Egypt operates a GSM network, so if you are from a country such as the United States or Israel, your mobile from home will not work. Furthermore, the Egyptian government requires that all mobile handsets be registered with the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) for security reasons, as mobile phones can be used to detonate bombs. Though a booming black-market sells cut-rate Chinese handsets with duplicate serial numbers, the NTRA recently introduced measures requiring mobile operators to disconnect those users operating on duplicate lines. There’s no harm in trying, however.
If you have a 3G phone with global roaming capability, your phone will work in Egypt, provided you are in an area covered by 3G service. You will be charged international roaming rates for calls and SMS messages, but the device’s data capabilities and internet connection will work at no additional charge. If you are particularly fond of your 3G phone, there’s no harm in bringing it – so long as you don’t mind paying a data fee to your provider at home and a little extra for a cheap Egyptian mobile for calls and SMS messages.
If you do decide to bring your 3G phone with you to Egypt, verify that you have global roaming capabilities with your provider (and that they extend to Egypt).
There are numerous companies that provide rental phones to international travellers. If you will not be living in Egypt, you may consider renting a phone from a company such as CellHire (LINK). Renting a handset of the quality you were used to at home will likely be expensive, however, and in most cases you will be charged comparatively punishing rates for both calls and SMS messages.
Buying an Egyptian mobile
Buying an Egyptian mobile phone from a local provider is far and away the easiest way to get connected. Mobinil, Vodafone Egypt and Etisalat have stores throughout the country, and in Cairo you can hardly walk two straight blocks without running into at least one mobile phone or accessory shop.
To get a phone, simply walk into a shop owned by your provider of choice and a store clerk will be happy to help you. Most salespeople speak solid English, and the process shouldn’t take much longer than ten to twenty minutes. Cheap handsets can be had for less than LE150. Bring your passport with you just in case the salesman wants to see it, though it is not an absolute requirement.
When you purchase a mobile phone, you can arrange to have funds automatically deducted from a bank account or you can elect to pay as you go. Monthly payments will require an Egyptian bank account, which you may not have as a foreigner. Contract plans are generally more convenient for paying the recurring data fees associated with 3G handsets, however.
The pay-as-you-go method is fast and convenient. Most newsstand-like kiosks in Egypt sell mobile recharge cards that you can purchase to charge your phone with a certain amount of money. Simply ask for cards in the amount you would like, tell the clerk your mobile provider and pay him the specified amount. The cards you receive will have instructions for recharging your account in both English and Arabic.
You can also credit your account by stopping into one of your mobile provider’s outlets and paying cash.