Business Travel in Egypt

An Expert's View about Business Practices in Egypt

Last updated: 23 Feb 2011

Business Customs

Egyptian and foreign business community members who have broad experience in the market give the following suggestions:

- Have Patience: Unfamiliar paperwork processes and bureaucratic procedures make business conduct somewhat slowly in Egypt. Don't expect to breeze in for a week and leave with a contract. It may take a year or more, but in the end, it is usually profitable.


- Get Acquainted with Local Culture: Egyptians are a proud people who trace their civilization back 5,000 years. Take time to learn the culture and develop an appreciation for the Islamic faith. All private business leaders and most high-level government officials have a good command of English. Learn as much Arabic as possible - it pleases Egyptians if you know key phrases in Arabic ... Good Morning (Sabah El Kheir), Good Evening (Massaa El Kheir), etc.


- Be Personable: When you visit a businessperson, don't just walk in, shake hands, and get down to business. If you have previously met with the person, chat about common friends; ask after their family, children, etc.


- Do Your Homework: The Egyptian market is a complex and highly competitive one. At the same time, it is booming in some fields, such as real estate. You have to study the market very well before starting a business. A good Egyptian agent will help you a great deal in directing you to success. Find yourself a good local representative with the help of the U.S. Commercial Service at the American Embassy or a reliable business group.


- Remain Flexible: The Egyptian market, like anywhere in the Middle East, is a changing one. It may not be advisable for the terms of a contract to remain the same during its length. Changing conditions in the market may suggest exploring different markets or changing from partnership to technology transfer or royalty provisions.


- Send Your Best: Your top experienced executive with knowledge of the area will do a better job with the Egyptian business community. Your young, enthusiastic representative may not be as effective with the local partner, particularly in a culture that respects age and experience.


- Business Rules: When doing business in Egypt, be prepared to play it in the Egyptian tradition, or you may waste your time. A few foreign firms come to Egypt and give up after a short stay; but most foreign companies, once established with a base here, find the Egyptian market a worthwhile and profitable place to do business.



The international dialing code for Egypt is +20. Calling landlines may require a city code such as (2) for Cairo and (3) for Alexandria. Mobile phones generally begin with 010, 012, 011, or 016.017 and 019. Should you dial a landline from a mobile phone; you need to dial 0 plus the city code.


The Government of Egypt offers free dial up, and using these 0777 numbers accesses Internet through ISPs, and billing is the same as making a local phone call. Wireless Internet can be found in many of the 5 star hotels and some cafes.



Air and Sea: Egypt is an important air terminus for the Middle East, and Cairo is served by many major airlines. Currently, Egypt Air and Delta are the only airline serving Egypt non-stop from/to the U.S., with United involved under a code-sharing agreement with Lufthansa, Northwest with KLM, and Delta with Air France. Other major international airlines represented in Cairo include: Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, Japan Airlines, and Swissair. Shipping lines serving Port Said and Alexandria (the largest port on the Mediterranean) are Adriatica, Farrel, Lykes, Ogden, Prudential, and American President Lines. Egypt has its own merchant fleet.


Local: Using Cairo's black and white taxis effectively require some basic Arabic phrases and practice. If you’re going to an area you do not know well, ask about local landmarks – such as hotels or cross streets – to help you and the driver find the location. Negotiating the fare is best done before the trip. Although some taxis have meters, the official rate is so low, the obligation to pay something realistic is clear. Other variables are your familiarity with the city, the driver's demeanor, and the taxi's physical attributes. Its age and size count. While newer, larger taxis command higher fares, the cost is very reasonable, much less than in the U.S. In 2006 a new fleet of yellow taxis began operations. These taxis – bright yellow in color – can be found waiting at selected locations around Cairo, and may also be called for pick-up. These taxis charge based upon the meter.


In April 2009, taxis that are 20 years or older have been replaced by new white cabs with black-checkered stripes. The price of riding a new cab includes a LE 2.50 ($0.46) base fair, including the first kilometer, and a LE 1.25 ($0.22) charge for every additional kilometer.


The Cairo Metro is a light rail system, partly underground. One line is now running from al-Marg in the north through the center of the city to Maadi and on to Helwan. Another line is now running from Shoubra El Kheima, north of Cairo, to Ramses Station in the city center. A new line now runs from Tahrir Square passing by the Cairo Opera House and ending at Cairo University in Giza.


