Egypt’s rich history reverberates through its modern-day culture. There’s plenty to do that will engage all your senses, from majestic ancient sights to lively streets rife with aromatic foods, and the vibrant and eclectic nightlife.
To fully indulge in all the excitement, there are some things you should consider, including the country’s cultural traditions. But worry not: this guide to planning and packing along with tips on health, safety and etiquette will have you ready for the a fantastic experience in Egypt.
1. Consider getting your visa in advance
Bags in one hand and paperwork in the other is all many travelers need to get on a plane and fly to Egypt. If you’re eligible, you can get a renewable single-entry tourist visa on arrival for USD$25, valid for 30 days. However, if you’re missing any documents or if there’s a problem processing your visa on arrival, you may be denied entry.
If you prefer a multiple-entry visa or want to avoid lines at the airport, you can apply for an e-Visa through the official government portal before travel to avoid any entry issues or delays.
2. Prepare a rough itinerary
There’s so much more to Egypt than the pyramids, and planning ahead will help you avoid a logistical nightmare. Plan your days by area (especially in major cities where traffic is both intense and unpredictable) so it’s easier to move around between locations.
If you’re a beach lover, there are plenty of destinations on the North Coast or Naama Bay for diving or snorkeling trips. If you’re an avid explorer and prefer something off the beaten track, Egypt’s lesser-known gems – like the stunning Siwa Oasis – are absolutely worth the adventure.
Egypt truly caters to every kind of traveler, and the best way to create a personalized experience is to focus on what’s important to you and plan accordingly.
3. Learn some basic Arabic phrases
Whipping out Google Translate for quick questions about directions can be helpful, but organic responses to basic niceties will prove useful.
Most Egyptians are eager to help when asked, but you might need to tie up a few odds and ends in Arabic with unilingual locals. They also come in handy if you need to fend off hustlers or persistent merchants. Learning a few words and phrases like “al salam alaykom” (hello), “shukran” (thank you), “aywa” (yes), “la’a” (no), and “ma’ al-salama” (goodbye) will go a long way.
4. Don’t underestimate Egypt’s weather – both hot and cold
Sunscreen is key if you don’t want to spend the better half of your vacation huddled up with ice packs. This is especially true if you’re visiting during the summer, but holds up throughout the year.
July is the hottest month, with temperatures ranging anywhere from 34.7°C (94.5°F) to a scorching 43.3°C (109.9°F). Yet, despite its year-round sunny skies, Egypt’s overall desert climate makes winters especially cold – the kind of cold that creeps beneath your clothes and gives you chills right down to your bones.
It doesn’t help that the poorly insulated buildings barely keep the freezing weather at bay, so you have to talk yourself into going outside because it’s warmer outdoors than it is indoors. Temperatures drop as low as 10°C (50°F) at times, so if you’re visiting between October and March, make sure to pack some warm clothes along with your sunscreen.
5. Pack for the heat, but keep it conservative
Egypt is known for its cotton, and what better place to wear cotton than here. Pack airy breathable clothes, and break out all the pastels and bright colors in your closet. Most people in major cities dress casually and embrace comfort over fashion. But remember that Egypt is a country with primarily conservative locals.
You can’t go wrong with loose clothing, and exposing too much skin is generally frowned upon. Men can sport tank tops if they’re comfortable with a few extra stares, but short shorts are not advisable, and women should avoid low-cut tops, short shorts/skirts or revealing dresses.
Beach destinations bend these unspoken rules, however, and locals are accommodating to visitors, so if you're heading for the beach, you don't need to leave all your shorts and sundresses behind.
6. Keep transportation in mind when booking accommodation
While booking your lodgings, look into modes of transportation in the surrounding area. If you’re planning a short time in your destination, opt for lodgings central to the sights on your itinerary or close to a metro station so you don’t waste too much time stuck in traffic. If you’ve got more time, you can opt for something a little less central, but remember that you could spend a chunk of your time traveling.
Some destinations will require further planning, and white taxis and Uber rides are your best bet. If you opt for a white taxi, always make sure the meter’s running before you hop in, and hail it a few meters away from your hotel for a cheaper ride. Avoid taxis that don’t use meters and aren’t very tourist-friendly. Long-distance buses and domestic flights are an option too, depending on your budget.
7. Be mindful of your etiquette at religious and historic sites
It’s important to not just dress appropriately but to also be mindful of local etiquette especially at certain sights.
