The Customs of Egypt: What To Expect

If you’re traveling in Egypt, you’re in for a treat. Egypt is a country steeped in ancient history and fascinating culture. With their intriguing archaeological riches, gorgeous and long-standing artistic traditions, and friendly, hospitable customs, Egypt is truly a wonderful place to visit. If you’re planning a trip to Egypt soon, here’s what to expect from its culture and people.

Religion is everywhere. In Egypt, Muslim is the dominant religion—although there are many Christians, especially Coptic Christians, as well. But religion and particularly Muslim tradition dominates the culture. Expect most businesses to close on Fridays, except for Christian-owned companies, which will close on Sundays. In addition, devout Muslims are called to prayer five times a day. If you are visiting a home or business during this time, don’t be surprised if your visit stops while the prayer is conducted.

Alcohol: when in doubt, ask. The Muslim religion restricts its members from drinking alcohol. However, most Egyptians won’t mind if you drink, as long as it’s not overdone. If you have any doubt as to whether it’s appropriate to drink alcohol in some social situations, ask. You are allowed to bring up to one litre of alcohol with you through customs, and you can buy alcohol at duty-free shops and liquor stores in Egypt. You may have trouble ordering beer or wine in a Muslim-owned restaurant, however.

Crime in Egypt: it’s rare, but be prudent. Egyptian culture puts a lot of emphasis on extended family. Each person in a family is responsible for the good reputation of others in that family, and a bad deed done by one member can shame an entire family. Crime in Egypt is quite rare as a result—and many travelers will tell you that the streets of Cairo are much safer than those in Western cities.

However, it’s important to take the usual precautions—avoid walking alone through deserted areas you’re not familiar with, keep your passport and traveler’s cheques protected, and so on. In touristy areas, be wary of pickpockets.

For women: not as restricted as you’d think. Although Egypt is technically a conservative Muslim society, many visitors are surprised by the numbers of Egyptian women they see in professional occupations. Egyptian women work in business, government, law, medicine, higher education, and many other professions. Some may wear veils and head coverings, but many do not.

Foreign women are not generally restricted in Egypt. However, the cultural dress code in Egypt is much more conservative than it is in the West, for both men and women. Even though it’s hot, female visitors are usually encouraged to wear loose-fitting clothing, long skirts or pants, and shirts that cover the shoulders—no tank tops—in order to avoid unwanted attention from men.

Women visiting Egypt may encounter some segregation during their travels. Buses, for example, usually seat women in the front and men in the back. Trains often have a first car reserved for women as well.

Crime is rare in Egypt, but women must be more careful than men—especially when traveling alone in rural areas. Most of the time, women alone are perfectly safe in Egypt. But as in all areas of the world, practical precautions should be taken.

For men: don’t let casual intimacy surprise you. Egyptian men kiss other men on the cheek. Many Western men are disconcerted by this, but it is a customary friendly greeting in Egypt. In general, Egyptians are “close talkers” and don’t require a lot of personal space when interacting with others.

Men visiting Egypt must be especially careful when interacting with Egyptian women. In traditional families, it’s considered unseemly for men and women who are not related to speak. Even in professional situations, it may be considered forward to make eye contact with women. If you are asking about an Egyptian person’s family, avoid asking in too much detail about female relatives. You may be trying to make friendly conversation, but a conservative Egyptian may interpret your questions as inappropriate interest.

Baksheesh: don’t tip professionals. It’s considered highly inappropriate to tip professionals. Unlike in Western countries, tipping in restaurants is generally not expected—although it is appreciated. If you take a taxi, don’t tip. You will usually have to negotiate your fare, and the taxi driver will incorporate the tip into the price for the ride.

Some will perform a simple service for you and ask for “baksheesh” in return—especially in tourist-populated areas. Be aware that you do not have to tip in every situation, and it is not always considered a required part of social etiquette in Egypt.

Egypt is a land rich in cultural tradition, art and architecture, ancient history, and modern hospitality. Its cultural traditions can be difficult for some travelers to understand, but do your best to accommodate local custom. Be flexible and open-minded, and you’re sure to have a good time.

About The Author

Darren Panto works for Peltours Limited based in London UK. For a wide range of Egyptian holidays and cruises visit
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