Travel Advice for Egypt



Quick Facts

Capital: Cairo
Government: Republic
Currency: Egyptian pound (EGP) (LE / £E)
Area total: 1,001,450 km2
land: 995,450 km2
water: 6,000 km2
Population: 78,887,007(July 2006 est.)
Language: Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated people
Religion: Muslim (mostly Sunni) 90%, Coptic Christian and other 10%

Calling Code: 20
Internet TLD: .eg
Time Zone: UTC +2


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Buying

The local currency is the Egyptian pound (EGP), which is divided into 100 piastres. The currency is often written as LE (short for French livre égyptienne) or by using the pound sign £. In Arabic the pound is called gunaih, in turn derived from English "guinea", and piastres are known as qirsh.

Banknotes are available in all denominations ranging from 100 pounds to the thoroughly useless 5 piastres, while coins were rather rare until new 50-piastre and 1-pound coins were introduced in the summer of 2006. Counterfeit or obsolete notes are not a major problem, but exchanging pounds outside the country can be difficult.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted, but only bigger hotels or restaurants in Cairo and restaurants in tourist areas will accept credit cards as payment. Traveller's cheques in US Dollars, Euros or Pounds Sterling are the most cost-effective to exchange.

Bank hours are Sun-Thu 8:30am-2:00pm.

With regard to tipping, 10 to 12 per cent is added to hotel and restaurant bills but an extra tip of 5 per cent is normal. Taxi drivers generally expect 10 per cent.

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Exchange Rates

Use the table below as a quick guide
Correct as of July 2007:

$ US Dollar USD$1.00 = LE5.74 LE1.00 = USD$0.17
€ Euro €1.00 = LE6.82 LE1.00 = €0.15
£ Pound Sterling £1.00 = LE9.98 LE1.00 = £0.10
$ Australian Dollar AUD$1.00 = LE4.24 LE1.00 = AUD$0.24
$ New Zealand Dollar NZD$1.00 = LE3.87 LE1.00 = NZD$0.26
$ Canadian Dollar CAD$1.00 = LE4.96 LE1.00 = CAD$0.20
¥ Japanese Yen JPY¥1.00 = LE0.049 LE1.00 = JPY¥21

For a more accurate conversion use the link below:

 

Shopping

Egypt is a shopper's paradise - especially if you're interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch. However, there are also a number of high quality goods for sale, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:

Antiques (NB: not antiquities, the trade of which is rightly illegal in Egypt)
Carpets and rugs
Cotton goods and clothing
Inlaid goods, such as backgammon boards
Jewellery
Leather goods
Music
Papyrus
Perfume
Water-pipes (Sheeshas)
Spices - can be bought at colourful stalls in most Egyptian markets. Dried herbs and spices are generally of a higher quality than that available in Western supermarkets and are up to 4 or 5 times cheaper, though the final price will depend of bargaining and local conditions.
When shopping in markets or dealing with street vendors, remember to haggle. Please look at Egyptian Sales Techniques.

You will also find many western brands all around. There are many malls in Egypt, the most common being Citystars Mall, which is the largest entertainment center in the Middle East and Africa. You will find all the fast food restaurants you want such as Mcdonald's, KFC, Hardees, Pizza Hut, etc. Clothing brands such as Morgan, Calvin Klein, Levi's, Facconable, Givenchy, Esprit, and more.

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Hygiene

Be aware that hygiene may not be of the highest standards, even in five star hotels and resorts. The number of tourists that suffer from some kind of parasite or bacterial infection is very high. Despite assurances to the contrary, exercise common sense and bring appropriate medications to deal with problems.

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Eating in Egypt

Egypt can be a fantastic place to sample a unique range of food: not too spicy and well-flavoured with herbs. For a convenient selection of Egyptian cuisine and staple foods try the Felfela chain of restaurants in Cairo. Some visitors complain, however, that these have become almost too tourist-friendly and have abandoned some elements of authenticity.

As in many seaside countries, Egypt is full of fish restaurants and markets--so fish and seafood are must-try. Frequently, fish markets have some food stalls nearby where you can point at specific fish species to be cooked. Stalls typically have shared table, and locals are as frequent there as tourists.

