For many people, visiting Egypt and taking a selfie with the Great Pyramids is enough. But you’re different. You want to dive in, learn the culture, the language, and volunteer in Egypt.
Most volunteer programs are centered in the major cities, Cairo and Alexandria. There you’ll find projects that focus on community development, the environment, or teaching. There are sometimes opportunities to work directly with international NGO’s or local non-profits. By exploring our guide you can get a better feel for what taking on a volunteer project in Egypt will involve.
Regardless of what program you choose and how you volunteer your time and energy, spending real time in Egypt will be a life-changing experience you’ll never forget.
There are many opportunities to help support community development on the ground in Egypt. Volunteers can focus on fighting poverty and social injustice. Many local NGOs work toward creating a society that treats all citizens equally and respectfully. You might have the opportunity to work a youth empowerment project or an organization that gives loans to small entrepreneurs. There are also Habitat for Humanity projects and opportunities with the UN.
In the last few decades, the Egyptian government has made a big push for universal education. Public education is free at all levels but Egypt is always in need of more qualified teachers. Volunteers will have the chance to work in schools, after school centers, and more. Use your skills to teach English or a variety of subjects.
The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) has played a major role in establishing protected land areas. Programs are studying the environmental impact of tourism and volunteers can help by doing research in national parks and reserves, especially along the Nile River and the Red Sea. There are also specific opportunities with smaller organizations, like the Red Sea Environmental Agency.
Planning Your Trip
Cairo, the capital city, is a great place to see a mix of ancient and modern and marvel at the richness of the city’s architecture and culture. Volunteer opportunities in this bustling city are infinite. Alexandria, another great volunteer destination, is located on the Mediterranean and is a great center for food and art.
Overall, Egypt is a fairly affordable country. If you're cutting costs and staying on budget, it's possible to stay around $30-$40 a day (less if food and housing are included in your program fees). That would mean a dorm room and street food... cheap, delicous street food.
Culture in Egypt is very family oriented and can be more conservative. Be sure to dress conservatively and be respectful of local traditions, even if they seem less progressive to your Western sensibilities. This means that women should not wear shorts, skimpy dresses, or halter tops, unless staying at one of the private resorts along the Red Sea.
Tipping (baksheesh) is very cultural here and can be deeply nuanced. While you will probably be on a budget as a volunteer, err on the side of generosity. A few pounds here and there for small services done goes a long way for those dependent on the vast tourism machine. A larger baksheesh will be expected if someone has gone above and beyond, or even bent the rules for you, like opening an archaeological site after hours.
You will probably experience many people coming up to you, wanting to take advantage of precious tourism dollars. Some will sincerely want to welcome and help you, while others are hustling. Rough Guide has great advice for dealing with the potentially constant barrage of hustlers:
"It’s easy to get fed up with being hassled and react with fury to any approach from strangers – even a sincere “Welcome to Egypt”. Try to keep your cool and respond politely; intoning la shukran (no thanks) with your hand on your heart, while briskly moving on, will dissuade most street peddlers. Or you could try a humorous riposte to classic come-ons like “I know what you need” – Fil mish mish (“In your dreams!”) works well. If necessary, escalate to a gruff khalas (“Enough!”) and if that doesn’t suffice, bawling shorta (“Police!”) is sure to send any hustler packing."
Housing in Egypt can range from a very basic dorm-type room to a luxury hotel. While volunteers will probably want to adhere to a strict budget, keep in mind that luxuries like air conditioning might be worth the extra cost.
While it is important to keep on top of current visa requirements, typically, a standard 30-day visa can be purchased when entering the airport. It is possible to then renew or extend it.
Be sure to bring essentials for travel and adventure. Pay attention to the predicted weather -- weather in Egypt can carry depending on both season and location. Nights can be cold and days very hot so be sure to bring layers. Women should be sure to dress more on the conservative side and carry a scarf that can cover your head when entering a mosque. Women might also want to pack tampons (or a menstrual cup) as they can be expensive, especially outside of major city centers.
Health & Safety
Egypt is generally safe for travelers. There are a few things to be aware of, especially for women traveling alone. For example, men may harass and grab women on the street and tourists are easy targets for scams and pickpocketing, usually in big cities like Cairo. As long as you are aware of your surroundings and belongings, there shouldn't be a problem.
In today’s global political climate, we are more interconnected than ever. It is important to be aware of local politics, especially since Egypt has seen some revolutionary changes in the past five years. Violence from neighboring countries can spill into Egypt’s borders. It’s important for all travelers to be aware, to do research, and to listen to those who know the area and know of any potential problems.
Be sure to keep an eye on any State Department Security announcements that could affect your plans.
Some basic vaccinations are recommended like hepatitis A and B, typhoid and rabies for those spending a significant amount of time outdoors. Some stomach medicine is also helpful in case of food illnesses. See MD Travel Health for more information.