Border crossings in the Middle East have become a total nightmare for me and sadly I must admit that there’s a good reason for that. Sadly the Israeli-Egyptian land border didn’t prove to be an exception. As I mentioned in my previous blog post , I had decided to not fly directly to Egypt, but enter from Israel via Eilat-Taba land border. And even though in general I was very satisfied with my trip to Egypt and to Sinai, I still regret entering from Israel. At least in the current political situation, I would not cross the Israeli-Egyptian land border again.
The first stage of entering Egypt from Israel is relatively easy. The Israeli border guards were rather happy to see people entering the country. Nobody wanted to see my passport visa pages, we only paid our exit fee (about 25€ per person) and it was done. Scanning my luggage was similarly fast and easy. After a short walk in the no-mans-land, we reached the Egyptian border check, where people were significantly happier and making jokes with us. We were welcomed with stunning smiles and cheeky questions about carrying guns with us. Despite the fact that I had never carried a gun, I was still somewhat startled at first — what if I have something hidden in my backpack without even knowing about it?
One of the guards had already stamped Nora’s passport, before we even got a chance to mention that we need an Egyptian visa, and not just the stamp. The difference was actually significant: the stamp would have limited our trip to only Sinai, but the visa allowed us to travel to mainland Egypt as well. Technically we could have applied for a visa before our departure, either at our local Egyptian embassies or online, but mainly due to our spontaneous natures we decided to take the most uncertain road. Apparently getting an Egyptian visa is not as easy as obtaining it from airports, where you can simply stick in your passport for 25$. No, when applying for the visa on land borders, you are required to present a guarantee letter from an official tour company stating your exact travel itinerary with hotel addresses. There was only one tour company at the border crossing point, precisely targeted for fools like us. They offered the guarantee letter of our itinerary for 20€ per person. Clearly this wasn’t exactly ideal for us — how were we supposed to know our whole itinerary like that? Yet at this point, buying the letter was our only hope in order to still see Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, instead of staying in SInai for the next 10 days. Since we had already made it that far, then we obviously decided to go for it and purchased the rather expensive sheets of paper. The mere thought of traveling to Egypt and staying by the hotel pool instead of absorbing the culture and history gave me shivers. If we’re already going to Egypt, then we better do it in the right way!
When we finally exited the border, we were way too exhausted to feel exhilarated. But still, we took our first steps on Egyptian soil! As the border town Taba literally consists of resorts only, we decided to exit the town right away and stay in Dahab instead. As there was absolutely no hope to get on any form of public transportation after the sunset and there were almost no taxi drivers either, we were happy for having ordered a transfer in advance. Exiting Taba in our car, we had to pay an additional 25€ per person as a road tax. So in total, we paid around 100€ per person in order to get from Israel to Egypt. This is quite an expense in otherwise cheap countries (well, Israel not so much) that’s worth considering when planning this journey.
At the end of our trip we returned to Taba by public transportation. The bus departed from Dahab once a day, approximately at 10 in the morning. Yes, approximately at 10, as the Egyptian time was one big approximation anyway. The price was about 5€ per person, so more than reasonable for a 3 hour pan-peninsula trip. Despite the fact that upon our entry everybody had said we won’t have to pay any exit fees when leaving Egypt, we were still charged when trying to exit the country. However I’m pretty sure it was completely illegal. I haven’t found any online sources proving the obligation to pay an exit fee in Egypt. It’s also slightly suspicious that the border guard didn’t really mind the amount of money I paid him — after telling him that I didn’t as much Egyptian pounds as he asked for, he simply told me empty my wallet and whatever I had, he took. Well, at least I didn’t have to carry around any Egyptian pounds outside of Egypt.
espite the illegal exit fee, leaving Egypt was rather peaceful in general. Yet the troubles began upon our entry to Israel. Nora was able to walk straight through the passport check, but I was not that lucky. My officer made sure to read through every single page on my passport. The more pages she turned, the stronger her frown got. Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan — she didn’t like any of these visas, but considering that Iran and Lebanon are in an actual conflict with Israel, I actually understood her distrust towards me.
After scrolling through my passport, I endured a 15-minute interrogation. Not only did I have to justify all my travels, but I also had to name every single person in all these countries that I was in touch with. Since I knew that the guards could easily take my phone and laptop from me and look for proof of everything I say, I had to be exceptionally careful by remembering every name of my acquaintances. I have no idea what they did with all this information, but apparently it had been sufficient — I was finally allowed to enter. Yet after all this adrenaline I promised myself that the next time I go to Israel, I would have a brand new passport. The Israeli-Egyptian border will also probably be off limits in the future; the amount of money I saved was nothing compared to the nerve cells I wasted.