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Local dishes

Classic egyptian dishes: The dish Ful Medames is one of the most common egyptian dishes; consists of fava beans (ful) slow-cooked in a copper pot (other types of metal pots don't produce the right type of flavor) that have been partially or entirely mashed. Olive oil is often an ingredient, and garlic is sometimes added. Ful medames is served with plenty of olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon juice, and typically eaten with Egyptian (baladi) bread or occasionally Levantine (shami) pita. Also sometimes seasoned with chili paste and tumeric.

A world famous Egyptian dish is the classic Falafel (known as Ta'miya in Egypt) which is deep-fried ground chick-pea balls that was invented by Egyptian bedouins. Usually served as fast food, or a snack.

Egyptian cuisine is quite similar to the cuisine of the Arabic-speaking countries in the eastern mediterranean. Dishes like stuffed vegetables and wine leafs, Shawarma-sandwiches is common in Egypt and the region.

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Exotic fruits

Egypt is one of the most affordable countries for a European to try variety of fresh-grown exotic fruits. Guava, mango, watermelon, small melons, ishta are all widely available from fruit stalls, especially in locals-oriented non-tourist marketplaces.

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Drink

See also Stay healthy:Fluids section for hygiene and related info.

Water
Bottled water is available everywhere. The local brands (most common being Baraka, Siwa, Hayat, Dasani) are just as good as expensive imported options which are also available: Nestle Pure Life, Evian.

Juices
Juices can be widely found in Egypt - kasab(sugar cane); erk soos; sobiia; tamer and some fresh fruit juices.

Alcoholic drinks
Egypt is a predominately Muslim nation and alcoholic drinks are, of course, forbidden (haram) for strictly observant Muslims. That said, Egyptians tend to adopt a relaxed and pragmatic view towards alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners it is tolerated by the vast majority of Egyptians and consumed by a sizable number of them (including less strict Muslims - you may even be asked to "procure" drink for someone!) Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks are readily available throughout the country (especially in larger towns and cities, as well as tourist centers). Please note, however, that public drunkenness (especially the loud and obnoxious variety) is definitely not appreciated - without caution, you may end up drying out in a police cell. Try to be a good ambassador: if you must get "tipsy", confine it to the hotel or very nearby! (It's actually quite rare to see drunken tourists, even in the most intense tourist areas...)

Stella (not artois) is a common beer in Egypt. Other local brands are available, most a with higher alcohol variant that have claimed levels of 8% or even 10%. A locally made brand called Heineken is rumored to be connected to the actual Heineken brand but the taste is not quite right although generally better than the other local brews. For wine there is Ptolemy among others.

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Restrictions on Alcohol

Egyptian laws towards alcohol are officially quite liberal compared to most Islamic countries, except for the month of Ramadan when alcohol is strictly forbidden. During Ramadan only holders of foreign passports are allowed to buy alcohol, by Egyptian law. However, the enforcement of this law is by no means consistent. In tourist areas like Luxor, alcohol is sold even during Ramadan, and those who look like foreigners will not be asked to show passports or other documentation.

During Ramadan alcohol is often sold only in Western-style hotels and pubs/restaurants catering especially to foreigners. A few days of the year, as the day of the full moon the month before Ramadan, alcohol is completely banned. Also some hotels and bars catering to foreigners will stop serving alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - phone ahead to make sure alcohol is still being served in order to avoid disappointment.

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Stay safe

Scams and hassle
Travellers often complain about being hassled and attempted scammed while in Egypt. While irritating, most of this is pretty harmless stuff, like attempting to lure you into a local papyrus or perfume shop.

Typically, you will be approached by a person speaking fluent English who will strike up a conversation under social pretenses. He (and it will always be a he) will then attempt you to get you a long for a cup of tea or similar at his favourite (most-paying) souvenir shop. This could also happen outside museums etc. where the scammer will try to make you believe the "museum is closed" or similar.

Hassling, while never dangerous, could also be annoying, especially in the heavy touristed areas. There is no way to avoid this, but a polite "la shukran" (no thanks) helps a lot. Apart from that, try to take hassling with a smile. If you let yourself be bugged by everyone trying to sell you something, your holiday won't be a very happy one.

