Love shopping? Come and check out what to buy in Egypt
Hoard your small bills!
Egypt has a perpetual shortage of small bills and change: even banks are reluctant to break too many bills. Vendors will also perpetually say they do not have change. Hoard your small bills as much as you can, be prepared to make bank runs for change, and break your bills in the easiest situations such as large supermarkets.
The local currency is the Egyptian pound (EGP), which is divided into 100 piastres. (The currency is often written as LE, (short for French livre égyptienne) or by using the pound sign £ with or without additional letters: E£ and £E. In Arabic, the pound is called genē [màSri] / geni [màSri] (جنيه [مصرى]), in turn derived from English “guinea”, and piastres are known asersh (قرش).
Coins: Denominations are 25pt, 50pt and 1 pound. You won’t really need to know the name piastre, as the smallest value in circulation as of 2014 is 25 piastres, and this is almost always called a “quarter pound” (rob` genē ربع جنيه), and the 50 piastres, “half pound” (noSS genēنص جنيه).
Paper money: The banknote denominations are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 pounds.
In Egypt, the pound sterling is called, genē esterlīni (جنيه استرلينى).
The Egyptian pound has been devaluing gradually over the last several decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Egyptian pound was rated almost the same as the British pound sterling. Since 2011, the exchange rate has become relatively unstable and inflation sped up. As of 2015, the Egyptian pound is worth about 11 times less than at its peak.
Exchanging money and banks
Please note that banks and exchange offices or anyone who would exchange currencies, would slightly extra charge you for the official exchange rate. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at exchange offices or banks, so there is no need to resort to the dodgy street moneychangers. Many higher-end hotels price in American dollars or euros and will gladly accept them as payment, often at a premium rate over Egyptian pounds. ATMs are ubiquitous in the cities and probably the best option overall; they often offer the best rate and many foreign banks have branches in Egypt. These include Barclay’s Bank, HSBC, CitiBank, NSGB, BNP Paribas, Piraeus Bank, CIB, and other local and Arab Banks. Bank hours are Sunday through Thursday, 08:30-14:00.
Counterfeit or obsolete notes are not a major problem, but exchanging pounds outside the country can be difficult. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted, but only bigger hotels or restaurants in Cairo and restaurants in tourist areas will readily accept credit cards as payment. Traveller’s cheques can be exchanged in any bank, but it could take some time.
Because of the economic situation of the country with an ever-expanding population and depletion of resources, this means that a lot of people may be unemployed (a rate much higher than in more developed countries). Even those who are employed in the service or hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels, bars, etc.) are most likely underpaid as their wages do not really reflect the value of the work they do. It is even more difficult for them to make a living with the problem of nonstop inflation, which means prices for everything even basic commodities like food and water keep rising steeply, while their wages remain the same and if they do rise, will not even rise to a fraction of the increase that prices have risen to.
This means that 90% of people who work in the service/hospitality industry try to make their main source of income from living off of tips. In fact, for these people, tips form a large majority of their income because without tips, their monthly wages/salaries would simply not be enough for them to survive in a place where prices rise steadily and salaries remain the same.
Bear in mind that these people quite often live hard lives, often responsible for feeding large families and may very well live in poverty simply because their income from work is not sufficient for them to live easy lives. Many of them are forced in these jobs because otherwise they would not find another job at all in a country with such high unemployment rates and overpopulation.
Thus, almost everyone at your hotel asks for a tip, even if all they did was a small thing. You don’t have to pay huge tips as often smallest bills are appreciated. However, you do not have to tip if you feel that you haven’t received any service or help at all or if you feel that the service was bad. Nobody will ever take offense or be disrespectful if you did not tip them.
Most public bathrooms are staffed, and visitors are expected to tip the attendant. Some restroom attendants, especially at tourist sites, will dole out toilet paper based on the tip they receive. Foreigners may be especially susceptible to this, and although some locals ask or demand tips, they are often not warranted.
There is no rule for what is considered tip-worthy, so one must be ready to hand out an Egyptian pound or two just in case, to use the bathroom, for instance. For services such as tour guides or translators, a tip of 20% or more is generally expected. Taxi drivers provide service based upon agreed prices rather than the more objective meter system used in some other countries, so tipping is not expected when using a taxi service, though tips are certainly accepted if offered. Tips are expected at restaurants, and can range from a few pounds to 15%.
