Top 5 Tips For Doing Business in Egypt

When people talk about Egypt, a few thoughts come to mind such as the pyramids, the deserts, and the Arab Spring. But that’s not to say there isn’t a lot lurking under the surface. Egypt is one of the world’s oldest continuing civilizations and has a fascinating and exotic culture.

With a booming business culture and growing economy, you’ll find a lot of opportunities in this desert nation. But before you go, you need to do your research, so take into account these 5 tips to know when it comes to doing business in Egypt.

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1.     Egypt’s business culture is more casual than the West’s.

In Egypt, people are much more laid back when it comes to time and punctuality. This isn’t to mean that you should arrive late to your appointments, but rather that you be understanding if the Egyptian business people you are meeting don’t always arrive right on time.

Also, take into account that meetings in Egypt may not necessarily be private affairs. Business people in Egypt will usually multi-task and have several things going on at the same time even while they are meeting with you. It is also common for people – including friends and family – to interrupt meetings just to chat. Take an extra breath and relax in these situations, you’ll eventually grow to appreciate the laid-back way of doing things in Egypt.

2.     Less personal space and a different way of showing friendship.

Approximately 99% of the population in Egypt lives on about 5.5% of the land, which means that with a populace of over 80 million a lot of people are crowded into a very small area! Just be aware that when you go to do business in Egypt you’ll probably find big cities such as Cairo much more chaotic and crowded than what you’re used to in your home country.

Egypt also has a culture that embraces the concept of little space and cramped quarters – after all, this is a nation that focuses on less personal space and more bodily contact. When talking to an Egyptian, you’ll usually find that they’ll stand much closer to you than what you may be accustomed to in the West and will occasionally reach out to touch you. Also, it is common for Arabic men to walk hand in hand when they’re good friends so if an Arabic man offers you his hand, it’s a great sign!

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3.     You’ll need to pack light, conservative clothing.

Egypt boasts the hot, dry weather of the desert which means that on average this country only gets around an inch of rainfall per year and temperatures can  reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So when packing your bag, lean towards light colored cotton clothing which will keep you cool while simultaneously giving you plenty of protection from the sun.

Egypt also has a conservative business culture which means that you should be careful to pack modest clothing. Standard dress for men in the business world is slacks, jacket, shirt, and tie. Women should wear long sleeves and skirts of appropriate length – generally below the knees. Also, avoid dressing in local clothing as some Egyptians find it insulting when foreigners – Westerners in particular – do so.

4.     Egypt has a primarily male workforce.

Despite close to half of the population being women in Egypt, they only make up 23% of the workforce and are still not a fully utilized resource. Therefore, when working in Egypt you will definitely run into fewer female co-workers as the business force is mainly male-dominated.

The literacy rate for Egyptian men is close to 85% while for women it falls astonishingly low at just 59%. This means that men in Egypt are more likely than women to get a higher education and enter the professional sector of the workforce. Women, on the other hand, tend to work at home or take on informal jobs. However, times are changing in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and many people are hopeful that Egyptian women will have more opportunities in Egypt’s business sector.

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5.     You’ll have to follow Islamic rules – even in the business world.

Around 94% of the population in Egypt identifies as Muslim, even though the majority do not practice the religion. Islamic culture carries over into the business world in a couple ways. One way is the use of the Islamic calendar. This calendar uses months comprised of only 28 days so the Islamic year is shorter than the Gregorian or Western year. While doing business in Egypt you’ll also have to keep an eye on the Islamic calendar when it comes to holidays – in Egypt holidays are very different, as they’re related to the Muslim religion.

When it comes to doing paperwork, you’ll also see religious culture carrying over into the business world. Paperwork should always include two dates: the Gregorian date and the Islamic date. Christian Egyptians also have a calendar of their own so, depending on whom you’re doing business with, you may on occasion need to include the date appropriate for this calendar as well.

Although English is considered the second most used language in Egypt, around 54 million Egyptians cannot communicate in the language and the majority prefer to speak Arabic. Don’t let this leave you intimidated. A free online placement test will check how good your Arabic is. Investing in some  top-rate Arabic language classes will also help you to make the most of your time in Egypt, so that whether you’re caught up in the casual meeting culture, trying to make local connections, or paying respects to the deep Islamic influence, you’ll be able to walk, talk, and act like and Egyptian!

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