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American Express -- Cairo: 33 Nabil El Waqad St., Ard El Golf, Heliopolis (tel. 02/24130293/4/5 or 02/26909129; fax 02/26909131), and 15 Kasr El Nil St. (tel. 02/25747991/2; fax 02/25747997). Alexandria: 14 May St., Madenat El Sayadla, Semouha (tel. 03/4241050, 4290800, or 4282021; fax 03/4241020). Luxor: Winter Palace Hotel (tel. 095/2378333; fax 095/2372862). Aswan: Kornish El Nil Street (tel. 097/2306983; fax 097/2302909).

Area Codes -- Cairo: 02. Alexandria: 03. Aswan: 097. Luxor: 095. Fayum: 084. Hurghada 062. Marsa Matruh: 046. Siwa, Baherya, Farafra, Dakhla, and Kharga: 092.

Business Hours -- You have to accept that, in Egypt, businesses are open when they're open. Posted hours should be considered guidelines, not hard and fast rules, and you should expect most places to open a little late, and sometimes close a little early as well. Banks are open from 9am to 2pm, and quite frequently in the evening from 5 to 7pm. Stores generally open between 9 or 10am and stay open until between 7 and 10pm. Small grocery stores are open the longest hours, and you can expect to find a box of milk or a pack of cigarettes easily at midnight. Restaurants tend to stay open from midmorning until late at night.

Customs -- What You Can Bring into Egypt -- Egypt imposes large import duties on electronics, including cameras, stereos, and laptop computers. There is no problem bringing in items for personal use, but if you're traveling with diving equipment, a laptop, or extensive video or photographic equipment, you may find yourself required to register them upon entry. This will actually reduce your hassle on exit, as it makes it easy to prove that you haven't sold anything during your visit.

Only LE5,000 ($909/#463) can be brought into (or taken out of) the country, which shouldn't be an issue given the ease with which you can exchange money inside the country and the bad rate of exchange outside of Egypt. Foreign currencies to a value of $10,000 can be brought in.

Duty-free allowance on arrival is:

1. 200 cigarettes, 25 cigars, or 200 grams of tobacco

2. One liter of alcoholic beverages

3. A reasonable quantity of perfume and 1 liter of eau de cologne

4. Noncommercial articles up to a value of LE100 ($18/#9.25)

5. Personal items such as hair dryers and razors

Interestingly, these allowances are made "irrespective of age." Prohibited items include birds (live, stuffed, or frozen), Viagra, antiques, narcotics, cotton, and "items offensive to Islam."

What You Can Take Home from Egypt: You cannot export more than LE5,000 ($909/#463) or an equivalent of more than $10,000 in any foreign currency. You are also not allowed to take out drugs, food, silver, or gold bought on the local market (these last two have an exception for "very small quantities for personal use"). Note that at the time of writing there was a blanket ban on bringing any kind of bird back from Egypt to the United States.

U.S. Citizens: For specifics on what you can bring back and the corresponding fees, download the invaluable free pamphlet Know Before You Go online at www.cbp.gov. (Click on "Travel," and then click on "Know Before You Go! Online Brochure.") Or, contact the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel. 877/287-8667) and request the pamphlet.

Canadian Citizens: For a clear summary of Canadian rules, write for the booklet I Declare, issued by the Canada Border Services Agency (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).

U.K. Citizens: For information, contact HM Customs & Excise at tel. 0845/010-9000 (from outside the U.K., 020/8929-0152), or consult its website at www.hmce.gov.uk.

Australian Citizens: A helpful brochure available from Australian consulates or Customs offices is Know Before You Go. For more information, call the Australian Customs Service at tel. 1300/363-263, or log on to www.customs.gov.au.

New Zealand Citizens: Most questions are answered in a free pamphlet available at New Zealand consulates and Customs offices: New Zealand Customs Guide for Travellers, Notice no. 4. For more information, contact New Zealand Customs, The Customhouse, 17-21 Whitmore St., Box 2218, Wellington (tel. 04/473-6099 or 0800/428-786; www.customs.govt.nz).

Drugstores -- There is no shortage of drugstores (saydeleya in Arabic) in Egypt, and they're found in every neighborhood selling everything from shampoo to antibiotics. Most of their products are available over the counter. Pharmacists are also relatively well trained in Egypt and are commonly used for a wide range of medical advice. Additionally, many drugstores will deliver.

