Arabic is the official language of Egypt, and the Egyptian dialect is widely understood and spoken throughout the Middle East. People from more socio-economically advantaged segments of society often speak either English or French, and the use of these languages has been spreading. Newspapers, books and public information are published in Arabic and increasingly in English as well.
Men are expected to wear formal business attire such as a suit and tie for meetings, while women should dress conservatively to avoid receiving excessive attention. Outside of the work environment, modest clothing applies. When visiting mosques or churches, women must cover their shoulders and wear pants or skirts that cover the knees. It is acceptable, however, to wear less conservative clothing at nightclubs, restaurants, bars, hotels and other tourist destinations.
It is integral to Egyptian culture to be courteous to foreigners. A conversation, whether business related or not, is usually accompanied by coffee, tea or juice. Social rules dictate the appropriate way to greet people in business meetings. Close friends of the same sex will sometimes say hello with a kiss on each cheek, although a handshake is also typical. While it is inadvisable to drink or eat in public during Ramadan, both food and beverages are readily available.
One Egyptian pound is composed of 100 piastres. Bills are in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 pounds, and coins include 25, 50 and 100 piastres. The currency was floated in November 2016 and is subject to changes in value, so it is best to check the most recent exchange rates before departure.
Tipping & Taxes
A special service tax of 12% is typically added to the bill by bars and restaurants, but patrons are expected to tip wait staff on top of that. Most travellers will face requests for additional cash for a variety of services, a widespread practice known as baksheesh. Value-added tax is 13% and this is not always included in the listed prices on food and drink menus.
The work week is Sunday to Thursday. Most private companies operate from 9.00am to 5.00pm, while public sector offices traditionally function between 8.00am and 2.00pm, but sometimes later. Stores usually open at 10.00am and close at 11.00pm.
Visitors are recommended to have health insurance cover, as well as vaccines for hepatitis A and B, typhoid and yellow fever. It is advisable to drink bottled water and exercise caution when choosing a place to eat. Popular international hospitals in Cairo include Misr International Hospital, As Salam International Hospital and Dar Al Fouad Hospital.
There are four mobile operators: Orange, Vodafone, Etisalat Misr and Telecom Egypt. A SIM card costs around LE25 ($1.40).
The country’s electricity sockets are designed for 220-V (or 50-Hz), two-pin round plugs. Adaptors are needed for other plugs and these can be obtained at most hotels.
Cairo’s roads are often highly congested.
Taxis are cheap and abundant, and can be a practical way to move around the city. White cabs should offer metered fares. If the taxi does not include a meter, fares should be negotiated before setting off. Ride hailing apps Uber and Careem are also readily available in Cairo and most other large urban centres. Cairo is home to the first fully fledged metro system in Africa, with three lines operational and three more lines planned. The most efficient way to travel to southern Egypt, the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula is by air.
Visas are required and available upon arrival for US and EU citizens. E-visas are also available for citizens of a number of countries, and the most current list is available online. Visitors may purchase visas at the airport for $25 (often required in cash in a foreign currency) and they are valid for one month. Visas can be extended for up to three months, although regulations are subject to frequent changes, so it is best to check with your country’s Egyptian embassy before departing.
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