Potentially more annoying are taxi drivers or others getting a provision to lead you to their hotel of choice, of course paying provisions for each guest they receive. Stand your ground firm on this. If they insist, just ask to be dropped off at a street or landmark close to the place you are heading to. This scam is especially common among taxi drivers from the airport.

Egypt is generally a safe and friendly country to travel. Egyptians on the whole are very friendly - if you are in need of assistance they will generally try to help you as much as they are able.


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Security Situation

The security situation in Egypt (as in many Middle Eastern countries) is frequently exaggerated by Western media outlets, creating a negative impression that is somewhat amplified by the heavy-handed policies of Egyptian authorities in keeping tourists safe. The reality is that travelling in Egypt is probably no more hazardous, with regard to terrorism, than visiting most Western capitals (and probably a lot safer!) Egypt relies heavily on foreign tourism for its national income and both Egyptians and their government are extremely keen to prevent any occurrence that might create a bad impression and keep tourists away.
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Stay healthy

Fluids
Ensure that you drink plenty of water: Egypt has an extremely dry climate most of the year - a fact aggravated by high temperatures in the summer end of the year - and countless travellers each year experience the discomforts and dangers of dehydration. A sense of thirst is not enough to indicate danger - carry a water bottle and keep drinking! Not needing to urinate for a long period or passing very small amounts of dark yellow urine are signs of incipient dehydration.

Egyptian tap water is generally safe, although it does sometimes have an odd taste due to the high chlorine content added to make it so. It is not recommended for regular drinking, especially to very local differences in quality. Bottled mineral waters are widely available -- see Drink:Water section. Beware of the old scam, however, whereby vendors re-sell bottled water bottles, having refilled with another (perhaps dubious) source.... Always check the seal is unbroken before parting with your money (or drinking from it) and inform the tourist police if you catch anyone doing this....

Be a little wary with fruit juice, as some sellers may mix it with water. Milk should also be treated carefully as it may not be pasteurized.... Try only to buy milk from reputable shops. Hot beverages like tea and coffee should generally be OK, the water having been boiled in preparation, though it pays to be wary of ice as well.

Sun
Wear sunscreen, wear a sturdy hat and bring good sunglasses - it's bright out there!

Parasites
In order to avoid contracting the rightly dreaded schistosomiasis parasite (also known as bilharzia), DO NOT swim in the Nile or venture into any other Egyptian waterways (even if the locals are doing so.....) It is also a good idea not to walk in bare feet on freshly-watered lawns for the same reason. Although the disease takes weeks to months to show its head, it's wise to seek medical attention locally if you think you've been exposed, as they are used to diagnosing and treating it, and it will cost you pennies rather than dollars.

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Respect (tipping etc)

Keep in mind that most Egyptian workers expect tips after performing a service (baksheesh in Arabic).

If you're male, don't be surprised if another male holds your hand or forearm -- there's no taboo against men holding hands and unlike in the West, this behavior is NOT associated with being gay. In general, Egyptians are a lot more comfortable with less personal space than are most Westerners.

Overall, Egyptians are a conservative people. Although they accomodate foreigners being dressed a lot more skimpily, it may be prudent, at least in the big cities, to not dress provocatively, if only to avoid being ogled at. Women should aim to cover their arms and legs if travelling alone, and covering your hair may help to keep away unwanted attention. In modern nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and bars in Cairo, Alexandria and other tourist destinations you'll sometimes find the dress code to be a little less restrictive. Official or social functions and smart restaurants usually require more formal wear. Smoking is very common.

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Contact (keeping in touch)

Egypt has a reasonably modern telephone service including two GSM mobile service providers. The two mobile phone providers are Mobinil and Vodafone and a third provider has started working, which is Etisalat. Principal centers are located at Alexandria, Cairo, Al Mansurah, Ismailia, Suez, and Tanta. Roaming services are provided, although you should check with your service provider. Also, it is possible to purchase tourist mobile phone lines for the duration of your stay.

There are a number of internet providers. Most tourist towns, such as Cairo and Luxor, boast a plethora of small internet cafés - you won't need to look far!

In addition, an increasing number of coffee shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies and other locations now provide wireless internet access. To date, this is free so you can just walk into them with your laptop and internet away. Any of the numerous restaurant or location guides will list venues with such services.

