When traveling abroad, managing money can be a crucial aspect to consider, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the local currency and payment methods. In this guide, we provide a comprehensive explanation of how to pay in Egypt, including which currency to use, where to exchange it, how prevalent the use of bank cards is, and other related details. If you choose to take our tour, rest assured that we’ll assist you throughout your trip with practical advice and necessary interventions.
If you’re planning a trip to Egypt, it’s important to understand the country’s official currency – the Egyptian pound. In Arabic, it’s called guinay or geneh, and it’s abbreviated as LE or with symbols such as ج.م, EGP, or £. The currency is divided into 100 fractions, known as piastres, which are abbreviated as “pt.” Prices are usually indicated in Egyptian pounds and piastres (in English) or cents, with the decimal point separating the two. For instance, 2.50 LE is a common price, but some stores may display prices solely in piastres if the amount is small, in which case it would be 250 pt.
The Egyptian pound has been in use since the 19th century, replacing the piastre as the primary unit of currency. The currency underwent significant changes in the 21st century, including a revamp of the banknotes and coins in circulation. In 2016, the exchange rate was liberalized, leading to a 50% drop in the value of the Egyptian pound. However, the currency has since stabilized, and it remains the official means of payment in Egypt.
If you prefer to use cash for your purchases and transactions, you’ll have no problem in Egypt as it is still the primary payment method. In fact, it is the only option in some remote areas. However, regardless of your preference, you need to know how to pay using Egyptian bills and coins. Here’s a guide to the Egyptian banknotes:
Exchanging currency in Egypt is not a problem, as the country heavily relies on tourism. There are numerous options available in cities and strategic locations like airports and large resorts. You can exchange money at classic offices dedicated to this purpose, such as Forex, bank ATMs, or travel agencies like Travel Choice (formerly Thomas Cook). Exchange offices maintain a practically fixed price for the service, with few cents of difference between them.
However, the specific exchange rate can vary greatly from one season to another. If you already have a clear idea of when you’re traveling to Egypt, it’s recommended that you periodically check the exchange rate. As a guide, these were the values for 2018 and 2019 using 1 US dollar (1US$) as a reference:
Many people wonder if it’s possible to use foreign currencies like dollars or euros directly in the country. In some places, they are accepted, although this is technically illegal and could cause problems for the provider. This is because it usually involves excessive extra costs for the tourist, which is not considered a good practice towards foreign visitors, whom the authorities try to take care of to the fullest.
You can easily find banks and ATMs in cities and major tourist destinations. However, their number is considerably lower in small towns and oases far from urban centers. Therefore, it’s a good practice to withdraw enough money when you’re taking a long trip to remote areas like the desert or pilgrimage sites in the Sinai Peninsula because it may not always be possible to use a card in these places, as explained in the following section.
The main banks that offer reliable ATMs are Banque du Caire, Banque Misr, CIB, HSBC, and Egyptian American Bank. In most entities, except for Banque du Caire, there is usually a limit of 2,000 LE for withdrawals from ATMs at one time.
As mentioned earlier, in small local establishments in remote areas, cash is the only payment option available due to poor or no internet connectivity.
However, paying with a debit or credit card is becoming increasingly common in most places, including restaurants, hotels, large supermarkets, and pharmacies. You can also use your card to pay at the automatic machines on the Cairo Metro, although this option may not always be available, so it’s recommended to carry cash just in case.
Moreover, the number of contactless POS machines is growing in popularity, but not all of them accept this option. Therefore, it’s advisable to always carry a valid magnetic stripe card with you. In any case, it’s a good practice to request a paper copy of the transaction, which can serve as proof in case of any issues.
Apart from the traditional payment methods, there are some alternative electronic payment options that you can use in highly computerized urban environments in Egypt. These methods can be helpful in specific situations, such as paying for personalized guided tours or at major shopping centers, financial areas, or museums and monuments.
When it comes to “how much to pay” in Egypt, prices are generally cheaper for most products and services compared to other tourist destinations. This can be a significant advantage, allowing you to stretch your travel budget or indulge in some luxuries that might be out of reach elsewhere.
To give you an idea of prices, here are some common products and services in the tourism sector, using Cairo as a reference point. Keep in mind that prices in smaller cities will be noticeably lower, while in high-end vacation spots in the Red Sea, some products aimed at tourists may be more expensive:
In addition to official payment methods, two “unofficial” money matters are worth considering when traveling in Egypt: tipping and bargaining. While there are no laws governing these practices, they are a part of everyday life in Egypt and can make a difference in your interactions with locals.
Tipping, known as bakshish, is a way of showing gratitude for good service in various sectors, from hospitality to transportation. You may be directly or indirectly asked for tips by professionals such as taxi drivers or tour guides, but it’s up to you to decide whether to give them. While using tips to expedite a process can be delicate, it’s generally seen as a generous gesture when given for good service.
When it comes to paying tips in Egypt, carrying small change is useful, but it’s not always easy to have it on hand. Therefore, make sure you always have small bills in your wallet. If you prefer to pay by card, you can also request that the bill reflect the additional amount you want to tip.
Bargaining is an art in Egypt, especially in traditional souks and markets where handmade or small-scale products are sold. However, it’s important to approach bargaining with respect for the seller and their product, and only enter into negotiations if you have a genuine interest in the item. Prolonging the bargaining process excessively or haggling over trivial amounts can be seen as offensive to the seller.
If you’re traveling with professionals from Egipto Exclusivo, they can offer advice on these and other topics related to payment methods and cultural practices in Egypt.