The best way to start your search is to narrow down where exactly it is that you want to live. Odds are that you will be living in either Cairo or Alexandria as a foreigner, and these cities each have districts that are particularly popular among foreign residents.
In Cairo, the Nile island of Zamalek and the newer buildings in Maadi are extremely popular among foreign residents. They offer more convenient access to better-stocked grocery stores, accommodations are generally nicer and they ensure you will have the opportunity of meeting foreign neighbours. Zamalek in particular features a number of excellent restaurants, hotels and clubs.
You literally pay a price for these conveniences – rent can be considerably more expensive in these areas. If you’re open to more modest accommodations (and some occasional day-to-day hardship in terms of communication and shopping) you will certainly be able to obtain a cheaper rental.
Once you’ve determined roughly whereabouts you would like to live, you can simply start pounding the pavement and asking bowwabs about vacancies in your neighbourhood of choice. You will need decent Arabic (or an Arabic-speaking friend) to make any headway, but you will find most bowwabs knowledgeable about the buildings (their job is to maintain them, after all) and the cost of rent. If you find a place you like, the bowwab will also be able to put you in touch with a building’s simsar (landlord) for more formal negotiations.
There are also numerous broadsheets published in Arabic with real estate listings. These are helpful for efficiently narrowing down options within a given area, though you will need a decent familiarity with the Arabic language (or again, help from a native speaker) to make any sense of them. Don’t limit yourself to the listings, however – these kinds of publications are far from comprehensive. Even if you fail to find any listings in an area you like, it should not discourage you from checking things out in person.
Real estate agents in Egypt
If you are looking for a higher-end rental, you may find a real estate agent quite helpful. There are real estate offices located throughout all major Egyptian cities, and agents often speak decent English. A real estate agent will be able to show you a number of properties and then make arrangements to see them.
Agents are particularly useful when it comes to locating upscale properties, and you will likely find their budget offerings relatively sparse. For this reason, estate agents are likely a less-than-ideal resource for young expats and students.
In the event that you do use a real estate agent, you should expect to pay a commission equivalent to one month’s rent on your property. In some cases, the agent may collect this fee from the landlord rather than you, the tenant.
Be aware that most real estate agents will not offer much help when it comes to price negotiations. In most cases, they serve as matchmakers rather than dealmakers – make sure to negotiate the rent with your landlord before you settle.