Maybe you’re planning a Nile cruise or a Red Sea diving holiday, or perhaps you have an upcoming business trip to Cairo. Whatever the reason for your Egyptian adventure, one thing’s for sure: you will need to spend money while you’re there. In this article we explain everything you need to know about money in Egypt, from denominations and exchange rates to tips on using the ATM.
Currency and Denominations
Egypt’s official currency is the Egyptian pound (EGP). One Egyptian pound is made up of 100 piastres. The smallest denominations are 25 piastres and 50 piastres, both of which are available in coin or note form. Notes also come in the following denominations: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. Smaller notes are especially useful for tipping but are in increasingly short supply. Therefore, it's a good idea to stockpile them when you can by drawing irregular amounts from ATMs or ensuring change by paying with larger bills in high-end establishments.
Although the official language of Egypt is Arabic, notes are bilingual and the amounts are written in English on one side. Imagery reflects the country’s ancient history. The 50 piastres note, for example, depicts Ramses II; while the one and 100 pound notes depict the temples of Abu Simbel and the Great Sphinx of Giza respectively. You will often see prices preceded by the abbreviation LE. This stands for livre égyptienne, the French translation of Egyptian pound. The currency is sometimes abbreviated as E£ or £E in online forums.
Exchange Rates & Costs
At the time of publication, approximate exchange rates for major currencies were as follows:
1 USD = 16 EGP
1 CAD = 12 EGP
1 GBP = 20 EGP
1 EUR = 17 EGP
1 AUD = 10 EGP
Of course, exchange rates are subject to constant change. For the most up-to-date rates use an online currency converter like XE.com. XE.com is also available as an app for your tablet or smartphone and it’s a great idea to download it before your departure. This way you’ll be able to make quick conversions on the go and will know if you’re staying within budget when paying for meals, souvenirs, and taxi rides.
It’s possible for budget travelers to live on as little as 600 EGP (approximately 40 USD) per day in Egypt. This includes a basic room, local food, transport, and admission to one major tourist attraction. For mid-range trips, we recommend budgeting up to 1800 EGP (approximately 120 USD) per day, while luxury trips with 5-star accommodation, private tours, and fine cuisine can cost double that.
Exchanging Currency & Other Cash Tips
Many travelers like to arrive with some local money to pay for initial expenses such as transport from the airport to your hotel. However, don’t plan on exchanging all the cash you’ll need for your trip before you get there. The Egyptian Tourism Authority advises that travelers are not allowed to bring more than 5,000 EGP (approximately 320 USD) into the country in local currency. You can bring up to 10,000 USD or the equivalent in foreign currency and then swap it for Egyptian pounds at a currency exchange. Currency exchanges are found in all airports and many big hotels. Banks will also exchange foreign notes. Some tour operators and hotels actually prefer to be paid in dollars so consider keeping some notes aside.
When exchanging your money it’s a good idea to shop around for the best price. Make sure to ask how much you will receive after all charges and commissions have been deducted before agreeing to a deal. Once you have your Egyptian pounds, stay safe by being sensible about how you carry them around. It’s a good idea to conceal your cash in a money belt and to keep an emergency stash hidden in your luggage or in the hotel safe. Make sure to ask for plenty of smaller denominations for tipping, paying for taxis, and haggling in local markets. Flashing large notes can make you a target for pickpockets.
Using Your Card to Draw from an ATM
Sometimes the easiest and cheapest way to get cash is to withdraw it from a local ATM. ATMs are readily available in big cities like Cairo or Alexandria. If you’re headed to a more remote area, make sure to draw enough cash before you leave as you may struggle to find an ATM once you reach your destination. Only use ATMs in reputable areas and be wary of anyone trying to assist you. Most ATMs will charge a small fee for using a foreign card so it makes sense to minimize costs by drawing larger amounts. Some ATMs have a EGP 2,000 limit, however; look for a Banque du Caire machine if you wish to draw more than that.
Debit and credit cards from major foreign banks should be accepted throughout Egypt (Visa and Mastercard cards are typically a safe bet). Before you travel, contact your bank to confirm whether your card will work and to ask about withdrawal fees on their side. You should also ask them to make a note of your travel dates so they won’t think your card has been stolen and cancel it the first time you use it at an Egyptian ATM. A backup card is a good idea if you have one, as is making a note of your bank’s overseas helpline number in case of emergency.
Cash is king in Egypt and many local restaurants, shops, and tour operators will not have card facilities. However, you should be able to pay electronically at most mid-range and high-end stores, restaurants, and hotels; just make sure to check first before racking up a huge bill. Travelers checks are redundant in Egypt. You’ll be hard pushed to find anywhere that will accept them and banks will overcharge you to cash them in.