Caught in a whirlwind of romance and history, Alexandria, Egypt is a Mediterranean city at heart. Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria quickly became a pillar of culture and education for the Graeco-Roman Empire, of which it was the capital.
Modern Alexandria has a strong artistic community with beach vibes and deep layers of history. Studying in a city of mixed influence is a unique experience for any study abroad student. Plus, who can resist studying in a city that hosts wonders of both the Middle Ages and Ancient World.
Famous today for its deep history, natural beauty and ancient architecture, Alexandria is ripe for exploring and is a study abroad destination that has attracted academics and visitors throughout time. Find yourself wandering through a city that once staged the greatest love affair in history: Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Soak up the sun along the Mediterranean coast all while taking in the history of centuries past.
While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of Cairo, Alexandria offers a far more laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle. Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the souks, relax on the 32km of Mediterranean coastline, or discover its several thousand year old history and culture, there’s something in Alexandria for everyone!
Alexandria is a unique and exciting study abroad destination, however there are laws and customs that you’ll need to be aware of during your time there and it is always important pay attention to safety and the current political situation.
Culture & Immersion
With thousands and thousands of years of recorded history, Egypt’s culture is both deep and complex. Keep in mind that Egypt is culturally and religiously conservative country, and many behaviours that may be acceptable at home may not be tolerated. It’s important to remember the following cultural guidelines during your studies in Alexandria:
- Egypt has strict alcohol regulations and drinking is only allowed in registered bars, hotels, and restaurants. Avoid drinking alcohol in public places.
- Always remember to remove your shoes before entering a mosque.
- Always eat with your right hand; use of the left hand is reserved for personal hygiene purposes.
- During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking from dawn to dusk. While non-Muslims are not expected to adhere to these rules, it’s important to be respectful of these religious customs and refrain from taking part in these activities in public near those who are observing these traditions. You may find that shop hours change and alcohol is less available during this period.
- Modest dress is important and should always be observed, especially for women, and particularly when visiting religious sites. It is recommended that women cover their shoulders and legs in public. Shorts and swimwear are typically only acceptable at beachside resorts.
- There is little public acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Egypt. It’s important to take precautions and gain and understanding how LGBTQ-friendly your study abroad location is.
While many of these cultural norms may come as a shock to you, it’s important to have an open mind and adapt to the expectations of the country that you’re studying in. If you have questions about any of the above, don’t hesitate to engage in conversation with a local or your study abroad advisor.
Culture Shock & Support
Landing in an unfamiliar place amongst a culture drastically different than your own is unsettling for most people, and culture shock is totally normal.
Most programs provide a welcome orientation and connect you to fellow students prior to leaving your home country. Rely on your program provider for support and answers to any questions you may have, and remember that you are not alone in this experience -- the majority of your peers will be experiencing the same nervous excitement that you are and are a great source of reassurance.
While it might not be the easiest transition, you’ll be feeling at home in Alexandria in no time!
Throughout your semester or year in Alexandria, you’ll slowly learn how to walk, talk, and shop like an Egyptian, particularly if you’ve chosen a program with a homestay, or are living with local students. Both in and out of the classroom you’ll be immersed in Egyptian culture through visits to historical sites, and participation in one of the oldest cultures in the world.
Learning a new language is a major part of any experience abroad, and taking the time to learn Arabic, whether through your university or a third-party provider will be beneficial to both your studies and your day-to-day life in Egypt. Take advantage of the opportunity to speak Arabic with locals at shops, markets, and restaurants and don’t let your fear of making a mistake prevent you from giving it a try.
Eating at local food stalls and shopping at the souks are a fast-track to learning about and discovering more of the local culture and people, plus -- it’s likely suited to your already limited student budget. Don’t miss the opportunity to try falafel, kushari, and Egyptian style shawarma.
Alcohol restrictions and drinking culture in Egypt may be drastically different than what you’re used to at home, and it’s important to show respect for local customs and laws. Avoid drinking in public places and expect to pay a higher price for alcohol than other goods during your time in Alexandria.
