Is it safe to travel to Egypt now? Revised warning from UK government (Part 5)
Click here for a previous story about the raucous demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, July 29. Below is a continuation of updated information from the UK’s Foreigh and Commonwealth Office (FOA). It was updated on Wednesday, July 27. Click here for part one of the FOA’s advice, including a recap of the recent violent demonstrations in the country this summer.
Safety and Security – Rail Travel
Egypt’s rail network has experienced a number of fatal accidents in recent years. The most recent crash with a large number of fatalities occurred on 25 October 2009 when two passenger trains collided in Al-Ayyat, 31 miles south of Cairo.
Safety and Security – River/Sea Travel
In recent years, overcrowding and poor safety standards have led to several accidents on Red Sea ferries and Nile cruisers. There have been four significant fires on Nile cruisers since September 2006. An Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea between Duba, Saudi Arabia and Safaga, Egypt in February 2006. Seventeen people died when a minibus fell off a ferry in late April in Beni Suef.
Egypt does not experience the scale of piracy seen in the Horn of Africa. Travellers in small or slow boats are however advised to move in convoy and obtain detailed advice from the coastguard before carefully considering the risks in travelling through the Red Sea. Some cruise ships departing from Egyptian ports travel through the Gulf of Aden. Consult the Department for Transport’s latest advice on piracy in the Gulf of Aden if you are considering travelling through this region.
See our River and Sea Safety page.
Safety and Security – Adventure Travel
Before undertaking any adventure activity ensure that your travel insurance covers you for the activity.
If you are considering diving or snorkelling in any of the Red Sea resorts be aware that safety standards of diving operators can vary considerably. A basic rule is never to dive or snorkel unaccompanied. Where possible make any bookings through your tour representative. Unusually cheap operators may not provide adequate safety and insurance standards. Ensure that your travel insurance covers you fully before you dive. Diving beyond the depth limit of your insurance policy will invalidate your cover.
The Egyptian Chamber of Diving and Water Sports (CDWS) website provides further details and regular updates on diving conditions in Sharm el Sheikh, including advice following a number of shark attacks on 30 November, 1 December and 5 December in which a tourist died and three others were injured. Shark attacks of any kind are very unusual in the Red Sea but we advise that you monitor updates issued by the local authorities and your tour operator.
Ensure that your travel insurance covers you fully before you dive. Diving beyond the depth limit of your insurance policy will invalidate your cover. You should also ensure that your travel insurance, or that of the tour or dive company, provides adequate cover for the costs involved in any air/sea rescue if you are lost at sea. The current fee can exceed US$4000 per hour. The Egyptian authorities will only undertake air/sea rescue operations on receipt of a guarantee of payment. The British Embassy is unable to provide this initial guarantee, but does facilitate communication between insurance companies and the Egyptian authorities.
Quad bikes can be dangerous. There have been several serious quad bike accidents involving British nationals in resort areas. Take the same precautions as you would in the UK and note that safety standards can vary considerably. Always wear a crash helmet and ensure that your travel insurance policy covers you fully before you hire a quad bike.
There were three serious hot air balloon accidents in Luxor in 2009. You should consider the operator’s safety arrangements carefully.
Other activities which could invalidate your insurance cover are camel and horse riding.
Safety and Security – Landmines
There remains a small risk from unexploded landmines in certain desert areas in the north west of Egypt near to Alamein, and on some limited stretches of the Mediterranean coast near Marsa Matrouh and on the Red Sea coast south of Suez. Danger areas are usually well marked with signs and barbed wire fencing. Exercise caution and follow local advice, especially if planning trips off marked roads.
LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS
Local laws reflect the fact that Egypt is predominantly an Islamic country. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs. This is especially important during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. See our Travelling During Ramadan page.
The government does not interfere with the practice of Christianity but encouraging conversion to the Christian faith is illegal.
Egypt is also a conservative society; dress modestly, especially in rural areas, mosques and souqs (markets). Women’s clothes should cover their legs and upper arms. Men should cover their chests. Public displays of affection are frowned upon. What may be acceptable in the tourist resort areas may not be in other areas.
Drinking in the street and anywhere other than a licensed restaurant or bar is not allowed and can lead to arrest.
Possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs is a serious offence and can, even for possession of small amounts, lead to lengthy prison sentences (25 years), life imprisonment or the death penalty. Those convicted to life imprisonment on drugs charges will normally spend the rest of their life in prison with no possibility of parole or pardon.
Photography of or near military official installations is strictly prohibited. Don’t photograph officials without their consent. Plane spotting is not advised in any circumstances. You may be detained or arrested if you use binoculars near an airport.
Although homosexuality is not in itself illegal under Egyptian law, homosexual acts in public are illegal and homosexuals have been convicted for breaching laws on public decency.
Women are advised to take extra caution when travelling alone as there have been cases of harassment and sexual assault, including rape. Egyptian family law is very different from UK law and particular caution is needed when, for example, child custody becomes an issue. See our parental child abduction page.
See our Your trip page.
