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  • Paul Zimmerer

    Before I moved to Cairo I contacted some local members on InterNations. They gave me some great assistance.

Employment in Cairo

At a Glance:

  • The economy suffered during the years of the revolution, with the tourism industry hit the worst.
  • Nevertheless, multinational corporations offer many job opportunities for expats.
  • The business dress code is preferably conservative.
  • Kissing on the cheek is the norm between men, but not to the opposite sex.

Egypt’s economy was on the rise for many years. The economic reforms undertaken between 2004 and 2008, with their more market-oriented approach, attracted many foreign investors. Annual growth rates that rarely fall below 5% and being among the Next 11 nations gave a good idea of Egypt’s economic potential.

However, as of 2013, Egypt’s economy is faltering. The tourism industry accounts for one in eight jobs and over 11% of the GDP, and the Tourism Minister depicts 2013 as the worst in modern history. There were five million fewer tourists visiting Egypt than in 2010, numbers falling from 14.7 million to 9.5 million.

The public finances are also in a bad state with public debt exceeding 91%. However, with the support of its Gulf allies, Egypt has managed to stay clear of default.  In 2015, higher levels of foreign investment helped GDP growth to rebound after the troubled period that inflicted a hit on the economy.

Stumbling Economy

Although only 2.8% of the country’s total area is arable, Egypt is fairly agriculturally oriented. About a third of the workforce is employed in the primary sector, and the regular floods on the banks of the Nile provide them with plenty of work: Multiple annual crops are the norm. The agricultural sector has been performing well, as it is sheltered from political unrest and extreme weather conditions. It grew by 3% from 2013 to 2014 and as of 2015 it makes up about 14.5% of GDP.

Egypt is home to various industries such as automobile and textile production, chemicals, and steel. The manufacturing industry, which comprised 15.5% of GDP in 2015, is getting back on track after a recent slump during the Egyptian revolution. The services sector remains the most important part of Egypt’s economy, accounting to 47.5% of the total GDP.

A third of the nation’s industry is located in or around Cairo. Control of the Suez Canal is another important source of revenue for the nation. In terms of natural resources, Egypt profits greatly from its oil supplies. The Suez Canal is sheltered from internal political ongoings and, thus, its revenues remain stable at about 5 billion USD per year. The New Suez Canal, an 8.4 billion USD project, should also boost Egypt’s economy, with expected annual trade growth rate of 3.4%.

Egypt’s Business Hub

Cairo is the undisputed center of Egypt in almost every respect. More than one in ten of the country’s inhabitants are currently living and working in Cairo and its metropolitan area. For many international corporations, working in Cairo is the most feasible option when trying to establish a presence in the Middle East.

Many of the city’s inhabitants have found employment in the public sector. This includes the government, the military, and the city administration. For a large number of people, working in Cairo’s administrative machine is synonymous with the Mugamma, the somewhat infamous, Soviet-built office complex.

With nearly all of the nation’s movie studios and major newspapers located in the city, working in Cairo is an important step in the careers of many Egyptian media creatives. Egyptian movies are enjoyed throughout the Arab world, and working in Cairo has often been the first step on the road to stardom for an aspiring actor.

Moreover, Cairo’s construction business is an almost crisis-proof trade. As working in Cairo has undergone a sudden increase in popularity since the 1990s, the city administration had problems keeping up with the rapid pace of construction. Some estimate that one in five buildings in the city is less than 15 years old. Thus, there is a steady demand for people working in Cairo’s construction sector and on the building sites of many new projects.

Of course, tourism is vital to the city as well. The many employees working in Cairo’s hotels and cafés profit greatly from the proximity to the world-famous pyramids. But the city holds many sights of its own, and working in Cairo’s streets as a tourist guide or souvenir vendor is popular among the local population.

Opportunities for Expats

Due to its regional and international importance, employees working in Cairo-based branches of multi-national corporations play an important role in the number of expats making up the Cairo workforce. Oil companies and communications providers in particular offer many jobs which require their holder to be working in Cairo. Other expat-heavy branches of industry include construction, technology, the chemical industry, and renewable energies.

Quite a few Western-educated doctors are now working in Cairo’s international hospitals. Many other expats make a living in the immense tourism sector, often in executive or management positions. Teaching has also been a popular option for many expats, and with the large selection of international schools in the city, opportunities are manifold.

