A visa is a document from a country certifying that you have permission to enter and remain there for a given length of time. Your visa may permit or exclude certain activities (e.g. work). No matter where you are from, you will need a valid passport and a visa of some kind to enter Egypt.
If you are coming to Egypt as a tourist, you will be able to purchase a visa upon your arrival at the airport (or any other major port of entry).
If you are coming to Egypt to work or study, the process may be significantly more complicated. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides updated information regarding visas and permits on its web portal. Note that the Ministry often uses “tourist visa” and “entry visa” interchangeably. In practical terms, they are the same thing.
While most foreign nationals may purchase an entry/tourist visa upon arrival, visitors from some countries must obtain a visa from the Egyptian consulate in their country of origin before they arrive in Egypt. Check with the Egyptian embassy or consulate in your country whether you need to apply for a visa before entering Egypt.
A note on the Egyptian visa application process
You should know from the outset that Egypt’s administrative bureaucracy is notoriously inefficient. The Mugamma (the enormous Soviet-built administrative building in downtown Cairo that handles visa processing) does not even have computerized records! If you require anything other than a tourist visa, patience will likely be of paramount importance throughout the process. Take this opportunity to learn your first words of Egyptian Arabic: bokra insha’allah (tomorrow, god-willing), words you’ll hear over and over when asking officials when your visa, permit or paperwork will be ready.
The good news is that disorganized as the process may seem, it occasionally has its benefits. Came to the Mugamma without passport-size photos or photocopies? No problem! A kiosk in the lobby can provide you with both – for a small fee, of course. Thirsty while you wait? Lucky for you there are vendors making rounds with tea, bottled water and soda. Need your shoes shined? Don’t worry, there are folks on hand for that, too.
Resign yourself to the wait and inevitable frustration and do your best to enjoy the ride.