For the most part people in Egypt are very kind and respectful. But understand that as a visitor from a foreign nation you will be the subject of curiosity pretty much everywhere you go. I’ve learned to accept this without taking offense. After all, my own curiosity is what spurs me to exploration.
This advice is not unique to Egypt, but an important recommendation for all your foreign travels; please make sure your US passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond your expected return date to the US.
US Citizens traveling to Egypt can obtain a tourist visa at the airport upon arrival for ~$25.
No vaccines are required for US citizens traveling to Egypt. However, Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines are recommended for all travelers. You should consult your physician as you may have additional risk factors. More information regarding the CDC’s immunization recommendations for Egypt can be found at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/egypt
The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound. You can get a few pounds before you leave home. Also, note that you’ll receive a better rate changing dollars for pounds at banks or currency exchange shops than you will get at reception desks in hotels or by paying with US dollars in restaurants or shops.
Ideally you’ll want to carry lots of small bills and coins. Your average taxi driver or street vendors will not have change for large bills. And you will also need small bills for tipping. (See more on tipping below) Use your big bills at larger stores, hotels or restaurants. Also, it’s very, very difficult to get small change so try and get as much as you can before arriving. And I also like to carry US dollars in small denominations as well.
Wages are extremely low in Egypt so locals rely on tips from their compatriots and foreign visitors to make a living. So, for the most part expect to tip everyone in Egypt. You may even have to tip to get a few sheets of tp in the washroom! Again, this is why you need a lot of coins and small bills!
Restaurants: The tip is included in the bill; it is customary to add another 5–10 percent on top of that.
Hotels: One to two dollars a day for the housekeeper (pay throughout your stay to ensure great cleaning); $1 per bag for the porter; concierges are powerful and very helpful, so $10–$20 at the beginning of your stay will go far.
U.S. dollars are always accepted as tips!
Avoid tap water and only drink bottled water. Clean your teeth with bottled or boiled water, and avoid unpeeled fruits and vegetables that may have been washed in tap water. Take bottled water with you everywhere. Every time you leave your hotel room or cruise ship, take bottled water with you. Yes, it will be available at tourist destinations like temples and bazaars, but you will likely have to bargain for it and ultimately be overcharged.
You will be overwhelmed by the amazing photo opportunities in this majestic place. But be careful what you photograph. For example, it is illegal in Egypt to photograph bridges, canals, or military personnel, buildings, and equipment. Photography is permitted inside of mosques; however, never take pictures of worshipers performing ablutions before the prayer, or during prayer times.
Also, unless you are making a gift of it, or are fond of extortion, never give your camera to someone to take a photo for you. If you’re with a group then ask your fellow traveler or tour guide or, use your selfie stick! Do not ask the tourist police, the temple staff, the friendly camel owner or that guy with the Pharaoh headdress to take a picture for you.
What to Wear
I used to be a rebel, adhering to the attitude that I had the absolute right to wear what I wanted, when and where I wanted. Though this is still the gospel truth, after being oppressively harassed by whistles, cat calls and strange men touching and following me around on a trip to Italy, the following advice represents a slightly more mature me.
While, Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country; they are relatively relaxed and accepting of other cultures and religions. They rely heavily on tourism and tend to be very welcoming people. My advice, however, is to be respectful of this culture and their traditions.
Ladies I’m not advising you to wear headscarves or veils, but I would counsel you to avoid anything too short or too low cut. Specifically, you’re less likely to be harassed if you’re not wearing short shorts, miniskirts, tank or halter tops or the like.
Male tourists have it a little easier in Egypt. At tourist sites in Cairo, or any non-resort town, men should stick to trousers, long loose shorts, or jeans and T-shirt.
For men and women both I’d advise wearing flat, comfortable, closed toe shoes for your sightseeing and day trips from Cairo. There are a lot of adventures and uneven surfaces and there’s tons of sand to battle.
You may need a more reliable source for shopping advice than me. Currently, I’m trying to declutter my house and my life, so I desperately try to resist the appeal of buying more stuff. There is no dearth of tacky souvenirs in Egypt, but you can find good bargains on Papyrus, Alabaster/granite, gold and Egyptian cotton. Organic teas and spices tend to be my weakness but for advice on what spices etc. are allowable check with the CBP: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/82/kw/can%20I%20bring%20in%20spices/related/1/suggested/1
Wiki-travelers also recommend shopping for:
The very best advice I can give is to learn to politely say the words “la shu-kran”, which means “no thank you”. I truly wish we had learned the equivalent in Turkish, to fight off the ubiquitous carpet salesmen accosting us we traveled to Istanbul. Here's another tip: wearing a hat and dark glasses in Egypt will not only keep you cool, but it will help you avoid eye contact with vendors that target you for their next big sale. And if you're heading for Luxor, because tourism is 80% of Luxor’s economy, you will find the street vendors quite a bit more aggressive than in Cairo and Alexandria.
Relax & Explore
In this land that gave us the world’s greatest astronomers, scholars, scientists, and mathematicians you will find that people are people. Their struggles and daily realities may vary from our own but what always strikes me is that when it comes to love, laughter, survival, courage and grief, most everywhere you go in the world it’s like looking in a mirror. So relax! Take the same precautions in Egypt that you would take in Paris; watch out for scams, cheats and thieves.