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Embassies

British - 7 Ahmed Ragheb Street, Garden City, Cairo (20) (2) 794 0852

American - 8 Kamal El Din Salah St., Garden City, Cairo, Egypt. Tel: [20] [2] 797-3300, E-mail: consularcairo@state.gov

Australian - World Trade Centre (11th Floor), Corniche El Nil, Boulac (Code No. 11111), Cairo , Egypt Phone 20-2 575 0444, Fax 20-2 578 1638, E-mail: cairo.austremb@dfat.gov.au

Canadian - 26 Kamel El Shenaway Street, Garden City, Cairo Tel: +20 (2) 791-8700, Email: cairo@international.gc.ca

German - 2, Sh. Berlin (off Sh. Hassan Sabri) Zamalek / Cairo, Tel: (00202) 739-9600 Fax: (00202) 736-0530, Email : germemb@tedata.net.eg

Italian - 15, Abdel Rahman Fahmy Str., Garden City, Cairo Tel: +20 (0)2 7943194 - 7943195 - 7940658, Fax: +20 (0)2 7940657, E-mail: ambasciata.cairo@esteri.it

Spanish - 41, Ismail Mohamed.-Zamalek, Cairo. Phone: 735 58 13, 735 64 37, 735 36 52 and 735 64 62. E-mail: embespeg@mail.mae.es

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USEFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS

HOSPITALS IN CAIRO 
 
 
Misr International Hospital
 
Tel:760 8261 – 9
 
Anglo American Hospital
 
Tel: 7356162-5
 
AI-Salam International Hospital
 
Tel: 524 0250
 
AI-Salam Hospital
 
Tel: 302 9091/2/3/4/5
 
El-Nil Hospital (Psychiatric help)
 
Tel: 358 1433/671/542
 
Behman Hospital (Psychiatric help)
 
Tel: 555 7551
 
 Namero (Rabies Vaccine)
 
