Tipping in Egypt – who, when and how much?
This post is updated Jan 2020. Any article on tipping you find on the internet dated prior to 2019 should be disregarded. Please also note that “Tipping” is NOT “Baksheesh” I know there are numerous experts writing this on the net but that is wrong information. Strictly speaking
- a tip is what you give someone who did you a good service.
- While Baksheesh is a charity donation to a beggar or someone who has done nothing for you.
That is why children will call out “Baksheesh please” to you not “Tipping please”! And actually those children are mostly trying it on. If you see a child in real need he will be sitting quietly not running around playing with you about “baksheesh”. When someone asks for Baksheesh they know they have done nothing for you.
I apologies in advance for the length of this post but the subject of tipping in Egypt is not as straight forward as giving you a list of recommended amounts to tip for a service – or indeed whether you should tip all! And some people are going to be very annoyed by what I am going to write!
Tipping is expected everywhere in Egypt – it is not just for tourists.
Tipping in Egypt is an expression of your appreciation for another person and their efforts on your behalf. While, out of politeness, you are told it is at your discretion – it is actually expected and depended on.
TripAdvisor Forums Advice on Tipping in Egypt
Recently I took a look at TripAdvisor’s Egypt and Luxor forums on the subject of tipping and notice that most of their longtime contributing experts seem to be completely unaware of factors in today’s Egyptian economy. Their advice overall seems to centre around telling tourists they should tip as little as possible and they use “facts” such as their limited knowledge of the Egyptian wage and their tipping experience in Western Countries to back up their advice. Really it is their comments on tipping that prompts me to write this detailed post.
One argument used in favour of low tipping seems to be the belief that a tip should be a percentage of the service provider’s daily wage – which might be ok when applied in a country where the minimum wage is livable – however, one Western example where it is not, is the United States. There the restaurant and bar staff etc. depend on tipping to survive every bit as much as they do in Egypt – so there’s an end to that argument. Nor do those American workers take it lightly or easily when their tip is less than expected.
Some Tour Operators on Tipping
Apart from the TripAdvisor “experts” mentioned above, I have come across some outside tour operators (not the real ones, but ones pretending to team up with locals) giving bad advice on tipping – some going as far as to say “Don’t tip at all!”
Those tour providers who virulently denying the need for tipping are building in the tips to their prices and this is just a ploy to get your business. You really need to check what they are giving you for your money. These operators know how annoyed tourists get over tipping and are playing up to your paranoia (don’t be insulted, I know the feeling, had it for years) by assuring you that tipping is rubbish and relieving you of the emotional and mental burden of it. Instead they should be trying to help you understand a foreign custom in a foreign land.
Some Travel Bloggers on Tipping in Egypt
The travel bloggers I take exception to, in their encouraging not to tip, or to low tip, annoy me because it is obvious they are getting their accommodation etc free as well as commission from other sources, in exchange for their writing up and recommending places, operators, products etc. They spend a few luxurious days in a country, everything laid on for them and suddenly they are experts in everything without an idea of the economy etc or what lies behind local customs.
Tipping can be frustrating
Over the years I have noticed that the tipping annoys most tourists. They feel the pressure of being squeezed for more payment for something they believe they have already paid for. I, as a foreigner, can totally understand that and in writing this I am hoping to give you a new perspective on it. The system also annoyed me intensely for years – mostly because I felt I was never tipping enough – it made me feel inadequate, guilty, mean and frustrated.
Egyptian Economy Facts which influence tipping amounts.
Now I would like to fill in the missing facts on the Egyptian Economy and hope it sheds some light on the importance of tipping in Egypt. When you have read my post, I encourage you not just to take my words as gospel, but to do so some research on your own and see if my advice is true – or at least more believable than some of the rubbish out there.
- Tipping is expected by Egyptians from Egyptians – it is the culture, it is expected, it is given and received with grace and, in my personal opinion, it kept many people from starving in the years 2011 to 2017. In the absence of tourism and a social welfare system, tipping allowed Egyptians to help other Egyptians without anyone losing dignity.
- Egyptians tip with gratitude and grace or they don’t tip at all if they have a valid reason not to tip – discourtesy being a valid reason not to tip.
