Baksheesh became such a major part of my experience in Egypt, I thought it warranted a blog entry of its own.
We started with a budget for this trip that included Baksheesh. We wanted to make sure we had enough cash on hand to cover this very important aspect of tourism in Egypt. We also had some requirements for US dollars in cash from some of the people we were patronizing. So, we withdrew a bunch of cash to bring with us. We distributed this among the family to carry in money belts so not all would be lost if someone was robbed.
US dollars is acceptable but not preferred for Baksheesh. Most of the time, the amount small. Using foreign currency for tipping in small amounts makes it hard on the Egyptian, since it can be extra effort to get currency converted. So, we tried to keep cash available in Egyptian Pounds.
Getting enough Egyptian currency was a challenge. With a conversion rate of 20 Egyptian Pounds to a Dollar, we needed to withdraw bundles of pounds at a time. The egyptian ATM system limits withdrawals to 3000EL per day. I had two cards to use so I usually withdrew 6000EL each time. Misr bank ATMs didn’t work for me. The Misr network seems to be the largest, so I would hop from bank to bank finding the Misr ATM most of the time. When I found a Bank of Egypt or other ATM, I could usually withdraw the funds. The error at Misr was “You have withdrawn your maximum for the day” so I called my bank and made sure there was no fraud. A max of $300 per day didn’t go far as you will see when you read what kind of baksheesh is required. And since, the ATMs were hit and miss and many places in Egypt don’t have ATMs at all, keeping enough cash on hand can be a challenge.
After Egypt devalued its currency in November 2016, it went into freefall. Prices doubled and it’s value against the dollar went from 9 EL for 1 USD to 19 EL for 1 USD. With a 1 to 20 Dollar to Pound conversion rate, taking 3000 EL per day amounted to only $150. Using two cards, I was able to get $300 per day.
Who gets Baksheesh and how much?
Our travel agent publishes a helpful hints document for his clients. This included a section on tipping. He recommends specific amounts in USD for different services. We tried to follow these guidelines even though they seemed a little high. We questioned why they were tied to USD instead of EL and it seems the USD is more stable relative to the value of the services rendered.
The internet has a lot of advice on Baksheesh amounts. Unfortunately, the devaluation of the currency was very recent rendering the numbers out of date since they were mostly in Egyptian Pounds. If we followed them, we’d be giving people half the value they would have received only two months earlier. We leaned on our guides to help us when we were in doubt.
So here are the recommendations for daily baksheesh (each is per day per person):
|Service||Base Amount||Quantity||Amount USD||Amount EL|
|Driver||$5 to $10||4||$20 to $40||400EL to 800EL|
|Guide / Egyptologist||$10 to $15||4||$40 to $60||800EL to 1200EL|
|City Manager||$5 to $10||4||$20 to $40||400EL to 800EL|
|Total per Day||$20 to $40||4||$80 to $120||1600EL to 2400EL|
We used the lower end of this range and found ourselves shelling out up to $80 more per day. Over 16 days that adds up to over $1200 more dollars or 24000EL!
So, be sure to bring more than one card for withdrawing Egyptian cash. Make sure to get it when you can (when ATMs area available and work for your card). Try to keep lots of smaller bills. Some ATMs distribute with smaller bills, but I never figured out how to get single Pound coins except in change or by asking my guide to change a 5EL note.