It's always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash, credit cards, and traveler's checks. American and Canadian dollars, pounds sterling, and euros are all easily exchanged in Egypt, and Cairo International Airport has a number of 24-hour banks that give the same rates as in town. It's easy to exchange enough on arrival to cover tips and the cost of transport into town.
ATMs, once a rarity in Egypt, are now common in large cities and tourist destinations. While they offer good rates of exchange, some networks also charge hefty transaction fees. Check with your bank before leaving home.
Unlike exchange bureaus in many countries, most of the exchange offices (maktab sarafa) in Egypt offer competitive rates. They also offer longer hours and quicker service.
Hotels, however, offer bad rates of exchange and should be avoided except in emergencies.
There has been no black market for hard currencies in Egypt for several years and therefore no advantage to changing on the street.
You will find Egypt cheap compared to any Western country. Like most third-world countries, however, Western goods are available in major centers, but usually at prices that are well beyond the reach of most of the working population. In fact, you will find various services, including midrange and upper-range accommodation, priced in "hard currency" (U.S. dollars or euros, generally) rather than Egyptian pounds (LE), therefore, the Egyptian pound pricing for some accommodations is for reference only.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), sometimes referred to as a "cash machine" or a "cashpoint." The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe and are easy to access in all major tourist spots in Egypt. Go to your bankcard's website to find ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Note: Banks that are members of the Global ATM Alliance charge no transaction fees for cash withdrawals at other Alliance member ATMs; these include Bank of America, Scotiabank (Canada, Caribbean, and Mexico), Barclays (U.K. and parts of Africa), Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy), and BNP Paribas (France).
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, but high fees make credit-card cash advances a pricey way to get cash. Keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).
Most mid- and high-end tourist hotels will accept major credit cards, with Visa and MasterCard having the widest acceptance in Egypt. American Express is less commonly accepted but still useful in higher-end facilities. Diner's Club is rarely accepted in Egypt. The majority of restaurants and shops remain cash-only.
Most banks and many change offices will cash traveler's checks, albeit at a less advantageous rate than cash. Midrange and upper-range tourist hotels also generally provide facilities for cashing traveler's checks and make it possible to settle your bill with them.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/807-6233 or tel. 800/221-7282 for card holders -- this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322) -- AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee (for checks up to $1,500) at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378; and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).
Be sure to keep a record of the traveler's check serial numbers separate from your checks in case they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard offer foreign currency traveler's checks, useful if you're traveling to one country or to the euro zone; they're accepted at locations where dollar checks may not be.
Another option is the new prepaid traveler's check cards, reloadable cards that work much like debit cards but aren't linked to your checking account. The American Express Travelers Cheque Card, for example, requires a minimum deposit, sets a maximum balance, and has a one-time issuance fee of $15. You can withdraw money from an ATM (for a fee of $2.50 per transaction, not including bank fees), and the funds can be purchased in dollars, euros, or pounds. If you lose the card, your available funds will be refunded within 24 hours.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.