Money & costs
By international standards Egypt is still fairly cheap, though admission fees, guided tours and private transportation can really hike up the price.
If you’re a hard-core budget traveller, it’s possible to get by on about US$20 a day or maybe less, though you will have to stick to the cheapest hotels, eat the staple snacks of fuul (fava beans) and ta’amiyya (felafel), use the cheapest local transport and limit your sightseeing. At the other end of the scale, Egypt has plenty of accommodation charging upwards of US$200 a night, and some of the better restaurants will set you back US$20 per person or more.
Taking a middle route, if you stay in a modest hotel with a fan and private bathroom, eat in low-key restaurants frequented by locals (allowing for the occasional splurge), and aim to see a couple of sites each day, you’ll be looking at between US$30 and US$50 a day.
Getting around the country is cheap: the 10-hour train ride between Cairo and Luxor can cost as little as US$6 in 2nd class, and even domestic flights on EgyptAir can cost as little as US$35. However, private taxis in convoys between tourist destinations can get pricey, though these are often the safest and most comfortable way to travel.
The major expense is going to be the entry fees to tourist sites. Foreigners are seen as dollars on legs, so places where they flock tend to be pricey. A complete visit to the Giza Pyramids costs more than US$50 in admission charges, while seeing the mummies at the Egyptian Museum costs about US$25. However, if you have a valid International Student Identity Card (ISIC), you can rack up some serious discounts. Of course, no card will make you exempt from the seemingly obligatory demands for baksheesh, which can seriously drain your wallet if you’re not careful.
A service charge of between 10% and 15% is applied in most upmarket restaurants and hotels, to which value-added tax (VAT) and municipal taxes are also added. In other words, the price that you are quoted at a hotel or read on a menu could be almost 25% higher when it comes to paying the bill.
The official currency is the Egyptian pound (E£) – in Arabic, a guinay. One pound consists of 100 piastres (pt). There are notes in denominations of 5pt, 10pt and 25pt, but these are rarely spotted. The 50pt, E£1, E£5, E£10, E£20, E£50 and E£100 notes are widely used. There’s also a rarely seen E£200 note. Coins in circulation are for denominations of 10pt, 20pt and 25pt, 50pt and E£1, but they seem to be almost nonexistent and are sometimes thought of as collector’s items. Prices can be written in pounds or piastres; for example, E£3.35 can also be written as 335pt. In practice, however, vendors tend to round up, especially if you’re a tourist.
There is a severe shortage of small change in Egypt, a reality that quickly becomes a nuisance for travellers frequenting ATMs. The 50pt, E£1, E£5 and E£10 notes, which are useful for tips, taxi fares and avoiding the painfully repetitious incidents of not being given the correct change, are not always easy to come by. Even worse is that staff in businesses including upscale hotels and restaurants will sometimes scowl at you if you pay your bill in E£100 notes, thus forcing them to take to the streets to round up change.
As a good rule of thumb in Egypt, make sure you hoard small change wherever possible. Also, be sure to cash out large bills in upscale establishments, even if they initially appear unwilling. These two simple practices will save you an indescribable amount of frustration.
The black market for hard currency is negligible; few travellers can be bothered hunting it out for the fraction of difference it makes.
Because of the dire state of the national currency, many tour operators and hotels will only accept payment in American dollars or euros. This applies when it comes to purchasing tickets for the Abela Sleeping Car train running between Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor and Aswan; the Nuweiba to Aqaba (Jordan) ferry; and all international buses. Although technically illegal but never enforced, it is also becoming increasingly common for upscale hotels to demand payment in US dollars, though more times than not you can charge your room on a credit card. To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to travel around Egypt with a modest supply of dollars.
Exchange rates for a range of foreign currencies are given on the inside front cover of this book.
It’s possible to travel in Egypt now relying solely on plastic as ATMs are becoming more and more widespread. Tourist-friendly cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada are saturated with cash dispensers, and you’ll also find them in Alexandria, Dahab, Nuweiba and Aswan. Where you will be hard-pushed to find ATMs is anywhere between Cairo and Luxor (the towns of Minya and Asyut have just the occasional one) and out in the oases (there’s just one each in Siwa and Kharga).
