Pyramids, camels, the Red Sea, corruption, and poverty are just a few examples that come to people’s minds when thinking of Egypt. But is that really true?
I have asked Sabrina to tell us more about her expat life in Egypt including challenges, language, and cultural barriers, local dishes, costs of living, and much more.
Hi Sabrina, tell us about yourself…
Hi, I’m Sabi from Germany, 31 years old, and grew up in the beautiful south of Germany (Lake Constance). I love to travel and always loved to learn new languages.
In 2010 I started studying International Business and Intercultural Studies with a focus on the Arabic world which eventually led me to Egypt in 2011 where my expat journey started.
What was the main reason for moving to Egypt?
Initially, I came to Egypt through my University in 2011 for an exchange semester. I stayed for 12 months.
After finishing my Bachelor’s in Germany I decided to find a job in Cairo and give it a try. In the beginning, I was actually not planning to stay. I thought to gain some work experience abroad and then eventually return back to Germany.
However, life had other plans for me, in my professional as well as my personal life, and now I’ve been already 6 years in Cairo. I guess I’m meant to stay.
Is it easy to connect with locals or are there any barriers?
Egyptians are very social, so yes it is very easy to connect with people. However, it always depends on what kind of people you meet ( from which social background they come, etc.)
As a foreigner you have to be careful who to trust because of course everyone wants to be friends with a foreigner. For myself, I made one of the best friendships in Egypt who over the years became like family to me.
Speaking Arabic is another factor that makes it much easier to connect with people. In the beginning, it wasn’t always easy to communicate but people here are always friendly and helpful even if you don’t speak Arabic.
How about the cost of living?
For me, as a European, the cost of living in Egypt is much cheaper compared to Europe. For Egyptians however, salaries are very low and the cost of living has been increasing over the past years drastically. It kind of depends on your personal situation and income.
It also depends on what kind of standard you are living. If you buy local products such as vegetables, fruits, cotton clothes, rice and also pharmaceuticals, they are much cheaper than in Europe. Imported products from Europe such as branded clothes (H&M, Zara, etc) are much more expensive than in Europe (+30%) due to high import taxes.
The same goes for imported alcoholic drinks. They are also very expensive and not available unless you buy them at the airport upon arrival.
Finally, Egypt is one of the best countries to buy gold.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about living in Egypt?
My favorites to name a few: Sunny weather almost all year round, Egyptian beaches are one of the best, my social life (my partner, friends, colleagues), and Egyptian hospitality.
My least favorite things in Egypt are traffic, unpunctuality, harassment of women.
What was the biggest culture shock for you?
Traffic is still one of the biggest shockers for me. Up until this moment, I didn’t have the nerves to start driving in Cairo.
What is your favorite local food?
Molokheya, fresh fruits & vegetables.
Molokheya is made from an ancient Egyptian plant with green leaves and is cooked with a lot of garlic and coriander. It has a rather slimy consistency when cooked and can be eaten as a soup or with rice and chicken.
Molokheya is said to have many health benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels, it’s good for bones and skin and is rich in potassium and many vitamins for good immunity.
Can you share any funny/typical tradition from Egypt?
Not really a tradition but something really typical Egyptian in my point of view is that “There is only God and then there is the Egyptian Ego”. Just go into the streets of Cairo to observe and you will feel the whole population is basically doing whatever they want. That’s why the city is in total chaos but I still love it.
Another funny tradition for me is, before the wedding, the groom and his groom men go eat a lot of seafood as it is said to have the effect of a natural Viagra. I have never heard of such a tradition before in any other country.
What is a stereotype about Egyptians that you found out not to be true?
Number 1 stereotype is that Egypt is not safe. A lot of people have the impression through the media that Egypt is not safe. In my opinion, this is the biggest misconception about Egypt. Egyptians are one of the friendliest and helpful people I ever met.
Another stereotype is that all of Egypt is desert. It is funny how many times I got asked before if we actually ride on camels.
What is your favorite thing to do in Egypt that people should do if they visit?
That is easy as Egypt is full of history and amazing landscapes. Here we go:
- Go to the beautiful beaches (the Red Sea, Mediterranean sea)
- Visit the Pyramids – even after so many years in Egypt I still enjoy the view every time
- A tour through Old Cairo, Islamic Cairo – I recommend taking a local guide in order not to get lost and to have someone explain the historic places
- Go to the Nile to have breakfast or lunch, and enjoy the view over the city from the Cairo tower
What was the biggest challenge for you once you moved to Egypt?
Getting my residency visa & work permit. It took almost 1 year and also needs to be renewed annually.
Learning Arabic was also quite a big challenge and makes my life so much easier since I managed to speak the language.
What is a fun fact about Egypt most people don’t know about or expect?
Egyptians have an amazing sense of humor. They are masters of making fun of every situation they face. Even during any hardships like the 2011 revolution, COVID19, etc. They never forget that life is just so much better when you take it easy.
What would be your top advice for people who are thinking to move to Egypt?
Come with an open mind and willingness to learn about the culture. Forget about all the rules, expect that things will take a lot of time longer than they would in Europe.
Bring a lot of patience with you and don’t expect things to work as they work in Europe. Don’t trust people easily. Let them earn your trust.
What is the biggest difference between your home country Germany and Egypt?
Germans are very punctual, Egyptians don’t have any sense for the time. That’s the biggest difference that still drives me crazy sometimes until this moment.
What do you miss most from home?
My family, friends, and bakeries.
You can find more expat stories on my blog.