The school year is starting to wind up...I'm starting to figure out my schedule, looking into getting books, and my room mates arrive in T-minus 3 days and counting. Maadi is quiet and pleasant and I've just been hanging out exploring the neighborhood and practicing dance and Arabic. So what's there to write about? Well everyone is curious what life is like in Cairo, and everyone could use some practical advice on living here, so I think I'm going to be doing a series of articles to cover some stuff like that. I also will be posting a revision of my banking post since I've now been here for over two months and noticed some changes that need to be noted.
First up, a lot of people have been asking me, "What do I do about my cell phone in Egypt?!" or the more calm version, "So what's the deal with mobiles there?"
Well, here's the deal:
-There are 3 main companies for phone service here: Mobinil, Vodaphone, and Etisalat. All seem to have decent coverage and service, but I'm on Etisalat myself (although my internet is through Vodaphone, but that's a whole different story) and have been pretty happy with my coverage. The only dead spot in Cairo that I've found? Certain areas of my bedroom...figures.
-Get an unlocked handset. While you are back home check to see if your phone has the service carrier lock disabled so you can use it abroad and that it is compatible with frequencies in Egypt. GSM 900 is the standard here, so make sure your phone supports it otherwise you'll have to shell out for another handset here! While you're dealing with the handset, copy your contacts from your sim to your phone and add the prefix 001 to any US numbers you may call from Egypt.
-Get a local sim card. The sim card is the chip that goes into the handset and communicates with the service provider about your minutes, phone number, etc. Getting one here from one of the above-mentioned providers is cheap and the norm for students traveling here. You can go to any cell phone shop, or any Vodaphone, Mobinil, or Etisalat branch. Just pop your sim in and voila, you will have your local number and can start making/receiving calls!
-Most people go prepaid while here. There are little stalls on almost every street corner that have drinks in refridgerated cases, snacks, cigarettes, and phone cards in various denominations (usually 10, 20, 40, and 100 LE). Find the one closest to where you live and check to see if they have cards from your provider, then just pop in when you need to buy more credit. On my sim card there's a way for me to just key in the code on the card, but there's a way to call and do it too--if you have any trouble practically anyone can show you how to do this, including the guy who just sold you your refill card and that ten-year-old kid next to you on the metro.
I actually find dealing with my cell in Egypt, despite the simplicity, more annoying than back home. At home I don't think about it, because I'm on a shared contract with about a million minutes I don't know what to do with, plus free nights and weekends, so I just call anyone whenever and never think about the money. Same deal with texting or internet usage as I have an unlimited plan. Not so in Egypt, but the system is at least much simpler than going through the process of getting a contract and figuring out a service plan. Plus if you're leery about yet another huge corporate entity having your personal information, there's no need to worry with the prepaid system.