With the iconic Pyramids of Giza, immaculate ancient tomb paintings in the Valley of the Kings and new archaeological discoveries still being made, Egypt is a history-rich country that pretty much demands to be photographed.
But that doesn’t mean that taking photos in Egypt is an easy endeavor. The country’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has announced in a statement that amateur street photography in public spaces for personal use is now allowed. This change comes after some foreign photographers and social media influencers complained about having their photo shoots shut down, being interrogated by authorities and having their equipment confiscated by police and security services — even after obtaining the previously required permits.
“Taking photographs using all kinds of traditional cameras, digital cameras and video cameras will be permitted free of charge. No permit needs to be obtained beforehand,” the statement said.
Egypt has changed its rules on photography for travelers © Emily_M_Wilson / Getty Images
Despite this apparent relaxation of the rules, it’s unclear whether that much will change in the immediate term for most travelers. Photography remains a sensitive issue in Egypt, the location of some of the largest Arab Spring protests in the Middle East in 2011.
Here’s what travelers need to know before taking photos in Egypt.
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What does this mean for travelers in Egypt?
The statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities focuses on street photography in public spaces. However, many ancient temples, tombs and historic sites across the country have either banned photography entirely or required the purchase of a permit at the ticket office for larger cameras, including DSLRs – photos taken on your phone are generally exempt from needing one of these permits. It’s not clear whether these permits will still be needed. Under the new guidelines, permits are still required for underwater and drone photography.
Photography permits and fees in Egypt
Photography rules at Egypt’s ancient sites have varied widely and can even depend on the staff working that day. The cost of the photography permit is often several times more than the price of the entry ticket – for example, at Deir El Medina in Luxor, the entry fee for foreign travelers is 100 EGP ($5.25 USD) and the permit for photography and video (for personal use only) is 300 EGP ($15.75).
Travelers should check photography rules before traveling to Egypt © Andrew Holt / Getty Images
If you’re toting a larger camera and don’t want to buy a permit, you could be required to leave your camera with security staff or the site guardians. If you’re not comfortable with that, it’s best to store your camera securely at your accommodation. Some guardians at the entrance to the pyramids, tombs or temples might offer to watch your camera or even allow photos inside for baksheesh (a tip). If you’re caught taking photos without a permit where one is required, you could have your camera and memory card confiscated.
Separate rules and permits are in place for press and commercial photographers and videographers, and the rates run to several thousands of dollars per month. The new guidelines promise to streamline the bureaucratic and laborious permitting process, and recent blockbuster movies and TV shows, including Marvel’s Moon Knight series – directed by Egyptian screenwriter and director Mohamed Diab – and the latest take on Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile had to be filmed elsewhere because the process was too complicated or took too long. Scenes from Death on the Nile were almost entirely recreated in England, and a life-size replica of the temples at Abu Simbel could be seen while driving on the M3 motorway. For Moon Knight, shots set in Cairo were made in Budapest.
Is there anything I can’t photograph in Egypt?
Parts of the ministry’s announcement about photography in Egypt remain vague. In addition to permitting photography in public places, the statement also criminalizes taking or sharing “photographs of scenes that can, in one way or another, damage the country’s image.”
Khaled El-Enani, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, has said a clearer answer will be sought from the Council of Ministers, but no further details were provided about what kinds of photos this could mean.
While photography in public places and on the streets of Egypt is now allowed, this change in the rules does not mean that you photograph whatever you want. It’s wise to avoid taking photos of the police or anything that could be considered of strategic or military importance, such as the dams in Aswan. Punishment, even for innocently taken photos, can be imprisonment.
Taking photos of children is not allowed and snapping photos of adults requires their written consent.
Tourism is a huge part of Egypt’s economy, accounting for up to 15% of the country’s GDP. Its reliance on tourism means that it was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of the Arab Spring, but it’s hoped that a number of anticipated high-profile openings, including that of the Grand Egyptian Museum, will draw more visitors this year.