(copied from one of our emails to guests shortly before they left)
We will stay in touch, by email or Waleed on the phone - you can always ask for advice if you feel unsure about something while you travel and don't let people cheat you, by taking advantage of you.
If you feel uncomfortable about anything ask immediately to call the tourist police. Locals who cheat / take advantage of you, are very worried about them.
However to avoid this, follow these rules: Always negotiate the service before you start. Make sure the service is for all the family, so your service provider cannot argue that the service is for each person after you arrive. Make sure, by requesting, there are no stops included at bazaars, papyrusshops, perfumeshops or alabaster shops. Don't buy anything because you think they will let you go after. You are not in Egypt to obey commands to give money!
Try to have 1, 5, or 10 Pound Notes always at hand. There are ATMs everywhere. After I receive my money from the ATM with my Visa credit card, I go inside the bank (if open) and let them change most of the 100 EGP bills to very small Pound Notes. This makes it easy to give tips or pay the small amounts for a taxi, ferry, guards inside tombs or at other places to people who often cannot change.
There will always be people around you who are friendly and love to help. Eg. if you stop at a corner of a street: someone will help you to find your way. But they will expect baksheesh. If you really let them help, please give 1 - 5 Pounds, depending how much they do for you. Otherwise tell them "La shukran we maa salam!" (= No thanks and good bye) and then ignore them 100% and walk away.
Some opportunates will walk after you trying to get your attention. Turn away and ignore them. If they dont leave you alone, or try to get the attention of your kids or your wife / girl-friend, make the big "Pascha" and tell them "Chalas!!! Ma salam!!!" (= Stop! Good bye!) It is good to know: an Egyptian would feel insulted if a foreigner talks to his wife. Try to be a good actor and put this feeling into your voice to make the opportunate leave you alone.
Unfortunately - after tourism went down in 2011 - stealing is not uncommon anymore as it was before. Be careful if anyone gets too close!!!
Please don't get me wrong: 98% from all Egyptians are VERY nice and should be treated with much respect and friendliness. Often tourists treat them like an emotionless service, and often I wonder how the Egyptians are able to continue to keep smiling and be nice to every new tourist coming: being treated like kings in 5 star hotels, and boats with prices for 2 weeks including flights for 600 Euro each person. It is the locals who pay - with very low loans and very bad terms of service.
So I want to give you some small insight about people who will serve you and their working conditions:
• I know about a luggage porter (Sharm, 5 stars hotel) who gets 280 EGP per month - working 3 weeks full time and has one week's leave in a month to visit his family. Sometimes a handle from a suitcase breaks because many of them today are cheap and too heavy for the material. Of course this is repaired for the guest - but the cost of 35 EGP (5 Euro) is taken off from the loan of the man.
• I know about a man working in a petting zoo in a 5 star hotel (300 EGP each month). A goat died, nobody knows why. So they took the money for a new goat off his loan (Sharm).
• Guests get "towel cards" to receive towels when they go to the pool and give them back in the evening. At one reception 200 cards were missing from one evening to the next morning. The staff from the reception had to pay 200 towels at 10 Dollars each, although no one could prove that not only the cards but also the towels were missing (Sharm, 5 stars hotel). It took 3 months for the staff to pay them.
• The services from Nile Cruise Boats have to pay for stolen ashtrays, towels, broken glasses. Someone working at the bar receives 800 EGP each month. But after paying for things which are getting lost during one month, he sometimes receives only 500 EGP or even less.
• Tips which are collected by the guide from many Nile Cruises "for all the staff" (the tour operators ask for about 30 Euro tip to pay from each guest; not if you book Last-minute-Cruise in Egypt, because in this case no guide is responsible for you). This money is sent to Cairo, where the tour operators take half off the amount back to Luxor, where the office takes again half of the amount, then the remainder is divided between the staff. Which of course is not much, but the guests feel that 30 Euro is more than enough and don't give any tips extra while on the Cruise.
Often tourists give 1 Euro Coins or 50 Cents as baksheesh. However, locals cannot change coins at the bank. That's why you will be asked to change their money for them on the street. Which is okay (my suitcase is always heavy only from the coins ...).
