How have caps on cash withdrawals impacted Egyptians abroad

Zeinab El-Gundy , Monday 2 Jan 2023

In London, Egyptian post-graduate student Abdullah Hassan – not his real name – was making the final plans to replace his dying laptop with a new one to benefit from the sale offers at the holiday season. Hassan’s plans were dashed when, on 22 December, he received a message from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) announcing limits on overseas cash withdrawals in foreign currency.


The CBE stated the decision was meant to curb the fraudulent and abusive use of local credit and debit cards abroad and on 25 December it exempted expatriate students and patients as well as travelers who left Egypt before 22 December from the decision provided that they submit documents proving their claim.

Limits on overseas cash withdrawals in foreign currency vary according to the type of card each national bank provides and do not include foreign currency accounts.

Hassan’s life has become much harder following the CBE decision. “I am studying mass communication as part of a grant programme in the UK. However, the grant does not cover all my needs and living expenses,” he told Ahram Online.

The CBE decision was issued when Egypt, suffering from a foreign currency shortage, saw its black market trading the US dollar for over EGP 30 – the US dollar is sold for EGP 24.7 in the formal market. The move put the cap on the flourishing black market.

On 22 December, banks operating in Egypt were instructed to notify the CBE and the I-score Company of credit and debit card abuse cases in order to de-activate them and take the necessary legal action.

Mazen Samir, who started his first year of university in Canada, was visiting his family in Egypt when the CBE announced its decision. Samir was asked by the families of other students in the same university or city to deliver by hand some money to their children.

"People who hardly know me gave me a few hundred dollars that they had struggled to buy from the black market to deliver to their children," he told Ahram Online.

Egypt allows travelers to leave the country with a maximum of $10,000 in cash. "I used the credit card to pay the rent and some other expenses like transportation cards and internet and mobile bills.

“With the new withdrawal limit, I can hardly pay the rent,” Samir added.

Although the CBE has introduced a few exemptions to its decision, like in the case of medical treatment, many people believe this is not enough.

Last year Hassan underwent a surgery that was covered by the British National Health System, but he said he also used the Egyptian credit card to cover other needs, especially because he is diabetic.

“I do not think that as a person who underwent an urgent surgery, I will have the time to submit documents and wait for the bank’s approval,” he said raising another point of concern about the new system.

According to Ministry of Higher Education figures in October, the number of Egyptian students who study abroad fell down by 70 percent in the last year. The decrease was met by an increase in the enrollment of students in Egyptian national and private universities, the ministry said.

Aside from Egyptians seeking education or treatment abroad, there are occasional travellers who found the CBE decision presenting new challenges for them.

Head researcher at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and author Radwa Zaky told Ahram Online that buying the US dollar has become very difficult since it rose to EGP 19.53 in October and later to EGP 24.17.

“The crisis is more compounded in some countries that do not encourage the use of credit cards,” Zaky, who is currently visiting Morocco, said.

“It was agonising to buy dollars and euros before my visits to Armenia and then Morocco, although I presented all the necessary documents,” she added.

Since October, banks have been demanding their Egyptian clients present passports with valid travelling VISAs to sell them foreign currency. The amount in many banks varied from $1,500 to $2,000 depending on whether the client was a regular or VIP.

Banks like the National Bank of Egypt and Banque Misr can give non-clients with valid travelling VISA documents up to $300.

Ahram Online contacted some Egyptians visiting Dubai this week who said that several shopkeepers in the Gulf destination told them that they preferred to be paid in cash when they knew they were paid from Egyptian banks because “they met several problems recently.”

“Credit card withdrawal limits abroad made me face ridiculous situations recently,” Zaky said, adding that “the new withdrawal fees have also become exaggerated.”

She noted that the CBE decisions will not keep her from travelling, but they sure will make her life harder. “But we, Egyptians, will find a solution.”

Younger generations of Egyptians have increasingly become intrigued about travelling to new, cheap destinations other than Europe and Africa, despite the depreciation of the Egyptian pound, such as Sri Lanka, which is facing its own economic woes.

For mass communication student Hassan, he has more questions about the future beyond the CBE decisions, especially as Egypt fights its own economic crisis.

“I will be back in Egypt next year. I thought EGP 250,000 would be enough to marry and start a family, but with the rising inflation I am not so sure anymore,” he told Ahram Online.

*Ahram Online changed the name per request of the post-graduate student 

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