All major international currencies such as Euros, Pounds Sterling, US dollars, Canadian Dollars, Australian Dollars, etc. are recognized here. You may have some difficulty exchanging minor currencies. For instance, there have been reports of difficulty exchanging Scottish or Northern Ireland notes.
A money exchange shop is called a Saraafa and they are dotted around all major streets in Egypt.
When changing main currencies into Egyptian Pounds you will get a much better rate in Egypt, so please do not think of buying Egyptian pounds (LE) in your home country, except around 200 Egyptian pounds for taxis and other minor expenses before you reach a Saraafa.
My best recommendation is to bring as much money as you can with you in your home currency and change it at the Saraafa as this will be the cheapest option; allowing you to get the best rates and avoid unwanted bank charges. If you don’t feel comfortable carrying a large bundle of cash with you then you can use your bank cards here and you will find ATM’s everywhere. (See ATM section).
Some shops will accept your credit card (Visa and Mastercard), but some may charge you an extra few percent for using the card, this happens in Cairo in the touristic shops.
1- It is recommended that you exchange money as you need it. This will help you control your expenses and not leave you stuck with excess Egyptian currency at the end of your trip. Having excess Egyptian money at the end of your trip is undesirable because you will have to pay another exchange commission when you convert it back to your native currency.
2- Strongly recommended to always ask employees/bank clerks to give you small denominations of Egyptian pounds, they always will try to give you big notes of 200 or 100 pounds, smaller notes will help you a lot all over your stay
Opening an Egyptian bank account
If you’re staying for a long period of time in Egypt then you might be inclined to open a bank account. As a foreigner, you may find it difficult to open a bank account in Egypt, though it is certainly possible.
Most banks require that you have residence valid for at least six months before you open an account, and also require a minimum deposit of several thousand Egyptian pounds. The policies may vary from bank to bank and even between individual branches – the only way to be 100% sure of where you can open an account is to hit the pavement and make inquiries in person. If you know other expats who have bank accounts, ask them for advice on branches that are receptive to foreigners.
The good news is that Egyptian bank staff usually speak decent English. You may find Egyptian banks a bit different than what you are used to in your home country: most branches assign you a customer service number, at which point you will take a seat in a waiting area until your number is called. At that point you may proceed to a teller window for service. The waiting time varies depending on branch location, time of day and the date.
Try and avoid trips to the bank just prior to vacation days such as Friday and Saturday– you’ll find the waiting area crowded with people hoping to make withdrawals before the branch shuts for the holiday.
Standard hours for Egyptian banks are 9 AM to 2:00 PM, though you may find some branches focused on retail services (such as individual savings and current accounts) will remain open until 5:00 PM.
You will find that both savings and current accounts are available from Egyptian banks. Major credit card companies such as MasterCard and Visa also operate in Egypt.
Major Egyptian banks offering retail services include Commercial International Bank (CIB), National Societe Generale Bank (NSGB),Credit and Agricole Egypt (CAE). HSBC also operates branches in major cities such as Cairo and Alexandria.
Egypt’s currency is the Egyptian pound (EGP, LE). Its most common denominations are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200-pound notes.
• Look carefully at the banknote because sometimes people are a bit confused with Egyptian money. Read the note value on the English face if you couldn’t read Arabic.
• Some Egyptian banknotes are a bit old so they look different than new ones. Don’t worry all can be used in Egypt.
In terms of daily life the country is very much a cash-driven society, you will not find many grocery stores or local shops that take credit or debit cards. As a general rule, it is probably prudent to keep a couple of hundred pounds on you at all times.
You need not feel anxious about carrying somewhat large sums of money on your person in Egypt. In spite of its hectic pace and limited organization, Egypt is remarkably safe – aside from the odd pick-pocketing here and there, crimes against foreigners are extremely rare.
That said; use common sense when deciding how much money to carry and how to act while carrying it. You will attract attention by virtue of the fact that you look different; it may not be prudent to compound this by flashing large bills wherever you go. Pay attention to your purse or wallet whenever you are in a crowded market or using public transportation, especially if you are in a major tourist location – pick-pockets are not common but they are out there.