But only do it in a quiet moment. 1 EGP Coin looks almost like 1 Euro Coin. Negotiate the exchange rate, take the money they want to change and count it yourself. Take your time. If more men will come around and also ask or start to confuse you, say "No" and walk away.
After you have counted, give it to your partner to keep it in her/his hands and don't show them how much you have in your purse. My purse has two sides: one where I keep small banknotes and the other one with the 50 EGP and 100 EGP Notes.
Take care: 50 Piasters is a bank note, 50 Pounds also. They even look about the same / have about the same size.
Once I changed for carriage drivers in Edfu and gave 150 EGP to change for 20 Euro and then they claimed I would have given 50 Piasters instead of 50 EGP. They had changed the banknotes behind their backs. I knew this was wrong. I closed my hand to keep the coins and walked away. Later when I looked at the coins I saw he had not given me the coins he had shown first, but only 5 Euro in small coins.
It is no secret, that souvenirs are not real gold, ebony or sometimes even alabaster. Vases sold can only be used to put dry flowers inside because they leak, beautiful scarves (which I always buy and wear) don't keep the colours, the times of perfect architecture is over: you have a good chance to hurt yourself while using elevators or trusting other parts inside and outside houses.
But because Egypt is never predictable, pure chaos with many wonders and great people, it is a country one falls in love with or never will return again.
Have a wonderful time, Petra.
This page is based on our own experiences and what Egyptian friends told us about their working conditions in Egypt.
We used questions asked from guests and advices from them after their journey to structure this page.
However, this page is our opinion only and I do not want to judge but to forward what we have been told and help foreigners find their way through Upper Egypt. In case there is something untrue in this page, we appreciate every correction.
"Tourism is the existence of many Egyptians. In no other country I ever felt so welcome, with so much respect for my European descent, and I am often astonished about their tolerance in cultural and religious differences.
I wish, I could say the same about Germans, who protest against the building of mosques or who feel upset because of headscarves but who dont have a problem to walk almost naked in southern countries." (Petra, webdesigner for Aswan Individual)
We want this website to be an instrument for friendship and understanding between cultures from all over the world.
It is important to eliminate prejudices - come and see for yourself!
Petra, webdesigner for Aswan Individual
Taking pictures: "Mumkin soura, min fadlak?"
"Is it possible to take a picture, please?" This is the magic word to ask if someone would like to become the motive for your camera. Mostly men smile and pose. Some poor people expect money after. 1 or 2 Pounds is okay to pay. Women usually dont want to be photographed, which is a habit you should respect.
There are not many Egyptians I know who own a camera. They always use their mobile phones. Many like to get their picture taken - it is polite to show them their photo on the backside of your digital camera and say "Shoukran" (="Thank you").
If someone shows he doesn't want his picture taken, please accept this, smile and wave good bye.
In Luxor locals love to hunt tourists who took a picture (eg. from a house or a donkey) claiming, the donkey is theirs and one would have to pay for the photo. Of course this is rubbish and a very bad habit in Luxor.
beware of kids or other sellers that come too close
"Please add ... about the kids who get really close and push the papyrus art into you so you do not notice them trying to pick your pocket. They tried with me, but I sent them running......The pickpockets were between the Corniche and the souk. ... We were actually warned beforehand by someone in the souk, and again a few times after by numerous people." (David H., Canada, 2013)
"Later in the evening we were walking along the water to get some ice cream and water and was approached by a kid selling papyrus. He kept hitting me as he tried to sell it and eventually walked away. I quickly checked my pockets and realized he had stolen my phone. I turned around and faced him, he saw me and came back to give me my phone (guess he didn’t want me chasing him down the streets). I was over confident because the rest of Egypt was so safe. Luckily I knew the common tricks and was able to get my phone back." (D.Tse, Canada, April 2013)
"attention from vendors was aggressive as you warned" (Peter, New Zealand, May 2013)
It hurts me to write warnings here. Before the revolution there was never any stealing. Now - 2 years later Jan 2013 - a friend and I were walking with me across the souk and became followed by a man trying to sell a Palestinian Scarf. I tried to send him away, even shouted at him in Arabic: "Challas we Ma'a salam" (Stop and good bye) but he remained. Suddenly my friend became stiff and stopped the hand from the man when it tried to pull his purse from his pocket. Then the man ran away (without loot).
