The Egyptian Monetary System

Egyptian pounds and piastres can be a little confusing at first, but their value is written on the back of each note in English, so don't worry if you can't read the numbers on the front in Arabic!

This page contains information about:

  • Exchange rates
  • The Egyptian monetary system
  • How to tell the notes apart
  • Some security hints
  • Credit cards and their use in Egypt
  • Changing money

 

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MONEY - ISSUES AND SUGGESTIONS

The Egyptian currency is decimal and based on Egyptian pounds and piastres (100 piastres to the pound (pound = guinay in Arabic)). All Egyptian notes have their value printed in English on their reverse (back) side.

Keep track of currency fluctuations at the website: TRAVLANG

As a rough estimate you will need about AUD$80-90 per day while in Egypt. Some days will be a LOT less, some more [and of course leave room for some spending in the markets (souks)].

It is an excellent idea to keep track of spending by having a 'daily expenses' section in a travel diary. Receipts are not usually given in Egypt and such a diary could be useful from a tax perspective as well as being a good way to keep track of your daily costs.

We usually take several hundred dollars in Australian cash into Egypt. While cash must be carefully guarded from loss/theft, it can help speed up the process of money changing on entry to Egypt and at banks (especially if electronic systems are 'down', as is often the case).

You will NOT need to take Egyptian currency into Egypt with you - there are money changing facilities at the airport. Be prepared to change $100 - $200 Australian/USA dollars (50 - 100 UK pounds)- having bank notes helps speed up the changeover. (See also the note below on the need for small denominations in your change).

It is very hard for visitors to get coinage (other than the new LE£1 coin), and in most cases note denominations over LE£20 are useless for exchange for everyday items. In many cases the local will claim "no change" and you either try to 'sit them out' (not recommended) or lose the purchase. The fact is that Egypt seems to run on many, very small payments and tips - it is a developing country after all. This is one of the main reasons that we make use of the Baksheesh Book (as explained in another information sheet) - so that we can make a 'group tip' etc without troubling you by 'passing a hat around' to collect small, on-the-spot-payments for group goods or services. However there will be many times when you are not with the group and it is therefore VITAL that you have a good stock of small notes (£5, £1 and smaller) in your pocket. However this can be hard to come by as in banks they usually give you large notes (they are easier to count!). INSIST on lots of small change/denominations when you are changing money. You can expect to carry huge rolls of money (maybe of only AUD$20-30 worth) and it is a good idea to have them secured by rubber bands as these help stop the roll from moving from your pocket. Always check the quality of notes you are given by banks and shops - for denominations of LE£10 and over DO NOT accept notes which are badly torn or damaged.

Australian and USA dollars, and UK pound notes can easily be exchanged in Egypt, but coinage cannot be exchanged (in or out - but Egyptian coins can make good souvenirs if you can get your hands on them!).

Small change - in addition to the LE£1 note, paper notes are also used for 50, 25 and 10 piastres. Coins of 10 and 5 piastres are also used (though rarely given to Westerners in change).

Take Care! Don't confuse the 10 Pound note and the 50 Pound note. They are similar in colour and size, and when in a rush or at night they are often mistaken! Read the numbers (in English on the back) carefully!

ALWAYS REMEMBER that access to funds is your LIFELINE overseas! DON'T keep all your eggs in one basket! Spread your access to funds around (eg. cash, traveller's cheques, credit cards) and make sure that you have details such as card numbers and hotlines to ring for international help in the event of loss/theft. It is also a great idea to have a backup system in place. Have someone in Australia who can send you funds electronically if you need them (around $500+ as a back-up/emergency fund would be good). CHECK that you can access these funds in Egypt in an emergency BEFORE you leave! Western Union has been suggested to us as a sound transfer system, but we have not tried them.

 

It is generally the case that you are unlikely to be robbed while in Egypt. Nevertheless precautions are needed. Always ensure that your bags are locked while in hotel rooms (people without bag locks might have to invest in small padlocks). Using hotel safes, when available, is a sound idea. Carry small change in your 'bum-bag' and larger notes/cheques/credit cards in a secondary money belt under your jeans/skirt especially while travelling. NEVER leave cash and valuables in a bag that can be easily snatched (eg. a handbag or daypack). While 'snatch and run' and pick-pocketing is not the norm in Egypt, you need to ensure that you can 'survive' if it happens to you. When seated in a busy place, like a cafe, it is a good idea to place a strap of your bag under your chair-leg as an added precaution.

In most situations Egypt works on a two-price system - one for visitors, one for Egyptians. This can be very frustrating at times but remember that we earn many times the rate of pay that most Egyptians receive. Unless it is written or otherwise stated all prices for visitors are 'by negotiation' in Egypt. i.e. NEVER be tempted to change money outside a proper bank (eg on the black-market) no matter how good the rate may seem. Keep safe ALL 'changed money' receipts (check that any stamps etc are legible) and auto-teller dockets as these may be needed to prove that you have changed sufficient funds while in Egypt and not used the black market. Such receipts should be packed in a place where they can be easily reached when leaving Egypt, should customs require them.