Tel: 684 1375/6/7/8/9 Ext 379
 
Nursing Support Services
 
Tel: 525 5385
 
AIRLINES IN CAIRO 
 
 
British Airways
 
Tel: 578 0743/4/5
 
Egypt Air
 
Tel: 578 0321 /6
 
KLM
 
Tel: 574 8004/6
 
HOTELS IN ALEXANDRIA
 
 
Delta Hotel
 
Tel: 4865542, 4865630
 
Landmark
 
Tel: 5840500
 
Metropole
Tel: 4840910, 4861465, 4861467  Fax: 4862040
 
Palestine
 
Tel: 5474033, 5473500
 
Plaza
 
Tel: 5822723, 5838714, 15, 16
 
Mercure Romance
 
Tel: 5836429, 5840911, 12
 
Pullman Cecil
 
Tel: 4877173, 4807463               Fax: 4840368
 
Ramada Renaissance
 
Tel:5483977, 5490935       
 
San Givanni
 
Tel:5467775, 5467774
 
Sheraton Montaza
 
Tel:5480550, 5481220 Fax: 5401331
 
Sidi Abdel Rahman
 
Tel:046 4680201, 202, 04680119, 4680196
 
Windsor
 
Tel:4808700, 4808123
 
HOSPITALS IN ALEXANDRIA
 
 
Alex Scan  Centre 
 
5436911, 5462512, 5438360
 
Alexandria International Hospital 
 
4207243, 4207244
 
Alexandria Medical Centre
 
4272652, 53, 58, 59
Fax: 4273506
 
Armed Forces Hospital 
 
5466026, 5466805, 06
 
Dr Ibrahim Obaid Hospital 
 
5833232, 5825026
 
Egyptian British Hospital 
 
4274777, 4270355
 
El Madina El Tebia Hospital 
 
5432150, 5437402, 5433505
 
German Hospital 
 
5841806, 5857682, 5857683
 
Victoria Hospital 
 
5776770, 71, 72, 73
Fax: 5776777
 
Zizinia Hospital 
 
5826420, 5838802
 
AIRLINES IN ALEXANDRIA
 
 
Air France
 
4878901, 4876311
 
Alitalia
 
4870847, 4861715
 
British Airways 
 
4876668, 4861565
 
Egyptair
 
4865938, 4873357, 4860778
 
KLM
 
4868550
 
Kuwait Airways
 
4800584, 4805102
 
Lufthansa 
 
4877031, 4875983, 4877296
 
Olympic Airways
 
4861014, 4847295
 
TWA
 
4876482, 4867532
 
OTHERS
 
 
IBA, Western Union
 
Tel: 7962151 , 7957454
 
Tourist Police HQ
 
Tel: 391 3370, 3933000
 
Tourist Police HQ
 
Tel: 365 5556 Emergency No: 126
 
Passport Office
 
Tel: 795 6301/3
 
Lost or stolen ? Inform your bank immediately
 
 
Abbey National
 
All Abbey National cards & Telebanking service: 24 hour card line: UK: 08459 724 724
Overseas: (44) 1908 344 900
 
Allied Irish Bank
 
Visa: 02890 330 099 Cheque/Debit/Bankline/Eurocheque: UK: 0800 233 077
Overseas: Contact own branch
 
Alliance & Leicester
 
All Alliance & Leicester Girobank Cards: UK: (including Eurocheques) 0500 31 32 33
Overseas: (excluding Eurocheques) (44) 151 944 12
 
American Express
 
Gold card: 01273 697 272
Corporate card: 01273 689 955
Standard Personal card:
01273 696 933
Optima credit card: 01273 623 366
American Express credit card: 01273 620 555
 
Bank of Ireland
 
All Bank of Ireland issued cards:
UK and overseas 020 7236 0177
 
Bank of Scotland
 
Mastercard/Visa:
UK and overseas 01383 628 410
Eurocheques/Travellers cheques: Contact own branch
 
Barclays Bank
 
All Barclays issued cards: 24 hour card line (including Eurocheques)
UK and overseas 01604 230 230
 
Clydesdale Bank
 
24 hour cash/cheque/Eurocheque card line: 0141 223 2358
Overseas: (44) 141 223 2358
Access/Visa UK: 0870 516 8654
Overseas (44) 113 288 1407
 
The Co-operative Bank
 
All Co-operative issued cards:
 
UK: 0845 600 6000
Overseas: (44) 1695 50268
 
Diners Club
 
24 hour card line:
UK: 0800 460 800
Overseas: (44) 1252 513 500 Travellers cheques (Citibank):
UK: 0800 460 800
Overseas: (44) 1252 513 500
 
HSBC
 
All HSBC issued cards 24 hour card line:
UK: 0870 5400 500
Overseas: (44) 1442 422 047
 
Halifax.
 
All Halifax issued cards:
UK: 0345 203 099
Overseas: (44) 845 720 3099
 
Lloyds TSB
 
Bank 24 hour card line (including Eurocheques):
UK: 0800 585 300
Overseas: (44) 1702 278 270
 
MBNA International Bank
 
Visa: 0800 776 262
Overseas: (44) 1244 672 111
 
Nationwide
 
24 hour card line:
UK: 08457 99 22 22
Overseas: (44) 1268 567 213
 
NatWest Bank
 
All cards: UK : 0870 6000 459
Overseas: (44) 0870 6000 459
Eurocheques: Contact own branch
 
Royal Bank of Scotland.
 
All Royal Bank of Scotland cards:
UK: 0131 317 8899
Overseas: (44) 131 317 8899
 
Woolwich.
 
All Woolwich issued cards:
UK: 020 8301 4949
Overseas: (44) 0800 731 1842
 
TRAVELLERS CHEQUES
 
 
American Express issue
 
UK: 0800 521 313
Overseas: Contact number issued with cheques
 
Thomas Cook issue
 
UK: 0800 622 101
Overseas: (44) 1733 318 950
 
Barclays Bank issu
 
UK: 0990 33 66 88
Overseas: Contact number issued with cheques
 
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Laundry

There are a number of options for washing clothes whilst travelling in Egypt:

By far the easiest, most practical - and not at all expensive - is to arrange for your hotel to have your washing done for you. By prior arrangement, clothes left on the bed or handed in at reception will be returned to you by evening freshly laundered and pressed.

Determined self-helpers can persist with hand-washing or finding one of the many "hole-in-the-wall" laundries where the staff will wash and press your clothes manually - a fascinating process in itself!

