We are excited to welcome Dee to our Expat Life Interview Series. Born in Poland, grew up in the USA, let’s read her expat experience in Cairo, Egypt.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m originally from Poland and grew up in the United States.
Q: In which city and country are you living now? Did you move there alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I’m living in Cairo, Egypt, and moved here alone.
Q: How long have you lived there and how long are you planning to stay?
A: I’ve lived here for about 5 years and planning to stay permanently.
Q: Why did you move and what do you do?
A: I moved here for an internship at a press agency. I’m currently working as a freelance travel writer and photographer.
Q: Moving from Poland to Egypt, what was your first impression?
A: I’d been to Cairo before on vacation, so there wasn’t much culture shock when I moved here, but my first impression, in general, was that Cairo was a much bigger, hectic and lively city than Warsaw. There are constant traffic jams, and the streets are full of people even late at night.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Egypt? What were some of your favorite experiences in Egypt?
A: As a travel writer and blogger, Egypt is endlessly fascinating and I feel there’s always more to explore and discover. I really love having so many destinations to choose from – and I’m always adding more to my list. Over the years, I’ve also gotten to visit places that many tourists don’t get to see, like the Nile Delta or the City of the Dead in Cairo.
I love the year-round sunshine and the fact I’ve got the Red Sea just a couple hours away from Cairo. I also love taking a felucca boat from downtown and going for a quick sail in the city.
My favorite experiences have been taking a three-day sail down the Nile from Aswan with my father. The scenery was gorgeous, and it was such a slow and relaxing trip.
And of course, the best part was meeting my husband in Cairo, who’s the love of my life.
Q: What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss the green parks in Warsaw, and going there to observe the changes in the seasons: the first daisies popping up in the spring, the leaves turning yellow in autumn.
There are not many public parks in Cairo, and the nature that I grew up with (lilacs, oak or sycamore trees) don’t often grow here. The streets are so crowded with cars that it’s nearly impossible to go out jogging, and most people exercise at the gym or join a sports club.
Q: What has been the greatest aspect of your expat experience so far? What are the adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life there?
A: The fact I managed to find work here, settle in and get by in daily life has given me confidence and made me realize the world is nowhere as big or strange as we may imagine. I think I’m less ethnocentric now: I know the way my culture does things isn’t the standard that you should always compare everything to.
I’ve had to learn patience and how to let go of minor, everyday annoyances. I’ve learned that life flows much smoother when you stay positive, and when you’re kind to everyone you meet.
Q: How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country, in terms of cost of living, public transportation and healthcare system?
A: The cost of living here is much lower than in Europe or the US – I think it would be a great place to retire on a nice pension. Fruits and vegetables are fresher and much more flavorful than in the US, and I don’t think it’s as expensive to eat healthily.
Public transportation is below European standards – buses or vans are often rundown, and they don’t always have AC. I always take Uber everywhere. It’s much easier to figure out directions with GPS.
Public healthcare is also below standard, though there are good private hospitals in Cairo.
Q: What are the best things to do or places to visit in Egypt?
A: Definitely Aswan and sailing down the Nile River, and the temple at Luxor is also incredible to visit. Cairo has beautiful architecture, whether it’s Islamic or Old Cairo, or more European-inspired buildings downtown. I also love snorkeling in the Red Sea, the Nile Delta and Alexandria.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: Tell us about your typical day as an expat in Egypt.
A: I always wake up late, especially in summer, and have a cup of Yemeni coffee with cardamon. I start work at around 10 am. Even though I’m a blogger and freelance writer, I like working on a structured 8-hour day with a break for lunch. Most of the time I’m doing social media work, writing, or pitching story ideas to editors. In the evenings I watch movies, read or sit out on my balcony. Sometimes I attend events for local hotels and PR companies.
On weekends, we always have a big fish dinner, and I run errands or do groceries, and catch up with my reading. Lately, I’ve started dabbling in watercolors as a way to unwind. I’m also addicted to podcasts!
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? Did you feel you fitted in culturally?
A: It’s been easy to meet people because I do a lot of interviews for stories and attend different events. But it’s not easy for me (anywhere) to make close friends.
I think I get along better with other expats because we have more in common. But I’m a bit of a workaholic so it isn’t easy to make the time to meet up with friends – especially given Cairo traffic.
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or go through an agency?
A: I bought a 3-month tourist visa when I arrived at the airport, and afterward I kept renewing it by filing paperwork at this huge government building in Tahrir Square called Mogamma. The process wasn’t difficult, though there were always big crowds and wait times at Mogamma.
Now since I’m married to an Egyptian, I have a residency visa.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: I think people are more laid-back and less exacting, which can be frustrating if you’re a perfectionist. On the upside, people are also more family-oriented, more likely to spend time with loved ones, and take longer vacations than workers in the US.
Q: What are your tips or advice for anyone looking to live and work in Egypt?
A: Teachers, writers, and journalists are always in demand here, and I don’t think it’s difficult to find work in those fields if you’ve got some good experience. If you find work in Egypt while you’re abroad, the job will most likely pay better than if you come to Egypt and then look for work.
Cairo is also a great place to come and learn Arabic – though the language is something I’ve yet to learn!
Thank you, Dee, for taking the time to be part of our Expat Life Interview Series! Dee is a writer and travel blogger who loves slow travel and local cultures. She was born in Poland, grew up in the U.S., and has traveled widely across Europe and countries like Taiwan and South Africa. Currently based in Cairo, Dee loves exploring lesser-known destinations across Egypt and beyond.
Follow her website at Vanilla Papers, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
*All photos are the sole property of the author. They were provided and used with permission for this interview only. Any unauthorized use of these photos is prohibited.
The Expat Life Interview Series was created to know more about the country, not just from a traveler’s perspective. We hope to help others who are thinking of working abroad to know how it is to live and work with the locals. If you are living and working abroad even for only a few months or several years and would like to be featured on Wellington World Travels, please Contact Us so we can send you the questions and share your expat life experience.