We went to get our visas renewed today. In case you didn’t know, many people live in Egypt for years on tourist visas. You can usually renew them every year with no problem. This is our third year going. Iqamas are usually applied for at Mugamma, a central government building in Al-Tahrir Square. It is a humongous building, with a humongous amount of bureaucracy. Incredibly, the workers process the thousands and thousands of tourists visas by hand.
You can get an initial entry visa at the airport or in your home country. However, I believe it’s only valid for about 6 weeks. If you are going to stay longer, then you gotta go to Mugamma. If you are here to study arabic, some centers may help you take care of this step. I know there used to be police officers who’d take your stuff and help you out for baksheesh, but I’m not sure if this is still going on.
The longest tourist visa available is for one year. It cost 90LE this year, and the cost goes up each year (last year it was 83LE). It can be a frustrating process. You take a taxi through lots of traffic, go through the throngs up the stairs, and stand in line for the applications. After filling them out, you are told to get x. You get x, then they tell you go somewhere else and get z. And you are wondering why the heck can’t tell you all that you need at one time.
We have it figured out after three years. To save time and headache, here are some tips. Go early. The least rush is about 9am. You can get your application in and be back to pick it up by noon. Try to pick up extra applications for the next year. That way you can fill them out before you get there, cutting out the standing in line and the time to fill them out at Mugamma. DO NOT forget to bring a picture of each family member, your passports, copies of your passports (first page and the page with the entry visa on it), and a pen, cause nobody will give you their’s to use! You can get the copies and pictures on the main floor of Mugamma, but everything is overpriced there, plus it adds more time to the process. Also don’t forget money. Take more than you think you’ll need, just in case.
If your family name is different, as ours is, you may want to troop everybody down there to avoid being told to come back. I went one year to get visas just for me and the kids. Since they have their dads last name and not mine, the police officer demanded to see the kids, whom I’d left at home.
The picture above is one I found on the net. I took my camera to get a picture myself, but dh yelled, ‘put that thing away!’ I wanted to capture how huge the building really is as well as the hustle and bustle surrounding it, but probably not a good idea to try to photograph government buildings, lol. Especially since they have tons of uniformed and plain-clothes security.
Since it a long process, you may want food or drinks. We pack our own water (frozen the night before so it will stay cold). Water and other drinks are also sold (at higher prices). For the two hour wait, after you turn in your application, there is a KFC and Pizza Hut across the street. They are great for using the bathroom also.
Be patient. Be thankful you are from the west (if you are). Americans, Brits, French, ect. have much less trouble getting their visas than people from poorer countries. Dh usually tries to get a yellow taxi home after the heat and stress of the day. They are much rarer than the black and white taxis, and slightly more expensive, but they are air-conditioned, clean, and quiet. Go home, rest, and say alhamdulillah you don’t have to go again till next year.