Monthly Archives: July 2015

Where to rent a flat in Cairo?

It´s more or less a philosophical question where exactly you would like to live in Cairo. As we all know the city is VERY large and has many faces. The famous novel by Naguib Mahfouz explains another character trait of the city: Cairo is a cosmos of districts, villages and street communities. In German we have a word for this: the Kiez. People live in one part of the city most of their live and hardly ever leave it. The community there is strong and sometimes embossed with the charateristics of their people.  It is impossible to talk about all quarters of the city. As far as I know from my own experience there are some parts of the city popular with tourists, vistors and foreigners so that we can concentrate on them for the start.

The first question you have to ask yourself is – in my opinion- one of the most important: Do you want to live in a mostly Egyptian Community or do you like to have some other international neighbors? There are parts of the city that are very international and quiet modern while other charming quarters are more or less in the hand of the Egyptians only. Before you answer this question, think about yourself! Are you really capable of living in a purely Egyptian nieghborhood? How good is your Arabic? What kind of food do you need for your daily life? How important is comfort to you? And one of the most important questions: Where will you work/study everyday?

Cairo is a traffic-nightmare and since the revolution there are several security issues that have to be reconsidered.

When you have answered those question it is time to think about the perfect part of the city for you to live in.

If you like a international atmosphere and you need a higher comfort there are at least three districts in Cairo that can be recommended:

Garden City



Heliopolis (Masr eg-Gedida, not to confuse with the new plans for “New Cairo”)

and Maadi. There are others, surely but as I said, it is impossible to talk about all disctricts…

Today we will have a closer look at Garden City and Zamalek

Garden City (جاردن سيتى ) is an extension of Downtown (wust al-balad) and a residential area at the East side of the Nile. The eastern border is marked by the famous Qasr al-Ayni-Street while the western border is the Corniche an-Nil and therefore the River itself. Garden City was part of the Europeanisation of Cairo that started during the rule of Khedive Mohammed Ali and his sucessors. Garden City was planned and built by private investors only. The name is not just a lable as Garden City belongs to the greenest areas of Cairo. There are lots of small palaces (qasr) with ornamental decoration, large houses, windy streets and lots and lots of trees. Garden City houses some embassies but is not the International Diplomatic Area as you can read in some travel guides – this surely is Zamalek. The two most important in Garden City are the embassies of the United States of America and the UK. Some of the most important Hotels in Cairo are situated in Garden City as the Four Seasons, the Kempinski, the Grand Hyatt or the Semiramis (although the Semiramis in fact is closer to Down Town and borders on Tahris Square.  Garden City is a kind of “hot spot” for rich foreigners. In past decades it was very famous by Europeans and Americans but now is visited by thousands of Arabs from the Gulf States who normally have rooms in one of the large hotels in the area.

Garden City is – for Cairo – a quiet place, quiet western in design and close to the most important parts of the city like Downtown or Zamalek where lots of foreigners work. Shopping is one of the weaker points in Garden city as it is a more or less pure residential area. On the other hand you will find your small grocery shops and lots of very good restaurants like the famous Taboulee. The flats in Garden City are from high to higher quality and most houses are in old buildings. This means high ceilings, parquet floors, large rooms and so on. Some houses here even have nice spacious balconies. The prices for flats in Garden City are quiet high and so you will not live much cheaper than in Europe (while the flats are normally larger).

Zamalek is –  apart from the walled communities far outside the city centre – surely the most glamorous, gentrified and chichi part of Cairo. And as far away form the life of the normal Egyptian as is New York, Berlin or the moon. Zamalek is an illusion, a bubble of wealth, education and western lifestyle in an ocean that is Cairo. The island therefore easily cheats its inhabitants – Egyptians and Europeans. People who lived in Egypt for years and only lived on Zamalek tend to have a strange view of Egypt and the Egyptians while even the Egyptians living here often think that their lifestyle is the true Egyptian Way of Life. Here you still find the social norms of the times of the kings in order. Social Class is important, money is very important. You see a lot of women without cover, men in modern clothing drinking cocktails and even alcohol on one of the famous roof-top restaurants, you will see expensive cars (German Brands mostly), very good restaurants – from Chinese, Sushi, Thai and Indian to Italian and Libanese, from handmade burgers to the western brands like MacDonalds or Pizzahut (not to forget the famous famous Kentucky Fried Chicken….how could I nearly forget about that???). You can go shopping in expensive botiques, browse in international bookstores like Diwan and finish your day with a water pipe directly at the Nile or a capucchino – you like beer? No problem at all in Zamalek. Lots of bars and pubs will offer you a ice cold drink. Zamalek is the true diplomatic quarter of the city with numerous embassies that sometimes occupy entire streets along with restaurants, shops and some hotels like the Hilton Zamalek or the Marriott. Zamalek is – like Garden City – very green with some parks and in the south of the Island (which is called Gezira “island”) larger parks and the enormous sport clubs. Zamalek is full of shops and  has three western supermarkets. A lot of expensive private schools are to be found here, too.  Galleries, a music school, art schools and the opera are on the Island as well. When you have to stay in Cairo for some months and you are not very interested in learning much about Egypt and th Egyptians, if you need the atmosphere of an international city, Zamalek is probably the best choice for you. A lot of foreigners never leave the Island because of that feeling even when they stay in Egypt for many years. They can never give up  western lifestyle and comfort – this is something I can understand while on the other hand it keeps the people on distance to real Egypt. Zamalek offers comfortable flats but of course is not expensive. What makes the Europeans stay is the fact that with an European Salary you can live the life of the upper 10,000 on the Island. You can have staff cleaning your large flat, you can dine in a restaurant every day, have a coffee here, a shisha there and the best: This is all easily possible without any Arabic. Most people in Zamalek speak English – the Egyptian Upper Class sometimes even uses English or French when they talk with each other because this seems to be very sophisticated. When you see “normal” Egyptians at the streets, men in ghalabbyia, covered women and so on you can be sure that they will leave the Island in the evening. Most of them do not live on Zamalek, they “serve” on the Island.