Seif Pharmacy is a well-regarded local business with branches all over Cairo. If they don't have what you need, they can tell you which store has it and have it delivered if you want. Branches include: Kasr el Aini Street, downtown (tel. 02/27942678); Manial el Rouda, Manial (tel. 02/23624505); Degla Street, Mohandiseen (tel. 02/37489923); El Koba Street, Heliopolis (tel. 02/24507185); and Midan el Mahata, Maadi (tel. 02/3593846).

Electricity -- Electrical current is 220 volts in Egypt. Plugs are European-style, with two prongs. There are very few grounded circuits in Egypt, so it is particularly important that you turn off the power to appliances such as washing machines before touching them. Adapters are readily available for two-pronged North American plugs.

Embassies & Consulates -- U.S. Embassy, 8 Kamal El Din Salah St., Garden City, Cairo (tel. 02/27973300; consularcairo@state.gov); British Embassy, 7 Ahmed Ragab St., Garden City, Cairo (tel. 02/27940852; info@britishembassy.org.eg); Canadian Embassy, 26 Kamel el Shenawy, Garden City, Cairo (tel. 02/27918700; cairo@dfait-maeci.gc.ca); Australian Embassy, 11th Floor of the World Trade Center, Corniche el Nile, Boulac, Cairo (tel. 02/25740444; cairo.austremb@dfat.gov.au).

Emergencies -- For the police, dial tel.122; fire, 180; or ambulance, 123.

Etiquette & Customs -- Appropriate Attire: Egyptians place a lot of stock in dressing well in informal situations, and a good pair of slacks and a few long-sleeved shirts should come with you on your holiday. For women, loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and trousers or long skirts are the best choice. In mosques, you will be expected to take off your shoes, and women will be expected to cover their heads. Unless you expect to visit a lot of mosques, the issue of lace-ups versus slip-ons isn't very important, but you should have socks without holes. Women should carry a light scarf.

Gestures: Meeting and greeting are important ceremonies in Egypt. Shake hands, introduce yourself, and take a moment to get to know people, even if you don't expect to see them ever again. Your left hand is left out of social occasions, for the most part, and once the introductions are out of the way and everyone is sitting down, be careful to keep your feet pointed at (or, better, firmly planted on) the floor. The soles of your shoes are unclean, and it is offensive to point them or even show them. Platonic same-sex friends often hold hands in the street, but it is quite daring for men and women to do so. Cheek-kissing and hugging are de rigueur displays of respect and warmth between men and women, but any kind of public displays of affection are highly inappropriate between couples.

There are few gestures that will cause offense by misinterpretation, but pointing at someone with your finger is disrespectful. Generally Arabs have a richer gesture vocabulary than Westerners and are far more familiar with our signs than we are with theirs.

Avoiding Offense: Egyptians are easy-going and socially skillful, making genuine offense difficult to cause in the first place and easily worked through if it does happen. Religion can be a touchy subject but can be discussed as long as you keep in mind that Sunnis are as used to being members of the socially dominant religion as Christians, Jews, or Hindus are in their countries, and, as such, make the same basic assumptions of universal superiority and correctness as many members of other religions do. Muslims generally see more in common between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam than they do to divide them. Politics can also be discussed, but keep in mind that the Egyptian government doesn't look favorably on its citizens when they criticize the state, and you can inadvertently put people in an uncomfortable position when discussing internal matters. On the other hand, if you're talking international politics, expect a heated argument if you set out to defend positions contrary to the accepted wisdom.

Punctuality is a loose concept in Egypt. It is fine to be 30 minutes late for a social engagement, but on the other hand, Egyptians try to make a point of being on time for foreigners.

Obscenity, whether casual or pointed in either English or Arabic, is inappropriate until you know people well. The same goes for passing comment on women (odd, considering the casual and habitual level of harassment) and absent acquaintances.

Eating & Drinking: A small gift is always appreciated when visiting someone's home. A small bouquet of flowers or a box of sweets are generally appropriate gifts. It goes without saying that in a Muslim country, showing up at someone's house for dinner with a bottle of wine will produce much laughter or an awkward silence.

Business Etiquette: Unlike social appointments, business meetings are held as close to the set time as possible. Handshaking and exchanging business cards are the norm. Expect water, tea, coffee, and sweets to be served. Also expect a lot of smoking.

