Youssef Wahba was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1852 of a prominent Coptic family. His father, Wahba Bey had been a founder of the first Coptic charitable society that included Muslim scholars such as Abdallah Nadim and Sheikh Muhammed Abduh. He translated the Code Napoleon into Arabic while at the Ministry of Justice between 1875 and 1882 and participated in setting the modern judicial system in Egypt becoming one of the first Egyptian judges in the Mixed Court of Appeals in 1894.

He later became Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1912 then Minister of Finance from 15 April 1914 until 21 May 1920. As Minister of Finance, he introduced the first bank notes in Egypt backed by the full faith and credit of the Egyptian Sultanate which bore his signature as Minister of Finance.