It's fine to tip tour guides in U.S. dollars, but for small tips (restroom attendants especially) local currency is better since £E1 is worth far less than US$1. Few stores accept U.S. dollars, so you should plan to exchange currency. ATMs (makinat al-flus) are plentiful in major tourist areas, and you can rely on them to restock your wallet with Egyptian pounds, but they may be difficult to find (or broken) in smaller, more out-of-the-way places. Most large tourist hotels have banks right in the hotel that can do currency exchange; some of these will also have ATMs.
You'll need cash to purchase locally produced souvenirs in markets, cheap snacks and beverages in small stores, and for taxi, felucca, and carriage rides. All restrooms in Egypt are attended, and the staff expect a small tip of £E1 or at least 50 piastres. Be prepared to tip a few pounds for all kinds of service; £E5 and £E10 are the most useful notes for short taxi rides, small purchases, and for tipping. All major hotels, cruise ships, and leading restaurants take payment by credit cards. In shops and souks, cash is still king. Far fewer establishments outside hotels take credit cards, and paying by credit card can incur 2% to 3% surcharges.
Prices throughout are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
ATMs that accept international cards (Cirrus and PLUS) are numerous in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and in the coastal resorts of Hurghada, El Gouna, and Sharm El-Sheikh. You can find them at bank branches, in shopping malls, post offices, and in the lobbies of major hotels. Major providers include the National Bank of Egypt, HSBC, Credit Agricole Egypt, and National Societe General Bank (NSGB). Screen commands are in Arabic, English, and sometimes French.
In the oases of the Western Desert, the banking system still lags behind the rest of Egypt. Bring enough cash with you to fully fund your trip.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
Major credit cards (American Express not as often) are accepted at most hotels, large stores, and restaurants.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. 202/5672–404; 336/393–1111; www.americanexpress.com.
Diners Club. 800/234–6377; 303/799–1504; www.dinersclub.com.
MasterCard. 800/627–8372; 636/722–7111; www.mastercard.com.
Visa. 800/847–2911; 410/581–9994; www.visa.com.
Currency and Exchange
The Egyptian pound (£E) is divided into 100 piastres (pt). Bank notes currently in circulation are the following: 10pt, 25pt, and 50pt notes; £E1, £E5, £E10, £E20, £E50, and £E100 notes. There are also 5pt, 10pt, 20pt, 25pt, 50pt, and £E1 coins, the latter two being the most common. Don't accept any dog-eared bills, as many vendors will refuse to take them. Just politely give it back and ask for a replacement.
You should change money into Egyptian pounds, as most places do not accept foreign currency, with the exception of crowded tourist areas. Beware that when vendors do accept foreign currency, you will probably not get a fair rate of exchange. At this writing, the exchange rate was approximately £E5.6 to US$1.
You can find currency-exchange offices at all airports and most major hotels, as well as on the street, and in major shopping areas throughout the island. A passport is usually required to cash traveler's checks. Save some of the official receipts you are given with your transaction. If you end up with too many Egyptian pounds when you are ready to leave the country, you may need to show the receipts when you exchange the pounds for dollars since they are not convertible outside of Egypt. Hotels provide exchange services, but, as a rule, offer less favorable exchange rates.
Google does currency conversion. Just type in the amount you want to convert and an explanation of how you want it converted (e.g., "14 Swiss francs in dollars"), and then voilà. Oanda.com also allows you to print out a handy table with the current day's conversion rates. XE.com is another good currency conversion Web site.
Traveler's checks can still be converted into local currency and in Egypt (unlike some other destinations) can still provide a reliable back-up. Since American Express is one of the world's largest providers of traveler's checks and has offices in all major tourist destinations, it is the company of choice for most travelers. It can be difficult to exchange traveler's checks in banks, and traveler's checks are rarely accepted as payment by even major hotels.
American Express. 888/412–6945; 801/945–9450; speak; www.americanexpress.com.