Of the numerous types of ATM in Egypt, the vast majority are compatible with Visa, MasterCard and any Cirrus or Plus cards. ATMs at Banque Misr, CIB, Egyptian American Bank (EAB), National Bank of Egypt and HSBC are particularly reliable.
Amex, Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are becoming ever more useful in Egypt. Generally speaking, they are accepted quite widely in foreign-friendly hotels, shops and restaurants, though away from tourist establishments, they are far less common, and in remote areas they remain useless. In many places you will be charged a percentage of the sale (anywhere between 3% and 10%) to use them.
Make sure you retain any receipts to check later against your statements as there have been cases of shop owners adding extra zeros.It’s a dumb, easily detected crime, but the swindlers are playing on the fact that they will only be found out once the victim has returned home, and is thousands of kilometres from Egypt.
Visa and MasterCard can be used for cash advances at Banque Misr and the National Bank of Egypt, as well as at Thomas Cook offices.
To report lost cards in Egypt, call Amex (02-870 3152); MasterCard (02-797 1179, 796 2844); Visa (02-796 2877, 797 1149); or Diners Club (02-578 3355).
Western Union, the international money-transfer specialist, operates jointly in Egypt with Misr America International Bank and IBA business centres.
Alexandria (03-420 1148; 281 Tariq al-Horreyya)
Alexandria (03-492 0900; 73 Tariq al-Horreyya)
Cairo Downtown (02-393 4906; 19 Qasr el-Nil, Cairo); Garden City (02-357 1385; 1079 Corniche el-Nil, Garden City); Garden City (02-355 7071; 8 Ibrahim Naguib, Garden City); Heliopolis (02-249 0607; 67 Sharia Hegaz, Heliopolis); Heliopolis (02-258 8646; 6 Sharia Boutros Ghali, Heliopolis); Mohandiseen (02-331 3500; 24 Sharia Syria, Mohandiseen)
Dahab (069-364 0466; just north of Bamboo House Hotel, Masbat)
Hurghada (065-442 772; Unit 19, Redcon Mall, Sheraton Rd, Hurghada)
Luxor (095-372 292; Mina Palace Hotel, Corniche el-Nil, Luxor)
Port Said (066-326 404; Unit 621, Sonesta Shopping Centre, Port Said)
Sharm el-Sheikh (062-602 222; Rosetta Hotel, Na’ama Bay)
The opening hours for these offices are the same as those of the banks. For further details, call the Western Union hotline on 02-355 5023.
Money can be officially changed at Amex and Thomas Cook offices, as well as commercial banks, foreign exchange (forex) bureaus and some hotels. Rates don’t tend to vary much, especially for the US dollar, but if you’re keen to squeeze out the last piastre, then the forex bureaus generally offer slightly better rates than the banks, and usually don’t charge commission.
Most hard currencies can be changed in Egypt, though US dollars and euros are the easiest to switch out. As a rule of thumb, always look at the money you’re given when exchanging, and don’t accept any badly defaced, shabby or torn notes (there are plenty of them around) because you’ll have great difficulty off-loading them later. The same goes for transactions in shops, taxis etc.
Egyptian pounds can be changed back into hard currency at the end of your stay at some banks, forex bureaus, and Thomas Cook and Amex offices.
It is also possible to have money wired to you from home through Amex. This service operates through most Amex branches, and can be used by anyone, regardless of whether you have an Amex card or not. The charge is about US$80 per US$1000, payable in the country from which the money is sent.
Taxes of up to 25% will be added to your bill in most upmarket restaurants. There are also hefty taxes levied on four- and five-star accommodation – these have been factored into the prices we have cited.
While there is no problem cashing well-known brands of travellers cheques at the major banks such as Banque Misr or the National Bank of Egypt, many forex bureaus don’t take them. Cheques issued on post office accounts (common in Europe) or cards linked to such accounts cannot be used in Egypt.
Banks can have a small handling charge on travellers cheques, usually a few Egyptian pounds per cheque. Always ask about commission as it can vary. Forex bureaus that take cheques tend not to charge any commission.
In addition, Amex and Thomas Cook travellers cheques can also be cashed at their offices, found in Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh. A small handling charge usually applies.