Cairo, Egypt, is a travel destination of a lifetime, but it has some guidelines to note. Egypt, being a country of citizens that predominantly follow the religious practices of Islam, has both spiritual and cultural customs that tourists may not necessarily be aware of or know to follow.
You’ll want to brush up on the laws of the land, or quite possibly face jail time. To really prepare for your trip, here is a breakdown of what to do and not do when visiting Egypt.
What To Do
Every country you’ll ever visit will require your foreign passport. Similarly, many countries will require that your passport be valid for a set number of months after your trip starts. Passport validity changes depending on the country you plan to visit, but it is generally good to make sure that your passport is valid for six months beyond the start/end of the trip. Most countries follow the three-to-six-month guidelines. See where your passport’s date of entry and date of departure fall in terms of expiration before booking your trip to Egypt.
You’ll want to be sure to get your visa to Egypt online, as it is the fastest and most secure way to ensure the legalities of your trip. You will complete an application form online, assuming your passport meets the six months visa validity requirement. Although some cities have access to expedited visa services, these methods are more time-consuming and expensive.
Understand that most public displays of affection are not acceptable acts, even in minor ways. Holding hands, for example, is looked down upon. Speaking of hands, in Egypt, each hand is meant for specific functions. Regardless of which hand is dominant, the left hand is always used for “uncleanly” acts. The right hand is used for eating, with assistance from the left hand only when necessary. Be sure to follow these hand guidelines whenever you are in public or are attending an event as a guest. Likewise, take off your shoes before entering someone’s home.
Remember to engage politely in baksheesh if you are perceived as a wealthy foreigner. Baksheesh can be broken into three categories: tipping, almsgiving, and rewards for special treatment, such as bending the rules as a reward or thank you. While you’ll need to find an equilibrium between sticking to a budget and compensating small rewards for common services, be mindful that locals expect you to provide what you can. You should tip custodians, waiters, mosque attendants, etc. Traveler’s Note: Your courtesy and respect should extend to what you say! Overly offensive remarks about Egypt can land you years in an Egyptian prison!
Regarding almsgiving, understand that giving to those in need is a critical requirement of Islam. So, keep small change accessible to hand out as opportunities arise. Regarding rule-bending, this type of reward is demonstrated in different ways, depending on the means available. For instance, achieving access to a museum when the area is closed or restricted by a museum official is one way to bend the rules.
What Not to Do
You’ll want to stay clear of the hustlers that target tourists for money. You can recognize hustlers by their friendly demeanor and instantaneous interest in you upon arrival. You can spot hustlers at airports, as they will be shouting things to grab your attention. Do your best to stay polite and but do not engage in their offers. In many cases, tourists can end up being robbed or guided into areas that are off-limits. If you initiate help, you can extend greater trust to the local(s) offering assistance; just know that offers you do not ask for are often problematic setups.
There is a perception that tourists are “easy” because of how they dress and socialize (i.e., drinking in bars, smoking publicly). Particularly for women, dressing in clothing that is considered revealing can cause unwanted attention. To prevent these problems, do not wear clothing that fails to cover your thighs, chest, arms, and your hair, and do not make eye contact with Egyptian men.
Don’t assume that someone is a ‘no-show’ if they are late. Traffic is a frequent reason for late arrivals, and people are relatively laid-back due to this common occurrence. Be patient when these situations arise.
Please avoid renting a car. The driving etiquette is chaotic and will easily overwhelm foreign drivers. You’ll also need an international driver’s license to rent a car anyway, so it’s best to rely on taxis or public transportation during your trip.
When meeting people, make sure that you do not offer to shake hands with the opposite sex. To do so is against Muslim tradition, as is making any public physical contact with the opposite sex. Traveler’s Note: Sharing or renting a space with an Egyptian member of the opposite sex whom you are not married to is illegal!
Avoid staying near the Pyramids. For tourists, the idea of staying near the site sounds appealing, but the Pyramids are very far from the rest of Cairo. Popular destinations like Tahrir or Zamalek are recommended for easy access to the rest of the region.
More To Do’s
If you are a woman traveling alone or with a group of other women, find public transportation reserved for women only whenever possible. Cairo has carriages available for women taking the metro and trams. Women should also travel together, and if possible, with at least one man at their party. Telling locals that you are married will be respected as opposed to saying you are only friends.
When asking for directions, ask a few different locals before you head to your destination. It is relatively common for people to give directions even when they do not know where you are going.
The Bottom Line
Traveling to Cairo, Egypt is a significant culture shock for many travelers. Follow the guidelines in this article to get the most out of your trip. Be mindful of the cultural and religious expectations that are practiced in Cairo, and you’ll experience a new way of life. See natvisa.com for up-to-date travel restrictions.