Egypt FAQs

How expensive is Egypt?

Egypt is a poor nation, but even though inflation has driven up the cost of basic essentials, the cost of living is still significantly lower than in a Western country. Tourists and foreigners will be expected to pay more than Egyptians for many items where there are no fixed prices. In upscale establishments, alcoholic drinks are as expensive in Egypt as in big cities like New York or Paris.

Should I get a mobile phone while I’m there?

If you are traveling independently, having a local phone number will make your trip in Egypt much easier to coordinate. Most people in Cairo simply accept that half an hour is an acceptable amount of time to be late for any appointment as long as you call to let the person know you’re running late. Egypt has three mobile phone providers, and making local phone calls is relatively inexpensive; you can buy an inexpensive mobile phone for about £E200. When you sign up, you simply need to fill out an application and show your passport. Your own quad-band GSM phone will probably work in Egypt as well, but unless your provider will unlock it for use with other providers, you'll pay a hefty surcharge to make calls.

Will it be hard to find an alcoholic beverage in a Muslim country?

Although Egypt is a religiously conservative society, alcohol is readily available, if you know where to look. Most freestanding bars will be filled exclusively with men; rooftop bars of modest hotels are a bit more comfortable for women. Many upscale cafés do not serve alcohol, but most restaurants do. However, drinking on the street is unacceptable. Local alcohol stores sell liquor, beer, and wine, and some locals wines are reasonably palatable. Stay away from any of the very cheap, local hard alcohol. Two liquor store chains, Drinkies and Cheers, also deliver.

Is the food safe to eat?

Food poisoning is a frequent complaint of visitors to Egypt. The origin is often from food that has not been stored and refrigerated properly. It's generally safer to stick with cooked food and fresh fruits and vegetables that can be peeled by you. If you want to try street food, chicken is a safer bet than red meat because much chicken is imported frozen while red meat is local. If you order grilled meat, make sure it is cooked thoroughly. A lot of Egyptian food is fried, so although it not a healthy option, it does increase the likelihood that you won’t get sick. Western fast-food chains are abundant in Cairo and tourist spots and are a good bet. For raw vegetables and salads, if it looks like it was not cut fresh, avoid it.

Will Ramadan affect my visit?

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which occurs anywhere from late summer to the middle of autumn, completely changes a visit to Egypt but does not necessarily hinder visitors that much. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, though food service in tourist hotels continues. Many shops are closed during the day. At the breaking of the fast, or iftar, the streets are nearly empty of cars, a rare sight in Cairo. An Egyptian iftar starts with eating a single date and drinking lots of liquids, and is followed by a huge feast. A typical Ramadan night has loud music, bright lights, water pipes of flavored tobacco (sheesha), lots of tea and coffee, and late conversations with friends and family. Right before sunrise is another feast, sohour, to keep the belly full while fasting. During the day, some people are more on edge from not having caffeine and cigarettes, so arguments occur with more frequency.

How conservatively should I dress?

Egypt has become increasingly conservative, particularly when it comes to women’s attire. The majority of Muslim females wear the headscarf, or higab. That being said, outside mosques women do not have to cover their hair. Sexual harassment and staring occurs with regularity, irrespective of a woman’s attire. In public, women should cover their legs and shoulders. Wear long pants, preferably light cotton to deal with the heat. Many women wear short-sleeved shirts but cover their shoulders and upper arms with a thin scarf, which can be bought on the street and in bazaar markets. Egyptian men typically wear long pants, but shorts are acceptable on the street. On beaches geared for tourists, men and women can dress how they please, but women should wear a T-shirt and shorts at public beaches.

Are the people friendly?

Egyptians are well known in the Arab world—mostly through cinema and television—for having a wonderful sense of humor. They love to joke around, and children are extremely playful. Egyptians are generally sensitive and affectionate. For an Egyptian, a smile or a kind word is greatly appreciated. You may find yourself quickly receiving an invitation to someone’s home for a family meal, where you will be stuffed with more food than you can handle. Eating a large quantity in someone else’s home is a sign that you enjoyed the food, which is considered a high compliment. The guest is treated like a king in Egypt. Women, however, should be wary of private invitations to men’s apartments without members of his family around.

What if I don’t speak Arabic?

Arabic is the first language of Egypt, but most Egyptians speak at the very least basic English and are more than happy to show off the words they know. Street signs are in both languages. Knowing a few basic phrases of Arabic can be helpful.

Is Egypt a safe country?

The Egyptian government is particularly sensitive to the global problem of terrorism. Tourist areas and groups are heavily guarded. Travelers who venture off the beaten track must have their names registered with local police, who will often accompany them to sites and villages. Violent crime, even at night, is very low in Egypt. Cairo and Alexandria are safer than just about any big city in the world. Street arguments may be common, but an actual exchange of punches is rare. For women, sexual harassment is an ongoing problem.

What do I need to know about tipping?

Tip everywhere and often. In fact, even though most people expect only a modest tip, the whole tipping issue may start to wear on your nerves as you travel around the country. It's very unusual to find an unattended public restroom, so be sure to find and keep myriad smaller £E1 notes for this purpose; these can be surprisingly difficult to find. If you're on a tour, your guide should help to supply you with smaller change.

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