Bahrain: Bahraini dinar (BD)
Egypt: Egyptian pound (LE)
Iran: Iranian rial (IR)
Iraq: Iraqi dinar (ID)
Israel: new Israeli shekel (NIS)
Kuwait: Kuwaiti dinar (KD)
Jordan: Jordanian dinar (JD)
Lebanon: Lebanese lira (LL)
Oman: Omani rial (OR)
Qatar: Qatari riyal (QR)
Saudi Arabia: Saudi riyal (SR)
Syria: Syrian pound (S£)
Turkey: Turkish lira (₺)
United Arab Emirates: UAE dirham (Dhs)
Yemen: Yemeni rial
The attitude towards bargaining varies from country to country in subtle ways, but it's a way of life in most Middle Eastern bazaars. Most other prices are usually fixed, but in some areas accommodation can sometimes be discounted (especially out of season) as well as some taxi journeys.
Bargaining can be tough if you’re not used to it, so here are a couple of pointers. First, when you find something you like, be sure not to show too much interest. Vendors can smell desperation a mile away. Second, don’t buy the first one you see; subtly check out a few alternatives to get an idea of price and quality. With this knowledge, casually enquire as to the price and then make a counter-offer, thus beginning the bargaining process. The vendor will often beseech you to make a better offer: ‘But I have nine children to feed’. However, having looked at the competition, you know what is a fair price so only edge up slowly. If you can’t agree on a price you could try walking out of the store, but if the shopkeeper calls your bluff, you’ll struggle to knock the price down any further than you already have.
Remember that bargaining is not a life and death battle. A good bargain is when both parties are happy and doesn’t necessarily require you to screw every last cent out of the vendor. If you paid more than your travelling companion, don’t worry. As long as you’re happy, it was a good deal.
ATMs and credit-card use are widespread. US dollars are universally accepted, followed by euros and British pounds. Cash is king in Iran.
ATMs are now a way of life in most Middle Eastern countries. This is certainly the case in Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf countries, where ATMs are everywhere and they’re usually linked to one of the international networks (eg MasterCard, Maestro, Cirrus, Visa, Visa Electron or GlobalAccess systems). ATMs are widespread in Iran, but none accept international cards and are therefore of no use to travellers.
Another thing to consider is whether the convenience of withdrawing money as you go is outweighed by the bank fees you’ll be charged for doing so. It’s a good idea to check the transaction fees both with your own bank back home and, if possible, with the banks whose machines you’ll be using while you travel.
Although credit cards are increasingly accepted, cash remains the most reliable way to bring your money in the Middle East. And not just any cash. US dollars and, increasingly, euros are the currency of choice in most countries of the Middle East, and not just for changing money – many midrange and top-end hotels prefer their bills to be settled in either currency.
If your funds have run dry and you’ve no means of withdrawing money, Western Union (www.westernunion.com) has representatives in every country in the region except Iran.
The only danger in relying solely on travelling with cash is that if you lose it, it’s lost forever – insurance companies simply won’t believe that you had US$1000 in cash.
Credit cards (especially Visa and MasterCard) are accepted by an ever-growing number of Middle Eastern hotels, top-end restaurants and handicraft shops, but the situation is still a long way from one where you could pay your way solely by flashing the card. Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Turkey are the most credit-card-friendly countries in the region. You should always be wary of surcharges for paying by card – many Egyptian and Jordanian businesses also sting for commissions over and above the purchase price. Credit cards are useless in Iran.
|Egypt||Iran||Israel & the Palestinian Territories||Jordan||Lebanon||Turkey|
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping is expected to varying degrees in all Middle Eastern countries. Called baksheesh, it’s more than just a reward for having rendered a service. Salaries and wages are much lower than in Western countries, so baksheesh is often regarded as an essential means of supplementing income. To a cleaner in a one- or two-star hotel, who may earn the equivalent of US$50 per month, the accumulated daily dollar tips given by guests can constitute the mainstay of his or her salary.
For Western travellers who aren’t used to continual tipping, demands for baksheesh for doing anything from opening doors to pointing out the obvious in museums can be quite irritating. But it is the accepted way. Don’t be intimidated into paying baksheesh when you don’t think the service warrants it, but remember that more things warrant baksheesh here than anywhere in the West. One hint: carry lots of small change with you, but keep it separate from bigger bills, so that baksheesh demands don’t increase when they see that you can afford more.
Tipping is increasingly expected in midrange and top-end restaurants in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Turkey. Check your bill closely, however, as many such restaurants include an additional charge for service, in which case a further tip is not necessary. One country where baksheesh or tipping isn’t as prevalent is Jordan, where many locals feel irritated when tourists throw their money around, not least because some employers are known to deduct anticipated tips from their employees, resulting in even lower wages!
Other circumstances in which a tip is expected is where you’ve taken a tour either with a guide or a taxi driver or both. How much to leave depends on the length of the expedition and the helpfulness of the guide.
In the Arabian Peninsula, tipping is the exception rather than the rule and baksheesh does not exist. Tipping in hotels, high-end restaurants and taxis is common but not mandatory.