Updated: Mar 1, 2021
Editor's note: this has been updated to include covid-19 information.
Make sure you know what to expect when it comes to visas, customs, landing cards and more before you land in Egypt.
Covid-19 Information: Entering Egypt
So, the good news is that Egypt is now officially open to tourism again - YES!
The slightly more inconvenient (albeit responsible and safe) news is that to enter Egypt, you need to bring with you proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to your flight into Egypt. Passengers from certain departure countries are given up to 96 hours, so please check with your airline.
Some airlines also request that the negative PCR test be printed, and they won't accept electronic copies. So make sure to doublecheck with your airline (or bring a couple of hard copies to be on the safe side).
These negative tests are checked both by the airline before you board as well as when you land in the airport in Egypt, so make sure not to lose them during your flight.
Leaving Egypt: if the country you're flying back to from Egypt doesn't need a PCR, then that's that - it's been nice having you! But if they require a PCR, the airline representatives will ask for it at Cairo Airport (or whatever Egyptian airport you flew into) before you're allowed to board your flight.
You can get a PCR test in Egypt for around 2,000 EGP at most of the big labs. We personally recommend Al Borg Lab in Zamalek - they accept walk-ins, there's no wait, and the results are ready and printed for you either the same day or the next day tops.
Now that we're finished with the covid-19 portion, let's go right back to what else you need to know before arriving in Egypt...
So your flight’s booked, your room is reserved, and all that’s left on your to-do list is to count down the days. Right?
Well, maybe. Depends on where you’re from.
Egypt, like most other countries in the world, has a stratified visa system. Some visiting nationalities don’t need a visa at all; some buy it upon arrival; some get an e-visa issued; and some have to make a weary trip to the nearest Egyptian embassy or consulate and apply for one.
So, how do you know which of the above is you?
We could go into a lengthy and boring breakdown, or you can just check this map (but please also double-check with your nearest Egyptian embassy or consulate in case there’s been any sudden changes):
Ok, so now you know which visa group you are. Here are our insider tips for you depending on your visa group:
Those who don’t need a visa: feel free to skip this whole visa section of the article, you lucky thing you!
Those who plan to apply for an e-visa: whatever you do, please make sure to buy it from the official Egyptian Ministry of Interior’s website and NOT the dozens of other Egyptian e-visa websites that are not affiliated with the government (although they might look pretty snazzy).
The price on the Ministry’s website is $25 for a single entry visa, and this is the same price as a visa on arrival.
The other non-government pages (usually tour agencies) will charge you more for the visas – this is how they make a buck. They’re basically ripping you off, so make sure you stick to the official site. Don’t pay more than $25 for a single entry visa.
Regarding multiple entry visas, you can buy them at the Ministry of Interior’s website as well for $60. They’re not available on arrival.
Visa on arrival: Buying a visa upon arriving at Cairo International Airport (or any of Egypt’s other international airports) is both straightforward and kinda not at the same time.
Once you disembark the plane, you’ll find yourself approaching passport control without any direct or easily-noticed signage regarding visas, and when you see everyone lining up without a second thought, it might seem to make sense to join the line yourself. You didn’t see any place to get visas, right?
Well don’t bother getting in line unless you want to be sent right back to get your visa, after you just spent 20 minutes waiting in line. We’ve witnessed this happen to many a frustrated tourist, so we’re here to help you avoid just that.
Where to get your visa: you’ll find little bank kiosks on the side of the passport control area. They’re open 24/7. It’s from here you can buy the visas. They accept cash in dollars, euros and sterling. IMPORTANT: they do NOT accept credit and debit cards.
Visa price: $25
Validity: 30 days
Passport expiry: your passport must be valid for at least 6 months.
Once you buy your visa, they’ll stick it to an empty page on your passport and you’re free to join the line now to pass through passport control. The whole process of buying the visa doesn’t take more than five to ten minutes, and having the exact amount of cash you’ll need (in the right currency) will make things move even faster.
Getting the visa issued from the embassy: if you’re one of the unfortunate souls that has to get their visa issued from their nearest embassy or consulate, sorry ‘bout that, but c’est la vie we guess. Think of it this way -- once you get it, you can cruise right off the flight and into passport control without having to worry about buying the visa.
Other Useful Information
Usually before landing in Cairo Airport, flight attendants will start distributing landing cards. There’s one for Egyptians (in Arabic) and one for non-Egyptians (in English). You fill out pretty standard info -- name, birthday, passport number, address of where you’re staying in Egypt, etc. If you’re a married couple or a family, you only need to fill out one card.
Hang on to the card because you’re going to need it to get through passport control, but if for whatever reason you lose or misplace it, don’t freak out -- just ask the flight attendant for a new one or airport personnel in the airport once you reach passport control. Lots of times they have a bunch at counters before the passport lines, and if they don’t, someone will get one for you. Absolutely no need to panic -- Egyptians are both laid-back and helpful.
Just hand the passport official the card along with your passport and that’s it. He/she keeps it and you don’t need it to exit Egypt after your trip.
Don’t listen to anyone who says to follow them so that they can take you through “the fast track”. These people are simply looking for tips and their “fast track” is usually not much faster than the queue, so nope big nope.
Also, while you’re at the bank getting your visa, it would be wise to exchange some money into Egyptian pounds. Most of Cairo uses cash solely, so it’s best to always have some on hand.
