6 Things to Know Before Visiting Egypt
I visited Egypt with my mother-in-law and my two boys in November 2017. It was one of the best times of the year to go to Egypt. We spent 4 days in Luxor, three in Cairo including the Giza Pyramids and then headed to a resort in Sharm el Sheikh for 4 days. While we have only scratched the surface of this diverse and historically rich country, here are 6 things to know before visiting Egypt to help you on your trip!
Can you get an Egyptian Visa on Arrival?
Egyptian Visas can be obtained by many nationalities at the airport. There is so much information online about visa delays at the airport etc, which made me nervous about our visit, but a quick email to the Egyptian Embassy in Canada reassured me that I could in fact, obtain my visa at the airport on arrival to Cairo.
Egypt Visa Cost
The cost of an Egyptian VISA was USD25 per person. Is there an Egypt Visa application form? NO. Upon arrival, the visa can be bought at any of the currency converter kiosks or official bank tellers at the airport. The Visa sticker and your passport is then taken to Egyptian Passport control, where it will be placed into your passport. It is advised not to buy from any other agents. They will often charge more than USD25. We did not see any of these agents on arrival to Cairo, but we were catching a connecting flight to Luxor, so we were in a secure area of the terminal.
If you are traveling to Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba or Taba for 15 days or less, you DO NOT need to pay for an Egypt tourist visa. You will be given a free entry permission stamp. However, if you plan to travel to any other regions besides the South Sinai, you will need to get an Egypt visa on arrival.
Want to know what to eat in Egypt? Check out this Egyptian Food Guide!
Egypt Visa Requirements and Egypt Visa Application information for various nationalities:
British Passports holders can get more information here
Canadian Passport holders can get more information on Egypt visa requirements here. I was surprised that this website does recommend getting a visa on arrival, as when I emailed the Egyptian embassy in Ottawa, they told me to get it at the airport.
You can read more information for European’s visiting Egypt here.
Luxor, the Hassle Capital of the World?
Luxor has been given the bad rap for being the hassle capital of the world. I was expecting it to be absolutely horrible! I read horror stories online of vendors physically taking tourists into their shop or on to their cart, whether the tourist wanted to or not. But on the flip side, I had also read that Egypt was a great destination for families, where locals were welcoming and helpful. I was prepared for the worst. You can read about our airport arrival and the number of rides we were offered as soon as we stepped foot out of the airport here. We had about 6 men try and load our 4 bags into the car we did choose. When we arrived in the Valley of the Kings, our tour guide warned us that we would have to walk through a bunch of shops before getting into the visitor centre area. He advised just to not even acknowledge the vendor, as a “no thank you” would open the conversation and the vendor would then follow you. With a kid on each hand, I had no problems walking through these places, but my mother-in-law and her polite, “no-thank-yous” meant that she DID in fact, get hassled more than me. But to anyone who has travelled anywhere where you see these markets, the vendors in Luxor were NO WORSE than anything I have ever seen in Mexico or Malaysia or other places in the world.
One thing to note is that we never felt unsafe while in Egypt. While the media portrays it as unsafe, here is my post on Is Egypt Safe with reflections from other recent visitors.
If you want to bring back some typically Egyptian souvenirs, read this post on Things to Buy in Egypt
Here are a few ideas of the things we did in Luxor:
Early Morning Hot Air Balloon details are here.
A Day Tour of Luxor West and East Bank similar to ours is here… and is so cheap! For the price it is worth having a car and driver and guide! We did a second day with our guide as well and visited more of the West Bank!
Where we found hassles when visiting Egypt
In fact, the biggest hassles came in Giza, while we were visiting the pyramids. I was tired, worn-out, and these guys got me at my worst. I did not feel like dealing with them, so I was rather grouchy. But on our return on day two, there was really not much hassle at all. Horse riding and carts in Giza are set prices, posted on the site, but here was the catch. I went with my 4 year old. Two horses. But the seller wanted to charge me for a third horse (and the guide) to take me around the site. Bullshit. After I suggested I go on my own with just my son and our horses, we agreed on visiting the places I wanted to go (which was really just the panoramic view point) and back, rather than the FULL TOUR he was trying to sell me, above and beyond the set rate that is posted for an hour ride. I was happy with the price, Markus was happy to ride, and off we went. The biggest take away is PAY WHAT YOU WANT. If you are happy with the price. GOOD. If you feel like you are being ripped off, do not take it. I was happy to spend my money in Egypt, their economy desperately needs it, but I refused to feel ripped off.
