Egypt is a large, fascinating country and is full of people who are willing to help make your vacation go smoothly (and help out as much as they can when it doesn't). Don't let this cloud the fact, however, that Egypt's public infrastructure is badly underdeveloped, where it exists at all. When arrangements go off the rails or an emergency situation develops, you'll find yourself paying out of your own pocket to make things right again. For many people, a comprehensive travel insurance package makes sense in Egypt.
The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the destination, the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information, for prices from more than a dozen companies.
U.K. citizens and their families who make more than one trip abroad per year may find an annual travel insurance policy works out cheaper.
Check www.moneysupermarket.com, which compares prices across a wide range of providers for single- and multi-trip policies.
Most big travel agents offer their own insurance and will probably try to sell you their package when you book a holiday. Think before you sign. Britain's Consumers' Association recommends that you insist on seeing the policy and reading the fine print before buying travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers (tel. 020/7600-3333; www.abi.org.uk) gives advice by phone and publishes Holiday Insurance, a free guide to policy provisions and prices. You might also shop around for better deals: Try Columbus Direct (tel. 0870/033- 9988; www.columbusdirect.net).
Independent travelers in Egypt will find themselves working around all kinds of obstacles to get where they're going. Many people, therefore, opt for an insurance package that includes trip-interruption and trip-cancellation insurance. Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Trip-cancellation insurance traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and State Department advisories. The latest news in trip-cancellation insurance is the availability of expanded hurricane coverage and the "Any reason" cancellation coverage -- which costs more but covers cancellations made for any reason. You won't get back 100% of your prepaid trip cost, but you'll be refunded a substantial portion. TravelSafe (tel. 888/885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) offers both types of coverage. Expedia also offers any-reason cancellation coverage for its air-hotel packages.
For details, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 866/807-3982; www.accessamerica.com), Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com), Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com), or Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/457-4602; www.travelex-insurance.com).
For travel overseas, most U.S. health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you only after you return home.
Between unhygienic food and the traffic, leaving aside a whole range of potentially risky vacation activities such as diving and go-karts, Egypt is not a place where you want to gamble with your medical coverage. State-supplied medical care is to be avoided in all but the most immediately life-threatening situations. Anyone traveling in Egypt should be prepared to cover the cost of the best private treatment available in the country (which, it should be noted, is extremely cheap compared to the United States), as well as medical evacuation to Europe should that become necessary.
For most people, particularly those traveling to remote or high-risk areas where emergency evacuation might be necessary, this means purchasing travel medical insurance. If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 410/453-6300; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com; for general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc., at tel. 800/777-8710).
Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices, or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated overseas.
Lost luggage is not uncommon flying into Cairo, but the bags always arrive eventually. The main problem is poor service from local airline representatives, which may mean some frustrating time on the phone and perhaps having to waste valuable holiday time going back to the airport to retrieve your bags. The concierge at your hotel should be able to deal with this issue.
A more serious problem, though only for tourists routed through Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport or Milan's Malpensa International Airport, is the recurring thefts from checked baggage. If you have a connection through Charles de Gaulle or Malpensa, do not leave anything of value in your checked bags; cameras, jewelery, and computer equipment should be packed only in carry-on luggage.
On international flights (including U.S. portions of international trips), baggage coverage is limited to approximately $9.07 per pound, up to approximately $635 per checked bag. If you plan to check items more valuable than what's covered by the standard liability, see if your homeowner's policy covers your valuables, get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel insurance package, or buy Travel Guard's BagTrak product.
If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport, detailing the luggage contents. Most airlines require that you report delayed, damaged, or lost baggage within 4 hours of arrival. Though airlines are required to deliver luggage, once found, directly to your house or destination free of charge, branch offices in Cairo have proved reluctant to honor this and persuading them to keep this commitment may require some persistence and pressure.