Photography: Photographing anything official, from the traffic policeman to government buildings and even bridges, will usually prompt an official warning and in many cases some kind of attempt to seize your film and camera. Disorganized and ineffective security arrangements, on the other hand, generally mean you can get away with it if you're willing to ignore the shouting and walk away quickly. Actual military installations are where you should draw the line, and in no circumstances should you take an obvious photo of a military officer.

Further Reading:

  • The Global Etiquette Guide to Africa and the Middle East (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

     

  • Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in 60 Countries (Adams Media)

     

  • Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Marshall Cavendish Corporation)

     

Holidays -- Islamic feast days and religious holidays follow the lunar calendar, and so the exact dates on which they fall may vary by a day or two; they will fall back 11 days each year against the Gregorian calendar used in the West. Holidays for 2009 are Islamic New Year (approximately Jan 1); Mulid an Nabi, birthday of the Prophet Mohamed (approximately Mar 10); Sinai Liberation Day (Apr 25); Shem an Nessim/Easter (Apr 27); Labor Day (May 1); Revolution Day (July 23); Ramadan (approximately Aug 26th-Sept 23); Eid el Fitr (approximately Oct 23-25); Armed Forces Day (Oct 6); Eid al Adha (approximately Nov 30-Dec 1); Victory Day (Dec 23); Islamic New Year (approximately Dec 19).

Hospitals -- The following hospitals provide an ambulance service: Al Salam Hospital, 3 Syria St., Mohandiseen (tel. 02/33030502 reception, or 02/33034780 ambulance); Al Shorouk Hospital, 5 Bahr el Ghazal St., Mohandiseen (tel. 02/33044891 or 02/33044901 reception, 02/33459941 or 02/33044901 ext 103 or 105 ambulance); Nile Badrawi Hospital, Nile Corniche, Maadi (tel. 02/25240022 reception, or 02/25240212 ambulance); New Kasr el Aini Teaching Hospital, Kasr el Aini Street, Garden City (tel. 02/23654060 or 02/23654061 reception, 02/23654045 or 02/23654101 ambulance). For medical helicopter service (with a doctor and nurse), call tel. 02/24184531 or 02/24184537 24 hours.

Internet Access -- Most cafes have free Wi-Fi access, and small Internet cafes abound. In Cairo, Zamalek and Mohandiseen are the most wired-up neighborhoods. Most smaller centers feature hole-in-the-wall Internet shops where you can check your e-mail for LE2 to LE10 (35?-$1.80/20p-90p) per hour.

Language -- English is widely understood around Cairo and in tourist hotels and restaurants throughout the country, but off the beaten track and in smaller towns it is relatively rare to find functional English speakers. A Pocket Dictionary of the Spoken Arabic of Cairo (AUC Press) is an excellent and convenient linguistic companion to exploring Egypt.

Laundromats -- Self-service laundromats are extremely rare in Egypt. Instead, you will find small laundry shops, usually tucked away on a side street. The service is cheap but can be slow (reckon on a 24-hour turnaround unless you can get a specific commitment to be quicker). Shrinkage is not usually a problem, but broken buttons from overly enthusiastic ironing is common.

Legal Aid -- Tourists who find themselves in legal entanglements should immediately contact the consular department of their embassy in Cairo for advice. Although there is often little that embassy staff can do directly to help, they will provide references for lawyers and can help to ensure that legal procedures are followed.

Liquor Laws -- Egyptian liquor laws are obscure and unevenly applied. Most bars and stores frequented by foreigners, however, have well-posted policies of not serving or selling to anyone under 18. Local beer, wine, and hard liquor can be purchased at Drinkies chain outlets and a dwindling number of independently operated outlets. Drinkies also delivers (tel. 19330).

Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two.

To report lost or stolen credit cards in Egypt, call: Visa (tel. 410/581-9994), Mastercard (tel. 636/722-7111), or American Express (tel. 19327).

If you need emergency cash over the weekend, when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).

Mail -- Egyptian post offices are not swift, but they are a reliable way of sending postcards and letters home. A card will cost LE1.50 (25?/15p) to destinations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and England. Envelopes of 50 grams or less will cost LE3.5 to LE5.5 (60?-$1/30p-50p) depending on the destination.

Medical Clinics -- Shaalan Surgicenter, 10 Abd el Hamid Lotfi St., Mohandiseen. Outpatient clinic (around the corner), 11 al Anaab St., Mohandiseen, open 9am to 10pm daily except Friday. Clinic tel. 02/37605180, 02/37482577, 0122263606, or 0101050571. Surgery 02/37603920 or 02/33387648. Degla Medical Center, 4 St. 2003, Degla, Maadi (tel. 02/5213156 or 02/2523157), open 9am to 10pm daily except Friday.

Newspapers and Magazines -- The newsstands on 26th of July Street and bookstores in Cairo stock a variety of international magazines and newspapers. Expect daily newspapers to be 1 day late, and save 50% on weekly magazines by buying them one week late from independent newsstands.

Local Media There are a variety of English-language newspapers and magazines in Egypt, but none of them are very good. You are better off reading about Egypt in the international media.

Newspapers: Al Ahram Weekly (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg) is the major English-language publication in Egypt, at least measured by print run, but it is closely associated with the government, and its thin coverage of domestic issues rarely strays off the government message. The Egyptian Gazette (www.algomhuria.net.eg/gazette/1) is a thin daily newspaper also closely associated with the government. Widely distributed in tourist hotels throughout the country, it is sometimes worth a laugh for its disastrously badly translated crime pages. The Daily News (www.egyptdailynews.com) is the closest thing to an independent English-language newspaper in Egypt and the best bet for local news coverage. The News comes bundled with the International Herald Tribune.

Magazines: Egypt Today (www.egypttoday.com) is the biggest English-language magazine in Egypt. Close editorial identification with the government undermines the credibility of its political coverage, but lifestyle features and listings are good enough if you can find a complimentary copy. The same company produces Travel Today, Business Today, and Horus (the not-very-good EgyptAir in-flight magazine). Business Monthly is the publication of the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo (www.amcham.org.eg) and is the best business-focused publication available. Community Times has lifestyle coverage of interest to expats.

Other publications with titles such as Enigma, Ego, and Teen Stuff cover fashion and youth issues for a young local audience.

Passports -- Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you'll pay a higher processing fee.

For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.

For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).

For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525) or at most main post offices.

For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from the website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.

For Residents of the United Kingdom: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.

For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.

Restrooms -- The best bet for restrooms in Egypt is to head for the nearest tourist-class hotel. If there's nothing in sight, the next best option is a Western-style fast-food operation or a cafe. In my experience, McDonald's and Costa Coffee have the best, followed by Pizza Hut, Hardees, and KFC.

Smoking -- Egyptians smoke everywhere. Quite a few tourist facilities are now establishing nonsmoking zones, but this is unheard of in the rest of the country, so feel free to light up in the bank, at the doctor's office, or in the elevator.

Taxes -- Tourist services are generally taxed at about 22%, which is often referred to as the "plus plus" because it is made up of "plus" 10% tax and "plus" 12% service. The exact makeup of the "plus plus" varies between municipalities, and in some places is now "plus plus plus."

Time Zone -- Egypt is GMT+2, which means GMT+3 when daylight saving time (DST) is in effect. DST comes into effect in the last week of April and ceases to be in effect in the last week of September.

Tipping -- The general rule for tipping in Egypt is simple: When in doubt, tip. Tip drivers (except for taxi drivers, whom you pay by the ride), waiters, bellhops, and guides. Tip anyone who performs a service for you (shows you to your seat on a train or opens an extra door at the museum), and tip those who haven't done anything directly but ask for it anyway (often the case with street sweepers). How much depends on circumstances and service -- a bellhop in a $400-per-night hotel who gives good services should be slipped LE50 ($9.10/#4.60) or more, while waiters should receive a percentage of the bill that reflects the quality of the service. Being provided extra access at monuments or museums is worth LE5 (90?/45p) at most, on the other hand. Bathroom attendants are well served with LE1 (20?/9p), as are street sweepers and anyone else looking for a handout.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory (tel. 202/647-5225 manned 24 hours), U.S. Passport Agency (tel. 202/647-0518), U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline (tel. 404/332-4559).

Water -- Tap water in Egypt is not generally suitable for drinking. Bottled water costs about LE1 to LE2 (18?-36?/9p-19p).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.