Egypt is a beautiful country with a tourist industry which goes up and down due to various political and economic issues in the country. But how widely spoken is English there? Can holidaymakers expect to get by there without needing any local languages?
In general, the vast majority of holidays in Egypt take place in specially built resorts, where English will be widely spoken by the staff. If you decide to venture out of these resorts, English coverage is still widespread at all major attractions such as museums, pyramids and burial grounds, but more patchy elsewhere in the various cities.
Tourists never report any issues getting around the main places in Egypt, since it receives enough English speaking visitors from the USA and UK especially to be able to accommodate them. Egypt also has colonial ties with the English as well as the French and Italians, and so remnants of the languages of these countries still remain in the country today, especially English.
As a general rule, English is widely spoken in the center or major tourist cities like Cairo and Alexandria, as well as at all major tourist attractions and resorts. Elsewhere in Egypt, English is much less prevalent but French is also sometimes spoken.
Whilst Egyptian Arabic is the official language of the country, there shouldn’t really be any need to use it unless you are really going off the beaten track of well visited tourist areas. Most visitors will be fine using English. Lets look at the language situation in Egypt in more detail.
Languages in Egypt
The most widely spoken language in everyday life in Egypt is actually Egyptian Arabic, with around two thirds of the population fluent. However, there are also linguistic influences from Europe in Egyptian culture, most notably French, Italian and English influences, which come from past colonial ties.
The British colonized Egypt from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, which explains the reasonable prevalence of English in some schools and culture. French has also been an important language from colonial times, and still remains and important foreign language in the country. The Italian language has also been important during the reign of Muhammed Ali in the 1800s, though it’s prevalence has fallen off in modern times.
Nowadays, English is the foreign language most likely to be spoken in Egypt. Most road signs are double written in Arabic and English, and there are several high profile English speaking schools, universities and newspapers in the country. You will also have no problems using English in any major tourist resort as we mentioned.
Spoken English in Major Cities and Resorts in Egypt
Let’s be more specific and go through the reported levels of spoken English in some of the more commonly visited cities and resorts in Egypt.
Cairo – Major city and tourist destination, so no problems using English in major central and tourist areas and places like museums. Taxi drivers and service personnel will tend to speak it. Also a small expat community who can help you out. Less spoken outside the main center, though French also sometimes spoken as a second language.
Alexandria – Another major city so English will be spoken a little in the center and at attractions like museums and bigger hotels. Foreign languages like English, French and Italian widely taught in schools there now, so younger people are likely to have a few words.
Hurghada – Up and coming destination on the Red Sea. If you are staying here, you are most likely in a resort so staff will speak English no problem. El Gouna, Makadi Bay and Soma Bay are popular resorts where you will be fine using English.
Sinai Peninsula – Includes places like Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba. Most holidaying is done in resorts so English will be widely spoken. If venturing out a little further, English coverage more patchy, though will be spoken at major attractions like Mount Sinai and Christian monasteries.
Major attractions – When visiting any of the key attraction in Egypt, like the pyramids and burial grounds in Luxor, Saqqara, Thebes and Giza, English speaking guides and staff will be available. Leaflets will also be in English.
Learning Some Basic Egyptian Arabic Phrases
For most holidaymakers in Egypt, having some local Arabic won’t be strictly necessary, especially if you are staying in a resort where English is going to be spoken anyway. However, it always helps to know a few words to give a good impression to the locals, and also if you ever go out shopping in towns and cities.
Here are some basic phrases you might need in video and table form.
|English||Egyptian Arabic||Pronounced as|
|How are you?||Ezayak?||Ezayak?
|I'm fine||Ana kwaies||Anna kwaiyes|
|Please/Excuse me||Min fadlak/fadlek (m/f)||Min fodlok/fodlek (m/f)|
|Thankyou (very much)||Shokran (jazeelan)||Show-kran (gazeelan)|
|Goodbye (polite)||Ma salama||Maa salemma|
|Do you speak English?||Bettkallem Engleezi?||Bettatkallem ingleezi?
|How much is this?||Bekam dah?||Bekam deh?|
|I'm lost||Ana tayeh||Anna teyy|
|Good morning||Sabar elkhir||sabar hhelhear
|Good evening||Masaa elkheer||meh-say-elheer
|Where is the bathroom?||Feen Elhammam?||Feen illhammem?
|My name is....||Ana esmy.....||Anna esmy.....|
And then some practical info and essentials:
- Essential stats on Egypt:
- Population: 107 million
- Time zone: EST +7 hours; GMT +2 hours.
- Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP) ($1 = 24.37 EGP; £1= 28.82 EGP at time of writing)
- International calling code: +20 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in many different currencies (including Egyptian Pound) and spend for free on your card, plus draw out a certain amount of local currency for free each month.