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For those unfamiliar with the culture and economic landscape of the country, doing business in Egypt can be a daunting and somewhat frustrating process. Expats who wish to be successful in Egyptian business will need to spend some time learning and understanding the local culture and cultivating solid relationships with their local counterparts.
Every step of the business process takes almost twice as long as it would in the West, so we recommend expat entrepreneurs leave plenty of time for negotiations and possible setbacks. Those moving to Egypt to set up a business should arrange meetings as far in advance as possible, even before arriving in the country. It is also important to confirm the meeting close to the time.
Egypt is ranked 114th out of 190 countries surveyed in the 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Survey. Its highest subcategory rank was 57th for protecting minority investors, but the country scored poorly in areas such as trading across borders (171st), enforcing contracts (166th) and paying taxes (156th).
Sunday to Thursday, from 9am to 5pm. This can vary between businesses and hours may differ during Ramadan.
The official language in Egypt is Arabic. However, English is widely spoken and understood in the business world.
Smart and conservative, especially for women. First impressions are important in Egypt and are strongly influenced by how a person presents themselves, so dressing well is essential. Men should wear dark-coloured, lightweight suits and women should ensure that any skirt or dress they wear falls below the knees and that their shoulders and arms are covered.
It is customary to exchange gifts in Egypt. Gifts should be wrapped, well presented and of a high quality and should be given with the right hand. Gifts are not usually opened in the presence of the giver. Avoid giving flowers as these are associated with particular occasions like illness or weddings.
Women are underrepresented in Egyptian companies, but expat women are usually respected in business circles. However, they will be expected to dress and behave more conservatively than they would in the West.
The most common greeting is a handshake. Close associates may kiss one another on the cheek. If a male expat greets a woman, it is best to wait for her to initiate a handshake and, if she doesn’t, greet her with a slight nod of the head.
Business culture in Egypt
A lot of emphasis is placed on forming strong personal relationships between business associates. In Egypt, people prefer to do business with those they are familiar with. For expats this means investing time into forming relationships and building trust with potential business partners. Networking is important in Egypt and expats should call upon their local contacts for useful introductions and references.
When meeting a business associate for the first time, expats shouldn't expect to get straight down to business, as Egyptians prefer to take some time to get to know colleagues. It is best to wait for the Egyptian business partner to steer the conversation in the direction of business.
Expats will find that the key to doing business in Egypt is patience. This is especially true when it comes to negotiations. Business meetings are slow and lengthy. Egyptians are tough negotiators and will rarely settle for the initial terms of a contract. Avoid being hostile and pressurising other parties during negotiations, as this will create distrust.
The business environment in Egypt is hierarchical. Status and titles are held in high regard. People in Egypt should be addressed by their title followed by their surname. If no clear title exists then it is sufficient to use Mr or Mrs.
The concept of maintaining face is important in Egypt and it is not appropriate to humiliate colleagues and associates. Honour is highly valued in both the business world and wider Egyptian society. Even in the business world, a person’s word is their bond and to go back on a verbal agreement makes one look dishonourable. Follow through with any promises made during business negotiations as this will show trustworthiness.
Dos and don’ts of business in Egypt
Do take the time to get to know business associates on a personal and professional level. Business relationships in Egypt are based on familiarity and trust.
Do not make promises that cannot be kept. Honour is highly valued in business.
Do dress well for business meetings. Appearances and first impressions are important.
Do not expect to do business during Ramadan as business comes close to a standstill during this time
Do make direct eye contact during negotiations as it is seen as a sign of honesty and sincerity