Doing business in Egypt
Important: Please read this first - Cairo: Prepare for these ‘What ifs?’
Those contemplating traveling to Egypt are advised to seek expert guidance before visiting the country for business or leisure.
General advice is available here.
Individuals and organisations that operate in Egypt or are likely to be affected by the conflict should ensure their security systems and procedures are robust and effective and familiarise themselves with the guidance from the British Government.
For personal assistance with travel safety arrangements, local intelligence and cultural briefings, contact us now and ask to speak to one of our trusted special advisors.
- The official name of Egypt is Arab Republic of Egypt.
- The official language is Arabic.
- The capital and also the largest city is Cairo.
- The population is estimated to 84 million.
| Business Mentality
- Egyptian business people appreciate a thorough presentation of your information, so make sure to have research and documentation to support your claims. Your documents should include two dates: the Gregorian (Western) and the Hijrah (Arabic) date.
- It is useful to have an Egyptian agent do to business. A local intermediary person would speed up the business process.
- Business will not proceed until your counterpart decides that they like you. The social side of the deal goes hand in hand with the work-related one.
- Regarding negotiating techniques – do not use high-pressure tactics. Note though that Egyptians are generally tough negotiators.
- The pace of business is slower in Egypt than in the European working culture, so expecting immediate results is not wise. Moreover, keeping foreign trade partners waiting is a common practice and you might not be able to set more meetings in one day.
- A typical business day is usually from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm in the summer and 9:00 am to 1:00 pm with an extra 5:00 to 7:00 pm in the winter.
- No business is conducted on Friday – the Muslim holy day. Most people do not work on Thursdays either.
- Before setting a meeting, check that it is not Ramadan. Working hours for business and government offices are shortened during that period.
- Since there are plenty greeting styles in Egypt, it is safest to wait for your counterpart to initiate the greeting, especially at a first meeting.
- When addressing your Egyptian counterparts for the first time, you should use their title followed by their surname until invited to do otherwise. Titles are a sign of stature and are viewed with pride; therefore it is important to use them. If an Egyptian does not have a title, a courtesy title such as “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss” is appropriate.
| The Art of Conversation
- It is advisable to have an Egyptian representative to explain the major points of your business in Arabic. Many educated Egyptians speak multiple languages, but they appreciate brevity and, therefore, would prefer Arabic.
- Do not be surprised if, at some point, voices are raised; it is not an argument, but just the way Egyptians discuss matters.
- Welcome topics of conversation include Egyptian achievements – both ancient and modern, the positive reputation of Egyptian leaders, Egyptian cotton, sports.
- Try to avoid inquiring about the female members of their family. Do not bring up the Israel topic.
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| Business meetings and meals
- Regarding dress code, visitors are expected to follow Egyptian discretion standards. Despite the country’s hot temperatures, most of the body must remain covered.Wearing Egyptian traditional clothing may be seen as offensive to the natives. If an Egyptian man gazes intensely at a woman, it generally means that her dress is not ‘modest’ enough.
- Punctuality in Egypt is not considered the main priority. Your counterpart might arrive late for a meeting, but make sure that you arrive on time yourself.
- Business cards should be printed in English on one side and in Arabic on the other.
- Presents are welcome, but do not forget to give or receive them using your right hand or with both hands – never with the left. Small electronic devices, chocolate and compasses are popular gifts.
- For business meals: string Muslims will not touch alcohol or pork. Make sure to have a selection of non-alcoholic drinks available if you invite them for an event.
- Do not ‘wipe out’ your plate. It is polite to leave a small portion of food – it means you have had enough.
- Be careful not to add salt to food, especially in an Egyptian home. It is considered an offence.
| Body Language
- Do make eye-contact when meeting with your Egyptian business associates, especially with male colleagues. Looking in someone’s eyes is a sign of honesty and trust.
- Arab men usually walk hand in hand although Western-style Egyptians rarely do this. If an Egyptian holds your hand, accept this as gesture of friendship.
- The left hand is considered unclean in Egypt. Unless you are handling something considered dirty, always use the right hand. Avoid gestures with the left hand.
- Pointing is considered extremely rude.
- Do not cross your legs when sitting. Moreover, showing the bottom of your foot is considered offensive.
- The ‘thumbs up’ sign is offensive in Egypt and the entire Arab world.