Bring a pen! Or actually preferably bring more than one pen, and make sure you’re not particularly attached to them because you’ll find numerous fellow travellers asking to borrow one to fill out their landing cards and God knows pens are easy to misplace or forget with someone.
Visa -- check.
Landing card -- check.
Passport control -- check and check.
Last step before you’re a free bird in Egypt is getting your bags and going through customs.
The baggage claim area is pretty straightforward, and the baggage trolleys are for free. They’re not set up in a specific spot so just be eagle-eyed and you’ll spot an available one sooner or later.
You’ll also find a few baggage handlers next to the belt who will be happy to help you lug off your bags should you be a notorious over-packer and the bag is like a waterlogged hippo that you have to lift from the belt to your trolley (we feel ya). Slip them a dollar/euro or 10 Egyptian pounds and you’ll both walk away happy.
If you don’t need any help and they’re insisting, just say “no thanks” clearly and politely and pull off your bags yourself.
Right before you pass through the doors into sweet, sweet freedom, there’s one more roadblock. Customs.
This usually consists of a few haphazard lines leading to baggage x-ray machines. Travelers are asked at random (and sometimes everyone is asked, if the lines are light) to place their bags in the x-ray machine.
They’re basically looking for the following: goods that are subject to taxes, illegal substances or items (like drones, FYI -- for a full list of unexpected illegal things in Egypt, head here), large amounts of cash (above the allowed amount, which is $10,000 -- anything more has to be declared) and basically anything fishy.
To be on the safe side, make sure when packing you think of the following:
Open any new electronics and remove them from their original packaging so it doesn’t look like you’re bringing them in to sell
Foreigners are not allowed more than 4 bottles of alcohol (3 times a year) when entering the country, whether from the Duty-Free at Cairo Airport or purchased prior to arriving
Your clothes shouldn’t have price tags on them -- a lot of people smuggle in clothes purchased abroad and then sell them on the black market in Egypt
Any item in bulk amounts will probably have them asking you questions
If your bag is as boring as ours usually are, you’ll go through the whole x-ray thing in a minute flat (once you reach the front of the queue, that is). If your bag is flagged on the machine, then expect the officials to go through it briefly, but it shouldn’t take time unless they find something that requires further inspection.
Depending on which Terminal you arrive in, the Duty-Free is either next to the baggage claim, or past custom control.
Alcohol is totally legal in Egypt, and if you want to indulge in hard liquor over your trip, the Duty-Free is the best place to buy it, considering imported liquor is only available at hotels and certain bars/restaurants; the alcohol available for purchase outside the airport is all local and not to everyone’s taste (stick to the local beer & wine).
Leaving The Airport
You got your passport stamped, your bags collected and your Duty-Free purchases made. FINALLY!!! Off into the city you go!
Walking out of the arrivals hall, you’ll suddenly be bombarded with a lot of hopeful touts continually asking “Taxi? Taxi?”, on repeat, forever. So it’s good to have your transport method already figured out before your brain cells are overwhelmed in less than a minute of being on Egyptian Arrival Hall soil.
If you’re staying at one of the big 5 star hotels, you can pre-arrange with them to send you an airport pick-up for a fee. If not, here are your options:
1. Airport shuttle services
You can book online or go to their desk at the arrivals hall, but it’s preferred to book in advance so you’re guaranteed a waiting car. They have flat fees for different types of cars and different destinations, so you don’t have to worry about bargaining or negotiating. The price is per car, not per person, so it’s ideal if you’re a couple or small group.
Airport shuttle prices are here.
2. London Cab
Similar to the airport shuttle, you can book this roomy cab online (as the name obviously suggests, they are indeed like the taxis in London). You fill in your pick-up/drop-off info and date and they’ll show you the fare. Another good option if you’re more than one person, but pricey if you’re flying solo.
London Cab prices are here.
If you’re arriving solo, it’ll probably be cheaper to hop in an Uber or Careem (the Middle Eastern version of Uber) as opposed to a shuttle bus. Ubers/Careems are available 24/7, so you’ll rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes for one to arrive. The one downside of Uber/Careem is that they have to wait in the parking lot and are not allowed to drive up to the arrivals door, so it can be a little tricky to find the car sometimes. A lot of drivers won’t speak much English, so it’s best to always put your exact destination in the app so that they just follow the GPS.
As soon as you step out into the arrivals hall, several men will come up to you and ask “Taxi? Taxi?”. These taxis are not really cabs, but shabby limousines that will take you to your destination for a negotiable price. Whatever price the touts give you, feel free to bargain. You’ll also find a few kiosks for limousines, also feel free to bargain with them.
5. Car rentals
Cairo Airport is home to big brand car rentals like Sixt, Avis and Europcar. Their kiosks are 24/7 and located in Terminal 3. It’s recommended that you book online and read through all the fine print so you know exactly what you’ll pay and the insurance and safety deposits that are required.
Please note: if you’ve never driven in Cairo before, you might want to think twice before renting a car. The driving is extreeeeemely harrowing and Cairo drivers have vaguely impressive sangfroid when it comes to road rules.
Transportation that is not available: train & metro. There are some buses but to very specific destinations.
Local recommendation: the airport shuttle and London Cab are probably the most hassle-free, but if you’re on a budget, Uber/Careem is your best bet.