Want more info on Giza?
One of the other things that I came across which was a bit annoying, was in the sites. There would often be men who would point to interesting features, or show you things you should not miss around a corner etc. Whether or not you want this information, they provide it. They want a tip. I tipped when I found value in their service. I politely said Shukran and walked away from them when I did not want to be shown around. I tried to keep in mind the deplorable wages in the country and that they rely on visitors and tips as part of their income. They are not trying to make an extra buck. They are trying to survive. I am not saying to feel sorry for these people, I am merely saying to tip if you are happy, but don’t tip if you don’t want to.
Is Egypt Safe? Should I be planning a vacation to Egypt?
Egypt was not my first Middle Eastern country. I have previously spent a month in Jordan and we spent another week there before visiting Egypt. So I was used to the arabic language (while understanding little), used to many of the cultural practices in the Middle East, and was not feeling culture shocked. While the vendors were more aggressive than in Jordan, like I mentioned above, it was not extreme.
I felt completely safe the entire time I was in Egypt. You can read my complete post on Is Egypt Safe?
Conservative dress is important in Egypt, it is a Muslim country. While you do not need to cover your hair, long pants or skirts and long sleeved shirts are recommended. I mostly wore jeans, as I have found them to be comfortable, even in hot climates, and everyone is sweaty. It is NOT just you. So try not to worry too much about it! Pack things that wash well and dry quickly (jeans are not one of these haha) and ditch the workout wear, as if you did not stick out enough, your lululemon crops and tank top just look ridiculous whether you are hiking or not! I was never hassled or even whistled at. Maybe the kids were a deterrent, but I never felt disrespected.
Our tour guide and driver in Luxor were great, I took an early morning balloon trip over the banks of the Nile which included bus transport, crossing the nile by boat, and then another bus. There were a few security guards where the balloons take off, honestly the most security that I saw, but it was not intimidating. While many security guards in hotels and at the sites were armed with handguns, never once was I made to feel intimidated.
Most Egyptians I met were friendly, I had a 10 minute conversation with our driver after he took us to the Mummification Museum (other place you need to buy an extra ticket to take photos) and the local souq. He was friendly, and intrigued at my travel with little kids!
We took an hour felluca ride from a man on the beach, he was probably happy for one more customer, and I was happy for the hour ride for less than USD5. When we left the hotel, a security guard asked us our room number, but we did not encounter problems.
There was not a military presence, which was what I was expecting to see, as a security force. After a few days in Luxor, I was able to pick out several police trucks parked along the road, something I missed the first few times. As a Canadian, I find military presence somewhat intimidating. If you have ever visited the Eiffel tower, you will see army clad security walking around the monument. While I do not mind security, I do find it intimidating.
I do not mind scanning my luggage on arrival to a hotel; it in fact, makes me feel better, makes me know that they take security of their guests seriously, and the kids love getting to see their luggage on the screen. 30 extra seconds when we check in is not a hassle at all!
Looking for a Tour Guide in Cairo?
We did a similar day tour to this one and they tailored it to pick up at the airport on arrival. I would not personally spend too much time in the Museum, with the kids being young, we headed right to King Tut’s room and did not linger too long! The Pyramids were calling! The tours are so cheap it is cheaper than taking a taxi to visit these places and you have a guide with you!
The Rip Off
If you read about Egypt, be warned of the rip off. There are people out there who will want to rip you off, and I met two of them. A few things to keep in mind when you are negotiating. When someone says 200, when you ask how much, you should confirm they mean Egyptian Pounds. Not British Pounds or US Dollars. We took a taxi to Giza and were quoted 200 LE (egyptian pounds), by the driver, who spoke little English. He even pulled over and asked a girl to talk to us in English, to make sure we wanted the Pyramids and 200 LE. But when we arrived, and we went to pay him the 200 LE, he said, “No, no! 200 US” Yea right buddy. He didn’t even take us to the entrance of the Pyramids. I put the 200 LE on the seat as I got out of the front seat and said “Shukran.”
And now, we walked into Rip off # 2.
“Lady, would you like a carriage?”
