Egypt’s rich history reverberates through its modern-day culture. There’s plenty to 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: all you need to hop on a plane is your passport and sunscreen, plus the right expectations and this nifty list to help you blend in with the locals.

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Planning your trip to Egypt

Getting your visa

Bags in one hand and paperwork in the other is all you 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, you’ll have to apply for it beforehand. Apply for an e-Visa through the official government portal to avoid any entry issues or delays. The process is simple and you can apply for the visa entry type you prefer.

Interior of Dendera temple or Temple of Hathor. Egypt. Dendera, Denderah, is a small town in Egypt. Dendera Temple complex, one of the best-preserved temple sites from ancient Upper Egypt.
The Dendera Temple complex is one of the best-preserved temple sites from ancient Egypt © Merlinus74 / Getty Images

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.

Brush up on 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.

Don’t underestimate Egypt’s extreme 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 degrees C (94.5 degrees F) to a scorching 43.3 degrees C (109.9 degrees 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 degrees C (50 degrees F) at times, so if you’re visiting between October and March, make sure to pack some thermals along with your sunscreen. 

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 culture is king in Egypt, 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 or revealing dresses.

Beach destinations bend these unspoken rules, and locals are accommodating to visitors, so don’t leave all your shorts and sundresses behind. 

Keep transportation in mind when booking accommodation

While booking your lodgings, look into modes of transport in the surrounding area. If you’re planning a short visit, opt for lodgings central to the sights on your itinerary or close to a metro station so you don’t waste too much time in traffic.

If you’ve got more time, you can opt for something a little less central but still accessible – just make sure you factor in travel times. 

Cairo and Giza are mostly accessible using the metro system, and if you’re a female traveler we recommend you seek out the carriages reserved for women.

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.

A Coptic family visits a shrine at Deir al-Muharraq monastery  also called the Burned Monastery. Being one of the oldest functioning monasteries in the world it is an important pilgrimage place for Coptic Christians. Deir Al Muharraq monastery
Be mindful of what you wear visiting religious sites like the Deir al-Muharraq monastery © Luis Dafos / Getty Images

Etiquette in Egypt

Be mindful of your surroundings

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 a female traveler, 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 follow the locals to avoid unnecessary hassle. 

Pro 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.

Limit PDAs (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.

Tipping culture is alive and well

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. 

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. 

Pro tip: Egypt is largely cash-oriented, so pick up both large and small bills when you’re exchanging currency to make payments and tipping easier.

Lamp/lantern shop in the Khan El Khalili market.
Haggling to get a better deal is acceptable at markets not at major stores with fixed prices © Merydolla / Shutterstock

Haggling is an art, don’t be afraid to try it

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. 

Health and safety in Egypt

Don't drink the tap water 

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.

Keep abreast of flooding alerts

Flooding is an issue in Egypt, 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 during flooding season (June to September), especially in some areas in South Sinai.

A female tourist sitting on a sand dune and looking at the Pyramids of Giza.
A solo traveler sitting on a sand dune and looking at the Pyramids of Giza © SrdjanPav / Getty Images

Tips for solo female travelers

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. And, as is sadly the case in most of the world, avoid walking alone late at night.

Egyptian emergency numbers 

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. 

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