A culturally historic and fascinating country, Egypt should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit. The historic sites are obvious. So are the countless artifacts that have been unearthed. But the people. Well, as kind and welcoming as any in the world. Seriously, if you get a chance to befriend an Egyptian, you’ll have a friend for life. Yes, it’s no secret that people want to come.
Before diving deep into the specifics of what I did, learned along the way, and tips to share, I thought it would be helpful to give a basic overview of Egypt so you know what to expect. I think in many ways, it’ll be an eye-opening experience and it’ll probably also shock you like it shocked me. Please check out the various posts for hotels, tours, and sites. I’m sure I’ll touch on these topics at length in the posts to follow but this at least gives you a basic idea.
Taxes in the country are high. As in extremely high. A restaurant will add on a service fee and VAT which could increase your overall bill by around 25% (I don’t remember the exact amount but it’s close). If you want to have a beer or any sort of alcohol, the tax is even greater (I think it was around 23% alone). Also, the taxes and the service fee DO NOT include the tip. Those fees go either directly to the restaurant owner or the government and not the person serving you.
That means that your $4 beer can be twice that amount after the taxes and tip. That beer isn’t so cheap anymore. When you are trying to factor in the tip, you should also know that you should be basing the tip amount on the TOTAL (including the taxes and fees) and not just the cost. At least that was my understanding. You may want to ask around but that’s what I was consistently told.
As a somewhat related note to taxes, if you enjoy a drink, you may want to think about purchasing your alcohol at the airport as soon as you land and go through immigration. Right after you get your passport stamped and as you walk toward the baggage carousels, you’ll see the duty free shop on your right. I BELIEVE there is a limit (I don’t know what it is) but when I took a quick glance inside, the prices seemed comparable and fair. Now I say that without having known how much a beer or a glass of wine cost outside but I’m sure it couldn’t have been MORE expensive when you factor everything in.
As you walk around Cairo, you’ll see bars throughout the streets. However, I didn’t see too many places where you could buy alcohol. To be fair, I wasn’t out searching for liquor stores but I certainly didn’t notice them either.
I DO know that Cairo has an alcohol delivery service so you may want to research that to see if that interests you. I say this all because I certainly understand the desire to have a beer while watching a game or a glass of wine with dinner. But you certainly don’t want it to break the bank while on vacation.
I would say this is probably the biggest annoyance any traveller will encounter while here. I felt this primarily occurred at tourist sites (which, as a tourist, where else would you be?) but it seemed to occur everywhere.
Now I know tipping is an annoyance for everyone who isn’t used to it. Look, I’m from the US and I’m used to tipping and I even find it annoying sometimes. But I understand it’s usefulness and I’m happy to do it especially when it comes to the service industry. That said, in my book, a tip is something offered when someone helps you, goes above and beyond, or provides good service. The amount you tip is contingent on the quality of the service. It is NEVER given just because. I’m not a walking ATM but it seems like that’s how tourists are treated here. People who have done NOTHING for me were asking or demanding tips.
I’ll say again. I’m HAPPY to tip and this isn’t an anti-tipping rant. But don’t expect me to tip just because you’re standing there. The worst is when you’re just looking around and someone “offers” to help. If you’re just looking around and someone says “you’re going the wrong way,” “it’s closed,” “it’s a very long walk,” etc., you KNOW they’re just trying to “help” you out so they can demand a tip after.
One instance that completely threw me for a loop was when someone asked for a tip at the airport. Now this wasn’t like I was checking in curbside or needed help with my bags. This was me going through security and the guy flat out saying “hey, I love Americans…give me a dollar.” I wish he said more than that but that was the extent of what he said. It caught me so off guard I initially didn’t know how to react.
Once I completely grasped what was going on, I just said “no” in about the most stunned face ever. I couldn’t believe it. Now I will say that this person didn’t look to be working as security personnel. Security and police will always be wearing white uniforms however it is impossible to tell who is working somewhere when a group of people are wearing the same thing. I can only assume this was some guy working the line for tips and the airport being unable to stop them from doing so.
