Tipping In Egypt: Everything You Need To Know As Responsible Travellers

Table of Contents

Introduction

Tipping in Egypt is more than a politeness, it’s a true part of Egyptian culture, but it can be confusing! Here’s everything you need to know about it…

Tipping in Egypt, also known as ‘backsheesh’ is an important and every day part of Egyptian culture. Not tipping can cause huge offence, as can tipping too little, but tipping too much can cause issues in other ways. To tourist eyes, it can seem like an extremely confusing world.

Not only is knowing how much to tip somewhat of a minefield, but figuring out who to tip can be as well. Add to that that tipping is not a part of culture for many other tourists and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen. For some people, even knowing how to tip is really hard! Understanding why you need to tip can also be really confusing if it is not common in your culture.

During our time in Egypt, we travelled for much of it with a local tour guide, who told us much as he could about the elusive backsheesh culture, and we’re here to pass on that knowledge to you.

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A sunrise in Luxor with two hot air balloons in the shot
Hot Air Balloons in Luxor

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What does ‘backsheesh’ mean?

The word ‘backsheesh’ is used all the time in Egypt and to us, it seemed like it just meant ‘tip’. When we looked it up, however, we found some interesting definitions!

The Cambridge dictionary defines it as ‘a small amount of money or a present that is given to someone as a bribe, to persuade them to do something, sometimes something dishonest’. This is so funny to us, because in Egypt, we only ever saw it used genuinely in the context of a tip out of generosity. There was never any dishonest intent to it. Merriam Webster, however, has a slightly more nuanced meaning:

‘Etymologically speaking, baksheesh is from Persian bakhshīsh, which is also the source of the word buckshee, meaning “something extra obtained free,” “extra rations,” or “windfall, gratuity.”‘ This makes a lot more sense to us. Either way, colloquially speaking, it’s the Egyptian word for ‘a little extra’ or, in our terms, a tip.

A beautiful mosque in the middle of the city of Alexandria. Tipping in Egypt is always mandatory for mosque attendants
A mosque in Alexandria

Why do you need to tip in Egypt?

As someone who doesn’t come from a tipping culture, I can completely understand the frustration that many tourists feel towards tipping in Egypt when they first arrive. It does feel annoying to have paid for something and then be expected to give extra on top.

However, tipping in Egypt is an essential part of responsible tourism. Much like the US and certain other countries, wages are often not fully representative of the full service, and tipping is a really important way to incentivise staff. If you feel this is unfair, remember that it is not only tourists who are subsidising this, but also local Egyptians.

Additionally, tipping in Egypt actually has some cultural and historic significance. Backsheesh is actually an Egyptian tradition, which dates back a long way, and was used in conjunction with showing appreciation for great service. Hospitality in Egypt is not taken lightly, and so a backsheesh is a small way to show your gratitude as a guest.

As a final reason to tip, backsheesh is often a very small amount which can make a huge difference to a local person and help support a local economy. The value of the Egyptian pound may be low compared to most tourist currencies, but it has real significance there, and can help a person or family feed or treat their loved ones as a result of your generosity.

Emma and Murray are taking a selfie, the fort of Alexandria is behind them.

Who should you tip in Egypt?

Tipping in Egypt is by no means exclusive to restaurants or the service industry. On the contrary, if you’re with a local guide and watching tipping ‘done right’ so to speak, you’ll probably find that you’re tipping almost everyone you encounter.

Here are some people we tipped and saw our guide tipping in Egypt:

  • Of course waiters in restaurants and bartenders. This is almost mandatory**. The only time you would not tip at a restaurant in Egypt would be if the service was absolutely terrible. Even then, I think you’d have a fight on your hands!
  • Hotel staff, including baggage handlers, cleaners, bar staff and check in staff. Yep, literally everyone who helps you.
  • Tour leaders (including Nile Cruise guides if you choose to do one) and local guides.
  • Coach and bus drivers – this one was a complete shock to us!
  • Anyone guarding Egyptian monuments and sites, or religious buildings (like mosques). This includes the attendants who look after your shoes in mosques etc. Again, this one completely blindsided us – definitely not someone we would have thought to tip at home! Note that anyone who takes a photo of you (at a monument etc.) will also usually expect a tip.
  • Toilet attendants – this is, again, almost mandatory. We even had a toilet attendant chase us down the street for a tip once! It’s understandable of course but does take some getting used to.
  • People who help you in supermarkets (such as those who pack your bags). It’s not necessary to tip the server otherwise as far as we could see.
  • Gas station attendants

Basically, if in doubt, give a tip to be on the safe side.

