Egyptian soprano Fatma Said serenaded audiences at the first public event to be held at the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) last month, inviting people to visit her home country by saying “open invitation: come and visit Egypt.”
I could go a step further and recommend that visitors decide to stay in Egypt after making a first short visit. In fact, many foreigners choose to do just that.
My accountant in Vancouver in Canada once asked me if it was costly to live in Egypt. My response was an adamant “no!” I realised afterwards that he was thinking of spending half the year elsewhere, not necessarily in Egypt but just to be able to afford to live for the remaining six months in Vancouver.
He later said that he felt it was time to split the year between Vancouver and a less-expensive location. Many North Americans choose to do just that.
It costs a family of four close to CA$5,000 (about $3,730) a month not counting rent to live in Vancouver, while it costs a single person around CA$1,300. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now CA$2,500. It goes without saying that Vancouver, though exquisite, is an exorbitantly expensive city.
The cost of living is even higher in New York across the border in the US. A family of four has estimated monthly costs of $5,250 without counting rent. A single person’s estimated monthly costs are $1,431 without rent. In fact, Numbeo, a cost-of-living database, estimates that New York is 367.1 per cent more expensive than Cairo, while rent is 2,147 per cent higher.
In the UK, it is estimated that it costs a family of four £2,400 a month to live not counting rent. A family of four needs around €3,000 per month excluding rent to live in parts of France.
Such prohibitively expensive locations force residents to spend part of the year elsewhere or to retire in other countries. Fortunately, many inexpensive retirement havens exist around the world.
Mexico is possibly the most desirable option for North Americans. Thousands of Canadian retirees, or “snowbirds” as they have come to be known, travel southwards to sunnier climes such as Palm Springs in California and Miami in Florida. However, living expenses remain high in those destinations despite the warmth that many Canadians and Americans like to enjoy.
What about Europeans? Where do they head when they want to live or retire abroad?
Egypt may be a convenient and inexpensive option for those looking for a warm but less-expensive destination. Egypt’s low cost of living remains an enticing feature. Expats can extend their pensions and social security benefits to last longer in cities around Egypt. With the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound to the British pound now being £0.027 (LE37.20 to one British pound) and $0.033 (LE30) to one US dollar, Egypt is very appealing to those looking for a destination in which they can retire with a high quality of life and a low cost of living.
The US news network CNBC says that “a recent analysis by personal-finance site GOBankingRates found that Egypt is the destination for retirees who want to stretch their social security benefits, thanks to affordable food and housing expenses.” It also clarifies that US citizens residing in Egypt are exempt from US taxes on their benefits.
Cities such as Dahab and ElGouna are attractive spots for those seeking affordability amidst tranquility. Both cities are sunny, friendly, and, just as importantly, inexpensive options for retirees paid in hard currency, and they are a mere four-hour flight from most European cities.
The Red Sea coastal town of Dahab is inviting, laid back, and inexpensive, which is why many Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Italians have opted to live there.
According to the US network CNN, “Dahab is a destination so alluring that some have opted to make it their home soon after visiting.” According to the Atlys site, “if early morning swims in the Red Sea, getting work done over drip coffee at a world-class coworking space, kitesurfing as the sun goes down, and drinks with a vibrant expat community sound good to you, then Dahab is calling your name.”
It explains that “if you do your homework, you can get away with spending not more than $400 a month on rent, amenities, and entertainment. The prices of mobile-phone plans and Internet access are among the lowest in the world.”
Though ElGouna is a costlier and fancier spot, it remains very affordable for foreigners. It boasts year-round sunshine, excellent amenities, and is just one hop on a plane from European cities to Hurghada International Airport.
Thousands of Europeans already call ElGouna their home away from home and live permanently in this restful oasis. Journalist Michael Turtle in his travel blog “The Travel Turtle” says that expats “come from all around the world for different reasons. Some buy a property here as a holiday home, somewhere to escape to for a month or two each year when they need time away.”
Turtle talks to a couple on his blog who were originally from Yorkshire, England, and who had a business in Luxor, another warm spot in Egypt, but opted to move to ElGouna because of the downturn in tourism that came with the Ukraine war. They relocated their business, a restaurant that serves authentic English food called Puddleduck to ElGouna. They say that many other people have bought property in the city, and some come for maybe six weeks or more to the city and keep returning.
Even Cairo, though noisy and congested, offers an amazing opportunity for expats who prefer to be frugal with their expenses. The Internet site Expat Arrivals talked to a Canadian who had chosen to work as a teacher in Egypt who told the site that “the cost of living in Cairo was amazingly cheap. My quality of life was very good. I had an enormous apartment with three balconies and three bedrooms for $250 a month in a very trendy part of town. You could take a taxi to wherever you want, and it would cost you nothing. Food, produce, and meat from the grocery store was ridiculously cheap. Everything could be delivered to your house… even beer.” And that was even before the recent devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
There is much to see and do in Egypt, as Egypt is a country rich in history and adventure and its people are welcoming and friendly. Many visitors to the country decide to settle here having seen how inexpensive and affordable it is. For them, Egypt is the perfect spot for expats to stretch their bucks.
So here is another “open invitation” – come to visit Egypt and maybe think about staying on.
* The writer is former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly