Is it safe to travel to Egypt?

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”Some parts of Egypt have travel advisories in place, while some acts such as drinking in public could land you in hot water. Here’s what you need to know.”

From the pyramids of Giza and the temples of Luxor to the gorgeous beaches and mesmerising reefs along the Red Sea, Egypt is full of wonders for travellers to explore. But while it has all the ingredients for a great holiday — with an abundance of sun, a favourable exchange rate and plenty to see and do — the last decade has been tumultuous.

When Arab Spring protests spread from Tunisia to Egypt in 2011, it led to violent clashes and the overthrow of the then president Hosni Mubarak. Several years of political turmoil and unrest followed. While things have largely calmed down, protests can and do still take place. And then there was the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 over North Sinai in October 2015 that saw flights from the UK to Sharm el-Sheikh suspended until October 2019. Many holidays to Egypt have taken place in the intervening years without issues, but travel advisories are still in place for certain regions of the country. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s the latest government advice about travelling to Egypt?

There are no travel advisories in place for popular tourist spots in Egypt such as Cairo, the cities along the Nile including Luxor and Aswan, and resorts by the Red Sea such as Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada.

However, the UK Foreign Office currently advises against all travel to the Governorate of North Sinai and within 20km of the Egyptian and Libyan border (excluding El Salloum, to where it advises against all but essential travel).

It also advises against all but essential travel to the following areas:

  • The northern part of the Governorate of South Sinai beyond the St Catherine-Nuweiba road, between the Suez crossing and Taba within the southern part of the Governorate of South Sinai, but excluding the coastal areas on the western and eastern part of the peninsula
  • The eastern part of Ismailiyah Governorate east of the Suez canal
  • The area west of the Nile Valley and Nile Delta regions, but excluding the Governorate of Faiyum, and coastal areas between the Nile Delta and Marsa Matruh, the Marsa Matruh-Siwa Road, and the oasis town of Siwa
  • The Hala’ib Triangle
  • The Bir Tawil Trapezoid

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Egypt according to the Foreign Office, and targets could include destinations popular with tourists. Most attacks are in the North Sinai region, but they can take place in other parts of the country too. 

The risk is heightened during public holidays and festivals, such as Christmas and Ramadan, and is particularly high around religious sites, large public gatherings, and places frequented by foreigners. Stay vigilant and carry your photo ID with you at all times.

Can you drink alcohol in Egypt?

Egypt is an Islamic country. While attitudes are more relaxed in tourist resorts, customs can be very different elsewhere and more strict during Ramadan. Public drinking, for example, can lead to arrest — alcohol is only permitted in a licensed restaurant or bar.

Possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs can lead to long prison sentences or even the death penalty. Be aware, though, that what is legal in the UK may not be legal in Egypt. In 2017 for example, a British woman was jailed for three years for taking painkillers into the country. Tramadol, an opioid painkiller, is a prescription drug in the UK but is illegal in Egypt.

What about taking photos in Egypt?

Be aware of what you’re photographing. Taking pictures of military installations (strictly prohibited), embassies, government buildings, churches and even infrastructure such as train stations can lead to arrest. If you want to photograph any Egyptian citizens, you must have written permission from them; photographing children is not permitted.

Taking or sharing photographs that are perceived to be damaging to the country’s image is also forbidden. Similarly, making strongly negative comments about Egypt or its politics, including on social media, can lead to you being detained. Taking or sharing photographs that are perceived to be damaging to the country’s image is also forbidden. Similarly, making strongly negative comments about Egypt or its politics, including on social media, can lead to you being detained.

What are Egypt’s Covid travel restrictions?

Egypt no longer has Covid-related travel restrictions.

For entry into Egypt though, you’ll need at least six months of validity left on your passport. You’ll also need to apply for a tourist visa for visiting most of the country. These can be obtained online before you travel or on arrival at dedicated desks inside the airport. This is valid for up to three months.

If you’re travelling to the resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba or Taba, you can get a free entry permission stamp upon arrival for stays of up to 15 days. You’ll have to get a visa if you want to stay longer or visit other places.

Do I need jabs for Sharm el-Sheikh?

There are no essential vaccine requirements for visiting Egypt. However, the NHS suggests that it’s advisable to have polio and tetanus jabs. You may also want to consider hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid.

General safety advice for travelling in Egypt

In terms of safety on the ground, it pays to be vigilant. Protests take place with some regularity and foreigners taking part in political activities in the country could be detained or subjected to other measures. 

The Foreign Office says: “If you become aware of any nearby protests, marches or demonstrations, you should move away from the immediate area as the atmosphere could change quickly and without warning. Police have previously used water cannons, tear gas, birdshot and live ammunition for crowd control.”

At popular tourist spots, visitors can be harassed for money or to buy things. There’s also a risk of theft and mugging, even in taxis. Travelling as part of an escorted tour can help reduce the risks. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the local tourist police who can help you make a report.

Is Egypt safe for female travellers?

In general, yes it is safe for female travellers. But there have been reported incidents of sexual assault and harassment in the country.

The Foreign Office advises: “Female travellers should exercise caution when travelling alone as they could be vulnerable to unwanted attention or harassment. If you are travelling on a microbus, avoid being the last passenger left on the bus. Take extra care when travelling alone, particularly at night, in taxis and microbuses.”

Is Egypt safe for LGBT travellers?

It can be problematic. While homosexuality is not technically illegal in Egypt according to the Foreign Office, the charges of “debauchery” and “sexual deviance” have been used to prosecute LGBT people in the past. Sixty-six people were arrested in 2017 on debauchery charges after waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo, for example. Again, attitudes are more relaxed in tourist areas but any public displays of affection will likely cause issues.