- The Egyptian economy, while improving, has gone through 7 disastrous years. I know very few people who are paid livable wages. Government employees work half days – then they work the second part of the day as carpenters, cleaners, plumbers, shop workers, waiters etc. They work the government job for the security of the pension – and that is not massive, believe me! Teachers wages are a joke and they subsidise their income with private lessons to those who can pay. Every family wants their kids to do better than they did and much is sacrificed here, in families, on the alter of private lessons
- The Egyptian Pound was devalued by 50% about 2 years ago resulting in massive loss of cash value to everyone in Egypt. Imagine, if you were lucky enough to have savings – imagine having half of your savings wiped out literally overnight…. Imagine getting up next morning and going to work and at the end of the week your paycheck has lost half it’s spending power…..Imagine you work in the tourism industry and have gone through 6 years of no work, then finally there is hope and then you get hit with this…. Picture yourself working in the market or tourist souk – where you turn up for work every day and only get paid your portion of the profit on what you sold that day. Many people in Egypt work without a basic wage – they get paid if and when the boss gets paid.
- Because of the removal of government subsidies (a condition imposed on Egypt to allow them receive a huge IMF loan to keep the country going) every house is now faced with electricity bills and mounting arrears they cannot pay. The ever increasing cost of gas continuously drives up the price of everything else. Removal of the subsidies has also increased the cost of basic food items such as rice, (eating meat is not even an option), bread, cooking oil, medicines, clothing.
- There is no point blaming the government over wages, the economy etc. because they are doing the best they can to bring the economy to a viable state. There is a huge population here and they are doing the best they can – way better in my opinion than many western countries. Rome was not built in a day and it is going to take several years before any of us are going to be really happy about the economic situation. However, we do realise Egypt is making excellent progress, everything taken into account. In the meantime, everyone does the best they can and gets on with daily life.
- On top of all the above mentioned there is another problem in the tourist industry. Egyptian Travel Agents, Tour Operators and Hotels still believe the only way to get business is to be the one giving the cheapest quote. Now, if none of the above poses a problem for you, this one does. If you want to know why then read my post on prices in Egypt – http://marahouseluxor.com/tourists-return-to-egypt-as-prices-fall-security-improves/
So the Egyptian operators quote crazy low prices to the foreign operators. The Egyptian doesn’t cover his costs. Not only has the Egyptian Tourism industry not made up for the losses incurred in the devaluation of the pound and failed to increase their prices to make up for it, they are afraid to raise their prices anyway from the lowered prices they offered in the wake of 2011. Doesn’t all this begin to sound like a comedy of errors or a madhouse?
If a service provider, be it a travel agent, tour operator or hotel quotes a below cost price to you, then he has to make up the balance and his profit another way – and one way or another, you, the tourist will pay the balance and the profit. To give you or the foreign operator the low quote the local operator has to do the following
- not pay his drivers, guides, other employees a livable wage. Everyone is taking a chance and hoping to make up their shortfall by taking you to restaurants, shops and “workshops” not to mention the “hidden gems” that nobody else knows about (lie) where they get paid commission.
- not include all the entry tickets in his quote – e.g. at Giza leave out the entry ticket to the Gt. Pyramid and let the guide cover this by giving you a reason not to want to go in there – come on, why would you go to Giza and not go inside one of the World’s Greatest Wonders?! But this happens there every day.
- not include all the places in a historic site – e.g. the Mummy room in the Museum. So here you have hidden extras straight away.
- sell you a tour that includes all meals then take you to the cheapest possible tourist oriented restaurants and convince you that you are having an authentic Egyptian experience….not!
- sell you one hotel or cruise boat then, at the last minute, tell you they have to make a change and you end up in cheaper accommodation.
The only reason I am going into all these details is to illustrate the point that NOBODY can tell you what you should be tipping anyone in Egypt UNLESS he knows exactly what every individual guide, driver and hotel service staff member is actually being paid. There is no standard minimum wage in force here. Yes, there are minimum wage guidelines. Who is paying attention, or who can afford to pay attention to them in a country of 100 million people with little or no industry?
Guides can be paid different wages depending on the nationality of their guests, the number in their group, how much the employer can pay them depending on the quote the employer had to give to get the booking. And there are actually instances where a guide will work for nothing – or even worse, pay the tour operator or travel agent for the chance to guide a group and make what money he can. This is apart from having to split the commission money he does make with the employer also in the end!