Visiting a mosque? Take off your shoes before entering and, if you’re female, cover your head.
At a historic site? Don’t touch the antiquities and always use cameras without the flash.
On the beach? Yes you can sport your best swimsuit and relax, but like every place in the world, there’s always a code of conduct. Be observant and if in doubt, do what the locals do.
Local tip: Photography is encouraged at tourist sites, but don’t photograph people without their consent, and don't take photos where it is explicitly prohibited.
8. Avoid public displays of affection
We’ve established that Egypt leans toward conservative, and this extends to public displays of affection. While holding hands with your partner won’t garner much attention, limit your public physical interactions to what would be considered mild and proper.
Platonic kisses on the cheek are a common greeting between friends in Egypt but, depending on your surroundings, should be limited to members of the same sex.
9. Bring small bills and be prepared to tip
Tipping in Egypt is still standard practice, especially in the service industry. Tips, or baksheesh, can range from 5 EGP (<$0.50) to 100 EGP ($5.50), depending on who you are paying and where.
Egypt is largely cash-oriented, so pick up both large and small bills when you’re exchanging currency to make payments and tipping easier.
Restaurants and cafes are easier to figure out, with 10-15% of the bill being customary, and loose change is the norm for food purchases from street vendors. Higher tips are usually reserved for people who provide you with long-term services, such as drivers and tour guides. While you’re not required to tip delivery services, taxis, and ride-hailing apps, you can round up the bill if you’ve had a satisfying experience.
10. Haggling for souvenirs is part of the experience
From papyrus papers and traditional souvenirs to carefully crafted silverware and hand-painted ceramics, markets in Egypt are a treasure trove. But if you feel like something is overpriced, don’t shy away from haggling.
While vendors aren’t particularly fond of the back-and-forth, it’s all part of the experience and no matter what you pay in the end you can convince yourself it was a great deal.
Don’t attempt to haggle in bigger shops in or outside tourist attractions, and if there’s an official price posted on the product, it’s usually non-negotiable.
Pro tip: Keep your eyes and ears open and gauge the price range of similar items in nearby stores so you can tell if you’re being overcharged. Haggling is mainly confined to souvenir spots, souks (markets) and less formal selling areas.
11. Don't drink the tap water and beware of food carts
To dodge any stomach bugs that might ruin your Egyptian adventure, avoid drinking tap water unless it’s filtered, especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Pack a good water-filtering system or do like the locals and use bottled water.
While Egyptian cuisine is one of the country’s best assets, and the temptation to sample it every chance you get is understandable, some carts improperly store their food. It can be difficult to tell as a visitor, so it may be wise to opt for local shops instead. They often offer similar food but are generally safer to indulge to your heart’s content.
12. Flood season is June to September
Flooding is an issue in Egypt in June to September, but it’s usually mild and mostly limited to some coastal areas. It’s always a good idea to activate news alerts on your phone anyway and keep an eye on the local news.
The floods are usually easy to manage, but roads can be impacted, especially in some areas in South Sinai.
13. Solo female travelers may receive unwanted attention
If you’re a woman traveling on your own, keep an eye out for harassers, scammers and hustlers who may be pushy and persistent. Confident interactions are often key to driving them away, but calling out for assistance or announcing you’ll involve the police can be a good deterrent as well.
As a rule of thumb, try to avoid interactions with individuals in suspicious settings, like quiet alleyways, dark street corners, and empty spots, and look for crowds with women and children if you feel unsafe. Never get into a taxi or Uber with anyone but the driver. Ride in the carriages reserved for women on the metro in Cairo. And, as is sadly the case in most of the world, avoid walking alone late at night.
14. Tourist police can assist you in an emergency
Egypt is generally considered safe to visit, but if you face any issues that you believe require law enforcement interference, look for police officers with a tourism police badge on their shoulders – it’s a navy blue half sleeve with a gold eagle in the middle, and “Tourism and Antiquities Police” written at the bottom. They are stationed at every tourist destination in Egypt and can also be reached by dialing 126 from any Egyptian mobile number.
If you’d rather file a complaint later, you can dial 19654 and communicate directly with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. It's also a good idea to keep the number of your home embassy or consulate handy.
Pro tip: Invest in an Egyptian SIM card upon arrival. They’re cheap and will make local interactions much easier for you. Vodafone, Etisalat, Orange and WE are Egypt’s top mobile service providers; you can find their booths in the final hall on your way out of Cairo International Airport.