Another warning - Changing coins:
only do it in a quiet moment without others around you
As explained in the left column banks do not change foreign coins. So it is clear that the locals will ask foreigners to change them.
- first negotiate the currency exchange rate
- do not give your money out of hands before you have the coins in yours to see you received the same that has been shown to you
- Egyptian Pounds almost look like Euros!!!!!!!
- Impostors have 50-Piaster-Notes. As soon you give them your 50-Pound-Note, they exchange it fast and claim you had given them the PIASTER-note! When you give a 50-Pound-Note show him it is a 50-POUND-Note!
"When you tip in Egypt, what is the custom amount? I heard you have to tip for everything so like for cab rides, tours etc. Can you honestly tell me standard rates?"
You have to know, that most of the Egyptians are VERY poor. Even if you don't see it because they like to dress up, are very clean and proud.
Therefore an Egyptian gives 1 EGP like you give 1 USD for tipping for a small service, more for a bigger service. However they expect more from Western people.
It may be logic to think if people get low wages, i give small tips. But in Egypt locals need additional money to pay for their existence.
If someone did something well, you can make him very happy with every more pound you give. He can pay school books or school uniforms for the kids, or buy meat for the family.
Behind this link is a good "guide" for tips in tripadvisor.
It is good always to have 1 Pound notes / coins at hand. (Go to the bank and change money to small Pound Notes. Try to give big notes to these who can change. Taxi drivers or others mostly cannot change.)
And if there is someone who gave you great service, you will make him happy with 5 or 10 EGP.
If there is a driver or guide, who will be with you all day and does a good job (without bringing you to perfume or papyrus shops, you can give 30 or even 50 EGP).
Don't give to these who jump at you, who start to argue it would not be enough, who are not grateful. There are many who will try to cheat you and will order you to pay more. This kind will shout at you to make you scared. If you feel uncomfortable, look for the tourist police (in white uniforms), who are at many places to help.
I have been told it would be a habit in Luxor, that horse carriage drivers call for you to invite you to pay 5 Pounds for one hour, later they claim it would be British Pounds and the price would be for each person. As soon as the first hour is over, they have brought their guests to non-touristic places, claim the second hour would be 80 British Pounds and shout and call for friends. Be careful when you go on your own! Make photos and complain at the tourist office or at the tourist police to help to stop this behaviour!
Always bargain before you take the service. Make it clear the price is for all of you and not for each person. Make clear it is not only for the first hour but for all the time. And that it is Egyptian Pounds and not British Pounds you talk about.
"We're grateful for all the tips on baksheesh. We were willing to see the sport of it all and were happy to give to a number of people but others spoilt it by (just as you said) demanding more or being corrupt. It was easy to refuse those people and not feel bad about it." (Sian and her family from the Netherlands, July 2010)
And when you pay for something on the suq, always ask yourself, if this is the price which is okay for you. This way you won't feel upset, if you learn later, that someone else got it for less. Don't feel angry but tell yourself, that Egypt is a country where holidays are cheaper than in other places and that if you lost money, it will not be used for drugs, gambling or other bad habits, but used to pay for the families and education for the kids.
"When you go to the souk, is it safe to go alone? How much should you barter off from the price they give you. I know you have to haggle a lot but I want to do it respectfully."
At least half the price. Some ask for 500%, some give you the right price right away. It is good to ask here and there and not buy at once. If you have the time to go there twice, don't buy the first time, ask nice people locals you meet (receptionist, Waleed or Mustafa) what is the price for this or that (make a photo with the digital camera), and they can tell you what to negotiate for.
How to dress?
Egyptians are very tolerant. They won't say anything, but sometimes there are tourists in town who dress in a way I wouldn't show myself even to good friends. The more naked one dresses, the more young men think the woman is looking for sex and will try to talk to you. The other locals will not have much respect, because they will believe a sexy dressed woman obviously doesn't care for her morality.
Even as important, the sun in Egypt is very(!) hot and it is easy to get sunburned. A sun studio in your hometown is a better place to get a tan instead of red in Egypt. Bring clothes which are light, but which cover your skin. I always have scarves to cover my neck and head. Or you bring a cap to avoid sunstroke.