Regional: the Western Desert Highway, a high-speed toll road, and the busier Delta Road connect Alexandria and Cairo. Buses take 3½ hours between the cities, including a rest stop. A non-stop Turbino train takes just over 2 hours.


Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: The roads in Egypt can be hazardous, particularly at night outside major cities. Cars and trucks frequently travel at night without headlights and at a high rate of speed. There are few, if any, areas for a vehicle with mechanical problems to pull off the paved surface and no system for warning other motorists. Wild animals can regularly be found on the roads at night. Traffic regulations are routinely ignored. Roads in Cairo are congested and traffic is badly regulated. With such hazards, it is not surprising that Egypt is one of the world's leaders in fatal auto accidents. It also strongly suggested that seatbelts be worn at all times. As an alternative, the Cairo Metro (subway) system is good, but buses and commuter microbuses are usually extremely crowded and poorly maintained. For those who prefer to go on foot, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings are non-existent in many areas and drivers do not yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. It should also be borne in mind that emergency and intensive care facilities are limited outside Cairo.



Arabic is the spoken language of Egypt. Colloquial Cairene Arabic is expressive and rich in words of Coptic, European, and Turkish origins. The written language differs from the spoken. Modern standard Arabic, based on the language of the Koran, is heard on radio, TV, and in formal speeches.


About 85% of Egyptians are Muslim, and Islam is the state religion. Most others are Christian, Copts, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Anglican Protestants. Indigenous minorities include about twelve million Copts, Nubians, Bedouin, and a small Jewish community. Coptic has remained the liturgical language of the Coptic Church. English, and to a lesser extent French, is widely spoken amongst the business community and at hotel and tourist destinations.



There are many Western-trained medical professionals in Egypt. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo can provide a list of local hospitals and English-speaking physicians. Medical facilities are adequate for non-emergency matters, particularly in tourist areas. Emergency and intensive care facilities are limited. Facilities outside Cairo, Alexandria, and Sharm El Sheikh fall short of U.S. standards. Most Nile cruise boats do not have a ship's doctor, but some employ a medical practitioner of uncertain qualification. Hospital facilities in Luxor and Aswan are inadequate, and they are nonexistent at most other ports-of-call.


Medical care in Egypt falls short of U.S. standards. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo can provide a list of local hospitals and English-speaking physicians. Emergency and intensive care facilities are limited. Most Nile cruise boats do not have a ship's doctor, but some employ a medical practitioner of uncertain qualification. Hospital facilities in Luxor and Aswan are inadequate, and they are nonexistent at most other ports-of-call. The Egyptian ambulance service hotline is 123, but Egyptian ambulance service is not reliable.


Beaches on the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts are generally unpolluted. Persons who swim in the Nile or its canals, walk barefoot in stagnant water, or drink untreated water are at risk of exposure to bacterial and other infections and the parasitic disease schistosomiasis (bilharzia).


It is generally safe to eat properly-prepared, thoroughly-cooked meat and vegetables in tourist hotels, on Nile cruise boats, and in tourist restaurants. Eating uncooked vegetables should be avoided. Tap water is not potable. It is best to drink bottled water or water that has been boiled and filtered. Well-known brands of bottled beverages are generally considered to be safe.


Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1- 877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website.


Influenza: As of October 15, 2008, the Egyptian Ministry of Health has confirmed fifty human cases of the H5NI strain of avian influenza in Egypt since March 2006. Commonly known as "bird flu,” the disease has resulted in twenty-two deaths. Travelers to Egypt and other countries where the virus is being isolated or identified are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully-cooked poultry and eggs.


As of August 2009, the Egyptian Ministry of Health has confirmed approximately 300 cases of 2009-H1N1 influenza and one H1N1-related death in the country. 2009-H1N1 influenza (sometimes referred to as novel H1N1 or “swine flu”) is a new virus causing illness in humans that was first detected earlier this year. The virus is spreading from person-to-person, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza spreads. Most people infected with 2009-H1N1 fully recover. You cannot catch 2009- H1N1 by eating properly cooked pork products.


For the most current information and links on influenza and pandemic preparedness, please visit the federal government’s flu website.


Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.



Read the full market research report

Posted: 14 June 2010, last updated 23 February 2011

See more from Business Practices in Egypt

Expert Views    
Selling Factors/Techniques in Egypt   By U.S. Commercial Service Egypt
Business Travel in Egypt   By U.S. Commercial Service Egypt
Egypt Agriculture Economic Overview   By Buhaisi Consulting International