properly. Things break, people cheat, nobody and nothing are ever on time – the solution for everything is money. You can do pretty much everything with money here. And you don’t even have to have a lot of it. I know people who got their driver’s license as a birthday gift. Everything works through connections and money. Both on high and low levels. Bribery, embezzlement, nepotism – you name it. I really dislike this kind of a system.

Egyptian pounds

7. HATE: Sexual Harassment

Okay, this is a serious one. Sexual harassment was one of the biggest things I was worried about when moving to Cairo. And I was rightfully worried, I should have been even more careful. Just recently, Cairo was named the most dangerous city in the world for women, even worse than Delhi in India and Karachi in Pakistan. The study included many different aspects of living in the city as a woman, but sexual harassment is one of the major reasons for this “win”.  During my time in Cairo, I was part of this expat women group in Cairo – a group with nearly 6000 foreigners living in Cairo. And I read about so many women getting harassed daily and having the most horrifying experiences. A man visiting or living there simply cannot grasp it. UN Women Study shows that it does not matter what you are wearing – whether you are wearing jeans and a sweater or a veil – you are an object of harassment, and not only verbal (not that it is acceptable either), but 94% of women in Egypt have been a victim of physical sexual harassment as well. I had various experiences with it, both verbal and physical. Even my Uber drivers, who had locked the doors with me alone in the car, asked me for sex. In September I also had a more serious and horrifying physical incident that required a couple of weeks of therapy to get over. After that I never walked alone anymore, I hardly ever went anywhere and I just stayed alone in my place. Even doing little chores like grocery shopping seemed difficult because I got home at 6 PM and then it was already too dark to go out alone. I felt really alienated and not free.

Often women are outnumbered on the city

8. LOVE: History

Okay, but on the good note, Cairo and Egypt, in general, are heaven for history lovers. Especially ancient history lovers. There is just way too much to see, and they still haven’t even discovered many of the things. Best places for ancient riches are Cairo and Luxor. Cairo because it hosts many museums with Egyptian riches (plus the Giza pyramids are just a short ride away) and Luxor because it was the ancient capital itself. Sometimes it seems that they have too much of history that they don’t value it anymore – kids are climbing on 4000-year-old mastabas and some “museums” have just things lying around on the ground like they are 20 not 2000 years old. Weird! In Estonia, even the smallest coin will be kept like a major treasure under 10 layers of glass in the national history museum.

Karnak temple in Luxor

9. HATE: Traffic

Okay, Cairo has officially the craziest traffic I have ever seen. I know that some South-East Asian countries also have crazy traffic but people generally know that they just have to be brave and walk because the cars and scooters will know exactly when to stop. This doesn’t work like that in Cairo. Nobody stops for you, you will simply get hit by a car if you are too slow or stop too late. There are obviously no crossings and hardly any traffic lights so I had to cross the road in the middle of this 8-lane madness. I honestly thought that if something is going to happen to me here, it will be me getting hit by a car. Being in the car is not much better – they are so nervous, constantly beeping and trying to cut others way. And the microbus drivers are just INSANE. They stop and go whenever and wherever they want to – even in the middle of a roundabout. I always got sick in the car because of all this stopping and going. No smooth driving in Cairo. And sometimes during rush hour, the traffic was so bad that I had to sit in the taxi for 2.5 hours in a row! That for the distance of just 15-20 km!

Normal street life

10. LOVE: Weather

So to finish this off with something more positive – Egypt is perfect for warm-loving creatures like me. Granted, the summers are too hot (about 42 degrees and direct sunlight) but the springtime and autumn are pleasantly warm for pool and sunbathing and winter is nice and spring-ish for us Europeans. Plus, there are always resorts to go to. In the summer go to Alexandria – the Mediterranean will cool you down. In spring and autumn go to the Red Sea. And in the winter go to Aswan or Luxor. I have been freezing my butt off ever since I got back from Cairo. Even right now my fingers are frozen while typing this post. 🙂 Egypt is great for a nice warm holiday!

Marsa Matruh crystal blue waters at the North Coast


Soooo that’s it. Brutally honest post about my personal experiences and opinions about life in Egypt. Obviously, Egypt has many many lovely and friendly people and it is totally worth a visit even just for the weather and nature! But simply, to live alone in Cairo as a young woman – it seemed to be a bit too difficult for me personally. I was very glad to return to Europe.


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  1. Hi,
    I enjoyed reading your story about Cairo. I’m moving there in a year from now with my husband and three teenage children. I guess having lived in many diverse countries, I will manage to cope with the cultural and food differences. However, one thing that worries me is air pollution. We will be living in new Cairo in a good protected neighborhood with nice gardens. Do you know anything of new Cairo ? Is Air there bad too? Many tnx!

    1. Hi! Cairo has extremely bad air pollution. You are right that it might be better in some areas. I’d recommend you to join this FB group called “Expat Women in Cairo” and ask the question there. They are very helpful! Good luck! K.

      1. Hi Stella and Kertu, I’m in the same situation, moving this summer, how did you find the air pollution and compound living in New Cairo?Also is the traffic always so bad, I don’t want my children commuting for so long everyday but I visited recently and it was terrible. Thanks.

        1. Hi Trish! The traffic is indeed really bad. But especially in the morning and then after 3PM when kids start coming home from school. Around noon and at night it’s a little better. Anyway, I would not recommend to live too far from school and work, as commuting can really take forever. I lived only 2.4km away from my work but sometimes it took me 45 min to get home by uber.

      2. Hi, My name is Youssef, I really hate living in Egypt especially Cairo, Where every thing is with money, If you don’t have money you are useless even for the country (your country) , but for tourist it’s much better because you are foreign and there country to protect you, But in Egypt if you don’t have money or power it’s better die, I am man and I know what men do for girls, it’s fu**ing place for a woman, I am doing my best to change but it’s extremely hard because I am alone with that, And when girls talk about what is happening to them they make of fun them and I hate that, And about the cheap fruits, it’s harmful, That’s why it’s cheap, The environment in Egypt is the worst, Every thing is bad, And as I said to be in a good environment you must pay, I am christen, Muslims people are making my life worst, by insulting me and hitting just cuz I am christen, And the government is helping them with that, If u google about actors in Egypt or anything else, most of them are Muslims (if they weren’t all of them)
        I am really sorry for your bad Experience in Egypt sadly I can’t change it, And for anyone who is coming to Egypt, just Don’t live in Cairo.

        1. Hi.. Have you shifted already and staying there.. Please share your experiences as I intend to shift in 2 months.
          My husband is already living in New Cairo and I found it pretty clean and green. A new flyover has got opened which is quite fast and reaching the Nile area is a smooth drive.
          I personally found Uber quite safe and women roaming around till late in the night, so basically safe. I did found the city quite dusty but that is expected as it’s a desert. I found people also friendly and willing to help though the shopkeepers do try to fleece expats and charge more than locals for the same goods.
          The weather is quite pleasant in May June and fresh fruits excellent and quite cheap. however, I found the branded clothes more expensive than at other places.
          Yes, they use plastic a lot which I found appalling. Language is surely a barrier.
          Please share your experiences. And good luck.

    2. Hi.. have you shifted. Can you share if it is safe there and if there are good international schools for high school kids. Thx

  2. Very interesting, thank you for sharing. I was always fascinated by Egypt and the history. You really broke it down in a more “down to earth” “reality” aspect. Thank you for sharing, by the way love your blog as well. – Matt

  3. Hi.. my husband has got a good offer of work for working in Cairo. 1 Wanted to know is it safe as had read about the unrest and human rights violations a few years back.
    2Also are there means of safe entertainment like casinos, movie halls etc as it becomes depressing even for a man staying alone without family.
    3 Do you get maid servants for cleaning up and cooking easily.
    Just for the background, my husband is in Dareslaam, Tanzania for the last 4 years and I am in India with kids for their education.
    Early response will be appreciated. Thx

    1. Hi! I will answer as best as I can:
      1. Cairo is definitely safe for a man. Women might experience sexual harassment and should not go out alone after dark but for men it should be completely fine.
      2.There are definitely entertainment options, many cinemas, malls etc. The Egyptians love to do that stuff on their free time because the outside the air is not so good and weather is too hot, so they like to have indoor activities.
      3. Yes, very easily. Even I had a maid coming in every now and then. There is a lot of service for domestic jobs.

      Hope this helped! 🙂

      1. Thanks for the prompt reply. It’s really helpful.
        Are there good international schools if I plan to shift with my daughter who is in 7th grade..

        1. Hi , i can share also my thoughts here being an Egyptian , although i’m lived most of the last 20 years in the Gulf and still in Dubai , however to summaries some points that may help :
          – Lost of efforts are being progressed now to reduce pollution mainly old cars renewals and burning Cropس are more and more controlled , however best places to live is new Cairo or Mokatam areas , you can even see the starts at night
          – Safety : People spend till 4:00 Am in the morning in the streets with no issues, but for sure we have to be careful selecting places where it known to be safe like all cities in the world
          – Food : new stream of healthy food started to take place , now you can go for Major Chains like Hardess and Mac and ask for VEGAn meals , my doughter is actually a VEGAN style and she has no issue getting her food easly
          – entertainment : Music / Arts / Going out .. i can tell many many pages here , just know whyat you want and you will find many option to make your weekend happy one full of memories, ofr ares , beside River nile long street full of garlies and you can make lots of connects , Music many many differs types you can attend ( Weeks we have 2 -3 ) events in cairo opera

          – Clubs , in new cair we have over 10 Major Clubs and Private training for Kids

          sorry for long text , if you need further details let me know


          1. Thanks dear for your detailed reply.
            My husband has taken up a house in New Cairo only near Downtown and Cairo Festival mall.
            I did visit Cairo during Eid time and found it very safe and lively and found good schools too.
            I particularly found people quite nice and welcoming and weather excellent.
            Look forward to shift soon and learning Arabic.

  4. Hey Kertu. Now after living in Cairo for over an year i only can double-confirm your article. Icant even imagine working in Cairo as i ve been placed in New Cairo.
    God bless those (especially women) who have to go through this misery of exictence here. I am still shocked. You mention good places at the sea. My opinion is that even there the people are uneducated and incapable of communicating as expected in touristic areas. Dont you think?

    1. Hi Alex,

      I think by the Red Sea you will find more people accustomed to Western people than deep inside Cairo. North Coast, however, hmm… I would never go alone, I’d go with friends, and normally I had at least one Arabic speaking male in the group – that lowers a lot of risks and uncomfortable situations.

      I personally did not fault them for not being able to speak English. That’s okay, as long as they are respectful and kind and don’t come to touch or grab me.

      Good luck in Cairo!! 🙂

  5. Cario is a shithole just like all Muslim cities and countries for that matter. You’re lucky you didn’t get raped or even killed!

    1. hey toshe! if Cairo is a shithole just like all Muslim cities and countries. why the f**k did you stay there? you know what, you should get the f**k out of Egypt and don’t bother us with your ugly appearance.

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