Entry Requirements – Visas
British passport holders travelling to Egypt normally require a visa. However, the Egyptian authorities state that “British nationals travelling to Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba resorts only, for up to 14 days, do not require a visa they shall receive a free entry permission stamp upon arrival. If you intend to travel out of the mentioned areas or overstay, you must obtain a visa.” Visas can be obtained from an Egyptian Consulate outside Egypt or on arrival by payment in Sterling or USD, for stays of up to a month. If you have travelled to the Sinai peninsular, entering without a visa and your plans change you can normally purchase a visa at Sharm El Sheikh airport to allow you to travel. Applications for visa extensions should be made at Egyptian Passport and Immigration Offices. Further information is available from the Egyptian Consulate and any enquiries should be directed to the Egyptian authorities.
A visa does not guarantee entry into Egypt. The decision to allow or decline entry rests solely with the Egyptian immigration authorities and we cannot interfere in another country’s immigration policy or procedures. We will, however, do all we properly can to make contact within 24 hours of hearing of the detention of a British national to offer advice and contact relatives in the UK if requested. You may have difficulties leaving Egypt with an out of date visa. You will not normally be allowed to leave if the visa is out of date by more than 14 days. For visas and further information on entry requirements, check with the Egyptian Embassy in your country of residence: the Egyptian Embassy in London.
Entry Requirements – Passport Validity
Your passport should be valid for at least six months.
Entry Requirements – Work Permits
Evidence of testing for HIV is required if you are applying for a work permit.
Entry Requirements – Customs Regulations
5,000 Egyptian pounds is the maximum amount of local currency you are allowed to bring in or take out of Egypt. There is no limit to the amount of hard currency that you may bring in, but sums that exceed USD 10,000 should be declared on arrival. Egyptian currency should not be sent through the post. Certain valuables such as electrical equipment, video camera etc must be declared on arrival. Satellite phones and radio communications equipment brought into Egypt without prior clearance from the Ministry of Telecommunications are likely to be confiscated: http://www.ntra.gov.eg/english/main.asp. Electrical items noted in passports must be produced on exit from the country. Failure to do so will result in payment of high rates of customs duty. It is advisable to contact the Egyptian embassy in your country of residence for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Medical facilities outside Cairo can be basic and in case of emergency you are advised to seek treatment in Cairo. You should ensure that your medical insurance covers the cost of local hospitalisation and medical repatriation to your country of residence.
Come prepared for the heat. Use a high factor sun block and drink plenty of water to guard against exposure and dehydration, which can result in serious health problems.
In general tap water is not safe to drink. However bottled water is cheap and readily available.
In the 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 10,000 adults aged 15 or over in Egypt were living with HIV; the prevalence percentage was estimated at less than 0.1% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. Exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page.
Seek medical advice before travelling to Egypt and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection for Egypt you should check the websites of the National Travel Health Network and Centre NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland’s Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
See our Travel Health page.
Health – Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) H5N1)
The first cases of bird flu in Egypt were confirmed on 17 February 2006. Since then, bird flu has been confirmed in 20 Governorates. This has led to a number of cases of human infection, including a number of fatalities, believed to have arisen from close contact with infected poultry. The Egyptian Ministry of Health has confirmed a total of 22 cases of avian influenza and nine deaths during 2010. All of the cases are known to have had contact with sick or dead poultry before the onset of symptoms.
The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low. However, as a precaution you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
You should read this advice in conjunction with the Avian and Pandemic Influenza page, which gives more detailed advice and information.
Egypt is susceptible to occasional earthquakes; the last major one was in 1992.
General – Insurance
You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. Make sure it covers the cost of local hospitalisation and medical repatriation to your country of residence. Check for any exclusions and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake. You should contact your insurer if you have had a previous health condition, including mental illness, as this may not be covered if it recurs. See our Travel Insurance page.
If things go wrong when overseas, see our When Things Go Wrong page.
General – Registering with the British Embassy
Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.
General – Money
Cash machines are quite common in Egypt, especially in the main tourist areas.
Scottish and Northern Irish bank notes are not exchangeable in Egypt.
Major hotels and medical facilities will usually accept payment by credit card, however smaller hotels and medical establishments may expect payment in hard currency.
General – Purchase of Property
British nationals have purchased land in many parts of Egypt. Some have encountered problems. If you intend to purchase a property in Egypt engage a local lawyer in whom you have confidence. A list of English speaking lawyers is available on the British Embassy Cairowebsite. Deal only with established and reputable lawyers and estate agents or with other contacts that they know to be reliable and genuine, and make all payments within bank premises and/or through banking channels and not in cash. In parts of Egypt (including, increasingly, in the area of the West Bank in Luxor) your land tenure rights can be severely curtailed by local legislation. It is important that your lawyer obtains an extract from the local land registry to satisfy you that the property or land in question is formally registered. Seek legal advice before entering into any contract. Don’t sign anything that you do not understand. A list of translators is available on the British Embassy, Cairo website (see above). Ensure that your personal details and the full purchase price of the property are reflected on the deeds.
The British Embassy is unable to interfere with court or legal proceedings. Neither can it lobby or provide updates to British national involved in land or property disputes.
General – Consular Assistance Statistics
1,455,906 British Nationals visited Egypt in 2010 (Source: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism). Most visits are trouble-free. 547 British nationals required consular assistance in Egypt in the period 01 April 2010 – 31 March 2011 for the following types of incident: 70 deaths; 101 hospitalisations; 33 arrests for a variety of offences and 26 rapes/sexual assaults. During this period assistance was also requested with regard to lost or stolen passports (58 cases).The majority of consular cases occur in Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh.