My name is Hugo and this is my story on how I ended up living the expat dream life in Egypt. I’m 29 and known as “hugostei” which is my Instagram nickname. In Portuguese that is a combination of the words “Hugo” and “Gostei”, the latter meaning “I like it”. My nickname is a wordplay that translates to “Hu – I like it” (I swear it makes more sense in Portuguese)!
I’m from Araraquara, in the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil, where I lived my entire life. I studied advertising and graphic design at college. Even though I have always worked in my city, I am often traveling and on vacation.
My inspiration to travel and see the world came from my desire to get to know other cultures and new people. I think that is why I’m obsessed with films about space travel, other planets and futuristic fiction. Those themes are about contemplating the unknown, and I find that amazing.
The idea of living in Egypt came through the desire to live abroad on an exchange. I had been looking for a suitable exchange programme for some time but the prices were just not compatible with my financial situation. Then I discovered AIESEC – a nonprofit organization that promotes accessible exchange opportunities for students around the world.
Among the available countries and volunteer projects, Egypt popped up and became my first choice. There were a few reasons for this: Egypt is culturally quite different from my reality, the country breathes history everywhere, it’s full of incredible places to explore, and I could also still practice my English and another totally unknown language to me – Arabic.
Living the Expat Dream in Alexandria, Egypt
Alexandria is my refuge. Waking up in the morning with the waves of the Mediterranean Sea caressing the rocks and being able to walk along the coast, for me this is priceless. My routine is different from how it was in Brazil. When I arrived in Egypt, I did a volunteer project at a marketing startup where I worked with the team applying my skills in graphic design.
Formally, I would go to work at 1pm and leave work at around 8pm, but that was actually very flexible. So I had the mornings and the evenings free to be able to do other things and to enjoy a little bit of leisure time. Usually at night I would go out with my Brazilian and Egyptian friends.
During my second volunteer project – all about stimulating tourism – I used to travel only on the weekends with groups of students from other projects (and those with TEFL jobs abroad) in order to produce content for social media. During the week I was totally free. But in the end, I used to occupy this time editing photos and videos of trips taken on previous weekends.
I remember when I first moved, I was apprehensive about my new expat life in Egypt. But something that helped me with adapting to this new country was seeing YouTube videos – especially those made by other Brazilians who were showing the reality in Egypt and the main differences in routine, habits, customs and culture between the two countries.
Many other exchange students had a big culture shock when they arrived and returned to their countries of origin in the same week, but that is because they didn’t prepare themselves or they were just not open to new experiences. The local community is very receptive. They love foreigners, and even ask to take pictures with you and they are happy to help.
I think the main difficulties are accommodation and hygiene, as the exchange students’ apartments are in a poor region where the buildings are precarious (although they still offer the basics). In other countries it’s not common for people to live in buildings that are not fully finished, but in Egypt it is. That is just a cultural thing and part of their history. Still, that scares people when they arrive to live. You do get used to it though.
What it’s Like Learning the Arabic Language
Regarding Arabic, I didn’t need to learn it before traveling to Egypt. I managed well with my English on the volunteer projects and with the basics. Besides, in Cairo and in Alexandria, a lot of people speak English. But of course, I needed to learn some essential words in Arabic too and that was a very fun learning experience. Gradually our Egyptian friends taught us basic words for everyday use like “thank you”, “please” and “hello”.
One of the first sentences I had to repeat a lot was the one we had to say on public transport on the minivans that we used to take around town. The expression was “alagan iasta” which means “stop here, please driver”. It was funny because although in our heads we were pronouncing it perfectly, the locals inside the van would always look at us and laugh a bit.
Still, they were always willing to help. Egyptians are happy to see foreigners learning their language, even if you are having troubles. When it comes to writing in Arabic, that is impossible! I haven’t been able to learn writing. It’s just too difficult and different from the alphabet we use in Portuguese or English. When I need to translate writing, I use the translator on my cell phone camera. I have only needed that a couple of times, however.
Highlights & Challenges of Egypt Expat Life
Egypt is not a common destination for expats and that makes it special. Only by living and immersing yourself in the culture will you be able to discover that Egypt is not just pyramids and that there is an infinite number of places, stories and experiences that are often totally out of sight in the land of the pharaoh (watch this video for some highlights of Egypt).
For me, the main challenge of being an expat in Egypt was having this period of cultural, religious and routine adaptation, as some things make perfect sense to the locals but not to me. Things that I have to respect and accept, but that are unacceptable to my ideologies. For example, the non-existence of some laws against homophobia and human rights protections.
Places that have Stolen my Heart in Egypt
I dedicate myself to clicks and videos. Audiovisual production is a passion of mine and I love recording these moments in eternity. I never imagined that Egypt had so many epic destinations because everyone imagines that it’s just desert, pyramids and temples. But that doesn’t represent even 10% of the country (check out this video about places beyond the pyramids).
The destination that surprised me was Dahab, by the Red Sea, which is one of the best places in the world for diving. Being someone who always took pictures on land, I literally dove myself into the pictures underwater – which is why I think Dahab is my favorite destination in Egypt.
A Once in a Lifetime Experience Sleeping in the Desert
Sleeping in the middle of the desert was my most memorable experience in Egypt. In addition to being able to see the most colorful sunset of my life, the silence at night is deafening. I could hear the blood rushing through my veins. This was one of the most incredible inner and self knowledge moments I have ever had. The feeling was one of pure gratitude for being alive and having the chance to witness nature in its purest form.
Tips for Living the Expat Life in Egypt
Like any country, the main tip is to get as much info as possible before moving. Search YouTube, contact people who already live there and find reliable sources. Egypt is a well known country but there are many characteristics that are not in the books. For example, the temperature and seasons. Everyone thinks it’s hot all year round, but between November and February it gets cold and windy, to the point that in some places it snows.
Another important tip is to be careful with people in tourist spots. It’s unlikely that you will be mugged, however some tour guides and people working in these areas tend to overcharge for products and services. So it’s always good to ask someone reliable for the real prices before negotiating.
Plus, it’s more about being open to new experiences, eating different food, meeting people, appreciating culture and being willing to explore the incredible country that is Egypt. I’m always helping travelers and expats who go to Egypt (mainly Brazilians) and I’m proud that my social media, such as my Instagram and my TikTok, have served as references for those looking for interesting content about this amazing country.
I’m also happy to help people who are searching for self knowledge experiences in Egypt. To finish, because of my passion for Egypt, now I can say with confidence that I’m half Brazilian and half Egyptian!