Traveling abroad soon? Here’s what you need to do to get FX: Traveling abroad is a challenge for most of us these days after banks began imposing limits on weekly and monthly international ATM withdrawals and foreign purchases thanks to the ongoing FX crunch.
Here’s how to manage the struggle to get hard currency ahead of your next trip, whether it’s for business, spring break or the next Eid.
For starters, know your bank’s rules ahead of traveling: Don’t complain to the nice people at Mastercard or Visa — every bank imposes its own limits, and those limits vary by your card and account type. You’ll also want to be aware of any fees associated with ATM withdrawals or purchases made abroad, and how your bank demarcates the limits (i.e. whether they reset their monthly limits at the beginning of each month, like HSBC, or on a rolling basis, like at CIB).
Here’s the breakdown of a few major banks’ ATM withdrawal and credit card purchase limits for FX:
- Our friends at HSBC have a USD 1.5k monthly limit on ATM withdrawals abroad for debit and credit cards, while caps on purchases in foreign currency range between EGP 10-50k, depending on card type;
- CIB’s monthly ATM withdrawal limits abroad are currently at EGP 2.5k for debit cards and EGP 2.5-10k for credit cards, depending on the card type (pdf). Its monthly caps on international purchases range between EGP 20-75k for debit cards, depending on account type, and EGP 25-100k for credit cards;
- The National Bank of Egypt (NBE)’s ATM withdrawal limit ranges between EGP 2.5-10k for debit cards, depending on card type, and EGP 10-20k for credit cards. The monthly limits on international purchases range between EGP 10-62.5k for debit cards and EGP 10-100k for credit cards;
- Banque Misr’s withdrawal limits for debit and credit cards range between USD 100-400, depending on card type. The bank’s monthly caps for international purchases range between USD 100-4k.
CIB, NBE and Banque Misr have also ramped up FX commission fees to 10%, up from 3% previously, for purchases made using debit and credit cards abroad. HSBC’s markup fees are currently at 8%, their customer service center tells us.
All that to say: You will need some actual FX to pay for a lot of your expenses abroad. The most you can carry with you during your travels abroad is USD 10k, or its equivalent in other currencies, according to Cairo Airport’s website and a Cairo Airport representative we spoke with.
Are you a foreign resident or visitor landing in Egypt? Make sure you check in with authorities if you’re bringing in more than USD 10k. You could face hassles leaving the country with more than USD 10k if you don’t register beforehand that you entered the country with that amount.
IF YOU HAVE USD IN YOUR BANK ACCOUNT- You can withdraw as much USD as you want, bank reps say. Need EUR instead of USD? They can change them for you too, one representative told us. Our pro tip: Make sure to call your bank a day or two before your visit to let them know you intend to withdraw a specific amount to make sure they can make that amount available in time.
DON’T HAVE USD IN YOUR BANK ACCOUNT? You need to jump through some hoops. Your bank will ask you for:
- Your passport
- A copy of your plane ticket and other proof of travel
- The EGP amount you want to exchange into USD
Make sure to call your bank well ahead of time to sort out how many days they will need to get the USD ready for you to buy. Some banks (including CIB and NBE) will only sell you FX 48 hours before you travel, while others (like QNB) allow you to buy FX up to 10 days ahead of your departure date, according to representatives we spoke to.
Don’t expect to be allowed to buy a ton of USD: Most will sell you just USD 200-USD 1k, depending on your account tier, according to bank representatives from CIB, HSBC, NBE, Arab Bank, and QNB AlAhli. A bank clerk will then stamp your passport and write the exact amount you’ve received so that other banks are aware of the amount of FX you have bought, the representatives told us.
But be warned: Many banks won’t sell you USD if you already have USD in your account, according to bank representatives from HSBC and EGBank. If you have less than USD 1k in your account, you must withdraw your USD first and before they will sell you the balance.
WANT TO MINIMIZE YOUR FX OUTLAY?
#1- Get a travel agency to book your accommodations + pay in advance: This way, you won’t have to worry about maxing out your credit card limits before you even arrive at your destination. Remember to phone in and make sure the hotel has actually withdrawn the money, and not just put it on hold until you get there.
#2- Fly local: Book your flights via EgyptAir, which charges in EGP, so you don’t max out your monthly limit on your flight tickets.
#3- Consider low-budget destinations: Choose your destination wisely so that whatever FX you are able to drum up takes you a long way. Think of Zanzibar, Tanzania, or Sri Lanka if you’re looking for idyllic beaches and vibrant cultures. And you can never go wrong with the stunning, lively city of Beirut, Lebanon — where LBP is now at a record low of LBP 65k to one USD. For adventurous travelers, Albania and Nepal offer a lot of dreamy landscapes and thriving cultures to explore.