Tips and Tricks for Renting a Flat in Cairo, Part I
By Amargi Hillier
This mini guide is geared towards the single/lone traveler who wishes to spend a longer stay in Egypt, specifically within Cairo. Living in Egypt, either for a short stay or a long one, is an extremely rewarding and interesting experience. Most people simply fall in love with Cairo, provided that the initial challenges of doing so do not overwhelm them. I myself fall into the category of a long term tourist, having spent almost four years here. I simply cannot part with this stunning country. And even if I did, I would choose to maintain a residence here as well as a foreign residence.
There are numerous books and resources regarding the subject of finding and renting a flat in Cairo. I recommend one seeks out such resources. However presented here are some useful tips & tricks and insights to get you going.
Your position as a tourist is both an advantage and disadvantage when choosing to reside in Cairo. You should be aware of these aspects for they offer you unique opportunities. Play the opportunities as much as possible.
One may live in Cairo for a surprisingly low cost, and as one gains experience in the city, it becomes cheaper to live here. For example, tourist residents often uses a lot of taxis during their initial first few. But while taxis are not all that expensive in Cairo, as you learn to navigate around the city, local transportation (such as microbuses and the metro) will reduce transportation costs even more. The same applies to food, tips, and other expenses.
For an extended stay in Egypt, you must have a special visa stamp on your passport which defines you as a 'tourist resident'. This allows a tourist resident to live in Egypt, but not to work. On a regular tourist visa, you can find and set up a flat. Then once you are settled, you can follow the easy steps to acquire your tourist resident status That will buy you six months and needs to be renewed near expiration. One applies for such visas at the Mugamma government building on Tahrir Square.
Living Near The Pyramids
Most tourists fresh to Egypt are very much interested in the antiquities of Egypt, most commonly the Pyramids and Sphinx. So many new residents tend to be attracted to living near these areas. Nothing is more delightful then sitting on your own private balcony and enjoying the sunrise over the Pyramids.
Many people who choose to live in Egypt have often already acquired a few friends in the country, and they will usually be of considerable help in finding a flat. Prior to the Internet, it was much more difficult for someone to choose to live in Egypt. But these days, there are many groups and discussions where one may find new friends and learn about living in Egypt before attempting to do so. Our own Egypt Conference and Chat system is just such a place.
But for others, a reasonably priced budget hotel will usually be required for a short time in order to make a few acquaintances who might help in your quest for an apartment. Virtually any Egyptian you encounter related to the tourism industry (taxi driver, shop keepers, guides, travel companies, etc) can help you find a flat. But of course, you must be careful and take a little time looking about. Some of these new acquaintances will certainly try to take advantage, most Egyptians are friendly and helpful, and it is not so difficult to distinguish those from the ones who would put a quick buck in their pocket at your expense.
A taxi driver may often have some of the best leads on where to find flats. This is one time that you should negotiate a price in advance, perhaps for a morning or even a few hours. They will not mind showing you flats, as they are being paid for their efforts, so you can see tons of flats if you wish.
One good idea is to simply find a young Egyptian person who works with tourists (such as somebody in a shop) to help you find a flat. Basically them that you want their help to find a flat and offer a little salary of 50 LE or so for few days of helping you see as many flats as possible.
If you have a travel company you deal with in Egypt, they can also help. You should not offer to pay for their help. It is most likely that they will negotiate a commission with the flat owner, as most anyone including taxi drivers will do.
Be realistic. Many flats in Egypt might not be as luxurious as what you are used to back home and Egyptian furnishing might not appeal to your initial sense of tastes. So check out as many flats as possible, but learn to decide upon something sooner rather than later. If this is your first flat, you might choose something a little below your tastes for the sake of getting yourself started. Seeing a lot of flats will give you a general idea and sense of what you want or can feel comfortable with.
The areas around the Pyramids, such as the nearby villages and nearby Giza city, are riddled with flats which can be rented to the foreigner. Generally, this is more of a private arrangement with families. The whole effort is fairly easy and possible, and so many foreigners do end up living near the Pyramids for at least a short time
One may even choose to live with a family, most often in the Mena village in front of the Sphinx. Many villagers are happy to host your stay in their home for as long as you desire. This is a great experience because you will become close to a family and learn a lot about Egyptian life
But there are advantages and disadvantages to living in this area. Advantages include the fact that many people in the area can speak English and are very accustom to foreigners. For example, even for single female tourists, renting a flat here is easy because the local people are quite used to foreign women live alone. But there are many disadvantages of living near the Pyramids. The tourist industry can be quite aggressive (but friendly) in trying to get business from you. For example, walking to and from your flat you may encounter a lot of people inviting you into their shops, or trying to hustle business. But this becomes less of a problem as they get to know your face and know that you are living in the area.
Another disadvantage is that the costs in these areas might not be as low as they could be. You are still defined as a tourist, so there is often expectation that you will pay a little more for just about everything.
Finally, living in Giza near the Pyramids is really some distance from the heart of Cairo, and most people find out fairly soon that they would rather be nearer to the life that is found there. Living near the Pyramids is certainly suitable for tourists, but one may never really discover the real flavor that is Egypt.