Employment Matters for Expats in Cairo

Finding Employment

Many nations have realized Egypt’s economic potential, therefore establishing chambers of commerce in Cairo. Everyone who is interested in working in Cairo can find help and guidance as well as many job listings there. Chambers of commerce are highly valuable stepping stones on the path towards working in Cairo, and they should be among your preferred sources of information.

We highly recommend finding employment before actually settling in Cairo. Acquiring a work permit is somewhat of an arduous task, and local newspapers rarely advertise jobs suitable for expatriates. Settling on a company and signing an employment contract will drastically simplify matters in every respect.

Work Permits and Other Paperwork

If no Egyptian nationals qualify for a certain position, a foreign national may apply for a work permit valid for up to one year. It can then be renewed for up to three years. Certain expats, such as foreign investors and managing directors, can apply for temporary visas for a period of five years.

The first step towards obtaining a work permit is converting your temporary or tourist visa into a work visa. This visa can then be converted into a work permit if you file an application with the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration in Egypt. You must also provide proof of (prospective) employment and proof of a clean bill of health.

Following the approval of the request for a work permit by the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration, the nearest Egyptian consulate is notified and may authorize a tourist visa for you. After you arrive in Egypt, you have four to six weeks to take the remaining steps towards securing a work permit. However, you can work during this period as long as you have handed in all the paperwork for the work permit. For more information on visas in general, including the application process, please refer to our article on Moving to Cairo.

Current Situation for Expats

Employers are supposed to give jobs to locals and grant them the full benefits of the social security system, rather than employing foreigners who usually do not enjoy the same rights. However, this should not affect highly skilled professionals, but rather seasonal workers and similar groups. The number of non-Egyptian employees in any company must not exceed 10% of the total work force for semiskilled or unskilled workers. For skilled workers the limit is 25%. Additionally, the total compensation of foreign employees must not exceed 35% of the establishment’s total payroll.

Working Conditions and Etiquette in Cairo

When working in Cairo as an expat, you will most likely get paid substantially more than your Egyptian colleagues. To some, the wages might still seem somewhat low when converted into Western currencies. However, the low cost of living in Cairo usually allows for a very comfortable life on a regular expat salary.

You can expect work days of 8 hours for 5 days a week from Sunday to Thursday. Friday, the holy day in Islam, is the principal day off. The working week could occasionally include Saturdays as well.

Social Security

Only Egyptian nationals with full-time employment pay social security contributions. There is a threshold maximum on the amount that the employee and employer have to pay. They only pay on the first 912.5 EGP of the base pay (normal salary) and 1,200 EGP for the variable pay (bonuses and commissions). The percentage paid for these two categories are 14% and 11% respectively.

Egypt has totalization agreements with Greece, Cyprus, Sudan, and the Netherlands, so that individuals do not end up paying social security taxes in two countries at the same time. Unfortunately, social security does not cover expats, with a few exceptions. Thus, it is best for expats to talk to their employer, local security office, private wealth manager, or financial advisor about what to do.

Business Etiquette

Expats from Western countries should always be aware that Egypt is part of the Muslim world. Business is no exception in this regard.

Business dress code in Egypt tends to be fairly conservative. This applies especially to women: Skirts should always at least cover the knee. Blouses, shirts, and dresses should feature a high neckline and sleeves that reach to the elbow. For men, shorts or sandals are absolutely unacceptable in the business world. Also, it is preferable that you wear long-sleeved shirts. If you have trouble getting used to the heat, rest assured that air-conditioning is very common in Cairo’s offices.

Try to keep the subject of money out of any conversation you might have. Discussing finances is not customary in Egypt, and insisting on the subject might seem both rude and impatient.

Punctuality is not valued as highly as in some other countries. Prepare to be left waiting more often than not. Try not to make more than one important appointment a day. Chances are you will not be able to handle more.

Among men, friendly kisses on the cheek are very common. This is a customary sign of respect and goodwill. While you will exchange handshakes upon first meeting your Egyptian colleagues, it is important to be familiar with this tradition, as you will inevitably come in contact with it. Kisses are only exchanged between members of the same sex, though. Please abstain from applying this custom to superiors and especially to members of the opposite sex.

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  • Paul Zimmerer

    Before I moved to Cairo I contacted some local members on InterNations. They gave me some great assistance.

  • Barbara Sciera

    Cairo is a bustling metropolis. Through InterNations I met some other expat women. Now we meet on a weekly basis.

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