Note on tipping in Egypt when you have received bad service

*Of course, tipping cannot and should not ever be mandatory. We found it very difficult to navigate situations where we did not want to tip in Egypt. An example of this is when we encountered a scam at one of the temples (a bit of a long story, but we ended up having to pay for a tour we didn’t want) and then we were still expected to tip. Of course, this is beyond frustrating and we were not happy at all.

To be quite honest, we’re not sure we had the best way out of it, but we would just advise thanking the guide politely in these situations and trying to walk away. If they harass you or chase you, we would say to continue declining and try to get to a safe place as soon as you can.

In general, people in Egypt are very kind, friendly and welcoming of tourists, but scams are prevalent because of the abundance of tourists, so exercise caution in touristy areas. We always found we had a much better experience when travelling with a local guide. For much of our trip, we used Rami from Rami’s Insight Tours.

A landscape of rolling sand dunes.
The desert of Siwa

How much to tip in Egypt

Luckily, most people in Egypt don’t expect large tips for their services and a few EGP will usually suffice.

Note: it is usually better to tip in local currency, but if you don’t have any then USD will be OK for tour guides. For restaurants, bars etc., you should only tip in Egyptian Pound.

For most larger services, you can expect to tip between 10-15%, depending on the quality. This includes services such as:

  • Restaurants and bars
  • Group tours and local guides for one off sites (day tours for example)
  • Taxi drivers

For private tours, especially over multiple days, you should probably tip between 5-10 USD per day (or 100-200 EGP).

For ‘passing services’ (let’s call them) where you don’t have much interaction with the person helping you, a couple of Egyptian Pound will suffice. This includes:

  • Mosque/church attendants
  • Bathroom attendants
  • Supermarket staff who help you pack your bag etc.
  • Those guarding historical monuments who aren’t guiding

Why you shouldn’t tip too much in Egypt

It’s probably quite self-explanatory why you shouldn’t tip too little. Of course, you can cause offence, but it’s just not a very nice feeling to know that you’ve underpaid someone. However, tipping too much can actually cause real issues in other ways. As responsible tourists, ensuring that we contribute to local economies in a sustainable way is vital. While tips are a fantastic way to support a local, if we tip too much we can:

  1. Make that the expectation for other tourists – this isn’t fair. You don’t know who will come after you, and if you’ve set unrealistically high expectations, and are followed by people with other means from your own, you could be unknowingly creating a problem for them.
  2. Cause problems for local tourists – in a similar way, you can price out locals. If local people want to visit Egyptian sites and monuments, but guides know they can get better tips from tourists, they may struggle to find someone to help them. Likewise, restaurants may give worse service to them etc. The price has to be accessible to everyone.
  3. Unknowingly inflate local economy. In areas where ‘tourist prices’ are common, it can be really difficult for locals to buy houses, find places to eat and generally afford to live. By paying out unnecessarily high gratuities, you can exacerbate this problem.

Note: for the above, we’re talking about really high tipping. Of course it’s fine to give a more generous tip if you felt someone really went above and beyond for you, as long as you’re within the right ballpark.

Top tips for tipping in Egypt:

See what we did there!

If you not from a tipping culture, knowing the etiquette of when and how to tip is tough. Here is our best advice:

  • At the start of your trip, break a large note with a small purchase (e.g. a chocolate bar or drink in a supermarket) and ask for lots of small notes with your change
  • Keep that small change in a separate purse/wallet and have that to hand all the time. You can use this to tip random people you meet like bathroom or mosque attendants.
  • Tip at the end of the service.
  • If you tip a large amount, have it ready before the end of the tour/service and hand it over discreetly in one go.
  • For an extended group tour over multiple days, we suggest putting the notes in an envelope so that others don’t see the amount you tip. This removes pressure from everyone to feel obliged to tip a certain amount.
  • For small tips, don’t make a big deal of it. Worrying about whether it’s too small an amount isn’t necessary for small services. In our experience, bathroom attendants/mosques etc. will be very happy with a small note.

Planning your trip to Egypt? Check out the best activities to do!

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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