Egyptian pound (LE)
Budget: Less than LE600
- Basic double room: LE170
- Falafel sandwich: LE2.50
- Major tourist site admission: LE60–200
- Cairo–Luxor 1st-class train ticket: LE113–203
- Midrange double air-con room: US$30
- Two sit-down meals: LE120
- Car and driver: LE350
- Flight from Cairo to Luxor: from LE650
Top end: More than LE1800
- Luxury hotel room: US$150
- Two sit-down meals: LE300
- Personal tour guide/driver: LE100 per hour
- High-end Nile cruise: from US$175 per person per night
Bargaining is part of life when shopping in souqs and markets. It may seem an annoyance, but it pays to see it as a game. Just follow the basic rules:
- Shop around to get an idea of prices.
- Decide how much you want to pay, and then offer a lower price than that.
- Don't show any excitement.
- Walk away if you can't agree, and the vendor will follow you if your price was right.
The Art of Bargaining
Haggling is part of everyday life. It’s essentially a kind of scaled pricing: it can be a discount for people who have more time than money, but if your time is too valuable to discuss a transaction over tea, then you’re expected to pay more. Your relative affluence of course factors into the calculations as well.
Shopping this way can seem like a hassle, but it can be fun (as long as it's considered a game, not a fight). The basic procedure:
- Shop around and check fixed-price stores to get an idea of the upper limit.
- Decide how much you would be happy to pay.
- Express a casual interest and ask the vendor the price.
From here, it’s up to your own style. The steeliest hagglers start with well below half the starting price, pointing out flaws or quoting a competitor’s price. A properly theatrical salesman will respond with indignant shouting or a wounded cry, but it’s all bluster. We know one shopper who closed deals in less than five minutes by citing her intense gastrointestinal distress – although unfortunately this was not bluster on her part.
A gentler tactic is to start out just a bit lower than the price you had in mind, or suggest other items in the shop that might be thrown in to sweeten the deal. Resist the vendor’s attempts to provoke guilt – he will never sell below cost. If you reach an impasse, relax and drink the tea that’s perpetually on offer – or simply walk out, which might close the deal in your favour.
You’re never under any obligation to buy – but you should never initiate bargaining on an item you don’t actually want, and you shouldn’t back out of an agreed-upon price. The ‘best’ price isn’t necessarily the cheapest – it’s the one that both you and the seller are happy with. Remember that LE5 or LE10 makes virtually no difference in your budget, and years from now, you won’t remember what you paid – but you will have your souvenir of Egypt, and a good story of how you got it.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are increasingly widely accepted. There is a major shortage of small change; large bills can be difficult to break.
Cash machines are common, although in some places (in Middle Egypt and the oases, for instance) you might have to look harder to find one. Then you’ll be stuck if there’s a technical problem, so load up before going somewhere remote. Some ATMs won't let you withdraw more than LE2000. All Banque du Caire ATMs allow larger withdrawals.
Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, CIB, Egyptian American Bank and HSBC have the most reliable ATMs.
There is a severe shortage of small change, which is invaluable for tips, taxi fares and more. Withdraw odd amounts from ATMs to avoid a stack of unwieldy LE200 notes, hoard small bills and always try to break big bills at fancier establishments.
The currency is the Egyptian pound (LE), guinay in Arabic, divided into 100 piastres (pt). Coins of 5pt, 10pt and 25pt are basically extinct; 50pt notes and coins are also on their way out. LE1 coins are the most commonly used small change, while LE5, LE10, LE20, LE50, LE100 and LE200 notes are commonly used.
The government freed the exchange rate in 2016, which led to the Egyptian pound losing half its value against hard currencies, but since then it has been fairly stable. There is no real black-market exchange.
Some tour operators and hotels insist on US dollars or euros, even though this is technically illegal. It’s a good idea to travel with a small stash of hard currency, though increasingly you can pay by credit card.
Produce markets and some other venues sometimes write prices in piastres: LE3.50 as 350pt, for example.
All major cards are accepted in midrange and high-end establishments. In remote areas they remain useless. You may be charged a percentage of the sale in fees (anywhere between 3% and 10%).
Retain receipts to check later against your statements as there have been cases of shop owners adding extra zeros.
Visa and Mastercard can be used for cash advances at Banque Misr and the National Bank of Egypt, as well as at Travel Choice Egypt offices.
In late 2016, Egypt floated its currency, devaluing the Egyptian pound by nearly half. Exchange rates and prices were correct at the time of research, but exchange rates may shift dramatically again.
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For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Money can be officially changed at Amex and Travel Choice Egypt (formerly Thomas Cook) offices, as well as at commercial banks, foreign exchange (forex) bureaux and some hotels. Rates no longer vary, though some places may charge commission.
US dollars, euros and British pounds are the easiest to change (and change back at the end of your stay). Inspect the bills you’re given, and don’t accept any badly defaced, shabby or torn notes because you’ll have difficulty offloading them later.
Always keep small change as baksheesh is expected everywhere. When in doubt, tip.
- Cafes Leave LE5 to LE10.
- Guards at tourist sites LE5 to LE20.
- Metered taxis Round off the fare or offer around 5% extra, depending on the ride.
- Mosque attendant Leave LE5 to LE10 for shoe covers, more if you climb a minaret or have some guiding.
- Restaurants For good service leave 10%; in smart places leave 15%.