The UK government has updated the list of areas in Egypt that it advises against all or all but essential travel to since fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas. The main tourist resorts — Cairo, Nile cruise stops including Luxor and Aswan, and the Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh — are still considered safe. This has not changed in the wake of the joint strikes on Houthi bases in Yemen by UK and US forces on January 11, 2024, but there is updated advice. Here’s what you need to know.
Main photo: a driver feeds his camels near the Pyramids of Giza (Getty Images)
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 Foreign Office currently advises against all travel to the Governorate of North Sinai, and within 20km of the Egyptian/Libyan border (excluding El Salloum, 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, except for the coastal areas along the west and east 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, excluding Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel and the Valley of the Kings, the Governorate of Faiyum, the coastal areas between the Nile Delta and Marsa Matruh, the Marsa Matruh-Siwa Road, the oasis town of Siwa, the Giza Governorate north-east of the Bahariya Oasis, the road between Giza and Farafra (except the road between Bahariya and Siwa where all but essential travel applies), Bahariya Oasis, Farafra, and the White Desert and Black Desert
- The Hala’ib Triangle and Bir Tawil Trapezoid
Following the US and UK strikes on Houthi bases in Yemen, the Foreign Office said: “Military activity is currently underway in response to attempts by Houthi militants to prevent movement of international shipping in the Red Sea. While the area of activity is limited to the Red Sea and Yemen, there is a possibility that travel advice for nearby countries could change at short notice. You should continue to monitor travel advice and follow any relevant instructions from local authorities.”
In addition, 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 may 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.
Has Egypt been affected by the Israel-Hamas conflict?
Broadly, the Foreign Office warns that the border between Israel and Egypt (Taba) could close at short notice. Visitors should check with local authorities before trying to cross. It also warns that since fighting broke out in southern Israel and Gaza, demonstrations (often at short notice) have taken place. Tourists should be vigilant and avoid large gathering and protests.
On October 27, 2023, an official confirmed that a drone fell near a medical facility in the Red Sea resort of Taba, near the Israeli border, injuring six people. Authorities are investigating.
Two Israeli tourists and their local guide died after a police officer opened fire on a group of Israeli tourists in Alexandria on October 8, 2023, according to reports by the Israeli foreign ministry. This hasn’t however been confirmed by Egyptian authorities.
Is it safe to travel to Sharm el-Sheikh?
Sharm el-Sheikh reopened to British tourists in October 2019, four years after a bomb exploded on a Russian plane carrying 224 tourists and crew. Security measures were increased at the Red Sea resort: x-ray scanners in hotels; security walls; and high perimeter fences around the airport were installed. The area of Sharm el-Sheikh is now deemed safe to travel to by the Foreign Office. This advice has not changed since the US and UK launched joint strikes on Houthi bases in Yemen after the terror group targeted commercial ships in the Red Sea.
Is it safe to travel to Hurghada?
Hurghada, a popular Red Sea resort, is also deemed safe to travel to by the Foreign Office. Again, travel advice has not been amended for the resort following the strikes on the Houthi bases in Yemen.
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. Visitors should be aware 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.
What are Egypt’s entry 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 to visit 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 vaccines 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 frequently 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.
Public displays of affection can also be frowned upon.
Is Egypt safe for female travellers?
In general, yes, it is safe for female travellers. However, there have been reported incidents of sexual assault and harassment in the country, including some affecting minors. Most of the reported incidents have taken place in the Red Sea region and, according to the Foreign Office, are often committed by someone the victim had already met, including hotel workers and excursion staff.
The Foreign Office advises: “Female travellers should exercise caution when travelling alone, particularly at night, in buses, taxis and microbuses. If you are travelling on public transport including microbuses, avoid being the last passenger left on board.”
Is Egypt safe for LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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 public displays of affection are likely to cause issues.