Egypt has been a country tourists over decades have wanted to visit, and it’s not a wonder they’d have it in their checklist of places to go. With rich civilization, millennia-old monuments, tombs and pyramids, Egypt is not just for history books, but a chance for adventurers to get a glimpse of its rich past.
But recent political developments have made Egypt a less desirable destination primarily because of security concerns. After the Arab Spring unraveled beginning in late 2010, Egypt’s tourism numbers were on a downward trend.
This development not only cut income from legitimate tourist operators such as hotels, resorts, and tour providers, it also dealt a massive blow among scammers who prey on unsuspecting visitors. With fewer tourists, fraudsters have inevitably become more innovative in how they operate. Depending on who you ask, not all of them might earn the moniker as scammers, but tourists who get less than what they deserve will always have one label for them.
Understand that they are everywhere; you cannot run away or hide from them, but you can identify them and be prepared when they are around.
When you arrive at the airport
As seen in many other places, touts offering taxi services to passengers — notably foreigners in the country — often camp outside the arrival area. A typical passenger who has no idea of the place nor resourceful enough to ask the information counter or follow the signs. He or she may look around and appear confused, becoming a prime target for these unscrupulous taxi operators. Some taxi drivers hound newly-arrived visitors into taking their offer at a price that is way above legally allowed by law.
To avoid such an unfortunate situation where you might not only be gouged of your tourist money, but also fall victim to robbery or other more sinister situations, plan before arriving:
- Check the approximate fare using tools like TaxiFareFinder.com from airport to your hotel or how far and how long does your journey take using Google Maps.
- Check the airport’s website for information on taxi stands, warnings, and other tips to first-time visitors. Other travel websites should contain rich information on dos and don’ts when you arrive at that airport.
- If you have no time to check online before you travel, locate the airport’s information counter, ask for direction to the taxi stand, how much should it take, and a map if available. You should then hold firm on paying within the stated fare estimate when approached by taxi touts.
- Be assured that taxi rides are paid by trip and not per passenger, in case a taxi driver tries to fool you about this policy.
When you bargain for goods
Without prior knowledge of its currency and pricing, you, as a tourist, become a prime target for scammers posing as merchants. The more eager you are to buy an item, the more they’ll be encouraged to get charged with a higher price in places like Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili. Without looking like a jerk just out there to test your haggling skills and insult a storekeeper, items should be bargained as low as 40% off with keen interest. Otherwise, walking away after getting an initial rebuff is a good test on how interested they are in parting merchandise. If they try to persuade you to go back to their stall, you’ll know they made an overpriced offer and now lost bargaining leverage.
So, in summary, a few things to bear in mind when you’re dealing with merchants:
- Be aware of the currency you’re handing out and change received, if any. Do not hand big bills without counting the change.
- Speaking of currency, please study the Egyptian currency as much as you can. The Egyptian currency has noted in the value of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pounds. But unknown to many first-time tourists, there are also banknotes of 25 and 50 piastres (a piastre is 1/100 of a pound). In particular, it is easy to confuse a 50-pound note with a 50 piastre note, so some locals might try to fool you with this loophole. This can happen at currency exchange shops or even at cashiers at tourist attractions where an attendant might slip a 50 piastre note as change instead of the 50 pounds you are owed.
- Go around and get an idea of prices of certain items sold by other retailers before making a reasonable bargain. If it’s not an impulse buy, you have to research online on how much such item costs. Otherwise, you can proceed with your haggling skills.
- Sometimes merchants show you the price in Arabic numbers. To avoid confusion, learn the basics about it.
- Do not show plenty of cash in public, especially when you are paying for a commodity. Prepare smaller bills that should be handy once you go out to buy items like water, passenger fare, entrance fee or restaurant bill.
- Best price isn’t always the cheapest, and when you try to be penny pincher than be frugal, it’s not the best thing to do under a 100F market. Merchants sometimes value their goods higher than some customers who only settle for the lowest price.
When you meet strangers
Sometimes you suddenly meet a stranger who gets too friendly and drops certain hints that he or she knows you, even if you cannot recall ever meeting this person. As a sign of courtesy, you accommodate him for casual talk even as you try to solve the puzzle over hints presented to you.
In case you never recalled making an encounter with this person as he or she claims, be warned that this could be a ploy by this person who is acting on his own or part of a criminal gang trying to uncover personal information and use them against you.
Just think of the idea of identity theft. A stranger, who may be throwing out a fake name or nationality to get into the conversation, gets too creative to get to know your identity. Once he learns your name, where your hotel is, or when is your flight — you could be in for some nasty surprise. He could use your personal information to verify your identity, and allow him to take over your identity online. For example, they might use your information to reverse engineer a Google account or duplicate the identity of your Facebook friend. And that’s just the start.
So a few tips when meeting people who claim to know you beforehand.
- Be friendly but do not disclose personal information
- Do not try to connect on social media
- Verify their identity through a Google search or check profiles on Twitter or Facebook
When you travel within the city.
As mentioned in item #1, taxicab drivers are among the first line of scammers you can meet. But it doesn’t mean everyone is a wrong driver on the prowl for your money. Many others do their job religiously and can be trusted.
It has been proven that Uber drivers are more regular folks to patronize when getting around the city and its attractions. The fact that Uber has its internal mechanism that rewards honesty and penalizes scammers has earned its reputation to be a trustworthy option for tourists who have been frequent victims to price gouging in Egypt for many years.
- Get Uber app for your smartphone and set up payment options such as credit card or PayPal account.
- Since it requires data outside wifi-powered premises such as your hotel surrounding, it helps that you get a SIM card upon arrival. Prepaid data SIM cards are available from Orange, Vodafone or Etisalat.
When you are at tourist attractions.
Even at the age of selfie sticks, sometimes getting your photo taken by a stranger nearby is still possible. While it’s easy to ask a favor from a fellow tourist for a better angle before a parade of camels or a pyramid of Giza, be aware of those who are too eager to help you out even before you approach them.
Just as you say thanks after a photo was taken, you might be charged for that simple favor — some charge 5 to 50 Egyptian pounds. Not that much if you get a priceless image before a historical sight, but many would assume that such an effort does not require payment at all.
There are instances when people peddle items to sell. Simply walking past them should be enough, not even a more polite ‘no thanks.’ Doing so opens up the conversation, which might lead to an even more aggressive sales approach. Saying Egypt is a beautiful place, and you had a great time so far makes them think you are obliged to return the favor and buy items you never really need.
Its beauty and its people will often enchant first-time visitors to Egypt. Although the tips above make it sound like Egypt is an intimidating place to go, these are just exceptional cases, and them not happening is more likely to happen. But erring on the side of caution, every tourist should be mindful of such possibility and ensure that your visit to Egypt is nothing but only fond memories.