Cairo possesses a few basic Western-style laundromats in areas where foreigners and tourists reside - they are virtually nonexistent elsewhere in the country. Some hotels in tourist towns like Luxor and Dahab offer a washing machine service in a back room - the machines are usually primitive affairs and you'll be left with the task of wringing and ironing your clothes yourself.

The moral of the tale?: Do yourself a favour, maximise your quality time in Egypt, and get the hotel to do your laundry for you!!

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How To Haggle (bargaining)

Haggling (bargaining) is common in some countries, such as China, Turkey and Egypt. If you don't haggle, it is highly likely that you will get ripped off, because vendors expect a bit of haggling and state their prices higher than what they expect to receive. Some points to keep in mind:

Try to have a rough understanding of the item's value before you start haggling. For example, government-run craft shops and hotel gift shops generally have (high) fixed prices that will at least give you an upper boundary.
Shop owners sometimes start with an insanely high price. This may put you off if you're not from a haggling culture, but realize that some vendors can be (and expect to be) haggled down to a small fraction of their original stated price. So even if the initial offer seems ridiculous, haggling may still be worthwhile; keep to your budget and state your price.
Just as vendors often start with absurdly high prices, you can do an equivalent trick by stating a price that is much lower than what you expect to pay in the end. This gives you some negotiating room.
If the vendor's initial offer is too high by far, then feel free to laugh or show astonishment in some way. This is usually expected and will quickly indicate to the vendor that you are aware of the item's real value- even if you are not.
For prospective buyers, a common move is to bid the vendor farewell and start walking off. You will most certainly get at least two offers, each lower than the previous. Alternatively, the vendor may ask "How much do you want this?" (or words to that effect), which acknowledges the fact that they realise a potential sale is walking out of the door.
If there are two or more of you, you can wax theatrical. He wants the item, but she holds the purse strings and won't pay the price, or whatever.
Be strong. Don't let them get to you, no matter how hard they push.
Be courteous and friendly (but firm) in your negotiations. If the vendor takes a personal liking to you, you will almost always get a better deal.
You might be offered tea, coffee, snacks, etc. You can accept it and it does not mean you have to buy anything. Although you may be 'guilt-tripped' later. Be strong-willed.
Do not let unknown locals help you bargain or find what you need. You will end up paying an extra commission.
If bargaining for something unique, don't show too much interest in the item you are actually interested in, or the vendor will know that they're your only choice and price accordingly.
The key to making a good deal is knowing the right price. If you know the right price you can just state you price, start leaving the store and your offer will be accepted. To learn the right price, ask other people what they paid for similar goods and try to make a better deal. If you buy several similar items, try to make a better deal each time.
If you are in a country that does not use Western numerals, then learn the local numbers. It will save you a lot of time and money when you are bargaining about a hotel room and there is a price list right in front of you. You should still bargain, but it gives you a starting point.
Find two sellers with the same products and play one off against the other.
But when bargaining, do so responsibly.

Be honest. If you make a counteroffer, you're now committed to that price. Don't waste your time or the seller's time bargaining if you have no intention of buying.
Choose your battles. By all means bargain when buying a carpet from a posh bazaar shop. But if a bottle of water is too expensive, buy it somewhere else.
Even in cultures where haggling is the norm, many items do have fixed prices. For example, groceries and alcohol usually have fixed prices. If you are asked to pay €5 for a bottle of water, do not start haggling, go somewhere else. Do not haggle when buying e.g. bus tickets; check for a price list in the bus terminal or ask the other passengers in the line or look over the shoulder of the one in front of you to see what the locals pay.
Do not let the other person "lose face". Often it is said that "everything is negotiable" - but it isn't. Loss of face is never negotiable. Be aware that the person with whom you are dealing has a family and responsibilities. You are trying to find an agreed position.
Remember that vendors are generally not evil swindlers attempting to trick people out of their hard-earned money; they are often businessmen working to support their families. When haggling, your goal is not to eliminate their profit, but to find a mutually satisfactory price.
Don't take it too seriously. Have a sense of humor and know when to accept an offer. Remember that usually the amounts you are arguing over are actually a pittance to a traveler from the West, but might mean far more to the vendor.

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