Egypt is such a beautiful country to visit, it does not even need an introduction to the rich culture and history it has dating back to the beginning of civilization. But before traveling, there are some things to know before visiting the country I wish I was aware of before going.
Get a Visa to Egypt
It goes without saying that you need the most important travel document. Depending on the country you are from, it is essential to get a visa to gain entry into the country. Citizens of some countries can buy the visa on entry at the airport. For Kenyans, for example, one obtains a visa prior to travel from the Embassy of Egypt in Nairobi, Kenya. For a tourist visa, it costs approximately 4,300 Kenyan Shillings(43 USD).
Travel insurance is a must if you intend to travel especially if its a long period. It may sound tiresome and unnecessary to have insurance but it helps a lot especially when you lose items or important documents. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Be Aware of the Military.
Egypt is generally safe especially after visiting it in the summer of 2018. In some parts such as South Sinai, there is heavy security and military checkpoints especially going into resort cities such as Sharm-el Sheikh and Dahab. Identification is required at all times especially in case of a stop.
No Public Displays of Affection.
Egypt is predominantly a Muslim country. A lot of things that are done in other countries or resort areas are frowned upon. Local traditions, laws, and cultural beliefs prohibit public display affection. This includes kissing in public. It is advised to respect the religion, laws, and culture especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
It is essential to cover up especially in rural areas or holy places such as the mosques. For women, they wear shirts with sleeves that cover the shoulder and cover their chests too. They also wear skirts below the knees and pants which are loosely fitted. The men wear shirts with their chests covered.
No drinking in public
You should not drink out in public as it is prohibited and if found could lead to being arrested. There are a limited number of alcohol shops. This makes the hunt for alcohol a bit tedious. It is better to drink tea and enjoy local beverages.
Haggling and bargaining is the way of life in most parts of Egypt. From water to souvenirs to clothes to shoes, you could literally bargain for it. Shop owners and sellers will invite you to buy their stuff and give you high prices. You should be however aware that the haggling may get too much especially for foreigners who are not used to it. It is advisable to be courteous, and find a common ground with sellers. The intention may not to defraud but get some profits for them and their families.
As a foreigner going to touristic places, you will meet a lot of locals who will want to take pictures with you. A lot of locals will ask to take pictures with you and it is up to you whether you want to or not. The requests may get many and it is alright to say no especially if you don’t want to. Just be polite and firm with your answer and go on your way.
Treatment of Animals
Egyptians do not hold animals at a very high regard. The streets are full of stray cats and dogs. Do not pet them as they may not be healthy. At the pyramids, the guides use camels and horses as a form of transportation for tourists. Some of them are whipped, carry a lot of people or stand in the sun for some time. Sadly that’s how it is as animal welfare is yet to be improved.
Egyptian Tax and Service Charge
The price of something you buy at a restaurant is not what you will pay. You will notice that when you go to any restaurant there will be a 10% service charge and a 14% VAT charged to you aside from your bill. Therefore, an employee charges the taxes separately then bills together with the cost of what you bought. However, in Kenya, when someone buys something the waiter complies everything at one and everything is all inclusive in the price. It took some adjusting when I got there.
Use Uber Egypt / Kareem
Uber works in Egypt and so does Kareem. It is a taxi hailing app designated for Egypt. For tourists especially, using the Uber app is really cheap and most of the times you will find a driver who at least has some understanding of English. If you use a normal taxi then ensure that the meter in the car is working and do not get in without talking to the driver first.
Learn Basic Arabic words
Being a predominantly Arab country, the language is Arabic. Learning a few Arabic words will take you a long way. It will be easier to say no, to ask for directions, say hello, calculate the price of something and basic interaction with locals. Being able to read their numbers also helps a great deal especially in supermarkets or looking for your uber driver. Eastern Persian 0 to 9 is ۰, ۱, ۲, ۳, ٤, ۵, ٦, ۷, ۸, ۹ (wahid, itnayu, taleata, arba’a, khamsa, setta, sab’a,tamanya, tesa, ashra). A few of the words I learned include the following: Yes – aywaa, no- laa, thank you- shukran, how much- bikaem just to name a few.
Do not drink tap water
Tap water is fairly unsafe to drink. It is best to buy bottled water from the supermarket or shops. They are pretty cheap to buy and they cost around 5 to 10 Egyptian Pounds( EGP). Consequently, the water is safe for use outside the body such as a shower but for drinking you should buy bottled water.
Yes, there is such a thing. Egyptian are generally late timers, rather the ones I have experienced. Meetups could be an hour late and we would humorously refer to them as Egyptian timers. Even in Kenya, there are Kenyan timers. It is an African thing!