Travel during COVID-19: How to Plan for Egypt

Wait...traveling?! During a pandemic?! To EGYPT?! ARE YOU NUTS?! But picture this: Walking through ancient Egyptian temples with only the sounds of your own footsteps bouncing off the hieroglyphic-covered walls without another soul in sight. Social distancing is NOT a problem!

Traveling outside of the United States isn't impossible during a pandemic, but it takes a bit of work. Many countries are requiring negative PCR test results upon entry, mandatory quarantine, and health insurance coverage meeting certain criteria. If you are healthy and have a travel itch that needs to be scratched there are a few options. Check out this article here from U.S. News to learn where you can travel.

Recently I returned from a two-week trip to Egypt with my husband, Brad, in January 2021. The trip included Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh, and a five-day Nile River cruise from Luxor to Aswan. Egypt has always been a bucket list item for me and it exceeded my expectations!

Below I have included some planning tips and helpful insights to make your trip to Egypt as smooth as possible.

Visa

Egypt requires a Visa to enter the country that is good for three months upon approval with a passport that has at least six months validity. You can purchase the Visa upon arrival before passport control.

An eVisa can be purchased ahead of time for $25.00 USD on the official Arab Republic of Egypt Ministry of the Interior website. We opted for the eVisa and submitted the application a few months before our trip just in case the process took awhile. Fortunately, we were approved within the week. Be sure to have a printed copy with you which will be taken and replaced with a stamp in your passport.

Travel Vaccines

Check out the Center for Disease Control's website for information regarding travel vaccines recommended for Egypt. Various diseases and bacteria can impact your trip for the worse so be prepared. Your doctor can help with any questions or concerns.

Always drink bottled water, consume properly handled foods, and sanitize your hands before eating. We ate a variety of fresh and cooked foods on the trip and didn't have any issues.

Medicine

Packing medicines such as Pepto-Bismol is a great choice. Sometimes foreign food can cause unpleasant side effects. The last thing you need is an upset stomach while inside of the Great Pyramid of Giza. YIKES!

I packed Advil, Pepto-Bismol chewable tablets, and MidNite melatonin tablets to help with sleeping due to the time change. Egypt has strict rules when it comes to medications. I couldn't bring any cold medicine since the active ingredient is illegal. Check out this list here to make sure you don't get into trouble with customs.

If you need to bring prescriptions, ask your doctor to provide you with documentation and only bring the necessary amount for the trip. Keep all medicines in original packaging!

Flights

We took a few domestic flights on Egyptair to travel between cities. Fifty percent of the flights were moved around probably to consolidate due to COVID-19, but overall the experience was great. Flight attendants were reminding passengers to wear masks and sanitizer packets were available.  

The Egyptair website can be misleading with luggage allowance, but it's not any different than the United States. A traditional carryon and one personal item is permitted onboard. Brad and I each had a 40L backpack and nobody said a word.

Egyptian airports are not busy due to the pandemic, but give yourself enough time because there are several security checkpoints. Electronics and realistic souvenirs will be scrutinized. Our luggage was never weighed, but we kept around the guidelines just in case.

COVID-19 PCR Test

In order to enter Egypt you will need a negative PCR test taken less than 96 hours from your last direct flight if coming from the United States. It needs to be issued by an accredited laboratory with its logo, indicate the date and time of the swab collection, specify RT-PCR, and state the type of swab (nasal).

We used a private company, Any Lab Test Now, to do the test in the Houston area. The results were emailed within 48 hours and each test was $199.00 USD.

Be aware that your airline will check the results before your boarding pass is issued. United and Lufthansa checked our results before each flight. Egyptair never checked our results because we were flying domestically.

Egyptair and the U.S. State Department have the most up to date requirements for entry into Egypt.

Recently the United States issued a policy requiring a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country. We took a PCR test in Aswan that was organized by our tour company, Memphis Tours. Our guide took us to the outdoor testing site at the Aswan Fever Hospital and we received the results before our flight the next day. Each test was $100.00 USD and was checked by Lufthansa before our flight to the United States.

Transportation

Uber is available in Cairo, but taxis will be your go-to in other cities.

After landing in Cairo, it took us an hour to find an Uber. The B5 area pick up location in the Terminal 3 parking lot does not seem to be accurate. We were constantly hounded by other drivers vying for our business as we frantically tried to find our Uber. Another issue is the license plates. Numbers are in Arabic so we made sure the driver matched his profile photo. You will have better luck if you message your driver to meet you by Milanto Cafe and Takeaway. The 45 minute ride to our hotel in Giza was less than 230 LE ($15.00 USD).

If you decide to take a taxi be sure to settle on a total price before you start the ride. Specify the currency and bargain. Have Egyptian pounds handy (there is an ATM in the airport) and trust your gut. We had a taxi for five hours when we visited the West Bank of Luxor and paid 400 LE ($25.00 USD) for him to take us between the sites. Worth every penny!

Traffic in Egypt is horrendous. Speed limits and lanes don't exist, so wear your seatbelt and hold on!

Tour Companies

Egypt is a country that is very difficult to navigate on your own. Most of the time it was convenient to book a tour just for transportation. We booked excursions with three companies throughout the trip: Deluxe Egypt Travel, Emo Tours Egypt, and Memphis Tours.

Memphis Tours handled our five-day Nile River cruise from Luxor to Aswan, Ras Mohammed National Park snorkeling excursion in Sharm El Sheikh, and Abu Simbel tour. The company was responsive with all of my questions and the tour guides were exceptional.

Tripadvisor was very helpful with hotel reviews, booking tours, and excursion ideas. The travel forums are ideal for any last minute questions. Their cancellation policy is also great especially during this pandemic when plans can change.

Tipping

Besides bargaining, tipping is also a prevalent custom in Egypt. Plan to put some money aside and be prepared to tip everyone: tour guides, drivers, and bathroom attendants. We tipped our tour drivers 50 LE, our day guides 200 LE, waiters 10 LE, and restroom attendants 5 LE.

Cash is king in Egypt, so make sure you have a debit card that will work internationally. We used the Charles Schwab Visa Platinum debit card which reimburses ATM fees and has no foreign transaction fees. Most major hotels and some restaurants do accept credit cards.

Touts

Get your game face on and practice the phrase, la shukraan, which means "no thank you" in Arabic. People will try to sell you scarves, books, figurines, jewelry, and other items when you visit popular tourist sites. Avoid eye contact and ignore them if you are not interested.

Often times aggressive touts will try to put something in your hand. They will demand you pay for it if you take it. Remember when your parents told you not to touch anything that wasn't yours? This habit will help you immensely and avoid headaches.

Feel free to help out the locals if you are in the mood to shop. Have fun bargaining and if you can't come to a reasonable price walk away. Chances are they will run after you and agree to the sale!

Bathrooms

The plumbing situation in Egypt is different from the United States. You cannot flush toilet paper and must dispose of it in the trash can located in the stall. Sometimes an attendant will be outside to give you some tissue since there isn't often toilet paper inside. A tip is expected if you take some. I always took a small packet of Kleenex with me just in case. Soap is also nowhere to be found in most restrooms so bring some hand sanitizer.

Egypt is an amazing country to visit especially since tourism is slow right now. We were often the only tourists at the sites which made for a relaxing experience. The more prepared you are for travel in Egypt the better your trip will be!