Based on all the above – how can anyone tell you what to tip? Seriously?
However, I am going to write a tipping guide below – but that is based on what I pay those working with and for me. It can’t be applied across the board.
Now, having said all the above about operators quoting low prices I also need to say that if you think paying out – as some people do – thousands of dollars will automatically get you a top class experience – don’t. Because we also have the operators who charge in the region of US$10,000 for (maybe) a 10 night or two week trip and still give you nowhere near that in value of experience or accommodation.
Why not include tipping in the pricing?
I know that sometimes my guests wish I just included the tipping in the cost. But, am I going to put the economy on a basis that allows for this? Am I going to change the culture of a country that is not even mine? No, I am going to try to help you understand it and get through it feeling good.
Firstly, there is no point in me or tour operators building in tipping to the prices we charge as the Egyptian workers will not understand. They will think the tip comes from us only and not you. Or they will think you tipped us for them and we didn’t pass it on. Apart from that it raises our prices and raising our prices loses us bookings also.
Secondly, if you do not tip the people yourself, the workers will believe you did not think their service deserving of the tip and consequentlythey will actually feel bad. Please understand the tipping is not just a money thing – it is the recognised “thank you” gesture across Egypt – again, it is traditional and not just for you.
I used to write the recommended tipping amounts in Egyptian Pounds. However, over time I notice this presents a sub-conscious mental problem for most tourists.
If I recommend you tip the guide 100 Egyptian pounds per person per day, most people don’t make the conversion in their heads quickly enough to realise that 100 le is only 6 dollars. Instead, they go into shock, equate it subconsciously to US$100 and feel robbed! Now, if you were in an EU country or the United States and you spent a whole day working with a client – the client tips you US$6 how would you feel? I hope this analogy helps. Today US$6 in Egypt is as good as $6 in the US and not much more – remember the 50% currency devaluation?
If you remember how small in your own currency the tips expected are you will think nothing of it. For this reason I am writing the minimum recommended amount in US dollars below. It may help if you bring a plentiful supply of 1 and 5 US dollar bills with you and keep it for tipping. Every time you tip you will see exactly how small it is and feel less aggravated by the tipping. In fact by the time you leave you may even be feeling happier when you think of the number of people along the way whose day you made better with a small amount of money from your pocket, not as charity baksheesh to a beggar, but to a person who did you a good service.
Since the smallest Euro note is €5 it might be a good idea for euro zone visitors to source some small dollar bills.
Coins in any foreign currency are no good as they cannot be exchanged in Egypt plus your own country is actually losing it’s currency when you leave it abroad in coin.
I have told you above why I am writing the following guideline in US dollars – this does not mean you have to tip in US dollars. You can tip in Egyptian Pounds or with any foreign currency NOTES (not coin) that can be exchanged at a Bank or Foreign Exchange Shop in Egypt. Use www.xe.com for exchange rates.
Guidelines to MINIMUM expected tipping amounts in Egypt PER PERSON
PER DAY per person – tipping can be in Dollars, Euro or Egyptian notes but not coins as foreign coins cannot be exchanged or used to buy anything.
- Tour Manager/Tour Leader US$6 per day per person. US$10 per couple
- Tour Guide US$6 per day. US$10 per couple
- Bus/Taxi Drivers for tours US$3 per day. US$5 per couple
- Hotel Housekeeping US$3 US$ 5 per couple
- Restaurant Waiter not less US$5
- Porter or Baggage Handler US$1
- Toilet Attendant 5 Egyptian Pounds
END OF STAY TIPPING – for Hotels and Cruise Boats
- Nile Cruise Crew (most boats have a tip box in reception) not less than $5 per day per person so for a couple it should be minimum $10 per day. This is divided among all the crew/staff you do not see such as laundry, sailors, below deck etc. but not managers. For anyone traveling with Mara House this tip is mandatory. We use the same boats regularly and our guests have a good reputation for tipping among all the staff. We get excellent service from the boat staff and would like to continue the good relations with them.
- If the cleaner attached to your room or restaurant waiter has been pleasing to you – an extra tip of $5 on departure day is always appreciated.