If you ask a stranger for directions, tips are not necessary and may even be considered offensive. Officials in uniform, such as police officers, should not be tipped. Remember that bribery is technically illegal, but it is likely that nothing will happen to you. Last but not least, be aware that as a foreign tourist, you are seen by many as easy money and you should not let yourself be pressured into tipping for unnecessary or unrequested “services” like self-appointed tour guides latching on to you.
Bathroom attendants: EGP3.
Cruises: EGP30/day, to be divided by all staff on board.
Hotel bellman: EGP10 for all bags.
Hotel doorman: EGP10 for services rendered (such as flagging down taxis).
Restaurants: In fancier restaurants, a service charge (10-12%) is added to bills, but a 5-10% tip on top of that is common. In fast-food places, tipping is unnecessary.
Taxi drivers: not necessary especially if you agreed the fare in advance, not more than 10% of the metered fare.Site custodians: EGP5 if they do something useful, none otherwise.Tour drivers: EGP10/day.Shopping
Egypt is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you’re interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch. However, there are also a number of high quality goods for sale, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:
Alabaster Alabaster bowls, figures, etc are common throughout Egypt.
Antiques (NB: not antiquities, the trade of which is illegal in Egypt).
Carpets and rugs.Cotton goods and clothing Can be bought at Khan El Khalili for around EGP30-40. Better quality Egyptian cotton clothing can be bought at various chain stores including Mobaco Cottons and Concrete which have many branches throughout the country. The clothes are expensive for Egypt (about EGP180-200 for a shirt) but cheap by Western standards given the quality.Inlaid goods, such as backgammon boards.
Jewellery Cartouches make a great souvenir. These are metal plates shaped like an elongated oval and have engravings of your name in hieroglyphics.
Kohl powder Real Egyptian kohl eye make-up (eye-liner) can be purchased at many stores for a small price. It is a black powder, about a teaspoon worth, that is generally sold in a small packet or a wood-carved container and it is generally applied liberally with something akin to a fat toothpick/thin chopstick to the inner eyelids as well as outlining the eye. Very dramatic. A little goes a very long way, however! Cleopatra would have had her eye make-up applied by laying on the floor and having someone drop a miniature spoonful of the powder into each eye. As the eye teared up, the make-up would distribute nicely around the eyes and trail off at the sides, creating the classic look. However, beware that most of them contain lead sulphide, which is a health concern. Ask for a lead-free kohl.
Lanterns (fanūs; pl.fawanīs) Intricately cut and stamped metal lanterns, often with colourful glass windows, will hold a votive candle in style.Leather goods.
Music.Papyrus (bardi) However, most papyrus you’ll see is actually made of a different type of reed, not actual “papyrus”, which is extremely rare. Know what you are buying, if you care about the difference, and haggle prices accordingly. If in doubt, assume it is inauthentic papyrus you are being offered for sale.
Perfume – Perfumes can be bought at almost every souvenir shop. Make sure that you ask the salesman to prove to you that there is no alcohol mixed with the perfume. The standard rates should be in the range of EGP1-2 for each gram.
Water-pipes(shīsha).Spices (tawābel) – can be bought at colourful stalls in most Egyptian markets. Dried herbs and spices are generally of a higher quality than that available in Western supermarkets and are up to 4 or 5 times cheaper, though the final price will depend on bargaining and local conditions.
Important note: When shopping in markets or dealing with street vendors, remember to bargain. This is a part of the salesmanship game that both parties are expected to engage in.
You will also find many western brands all around. There are many malls in Egypt, the most common being Citystars Mall, which is the largest entertainment centre in the Middle East and Africa. You will find all the fast food restaurants you want such as Mcdonald’s, KFC, Hardees, Pizza Hut, etc. Clothing brands such as Morgan, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Facconable, Givenchy, Esprit, and more.
In Egypt, prices are often increased for foreigners, so if you see a price on a price tag, it may be wise to learn the local Eastern Arabic numerals:
They are written from left to right. For example, the number (15) would be written as (١٥).
Shopping in Egypt ranges goods and commodities that represent souvenirs of Egypt’s ancient as well as modern things. These include items such as small pyramids, obelisks, and souvenir statues which can be bought at more touristic areas such as Khan El Khalili and Islamic Cairo.
You can also do general shopping in Cairo for clothing items and other goods such as in the modern shopping malls of City Stars, City Centre, or Nile City (all of which contain some of the most famous designer brands of the world, including Guess, Calvin Klein, Armani, Hugo Boss, etc.
Written by The Travel Valet