If you want to swim in the Nile, you can bring your bikini to change on the felucca under a towel.
Student Card in Egypt
Tip for people traveling with teenagers. It's worth investing in an ISIC (international student card) - about 15 Euro bought at home. You save 50% on most entrance fees to sites/museums (Sian from Netherlands, July 2010)
About changing money and how to keep it with you in spite of taxi drivers, guides and others who want to have it.
I always use my credit card (rembember your PIN-Number!), which I think is better than stuffing the pockets with cash money. Egypt is not like Italy. On the contrary: stealing is not a problem in Egypt - every other country I know (including Germany) is much more dangerous concerning pickpockets. Of course you should be careful anyway.
But in Egypt there is another sort of "sport": It is talking out the money of your purse instead of taking it with their hands.
BE CAREFUL! DONT TRUST ANYONE!!!!!
Always negotiate a well described service and only go for it after all has been settled. Egypt is full of untrue stories and most of the Egyptians learned since their childhood how to get money out of tourists. They think, outside Egypt money is lying on the street, and if someone can afford the ticket to fly to Egypt, it cannot be a problem for him to give some of their money to the Egyptian. They don't even feel bad by cheating, talking bad about others to build up trust for them and then give bad service.
For example: you negotiate a price with a taxidriver. After half the way he will tell you to pay more because ... (any story ...). When you get out he will tell you to pay more. He will shout at you, call others. Stay calm. Pay the agreed sum and go. And if he should come after you, you ask him or anyone on the street to call the police (shurta). If there is not police around anywhere (they mostly are). This sounds tragic. I hope you will not have this experience. I wrote it just in case and not only concerning taxi drivers, but also receptionists, camel drivers, guides, ...
Guides: tell them before you start to make a tour with them you are NOT interested to visit any perfume shop or bazaar.
(With Aswan Individual you don't need to worry. If any guide should mention a bazaar or shop, please tell the guide to call Waleed immediately to tell him! I asure you this guide will not be chosen for any future guests! Aswan Individual was made to help guests avoid bad surprises and promote locals who treat their guests as friends.)
Taxis in Cairo: There are white (new) taxis and black (old) taxis. Always hail the white ones and tell them while talking through the window, you want them to use the taximeter (bi-l-adaad). That way it is very cheap and I always give extra tip for using the "adaad". In the old (black) taxis the taximeters are as old and never working (see picture). You will end of paying the double price even when negotiating hard.
But: Don't let them take your good mood! After all it is EGP and not USD. Even if one should succeed to cheat you for 10 EGP, it is "only" 2 Dollars. No reason to become angry and destroy one of your holidays. But a previous guest had paid 800 EGP for a camel tour in Cairo, which of course is unacceptable (usually 50 - 100 EGP for each camel). Don't make a camel tour at the Pyramids. These people there are ruthless.
("Cairo was a huge shock to our system. In Cairo we were taken to shops, pushed towards $800 camel rides and other various scams and the hotel really made me panic about Aswan!" Philippa, Australia, March 2010)
Money belts are nice to have. I never wear them, but I think it is a better feeling not to leave cash money in a hotel and not to have it open in your pockets.
How to get money with EC-Cards(?) and Credit Cards
EC-Cards are used in Europe and a problem outside. A guest told me it would have worked if hers had a certain chip on it. This is what she had been told at the Aswan Bank. I am not so sure, I always use my credit card, not the EC-Card.
To get money with the credit card at the bank, you have to know your PIN-Number. At the ATM (bank machine) of course, but also inside the bank. Without knowledge of your pin number there is no way to get money!
We read in our guidebook that ATM's can get stuck and swallow your card if you try to get 1000 EGP or more out. Is this true?
I always take 3000 - 5000 EGP from ATMs and never had a problem with my visa-card.
I have never heard of something like this. But in this case you just go inside the bank and ask to get your visa card back.?
Cathy from Australia,
this long page.
To Sian from Netherlands for questions and - later - advices.
Many thanks for the right to use photos for the website Aswan Individual:
Carol from Idaho, USA
Hajo from Germany
Allan from England
All photos are