NEVER be embarrassed or unsure about spending money on things you want in front of fellow travellers - YOU are the only person responsible for your expenses, so DO NOT feel embarrassed if you spend when they don't.

We have found both Visa and Mastercard to be very useful - all the major banks in Egypt will give you cash advances and you can use your card for purchases in many stores. It is important to remember that in Egypt only the more expensive stores tend to take credit cards. However you can agree on a price and then withdraw the cash from a bank to pay for large purchases in other stores. American Express can be useful in expensive stores (eg. Hilton stores) but is generally not accepted in smaller stores. However Amex does offer some useful services, such as acting as a mailing address and cashing personal cheques. Traveller's cheques are very good and offer added security if lost (make sure that you note all cheque numbers, denominations and a help line number if you are using them). Amex and Thomas Cook cheques are widely accepted at banks. Smaller stores/shops tend NOT to take them, however, and you pay lots in fees etc. They can be very useful for larger amounts to cash at a bank (it is best to make them for US$ for use in Egypt, although AUD$ are okay).

Tipping ('bak-sheesh') is an Egyptian way of life. Many people depend on tips for their income (the job itself being non- or low-paying). When in a group we will try to arrange appropriate tips and let you know your share (amount divided by the number of people). Sometimes you will be 'on your own' when tips are expected (eg. a local opening a door for you, carrying your luggage, bringing you your washing, handing you toilet paper or soap). In such cases you must judge yourself whether the service warranted a tip (remembering that MOST such acts warrant a tip in Egypt!) and pay a small sum (eg. LE£5). Don't tip for services that you feel are not warranted (eg. a local pushes you out of the way to open a door that you had started to open, pulls your bags away from you when you are about to carry them etc.)

NEVER tip Egyptians using non-Egyptian coins. Unlike most banknotes, foreign coins cannot be changed into Egyptian cash. It is awful that people in Egypt holding handfuls of Euros or the like have to ask or beg tourists to change such coins into Egyptian pounds. They and their families are probably desperate to buy food and have money to do so, but in a form they cannot access. Why give a thirsty man a bottle of sea water? If approached by an Egyptian asking for help to change coins, please consider doing so if they are used in your country. Use current rates to calculate how much Egyptian money you should exchange.

At ALL COSTS avoid showing large denominations/lots of money in public as this is a beacon for thieves and con-men! Also do not try to change money in the streets (for example if approached by a man or youth to change his large note for smaller ones, or vice versa). This is often used to try and trick visitors into believing that they have given incorrect change. For example your 20 pound note can disappear to re-emerge as a 25 piastre note, which is then claimed to have been given over by you and the 'correct' amount is then demanded!

While Australian/USA dollars & UK pounds are freely exchanged in Egypt, Singapore dollars are NOT so do not plan to use SING$ in Egypt.

Egyptian pounds are usually written as LE£, or sometimes EGP£. When prices are written in shops in Egypt it is usually just £ and the price, and it is usually safe to assume that this means Egyptian pounds. We have, however, noticed recently in Luxor that some establishments (especially five star hotels) have started advertising day excursions, Nile cruises, hot-air balloon rides etc for incredibly cheap prices. It is only when you go to sign up for these that you discover the £ on the price meant UK£ and not LE£! Do double check and be prepared to just walk away from such deals. Some locals have tried this too, quoting a pound for a newspaper and then wanting an English pound. It is reasonable to expect that prices given in Egypt in pounds are for LE£, so outside of five star hotels (where you might care to check this), assume LE£ and do not be held to any deal you might have made in a shop or for a newspaper etc if the £ suddenly becomes UK£ when the time comes to pay. Just walk away as the person involved has been dishonest with you.

We had a real problem in Aswan in 2002 when the magnetic strip on our main credit card got damaged. Now we all know that a bank can still process a cash advance either by putting the numbers in manually on the swipe-machine or by using an old-fashioned imprinting machine onto a docket. We spent 2 hours in a bank trying to get the tellers to do so, but they simply replied that 'it cannot be done'! Even the manager refused to try for us! Moral of the story - if you can, take a back-up credit card, just in case!

In 2009 we - and some members of our groups - had problems trying to use credit cards. It turned out our banks back home had noted transactions in Singapore and Cairo and 'frozen' the cards in case these were fraudulent! Let your bank know your travel plans!

In 2009 some of our participants experienced problems trying to use credit cards with a rounded corner in ATM machines. The machines in Egypt seemed to refuse to read these types of credit cards and 'spat them out' on all attempts.

These suggestions are intended as a general guide only and you are, of course, responsible for your own personal finances and security while on the tour.

 

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