Cultural Dos and Don'ts for Tourists in Egypt

Cultural Dos and Don'ts for Tourists in Egypt

When planning a trip to Egypt, most travelers will thoroughly research tourist suggestions, but few will look into how to behave in Egypt, which can be equally important for fully enjoying a stay in the country. Many visitors to Egypt will already be aware that touts and hustlers can be a major annoyance in the major cities, but they may not know the best way to deal with them, which, most of the time, is to simply politely turn down their request and quickly move on.

It is also important to realize many Egyptian people are friendly and welcoming, especially if visitors follow local etiquette and customs, and make an effort to respect Egyptian traditions. Travelers who are serious about exploring Egyptian culture should first familiarize themselves with things to know before a trip to Egypt and be aware of the dos and don'ts in Egypt for foreign citizens.

Egyptian Etiquette and Rules for Tourists

In order to show respect to Egyptian traditions and avoid offending local people, it is a good idea to brush up on commonly-accepted etiquette in Egypt before arriving in the country. If you are invited to an Egyptian home during your stay, it is good practice to take the following advice into consideration:

  • Take your shoes off before entering the reception room
  • Dress smart and conservatively
  • Compliment the hosts on their home
  • Bring a gift for the hosts. High-quality chocolates or pastries are an acceptable option all over Egypt, while tea or sugar are appreciated in rural areas. Flowers are usually reserved for weddings or for the ill. Bring a small gift for any children in the home. Don’t expect your gift to be opened immediately
  • Give any gifts using your right hand, or both hands if it is a heavy gift. In Egypt, the left hand is only used for unclean functions, such as putting on shoes or going to the toilet.

If you are invited to stay for a meal in an Egyptian household, you should also keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind:

  • Sit where the host or hostess tells you
  • Eat using your right hand - you should never put food into your mouth with your left hand, or use it to take food from a shared plate
  • Show appreciation for the food
  • Don’t salt your food - this is considered rude in Egypt
  • Have a second helping if you can - this is considered a sincere compliment in Egypt
  • Leave a small amount of food on the plate if you are finished with the meal, otherwise, the hosts will serve you more.
  • Try to avoid difficult political and religious topics at the dinner table, and treat them diplomatically if they do arise.

When eating out in Egypt, it’s important to be aware that most Egyptians expect foreign tourists to tip generously, not just in restaurants and cafes, but also in clothes shops, on guided tours, and for any services offered at Egypt’s main tourist attractions. The accepted amount for tipping depending on the service is as follows:

  • Waiter service in a restaurant: US $3-6 for a cheap establishment, US $11-27 for more upmarket establishments
  • Service in a cafe or juice bar: US $1-2
  • Cloakroom service at mosques and attractions: US $1-2

What Should You Not Do in Egypt?

In addition to learning about Egyptian etiquette before any trip to the country, travelers should also be aware of Egypt rules for tourists, which include prohibitions on activities that visitors may take for granted at home. Find below some examples of what not to do in Egypt and how to avoid breaking any laws:

  • Avoid public displays of affection - Kissing and hand holding in public are highly frowned upon in Egypt and should be reserved for the privacy of your hotel room.
  • Practice discretion as an LGBT traveler - Although same-sex relationships are not explicitly illegal in the country, there is little support for LGBT rights in Egypt, and any public displays of affection between same-sex couples may attract negative attention.
  • Be careful when taking photographs - It is strictly prohibited to take photographs of military installations In Egypt, and taking pictures of certain public buildings or infrastructure can also result in an arrest. Make sure to ask permission before taking any pictures of government officials.
  • Be aware of drug and alcohol restrictions - Although it is legal to drink alcohol in a licensed bar or restaurant, drinking anywhere else is strictly prohibited and can result in an arrest. There are also severe punishments for anyone found to be possessing or trafficking any kind of drug, including a lengthy prison sentence or even the death penalty.
  • Avoid the use of drones - Bringing remote-controlled drones into the country is strictly prohibited unless permission has been granted by the Egyptian Ministry of Defence, and can result in a heavy fine and/or prison time.

It is also important to learn about Egyptian clothing etiquette and dress appropriately while in the country in order to avoid negative attention and offending local people. The use of shorts is not considered socially acceptable in Egypt, except at beach resorts for men and at private beach resorts or along the Gulf of Aqaba coast for women, and shirts for both women and men should cover the shoulders. When visiting a mosque, men should be covered from below the shoulder to below the knee, and women should be covered from wrist to ankle.

Advice for Women Visiting Egypt

Women travelers planning to visit Egypt should especially be aware of the cultural differences in the country, particularly the attitudes of local men. Cat-calling and attempted gropings of female tourists are, unfortunately, common in downtown Cairo and at public beach resorts, and it is a good idea to learn how to deal with such situations before traveling to the country.

Women travelers are advised to act confident and as though they know where they are going when walking around the cities, and avoid making eye contact with local men. Many female travelers find the best practice for dealing with cat-calling is to ignore any verbal hassle completely, although firmly asserting displeasure in Egyptian or even calling for the police can also quickly scare off any annoying attention.

The most important piece of advice for women visiting Egypt is to dress modestly in public areas: female travelers who wear tight t-shirts and short skirts will stand out significantly in a crowd and are likely to receive unwanted attention. Instead, women are advised to wear loose, opaque clothing which at least covers their thighs, upper arms, and chest. Covering long hair is also advisable, especially if traveling alone or in rural areas.

Women planning to bathe in the hot springs and pools of Egypt’s Siwa Oasis should at least wear a t-shirt and leggings in addition to a bathing suit, as the area is known for being particularly conservative. Those who are planning to visit the Sinai Red Sea Resorts are able to sunbathe freely as they wish, as the resorts are considered private property and are fairly westernized.

Travelers considering visiting the country with an Egypt e-Visa should keep this advice for visiting Egypt in mind in order to enjoy a relaxed and hassle-free stay in the land of the Pharaohs.

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