Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Banking in Cairo

I recently contacted my friend Leyla Lanty, who is a wonderful dancer, experienced world traveler, teacher at Ahlan Wa Sahlan, and general goddess of wisdom about traveling to Cairo specifically. I asked her some questions on banking, because AUC is downright silent on the subject which I described to Leyla as "beyond frustrating." Plus, financial issues are pretty sticky so I didn't want to get stuck being clueless just believing my travel guidebooks that had plainly never traveled beyond their supply chain route from the factory.

Luckily Leyla--being a fountain of knowledge and great insight and all--had some useful information on what to do about banking in Cairo, which I think could be great advice for anyone looking to travel or study there, and I wanted to somewhat edit and share with her permission some quotes of the advice she gave me:

Carrying US Dollars:
"If you've already paid for large expenses (like rent), then you probably should take a few hundred dollars in cash - mostly $20 bills and about $150-200 in smaller bills. If you need dollars for any reason in the first month or so, you'll have them. You can change them any time you need Egyptian pounds and can't get to a bank. Often the vendors in Khan el Khalili will take dollars for payment at the current rate of exchange, which is now 5.5 LE per dollar. They may round it up to 6 LE per dollar because it'll cost them to change the dollars to LE."

At the airport:
"At the arrivals area before you get to the passport control, there will be a bank/exchange open at which you can change some dollars to pounds. I usually change around $100 in order to have Egyptian pounds in my pocket. Tips for luggage carrying, if you use it, are about 5 LE each bag."

Using Traveler's Checks:
"They are more trouble than they're worth. If you need to carry a VERY large sum, like tuition fees, they're safer than carrying that much cash."

The Cairo "Practical Guide" also says that, "many exchanges--and banks--will not take [traveler's checks], or will charge a lot for doing so."

Using US Bank Accounts:
The Cairo Guide describes Egypt as a, "cash economy as soon as you descend from five-star altitude," and "the best places to change foreign currency is at the various exchanges throughout the city," which are better than the banks."

Leyla also says, "You will have access to your home bank's accounts if you have a check card with either a Visa or Mastercard logo. However , you MUST call them or visit a branch BEFORE YOU LEAVE to tell them that you will be [abroad] and give them the dates that you'll be there. Best to call the next day to double check that they have actually recorded the information on your accounts."

"You can use a check card with a Visa or Mastercard logo to withdraw money from your checking account from an ATM up to your daily limit. If you want more money than your daily limit, you must do it at a bank. They'll put it through as a credit card transaction which bypasses your daily withdrawal limit" Note: This last bit is a blatant lie from the guidebook, you can only withdraw up to your daily limit, end of story. I found this out the hard way. (Edit: 12/25/09)

"There are ATMs in many locations both on the street and at 5-star hotels at which you can use either your check card or any Visa or Mastercard credit can with a p.i.n. to withdrawl money. If your credit card doesn't have a password on it, then you have to go to a bank to use it to withdraw money."

"Of course, there are small fees for all of this service - both an access fee and a money changing fee. Your bank may also charge up to $4 for each transaction to a foreign bank or ATM."

Shukran, Leyla! I'm sure we can all benefit from the advice! By the way, Leyla's CD is amazing--I higly reccomend it for performance, class, or just listening and enjoying!

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