Local Laws and Customs When Traveling to Egypt

egypt local laws for a foreigners

When visiting the land of the Pharaohs, it is important to respect the customs and laws in Egypt. A predominantly Islamic country, the legal system is very different to that of western countries, as is the culture.

International visitors should be aware of certain Egyptian laws and the legality of things that are often taken for granted in other countries, such as alcohol.

Travelers arriving from abroad should also be sure to comply with the visa regulations for Egypt. For eligible travelers, this means obtaining the Egyptian eVisa by applying online in advance.

Dos and Don’ts in Egypt

There are a number of things that all visitors should avoid while in Egypt in order to prevent any incidents with the law, as well as things they should do.

Do not:

  • Criticize the Egyptian government in public or on social media
  • Take part in any sort of protest or demonstration
  • Drink alcohol outside of licensed venues
  • Take or sell drugs or have them on your person
  • Engage in public displays of affection
  • Dress in an inappropriate manner
  • Encourage conversion to a religion other than Islam
  • Criticize Islam

Do:

  • Obey the law
  • Conduct yourself in a proper and respectful manner
  • Respect local culture and customs
  • Dress conservatively

International travelers should also comply with Egypt’s customs regulations when arriving in the country.

Civil Disobedience in Egypt

Expressing negative comments about Egypt, the government, the president, or the security forces can lead to arrest, even if the remarks were made on social media.

It is illegal to take part in a demonstration or protest without a permit. Travelers are advised to steer clear of any sort of civil disturbance, as even being in the vicinity could lead to attention from the Egyptian police.

Alcohol and Drugs in Egypt

Egypt’s drinking laws are not as strict as in some Islamic countries. It is permitted to consume alcohol in licensed restaurants and bars, usually found in hotels and tourist facilities, which have been approved by the Minister of Tourism.

It is illegal to drink alcohol in the street or any location apart from these established venues.

Narcotics carry serious charges. Offences include:

  • Possession
  • Use
  • Trafficking

Even possession or use of small amounts of drugs can result in long prison sentences (25 years), imprisonment for life with no chance of release, or even the death penalty.

Smoking Laws in Egypt

Egypt’s smoking laws prohibit smoking in certain public spaces, such as the following:

  • Health facilities
  • Schools or other educational institutions
  • Government venues
  • Sports clubs
  • Social clubs
  • Youth centers
  • Public transportation

Smoking is allowed in designated areas in tourist establishments and industrial complexes.

Can I take my prescription medication to Egypt?

Some medications that can be obtained by prescription or over the counter in other countries are controlled substances in Egypt. These may not be brought into the country without permission from the Ministry of Health. One example is Tramadol.

Individuals who require prescription drugs for health reasons may be permitted to bring them to Egypt with a medical certificate from their doctor stating the following:

  • That the medication has been prescribed
  • That the medication is for the traveler’s personal use
  • The amount that will be brought into the country for the purpose of the trip

Egypt medical device regulations do not affect personal use, but state that foreign nationals providing or marketing medical devices must register them with the Central Administration of Pharmaceutical Affairs (CAPA).

Driving Laws in Egypt

Egyptians drive on the right-hand side of the road. There are various laws concerning driving in Egypt that foreign nationals should bear in mind if they intend to hire a car:

  • Seatbelts must be worn
  • Children under the age of 7 cannot sit in the front seats
  • Drivers must not use their mobile phones unless they have a hands-free system
  • Pedestrians have right of way

Egyptian Photography Laws

As a visitor to the country, taking photographs of the various monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Egypt is essential. However, it is important to note that there are some restrictions on photography.

Taking pictures of (or near) military installations, including the Suez Canal, is strictly forbidden. It is also generally not allowed to photograph public buildings or infrastructure, including train stations and bridges.

Unmanned aircraft systems (drones) are prohibited and cannot be imported, produced, or used in Egypt without authorization from the Ministry of Defence. Visitors who plan to use a drone to take photographs or shoot video footage must obtain permission beforehand.

If in any doubt about whether any type of photography is legal, it is best to ask for permission. When photographing Egyptian officials, always ask for their consent.

Egypt Laws for Women

There are no Egyptian laws that specifically affect female tourists. However, the country does have a certain level of gender inequality for those who live there, including in employment, politics, and marital law.

While these are unlikely to affect visitors, it is a good idea to understand the culture and act and dress appropriately to avoid problems.

When visiting religious sites, it is especially important to be respectful towards Islam, particularly if traveling to Egypt during Ramadan.

What Can You Not Wear in Egypt?

While there is no law per se governing what to wear in Egypt, it is important to bear in mind that the country has a conservative Islamic culture and dressing in a revealing way could attract unwanted attention.

Women are advised to wear clothes that cover their shoulders, knees, and cleavage. Even men wearing shorts would be frowned upon.

Tourists are generally not expected to abide by Islamic dress conventions, such as wearing a hijab, unless visiting a mosque.

Egypt LGBT Laws

Relationships between couples of the same gender are not illegal in Egypt, strictly speaking. The same is true of individuals who identify as trans.

However, members of the LGBTQ community traveling to Egypt are advised to be cautious and avoid advertising their presence. Public displays of affection are frowned upon in general and between individuals of the same gender, it is likely to attract unwelcome attention and anger from locals.

Although there are not any explicit LGBT laws in Egypt, it does have a charge for the crime of “debauchery”. This has been used to prosecute LGBTQ individuals, including an incident where 66 were arrested for flying a rainbow flag at a concert. The punishment for “debauchery” can be a prison sentence as long as 10 years.

That said, it is perfectly possible for members of the LGBTQI community to enjoy a trip to Egypt as long as they do not draw attention to themselves and respect the local Islamic customs.

Egypt’s Gun Laws

Gun laws in Egypt are very strict. It is prohibited to own or carry a firearm without a license and only security personnel and bodyguards are permitted to carry a gun in public.

To obtain a license, it is necessary to complete a lengthy application with in-depth details on the individual’s family. They must have a clean criminal history and security file and, in general, the individual must have one of the following reasons for getting a firearm and present proof of that reason:

  • To protect land or commercial property that they own
  • To perform their job (e.g. security)

Egyptian police may arrest any individual suspected of carrying a gun illegally and hold them without questioning.

Egyptian Police and the Legal System

The law in Egypt is very different from western countries.

Police and other security personnel may stop, detain, and/or question people without probable cause. Visitors are advised to carry their passport or another form of ID at all times, as failure to do so may result in their detention if asked by police.

Immigration violations can result in foreign nationals being detained for several days. For this reason, it is essential for visitors to have a valid Egypt tourist visa.

Travelers who need to extend their Egypt visa should do so as soon as possible.

If charged with a crime, the Egyptian legal system has different standards of evidence and due process. Visitors who break the law may be deported and barred from returning to the country. If the offence was serious, they may be tried and imprisoned. Punishments in Egypt are typically more severe than those in western countries.

Travelers who are arrested in Egypt should ask the police or prison officers to immediately notify their country’s embassy.