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Renting a flat in Cairo – what to know

When you want to stay in Cairo for a longer period you may think of renting a flat. You will have your own little kingodm and you can live your life independet. No other guests, no schedules for breakfast and so on. Finding a flat in Cairo is not as hard as you may think. There are a lot of internet platforms that offer flats, here is a short list:

Another option is using one of the black-boards. You will find those in some of the international institions, one of the best is the one of the AUC (American University Cairo). If you like it more personal you can walk around in areas you really like and ask the people already living in that quartier. The best informations you will get from the bawab, the “doorkeeper”. As the janitor and girl for everything in the houses they surely know if there is anything free in their house. That can take some time and of course it is much easier when you speak at least some Arabic. That for sure is always better when staying in Egypt for a longer time and especially when you plan on living in our own flat.

Asking a semsarr (a professional) is surely another option. Most flats offered in the internet are announced by semsarrs as well. They normally have a lost with several flats and can show you the ones you like. Of course you have to pay for their services. The priceds differ a lot but you have to calculate with 1 rent.

Before you start searching for a flat you need to know some things:

Nearly all flats are furnished. The quality of the furniture differs a lot and is not necessarily very high when the flat is very expensive. The typical Egyptian style is opulent and sometimes kind of baroque. “Oriental” furniture is very rare and in most cases only to be found in really exclusive and expenisve flats.

If the flat as been uninhabited for some times, it will be very, very dusty.

Try out the electricity and the hot water

Ask for telephone and internet/TV

Try out the aircondition!!! Some only make the air smell funny….

Think of the story… especially in the summer there are nearly daily black-outs in Cairo. When you come home with your grocery-shopping and heavy water bottles and your flat is on the 7th floor this is not really nice…

Egyptian flats are normally quiet large compared to the price you pay. This can be nice but think about the fact that you maybe live alone in a large apartement. If you don´t like somebody else doing the cleaning for you that is a lot of work.

The next thing is that there is nearly no middle-class option when it comes to the price. You can get really expensive flats and quiet cheap ones. That is not necessarily an indicator for the quality of the flat. When you want to love in Downtown you can get a flat for around 2.500 LE with two bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom while you pay around 7.000 LE for the same flat on Zamalek. It is worth searching for a time because sometimes you will have the chance to get the dream flat for a good price in the perfect location. In general the standards are much lower.

When you found your perfect flat you have to sign a contract. Normally is is a 12month contract and you have to pay a disposit. The contract surely will be in Arabic, so ask your landlord or the semsarr for an English Version.

In the contract there is the price for the flat… but this is not all you have to pay. This is important to know because you will be surprised whatelse you will have to pay for… First of all it is the Bawaab. They will ask you to pay them around 100 LE, with is too much. Ask you Egyptian Neighbours what they pay and then give around 20 % more, that will do. The next is the garbage guy. He will ask you to pay 30 to 50 LE, you will give him 15 to 20 LE. He will scream and lament, don´t react. Then the electricity guy… he will give you a real bill, that´s nice… same for the water in  some houses. Normally you will have a cleaning lady, too. She will receive around 100 LE p. month- which does not mean that she really cleans. Be sure that your money and expensive belongings are locked away. I know, some people will say that it is not nice to say something like that, but I made my experience.

ALWAYS close your door, lock it when you are inside. Like in all big cities are are burglars hanging around in Cairo. They like to break in flats of foreigners, expecting that they are all rich.

There are much more things to say about renting flats in Egypt and more will come but this is a first glimpse!

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