On a more banal note, try and make sure to have a couple 5 or 10-pound notes on you at all times. Egyptian cab drivers are often loathe to make change, especially for foreigners they hope to squeeze for an extra couple pounds. Prepare for this eventuality whenever you go out by having lower denominated bills to hand.
Automated teller machines (ATMs) are common throughout Cairo and Alexandria, less so in smaller cities and nearly impossible to find in rural Egypt. If you are drawing on funds from a foreign bank during your stay in Egypt, you will find ATMs a convenient and relatively economical means of obtaining the cash you need.
The exchange rate you get may vary from machine to machine. All of them will charge a slight fee for the conversion (based on the amount you are going to withdraw) e.g. Natwest Bank will charge you about £10 as a fee (if taking out approx. £200) and then the exchange rate is slightly worse than you’d get in the money exchanges in Egypt, but unless you are able to open an Egyptian bank account they are essentially your only way to withdraw cash.
Egyptian ATMs will accept credit and debit cards from many foreign banks without a problem, though if the bank you use in your home country is more locally or regionally oriented you may run into compatibility issues. Contact your bank before you depart for Egypt and see if they can confirm whether or not you will be able to withdraw cash from Egyptian ATMs. Also, make sure you notify your bank of your move – the last thing you want is to find your account locked after your bank sees a number of charges pop up from overseas (as happened with me!)
On occasion, you may encounter ATMs that behave strangely when it comes to how much they allow you to withdraw. For example, a machine may only let you withdraw 500 LE when you know your daily limit is higher. In most cases, you will simply have to shrug your shoulders and try another ATM. If the issue persists to the point where it is severely impacting your daily life, try calling your bank for technical support.
Prepaid cards provide a great alternative to taking cash or traveller’s cheques. You can load cash onto your card as you travel, and your card is not linked to your bank account, so if your prepaid card gets stolen you don’t have to worry about your money back home. If the worst should happen, some prepaid card issuers will even provide you with an emergency card or emergency cash whilst you are travelling.
Here is a useful website http://www.what-prepaid-card.co.uk/features/what-is-prepaid.html
Traveller’s cheques are increasingly out of fashion these days. You will be hard-pressed to find a store or restaurant that will accept them, though Egyptian banks will be happy to cash them for you… for a fee. Unless you are unwaveringly devoted to using traveller’s cheques, you should stick to paying with credit, debit and cash funds for the duration of your stay in Egypt.
Bank and wire transfers in Egypt
If you are fortunate enough to open an Egyptian bank account, you will find that your bank will be able to transfer money to overseas accounts for you.
Fees for this service vary from bank to bank, and you may find yourself charged several fees depending on the two banks’ policies toward international transfers and currency exchange. More importantly, this is not an option without an Egyptian bank account. Taxes from your home country may also apply.
Wire transfer services
MoneyGram and Western Union both operate in Egypt. These wire services make it convenient, safe and relatively cheap to send money person-to-person to almost any country overseas, provided you can trust the person who will be receiving the funds outside of Egypt. In order to send a MoneyGram or Western Union transfer, you will need to make sure your transfer funds are in US dollars. Take your passport and the cash to the wire service’s office, and a clerk will provide you with the proper paperwork.
You will specify the recipient of the funds and the wire service will provide you with a reference number. In order to obtain the funds, the recipient must go to a MoneyGram or Western Union branch in his own country and present the clerk with the correct reference number.
Western Union and MoneyGram are as safe as your relationship with the person receiving your money. If you have a trusted family member or spouse in your home country that is willing to obtain the transfers and deposit them into your bank account, you should have no problem using these services.
Both these services have a reputation as tools of 419 scammers and other fraudsters, however and there is next to nothing you can do to recover your money if you end up a victim of fraud. Under no circumstances should you ever wire money to a stranger, and always remember that even a friend or family member could potentially rip you off.
Here is a good and simple currency converter: http://fx-rate.net/EGP/
Sources include www.justlanded.com, http://www.tripadvisor.com and others.