The following is not expected but some people like to tip the following:
- Hotels AND Cruise Boats – if you have stayed more than one or two days.
- If a specific receptionist or manager in a Hotel or Cruise Boat has been especially helpful and attentive to you a tip would be correct – perhaps about $10 on departure day.
- If you think the food has been really good you can always ask to speak to the Chef and compliment him – this is always appreciated and if you want to tip him then $20 would be a nice tip.
- If the restaurant staff have been especially pleasing you can tip an individual or you can tip the Restaurant Manager. Either way they will pool that tip to be divided between the people in the kitchen also unless you specifically make it clear “this tip is for yourself”.
How to Tip –
In a restaurant you just leave the tip with the final payment as you would anywhere.
In all other cases apart from restaurant where you are immediately paying, the tip should be folded in the palm of the hand and quietly passed in the handshake while expressing your thanks. It’s not considered nice to wave the tip around in the air and hand it to someone like a guide or housekeeper as if you are paying them. Some Egyptians consider it good manners to quietly decline the tip once or twice so it is considered good manners on your part to insist (with sincere thanks).
Personal Tipping Story – I fail to sometimes!
A long time ago I took my sons and grand-daughter on a Nile cruise. The highlight of my younger son’s experience was the look on people’s faces when he tipped them over the norm expected. At the time he was tipping 40 Egyptian pounds when people would have thought 10 was good. To this day it is his best memory of Egypt – making an instant difference in the lives of the people who were making his holiday comfortable and enjoyable. It made him feel really great to make somebody else’s day a good one so easily.
I have shared that story for years. Now to add to it….recently that same son did a trip around Egypt again with me. This time I was the one handling the money. In one instance he casually asked me how much I was tipping someone. I told him I was going to tip 200 Egyptian Pounds (feeling rather grand about it, I admit). He nearly fell off the chair and said “What?! The least you should be giving him is $100!” Now it was my turn to be shocked. First I reasoned in my own mind “well, he’s just spent 4 years in New York so that might be normal for him there but $100 is 1,700 Egyptian Pounds!”
I must have sat there for at least 5 – 10 minutes without saying anything. Then I suddenly realised my son was 100% right. I had gotten mentally stuck in my mind with the tipping because I was concentrating on my tipping guidelines for others, not on the value of the service I had personally received from an individual. I also got stuck because I tend to forget the 50% devaluation also, having lived in Egypt since 2003 it is still easy to forget it. I definitely should have been tipping that particular man $100.
Unfortunately I didn’t have that amount with me there and then so I held the tip and went back later with the $100. Now, that tip was pertaining to me in a particular situation so I am not suggesting you have to do anything like that. I am merely admitting that even I, after all these years, wasn’t thinking about the man who had done me the service, I was thinking about the cash and the usual tipping norms. I am thankful to my son for shaking me out of my mind blur and so are those who are now at the receiving end of my own tipping!
People demanding bigger tips
If you have tipped at least in accordance with my amounts recommended about and you come across an individual who is not happy with the tip you gave him – I can’t really advise on this…I used to say take it back and walk away. However, now I would not do that. But I think the best advice I can give is to walk away as fast as you can – again assuming you have correctly paid and tipped him. Make sure there is no misunderstanding in your conversation. If possible and your guide is nearby, call for his assistance. I would not just continue to add more to the tip. If you have not made a mistake then you are dealing with an unpleasant individual.
Change for tips
Small change in Egyptian currency can be a problem. Don’t assume the banks, boat, hotel are being nasty or unco-0perative by not changing your 100 Egyptian Pound notes for smaller change. It is highly likely they don’t have it. The smaller currency 1le, 5le, 10le, 20le are in constant circulation so nobody actually lodges them back to the banks. There is no reason for boats, hotels etc to have them.
So, where to find them? With the people who deal in cheap goods and there are several of these in every street, just open your eyes and be aware of them. You don’t have to buy anything – just smile and ask for change. The baker, fruit juice shop, small grocery shop, fruit and veg sellers in the street, toilet attendant at the sites and in all toilets where tips are given, you could try the taxi driver or calesh driver if using them. If you have a nice taxi driver you could ask him to stop at one of these place and get the change for you even.
I hope the above helps you enjoy this particular Egyptian tradition.
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