Tips and Tricks for Renting a Flat in Cairo, Part III
By Amargi Hillier
Typical Rental Fees
As tourist, it is unlikely you will find a flat for under 500 LE. Expect to pay in the range of 800 LE - 1,500 LE. A typical clean and good Giza flat for a foreigner might cost 800 LE for two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a balcony. Don't be fooled. This will typically not pay for an apartment or house which is as nice as a typical apartment for example in the US. For such extravagance, expect to pay much more.
Also, do not be surprised if your landlord comes around asking for a rent increase. This may happen as early as your first month living in the flat, and this should be refused. After all, you did agree upon a price. However, after six months or so, it is not unusual to have a small rent increase.
It is not a legal requirement that the landlords need to have a deposit, but usually they will ask for one. A deposit should be the same amount as the rent. If he tries to ask for a larger amount or says you need to pay a few months rent at once, step away from this situation. And as elsewhere in the world, you might expect a difficult time getting all of the deposit back, as the landlord is likely to find this or that repair that must be done. Landlords might also request a deposit for the telephone service. This is not typical or customary, and is more often the landlord attempting to take advantage. Politely refuse to do this, and he will normally give up quickly.
About every six months, you do have to pay your phone bill. Ask to have a photocopy of the actual bill. Once you have some experience in Cairo, you can handle the telephone bill on your own. The newspapers publish a notice when the bills are ready. You can then call a number with the phone company and find out the amount of your telephone bill. Then simply go into the local telephone company branch near you (called centraal), and pay the bill on your own. Be sure to keep the invoice to give to the landlord. Keep a photocopy yourself. If you are using the phone constantly in the day, for example many hours on the net, expect your bill to be around 1,000 LE every six months.
Other costs you should expect include a garbage fees of around 5 LE per month and electricity, which might typically cost 30 LE each month.
There is also the cost of simply living in Egypt. Remember that about every six months you must renew your passport at the Mugamma. This cost is about 30 LE for the stamp (tourist resident visa).
When it comes to leaving the flat, be sure you already know the landlord's requirements. Usually they want 30 days notice, which is normal and fair. Likewise, if he wants to evict you, you need the same amount of notice.
How To Live In Your New Flat
As with anywhere else in the world, have some respect for your neighbors. Keep parties and loud music to a minimum. Be polite and friendly. They will be doing the same towards you.
You will have a bowab, who is the doorman who stays in the lobby floor. He is your best friend in the apartment building. He can do, get, or arrange anything for you if you need. He can arrange to have newspapers at your door, or help if your oven gas tank needs to be changed. It is customary to give him a little money each month (20 LE is suitable and generous). If you send him out to buy you something, give him a little tip. The bowab usual lives with his family in a small room near the front door of the building. Don't let this bother you. This is normal class structure in Egypt and bowabs usually are happy with their position as guardian of the building and tenants. They also probably make more money than you realize, especially if you live in a building with a lot of flats.
It is proper at the first day of Ramadan to give extra money to the bowab and his family for the feast. Be as generous as you like. I usually give 50 - 100 LE, which I am told is way too generous. But I don't mind. Naturally, I am a foreigner and foreigners are expected to have a little more money. I also buy him cigarettes a couple times a month.
The bowab will always be very friendly to you, and might invite you to have tea in his room. Try to avoid this. You really want to keep this a more formal relationship. Your neighbors certainly wouldn't do it. In fact, watch your neighbors and follow their lead.
During your first month or so, you may have some people ringing your bell offering various services such as ironing or cleaning. Word gets out that a foreigner is living in the flat. If you don't want the services, be polite and friendly, but tell them no thank you.
Cairo is a very dusty city due to the desert. You will find dust collects so much faster. Things such as computer, fans, and plugs and cords need to be dusted frequently.
If something in the flat breaks, discuss the situation with the landlord. If you broke it, you should agree to pay for it. If something broke due to normal wear and tear, then it should be the flat owner's responsibility. However, repair services are often inexpensive in Egypt, and there are times when it is easier to pay a plumber 20 LE to fix something then to go to the trouble of arranging repairs with the landlord.
All the shops and services around you can do house calls (i.e. deliveries). For example, all supermarkets have young men or boys who run all around the nearby flats doing deliveries. Tip the delivery boy 50 piastres. Similar arrangements can be made with dry cleaners and ironers. One may arrange for a boy to come each morning to see if there are any shirts to be pressed. If so, he takes them and returns them later at an arranged time. Expect to pay about 30 - 50 piastres for a pressed shirt and 75 piasters - 1 LE for pants.
Surprisingly, almost anything you need usually be found closeby. There are small markets all about, and even western style supermarkets. Appliances can be found in the many malls and department stores.
Internet access is always available. Either you can get your own DSL account (45 LE / per month is the basic package) for your flat or use one of the many cyber cafes located around the city (7 LE / per hour). However, keep in mind that even for local calls, one is charged by time for telephone service.