“La. Shukran,” I replied ( “No Thank-You” – If you only remember one thing, it is “La Shukran” )
“But Lady, you are far from the pyramids, you have young children, it is still 10 kilometres!”
“La Shukran,” I repeated as he continued to urge us to take his cart. “We just want to walk around Giza.”
We walked up the street about 50 meters, turned left to find the ticket window for the Pyramids and the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx right in front of us. The location where the car had dropped us had hidden the view of the Pyramids due to the narrow street and the buildings in front of it.
To avoid this rip off, try and acquaint yourself with your surroundings before taking help. Be confident, and even if you are lost, try not to look lost (ha ha). Ask for help if you need it. DO not be afraid to do this, but be wary of those who are quick to approach you to assist you, before you even know you need it!
Costs in Egypt: The Value of the Egyptian Pound
It is quite easy to exchange money in Egypt We found that the exchange rate was the same at a bank or currency convertor (even the airport ones). You can even exchange cash into an ATM machine, but we were not able to do this as it asked for an Egyptian Phone Number. ATM”™s are everywhere and I had no problems getting cash, EXCEPT for the one outside the Pyramids. It had a big line and it was soooooo slow to process, taking almost 5 minutes per person just to withdraw money. I ended up going inside the bank and converting my US Dollars. But I have used ATM’s outside the souq in Luxor and inside a huge mall in Cairo and it was quick and easy!
Check your daily withdrawal limits from your bank so you know how much you can take out per day! I ran into this problem once as everything is cash based in the Middle East.
Although Hotels are to be paid in USD, the hotels all charged my credit cards in Egyptian Pounds, which my credit card converted anyways. You do not need US Cash in Hotels to pay.
Because the value of the pound has decreased so much over the last few years, it can be quite cheap to travel in Egypt. For instance, we stayed at this 4 star hotel on the Nile for less than USD70 a night including breakfast for 4 of us in a bungalow with two beds and a sitting area. Just look at the sunset moments after we checked in!
Costs of Tours In Egypt
A One hour taxi from near the Cairo airport to Giza is less than USD20 (we paid 200 LE going there are 280 LE coming back as the driver insisted on using the meter going back). A Taxi from our hotel in Luxor had posted rates for tourists to know what to pay for a ride.
But you can often book a tour for cheaper than paying one way taxi rates. You can check out some good get your guide tours here or viator tours here. Those are good places to start for pricing and booking things to do in Egypt.
Some things, however, have a tourist price, like the sleeper trains from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan. Also our ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba in Jordan cost USD90 per person, but an Egyptian could buy the same ticket for 700LE (about USD40)
When it comes to prices in the souqs and vendors, the prices are all over the place! Do not buy anything if you do not like the price. That is my best advice. Markus fell in love with the musical instruments so I had to buy one, even if I paid too much.
A few things to Pack for Egypt
These are a few suggestions of things I found useful on our trip
- A Money Belt for cash. I hate carrying cash. I was not sure how easy it would be to get money so I had cash with me to exchange to pounds. A few tips on money belts. DO NOT EVER go into it during the day. It is hidden for a reason. Keep the cash you need in a wallet or purse. If you are at the airport, do not put your passport in your money belt. You will need to pull it out a few times during the day. Keep it in a safe pocket in your carry on. I use a waist pack like this one.
- A Scarf and Hat. Egypt is hot and dry and sunny. Make sure you are protected.
- A converter travel adapter for your electronics. I have one like this. I also bought a USB adapter because with my phone, go pro, and the kids electronics, there is just not enough plugs!
- Reusable Water Bottle. I take these on every trip. They are great for the airport when you do not want the expensive water bottles from the shops and they are ideal for a day trip. Pick up some large water bottles and use them to refill your bottle rather than buying plenty of small water bottles daily.
- I recently wrote a guide on Things to Pack for Jordan and pretty much everything applies to Egypt as well! Click on the link to have a read!
- Are you a Guide Book person? Pick up a Lonely Planet Guide on Egypt
More Egypt Content can be found here:
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Lindsay Nieminen hails from Vancouver, Canada and shares her love of travel on this website. She is passionate about showing others that they should not put off traveling the world just because they have young children or are single parents. She aims to encourage them to seek out adventure, whether it is at home or abroad by providing information on how just about everywhere can be a destination to explore as a family.