Most visitors arrive in Cairo, Egypt by plane, landing at the Cairo International Airport. Train and bus are also two additional ways to reach Cairo.
Arriving By Plane
Located 25 km outside of Cairo in the suburb of Heliopolis, the Cairo International Airport is one of the largest, and busiest in the Middle East. It’s a busy, bustling, at times hectic, intersection of travelers arriving in Cairo and departing for cities across the globe. When you arrive, after a day or two of travel, it can seem daunting to make it from the arrival terminal, through customs, and all the way to your hotel. If you are looking to avoid any hassle or negotiating with taxi drivers, I suggest arranging a car and driver to meet you at the airport. Taxis are all metered, though taxi drivers will try to convince you otherwise.
The information below will help you navigate the airport. Remember to pack your patience and a good sense of humor. The airport will be your first introduction to how things are done in Egypt, which sometimes work beautifully and other times make no sense but give you a great travel story.
Before leaving home make sure your visa is valid and not going to expire while you are overseas. Don’t cut it close, Egyptian immigration has been known to turn travelers away if their visa is set to expire shortly after their intended exit date from the country. Also, check that you have at least one blank page in your passport. The Egyptian visa requires a full page.
All travelers entering Egypt are required to obtain a visa, which can be obtained before you arrive through an Egyptian consulate, at some border crossings and they can be purchased easily at the Cairo International Airport. Processing times and costs vary from consulate to consulate so check with your local Egyptian embassy or consulate for current rates and processing times. I generally recommend that travelers allow at least two months before their departure date to make sure that all passport and visa requirements are sorted. Don’t wait to the last minute!
The easiest and most efficient way to obtain a visa is upon arrival at the Cairo International Airport. Before customs, you can purchase the visa from one of the 24-hour bank exchange offices. The current cost is $15 USD and is payable in USD or Egyptian Pounds. Cash is required. If you give them over $15 USD, the booth agent will give you change in Egyptian Pounds (EGP). This visa is a single entry visa, valid for up to 3 months. Multiple entry visas and year long visas can be obtained in Cairo at the Mogamma. If you wish to stay in Egypt for more than 3 months, enter with the single entry visa then visit the Mogamma to obtain your other visa (It can take officials at the Mogamma up to a week so make your plans accordingly).
Duty-free limit on arrival at this time is the following: 1L of alcohol, 200 cigarettes, 25 cigars, 1L perfume. Also, don’t bring any potential “subversive” materials, porn or drugs. Make sure all your prescription drugs are in their original packaging with copies of the prescription. Egypt has very strict drug laws.
Cairo International Airport has ATMs throughout the airport. I recommend pulling out a few hundred Egyptian Pounds at the airport to last you your first few days. Credit Cards are accepted at high-end hotels, but most hotels, sites, restaurants and taxis/cars only take cash. ATMs give the best exchange rates and are the best way to obtain cash.
Purchasing Sim Cards
Sim cards can be purchased at Vodafone, Etisalat and Mobinil stores throughout downtown Cairo.
To and From Cairo
The best way to travel from the airport to Cairo, or vice versa, is either by taxi or private car. Taxis, which are metered, run around 30 EGP (Egyptian Pounds). Hiring a private car and driver will cost twice that amount. If planning to take a taxi into Cairo, grab your luggage and walk through the gauntlet of eager taxi drivers shouting all sorts of promises. A curt “La Shukran” (no thank you) is often enough to send most of them away. These taxi drivers will promise you the Moon and try to charge you astronomical fees. Don’t listen to any of what they say or take any of them up on their offers. Walk out the front door of the airport, cross the street and to your left and stairs which take you down to the taxi bay. There you can pick up a taxi. Take a white taxi — the white taxis are metered, the black taxis are not. Tell them you want a metered taxi and when you get in the taxi make sure they turn the meter on. Many will try to tell you there is no meter or try to tell you the rate is actually higher. Firmly insist on the meter. Then let your driver know which hotel you are going to. Don’t be afraid to get out of the taxi if the driver refuses to turn the meter on.
For a bit more money, you can hire a private care and driver to pick you up from the airport through your hotel or tour company. This can be a good value, after a few long days of travel a hassle free car and driver can be a great option.
Arriving By Bus
Mazada Tours runs twice weekly buses between Cairo and Israel. One way tickets cost $90 USD, round trip is $110 USD. There is a $55 USD border tax. For more details visit their site: http://www.mazadatours.com/Home/mazada-bus-line
Arriving By Train
Cairo’s main train station, Ramses Station, makes the Cairo International Airport look like a model of order and efficiency. At this time, foreigners are required to book first class tickets. The train station is located at Midan Ramses. From the train station, it is a $15-20 USD taxi ride to most hotels in Cairo. Take only the white taxis and insist your driver turns on the meter.