Insider Tips on Studying Abroad in Alexandria
Many expats living in Alexandria see it as a safe place to live, though touts, scams, and petty theft are things to be aware of. Don’t be tricked by a stranger offering to show you around the city and make sure not to confuse piasters for pounds when given change.
When you first arrive, it might be helpful to carry a cheat sheet of Arabic phrases and numbers around with you to help figure out the correct prices and ask directions. Additionally, carrying smaller bills and coins is helpful for paying taxi drivers and shopkeepers that may not have exact change, and is good for tipping bathroom attendants and others.
Undoubtedly rich in culture and history, Alexandria is known for its many historical, archeological and religious sites, including the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Citadel of Qaitbay, and the Alexandria National Museum.
In addition to the above, the 360 acre Montazah Palace and Gardens that once the home of King Faruk, the last Egyptian monarch is considered a must-see by most visitors to Alexandria. The complex contains five beaches hosting an abundance of water activities; the three-story palace encircles a huge open-air hall and the sprawling gardens house rare and well-maintained flora.
If you’re looking for adventure, the Kom el Shoqafa Catacombs are a spooky, fun experience while staying in Alexandria. Tunneling down 115 feet, there are three levels to this necropolis dating back to the 2nd century AD. These important tombs contain artistic inspiration from Pharaonic, Roman, Hellenistic, and ancient Egyptian cultures.
Just east of the catacombs lies the famous red granite Pompey’s Pillar. This memorial column rises 92 feet into the sky and was constructed in honor of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who aided the people of Alexandria in difficult times.
With its range of study opportunities, low cost of living, extensive history, and diverse mix of African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cultures, there are many reasons to study abroad in Alexandria. To make sure you have the best study abroad experience possible, it’s valuable to explore all of the options available and gain a clear clear understanding of what is most important to you.
Home to a long list of public universities and private education providers, Egypt has one of the largest education systems in North Africa and the Middle East, and there are many different direct enrolment, exchange, and third-party study abroad opportunities available in Alexandria.
From enrolling in English-taught courses at Alexandria University, to learning Arabic with Ahlan, or diving into Egypt’s rich history and culture through the Alexandria Center for Hellenistic Studies, students should have no problem finding a study abroad program in Alexandria that meets their needs.
Popular topics of study in Alexandria relate to the country’s historical and economic significance, and include archaeology, history, economics, logistics, and engineering. Additionally, with Arabic being one of the 10 most spoken language in the world, many students choose Egypt as a destination for learning the Arabic language.
When planning your study abroad experience in Alexandria, it’s important to check with your home university to ensure you will receive credit for your time abroad.
Housing options for your study abroad program in Alexandria will vary, though it is quite common for universities or third-party providers to organize accommodation for students, whether it be a homestay, hotel, or student housing.
Living with an Egyptian family as part of a homestay, or sharing space with local students are great ways to immerse yourself into the local culture and language, and settle into the Egyptian way of life. Keep in mind that homestays typically offer a private bedroom and provide several meals daily, and student housing will have shared bedrooms and bathrooms. Dormitories will likely be separated into male and female rooms or buildings.
If shared housing isn’t your thing, renting an apartment in Alexandria is incredibly affordable. When choosing a place to live, make sure to consider its proximity to public transportation, markets and shops, and the school you are attending.
Alexandria's public transportation system consists of microbuses and double-decker trams that run through 38 stations throughout the city. It is the oldest tramway network in Africa and is one of only three non-heritage tram systems in the world with double decker cars.
The tram is the cheapest way to get around Alexandria, costing 50 piasters, or just three US cents for each ride. While it is not the fastest means of transport, most travelers agree it's a fun, authentic experience. Don't be caught unaware; the first train in the car is usually women only.
Microbuses, in the form of 12-seat minivans also known as “mashrou”, run along Alexandria’s waterfront from one end to the other. Simply hail one as it passes, hop on, and hand the driver 1 EGP (approximately $0.06 USD). Drivers are willing to drop passengers anywhere along the route, just make sure you call out when you need to jump off as there are no set stops. Tourists rarely travel this way, so don’t be surprised by curious looks from the locals.