After speaking to a number of locals, I’d say the below is what I figured to be a “normal” tip:
- For anyone who takes photos for you or provides “access” to some locked or roped off areas, 5LEs is more than enough (these are the worst and most prevalent by the way).
- Someone “guiding” you through an area as in “this is a good place to take a photo”…nothing.
- Hotel staff should be around 5-10LEs. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for the house keepers because they do so much so if there is ever anyone I’m tipping more, it’s the hard working house keeping crew.
- Bathroom attendants should be 50cnts to 1LE. The problem here is you may not have coins of bills that small so I usually ended up giving 5LEs (about 33 cents).
I will also say this, those who are demanding tips will NEVER be happy with the amount you offer. If you offer a $1, they’ll demand $5.
One last tip (no pun intended). If the person seems upset, disgusted, insulted, etc. by the amount you give as a tip, don’t be afraid to take it back and walk away. The first time this occurred, I just took it back and started to walk away to make a point. Watch how quickly they change their tune. However, after doing this multiple times, I just made sure to have a lower amount ready just in case and gave them half of what I’d originally given. If they were really annoying, I just took it back and never gave it back. At some point, you have to put your food down. I don’t need to be guilted into giving more and I don’t need to feel guilty for taking it back.
This one is a bit weird if you’re not used to it. Much like in many parts of the world, public restrooms are usually “staffed” by someone. Their “job” is to keep the bathrooms clean and offer you some toilet paper if you need it. Overall, they do a pretty good job of this and I don’t think I actually went into a public bathroom feeling disgusted about using it. They’re fairly clean and to me, it’s worth the tip to use.
Anyone who has visited Europe, Central America, or South America is used to this. From experience, I’ll gladly pay a few coins to use a clean bathroom vs. a bathroom that hasn’t been cleaned for 10 years and where the walls move because of all the flies. I think the coins spent is a very good way to spend some money.
Now here’s the kicker (and time to be adults). You’ll be asked when you enter a bathroom if you need paper. Or it’ll be offered in some fashion. If you do need paper, expect to basically get one toilet square, a tissue, or something similar. It won’t be enough to wipe yourself clean or even dry your hands. To be honest, it’s about as useful as a small breath mint after eating an entire bowl of raw garlic. You definitely want to make sure you carry tissues with you in your purse or day bag. If you have a weak stomach, this is a mistake you only make once.
Remember also that the toilet paper DOESN’T go down the toilet but in the trash bin next to the toilet. If there is no bin, then I would feel comfortable flushing it but even then, I would flush liberally. If you’re unsure of when to toss and when to flush, just look for the bin or a bidet. Even high end hotels have guests use bins instead of flushing. If you see a bidet, you’ll have your answer immediately.
In terms of how much to give the attendant, I would just give the smallest denomination bill you have. Ideally, you’ll just hand over a few coins but you probably won’t come across those too much in the touristy areas. The lowest amount I had was 5LE (about 33 cents) so that’s usually what I gave, but I think 1LE is plenty.
Again, this will be a situation where the attendant will probably ask or demand more money. It isn’t necessary so if they try to get more, just walk away. If you don’t have any small bills, don’t feel obligated to give anything either. Maybe if you really feel bad, you could get something but a lot of times, you won’t have coins or bills small enough. In those cases, I just left. When I asked the locals, they said it was no big deal and that people did it all the time. It isn’t a requirement to pay so there’s no need to feel guilty.
Oh, and I guess it should be said. If the bathroom is an absolute filthy mess, don’t give anything. You probably left it cleaner.
So there are some basic issues that I encountered about Egypt. This wasn’t city specific but was fairly consistent throughout the country so it’s a good thing to keep in mind. Although I did my research before coming and knew about the aggressive tactics used by scammers to get “tips”, I really didn’t expect it to be that prevalent and aggressive. If there is one thing you take away from this, PLEASE mentally prepare yourself with the harassment for tips. Like I said, I’m all for giving tips but there is a limit to everyone’s patience.