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 10 or 20-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.
ATMs in Egypt
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), 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!
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 LE500 when you know your daily limit is USD500. 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.
Credit and debit cards
You will find that trendier, upscale clubs, bars, restaurants and shops in Egypt will take major credit and debit cards. This will undoubtedly be a relief if you are prone to shopping sprees, as it will keep you from wandering from shop to shop with briefcases full of cash.
Some shops and restaurants mark which credit and debit cards they accept near their entrances. To be safe, you should always ask a clerk, waiter or salesperson which cards are excepted before you order food or make a purchase. It will save you a great deal of potential hassle and embarrassment.
Again, make sure to notify your credit card company of your move before you leave for Egypt. Most companies will lock your account as soon as they see charges from a foreign country, automatically assuming your card has been stolen.
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.
Personal cheques are rare in Egypt, and you should not expect any Egyptian bank to make cashing a cheque drawn on a foreign bank easy or cheap (you will likely be charged a fee). Unlike in many other countries, household bills are not usually paid with cheques in Egypt. As such, it is probably best for you to leave your chequebook at home.