Taxis are by far the quickest and easiest way to get around Alexandria, though be sure to ask around to get an idea of what a local would pay for the trip, and make sure to agree on a price with the driver first, as taxi meters are not used. Try your best to carry exact change to avoid last minute haggling over price.
If you’re traveling outside of Alexandria, Rome2Rio is a great tool for comparing train, bus, taxi, and flight options from city to city.
While spending a semester or year abroad can seem costly, Egypt is a relatively inexpensive country in comparison to many other places in the world. Alexandria, in particular, is less expensive than the country’s capital Cairo, and costs for food, accommodation, and transport are very low in most places.
The biggest expense for students studying abroad in Alexandria will likely be tuition and international flights, however there are several scholarships available to help cover these costs.
Before choosing a study abroad program, you’ll want to gain an understanding of what aspects of your time abroad are included in the program costs -- some fees include accommodation, and some transportation and meals, while others only cover course fees.
Costs of Living
For study abroad programs in Alexandria without student accommodation, students can rent an affordable and likely furnished one-bedroom apartment in the city center for about $130. Outside the city center, rent lowers to around $70, with utilities (including internet) being less than $30 per month.
While taxi fares are extremely affordable in Egypt, public transportation is even more so with a one-way ticket costing just 17 cents, and a monthly pass being around $10.
Food, entertainment, and other everyday expenses in Alexandria are low as well. An inexpensive restaurant meal might cost between $2.50 - $5, and a beer is just over $1. Keep in mind that Alexandria is a popular tourist destination and a lot of shops, restaurants, and bars will have higher prices that cater specifically to foreigners.
If you’re on a tight budget, stick to street food stalls and restaurants that are frequented by locals, and shop at open markets -- you might even get the chance to practice and perfect your Arabic with the locals! Remember that almost everything is negotiable and bargaining is expected. Never agree to purchase something without first discussing the price.
Displaying a student card will provide discounts at local historical sites and museums. Some providers recommend or require that students get an International Student Identity Card ($20 for 12 months). Check out the ISIC Egypt website for details on the types of discounts students can receive.
The Alexandria Library provides a substantial discount to international students with a student card. If you're itching to check out museums, the Alexandria National Museum also offers a large discount for students.
In order to enter Egypt, students will need a current passport that is valid for at least six months past their arrival in Egypt, and will need to complete a multi-step process in order to obtain an Egyptian student visa.
First, students need to obtain a 30-day single entry tourist visa for $25 that can be processed at the nearest Egyptian embassy, requested in advance online through the Egyptian e-Visa portal, or received upon arrival in Egypt. Be sure to check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website for a list of countries eligible for the Egyptian e-Visa. It is recommended to have a copy of your e-Visa, travel itinerary, supporting letter from your university, and details regarding your accommodation with you upon entry.
Students will need to register their name and address in Egypt at the local police station within seven days of arrival, and complete their resident student visa application within 30 days of arrival. If you are staying in Egypt for more than 30 days to study, you are required to provide evidence of a negative HIV test.
Make sure to contact your program provider or university’s study abroad department for assistance in applying for a student visa. Student visas are typically issued for one semester, with the possibility of extension.
Can You Work While Studying Abroad in Alexandria?
While there are many organizations in Egypt that hire foreigners, international students are not typically permitted to work while studying abroad in Egypt unless they have been hired prior to arriving in the country and have organized the correct visa in advance.
There is a possibility that your university in Alexandria may have a work/study program allowing students to work a limited number of hours on campus during their studies.
Students interested in studying abroad in Egypt may be eligible for scholarship opportunities ranging from those offering full or partial tuition, to those covering travel and living expenses while abroad.
See below for a list of scholarships available to help fund your study abroad experience in Alexandria and be sure to check with your home university for additional scholarships accepted by the study abroad program you are interested in.
- Boren Scholarship: For US students studying Arabic at an Egyptian university
- AMIDEAST Program Scholarships: For US students participating in AMIDEAST programs in Egypt
- IFSA Scholarships: For US students studying in Egypt
- SIT Scholarships: For US students studying Middle Eastern or Islamic studies
- ARCE Fellowships: For students in specific relevant majors in Egypt.