Using only an antenna, there are about seven television channels currently. Channel 2 usually shows English movies twice a day, including one series. NileTV is a Cairo channel in English and French (mostly English). New updates are broadcast every hour, and there are man mini-documentary about Egyptian ancient and modern culture. During Ramadan, NileTV airs Arabic movies with English subtitles each night. These are not too be missed! Arabic movies (with English subtitles) are also aired a couple times a week on this same channel. If you want more channels, including foreign ones, you can opt for getting a ShowTime satellite dish. Actually any kind of satellite system can be found here, including internet satellite technology. No need to turn your TV down during prayer call. It is broadcast on the stations as well. VCRs can be purchased easily and there are tons of video rental stores everywhere. Most of these are foreign English films.
Electrical power outages and the phone going out are common. In my current flat in Giza, I can expect the power to go once a day at least, usually for about 5 minutes. The power outages are hard on your computer. Be sure to save often while working or if your computer is really important, use an uninteruptable power supply. Be sure to turn all electoral appliances off (including the computer) prior to leaving the flat for any length of time. Outages are common but temporary situations. A small flashlight it good to have in your flat for such occurrences at night.
Once or maybe twice a year a sand storm will hit Cairo. These are powerful desert winds blasting into the city. It is probably best to stay. Generally they will last only a few hours. If the storm is strong enough, a very thin layer of dust will cover everything in a short time even if you think all the windows are secured tightly.
Avoid having traditional pets. Many compassionate foreigners will wish to adopt one of the street cats, but it is not uncommon for these animals to have diseases, and if you have a soft heart for animals, it will soon become apparent that this is a no win situation. Obviously, if you have a domestic cat or dog, they can never be turned loose and in fact it is best that they never leave the flat at all. Furthermore, since house pets, and particularly dogs are relatively rare, most Egyptians neighbors will appreciate a barking dog at all. Also, keeping a dog or cat can become very expensive. If you must have a pet, consider a bird or fish, which are more common and easier to keep.
Also in the very odd case, someday after a couple months, you might find that some police come to your door. There is no cause for concern. Often they just want to check out to ensure your passport is in order and perhaps see your contract. Just show them and be friendly and there is never a problem at all.
Useful Pointers & Tips
Patience, friendliness, strategy, and quick thinking are your best assets in Egypt. Never be too worried about doing things right or wrong. Cultures and traditions do vary around the globe. But politeness, respect, courtesy and friendliness are the key tools you use to navigate through a foreign or new environment.
Allow yourself a good two weeks to find a flat. Find yourself an inexpensive hotel for a few weeks and allow yourself to relax and become familiar with the city as well as making a few Egyptian friends.
Keep all your small bills as they will come in handy for tips and taxis and are sometimes hard to obtain. For example, many taxi drivers will never have change, which allows them to take more money.
Avoid hustlers who promise big things. They usually don't deliver. Keep in mind that most Egyptians are very nice people, but tourists end up often running into hustlers because they frequent the areas where tourists are found.
If someone helping you find a flat tries to get you into shops or talks about doing business with you, just politely remind him that you are only interested in finding a flat.
Don't allow anyone to make you feel pressured.
Bend with the rules. Don't be so stubborn to stick to certain agreements or arrangements. Sometimes it is better to bend rather than maintaining a tough stance, like when it comes to rent increases. Things changing is a normal concept in Egypt.
Tips For Women
Single women living in flats alone is not common in Egypt at all. Be aware that this is not a cultural norm.
Avoiding bringing men to your flat, even if it is your brother from back home. This can often create an unwanted reputation with your neighbors if you are in a more traditional area. If you have family over, let the landlord or bowab know ahead of time as they will ease the neighbor's minds about the situation.
If people ask you too many personal questions, don't be afraid to tell them politely that it is nothing they need to know.
Be aware in Egypt that foreign women are stereotyped by some traditional Egyptian men as being somewhat too "open". Therefore, be extremely careful about giving out phone numbers or your address, and if you let someone into your apartment, consider having the bowab accompany them.
Consider the area of Maadi, with a higher density of foreign residents.
Tips For Men
Avoiding bringing women to your flat. This is not suitable in an Islamic culture. If it happens too many times (with too many different women), then don't be surprised if neighbors complain or the landlord gets concerned. If relatives are staying, let the bowab know before hand as well as the landlord.
A customary good morning to neighbor women is fine, but avoid talking openly to them. If a neighbor woman is with her husband, only talk to him. Even avoid making eye contact with her.
If a few women are waiting for the elevator while you are there, allow them to go first and step aside to wait for the next ride up.
Tips For Non Married Couples
If you are coming to live in Egypt with a member of the opposite sex that you are not married to, pretend to be. Living with someone from the opposite sex is not considered proper in Egypt. By all means, get a couple of cheap wedding rings. There are no official inquires regarding this, but you will get along much better with your neighbors.
And most of all, enjoy your stay in Egypt