All visitors to Egypt must hold passports that are valid for at least six months beyond the proposed date of entry to the country. Citizens of most countries must also obtain (from Egyptian consulates) tourist visas. Most nationalities, including English, Irish, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and all EU citizens, can also obtain visas on arrival at Cairo, Luxor and Hurghada airports. The process is generally painless and cheaper than getting one through an embassy, though note that visas issued at airports are valid for one month only, whereas embassies issue single-visit and multiple-entry visas entitling you to stay in Egypt for three months. Visas are not available at overland border crossings, or at Aswan, Suez or Nuweiba (apart from Sinai-only visas). Getting a standard visa on arrival costs USD 15, irrespective of your nationality. Once in Egypt, carry your passport with you: you’ll need it to register at hotels, change money, collect mail, and possibly to show at police checkpoints.
Internet access is available in almost all the main tourist destinations, with Internet cafes sprouting and hotels providing computers for guests to use.
Egypt’s basic unit of currency is the Egyptian pound (called a ginay in Arabic, and written as EGP). Exchange rates are around 11EGP to the pound sterling, 5.5EGP to the US dollar, and 8.5EGP to the euro.
Unless you’re coming from an area where yellow fever is endemic (in practice this means countries in sub-Saharan Africa), there are no compulsory inoculations for Egypt, though you should always be up to
date with polio and tetanus. It’s also worth being vaccinated against typhoid, which occasionally flares up in parts of Egypt. The cholera shot is generally acknowledged to be worthless.
Tap water in Egyptian towns and cities is heavily chlorinated and mostly safe to drink, but is unpalatable and rough on tender stomachs. In rural areas, Sinai campsites and desert resthouses there’s a fair risk of contaminated water. Consequently, most tourists stick to bottled mineral water, which is widely available and tastes better.
While you can travel without restriction through most areas of Egypt, travel permits are required for the Red Sea Coast beyond Mersa Alam, for desert travel between Bahariya and Siwa oases (permits available in Siwa) , and to Ain Della and the Gilf Kebir/Jebel Uwaynat (permits available in Cairo only). Applications for permits require two photos and photocopies of the identifying pages of your passport and your Egyptian entry visa, plus a justification for your journey. Processing takes anywhere between four and fourteen days.
Egypt’s trains are best used for long hauls between the major cities, when air-conditioned services offer a comfier alternative to buses and taxis. For shorter journeys, however, trains are slower and less reliable. Timetables are not available in leaflet or booklet form, but the Egyptian Railways’ website (www.egyptrail.gov.eg) allows you to look up schedules for its air-conditioned services. Schedules for sleeper services are available on the website Abela (www.sleepingtrains.com). Between Cairo and Alexandria, and
between Cairo and Luxor or Aswan, both relatively fast air-conditioned (including sleepers) and non-air-conditioned trains run.
Egyptian food combines elements of Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian, Greek and French cuisines, modified to suit local conditions and tastes. In Alexandria, Mediterranean influences prevail, while Nubian cooking, from southern Egypt, is spicier than food in the north. Cairo offers every kind of cuisine in the world.
As a predominantly Muslim country, Egypt treats alcohol in a low profile. Public drunkenness is acceptable, and in deference to the non-drinking Muslim majority, the sale of alcohol is prohibited on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday and the first and last days of Ramadan. Egypt’s national beverage is tea (chai). Egyptian tea is prepared by boiling the leaves, and served black and sugared. Coffee (ahwa) is traditionally of the “Turkish” kind, served in tiny cups or glasses.
The sheesha, or waterpipe, consitutes an integral part of Egyptian society. Posh coffee houses may also stock other flavours of tobacco (apple, strawberry, apricot, mint, etc.) and provide disposable plastic mouthpieces for the waterpipes.
Although Egypt is generally fairly cheap, there are some hidden costs that can bump up your daily budget. Most restaurant and hotel bills are liable to a service charge plus local taxes (Cairo, Luxor and Hurghada have the highest), which increase the final cost by 17-25% (unless already included in the price). Visiting the Pyramids and the monuments of the Nile Valley entails spending a lot on site tickets (typically 15-50 EGP). The custodians of tombs and temples and the medieval mosques of Islamic Cairo also expect to be tipped. Egyptian inflation is currently about 5%.
Full-time students holding International Student Identity Card (ISIC) are entitled to 50% discount on most of Egypt’s museums and sites, a 30% discount on rail fares and around 15% percent on ferries.