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Know Before You Go: A Traveller's Guide To The Currency Of The United Kingdom

Before arriving in the UK, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local currency. The official currency of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is the British pound (£), often abbreviated to GBP. The 2017 European referendum does not change the currency in the UK. However, if you are planning a trip to Ireland, you should be aware that the Republic of Ireland uses the euro (€), not the pound.

Pounds and pennies

A British pound (£) is made up of 100 pence (p). The coin denominations are as follows: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £ 1 and £ 2. Notes are available in denominations of £ 5, £ 10, £ 20 and £ 50, each with its own distinctive color. The entire British coin features an image of the Queen’s head on one side. The other side usually shows a notable historical figure, a landmark, or a national symbol.

British slang has many different names for various elements of the currency. You will almost always hear pennies known as ‘pee’, while the £ 5 and £ 10 notes are often called fivers and tenners. In many areas of the UK, a £ 1 coin is called a ‘quid’. This term is believed to have originally originated from the Latin phrase quid pro quo , used to refer to the exchange of one thing for another.

Legal currencies in the UK

While Scotland and Northern Ireland use sterling, their banknotes are different from those issued in England and Wales. Confusingly, Scottish and Irish banknotes do not have the status of official legal tender in England and Wales, but they can be used legally in any British country. Most merchants will accept them without complaint, but are not required to. The main reason for them to reject your Scottish or Irish notes is if they are not sure how to verify their authenticity.


If you have any problems, most banks will exchange Scottish or Irish notes for English notes for free. Standard English banknotes are almost always accepted throughout the UK.

Many visitors make the mistake of thinking that the euro is widely accepted as an alternative currency in the UK. While shops in some major train stations or airports accept euros, most other places do not. The exception is iconic department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Marks & Spencer, which will accept euros but give a change in the British pound. Lastly, some larger stores in Northern Ireland may accept the euro as a concession to southern visitors, but are not legally required to do so.


Currency exchange in the UK

You have several different options when it comes to trading currency in the UK. Private exchange offices belonging to companies like Travelex can be found on the main streets of most towns and cities, and in the main train stations, ferry terminals and airports. The popular Marks & Spencer department stores also have a currency exchange office at many of their outlets across the country. Alternatively, you can exchange money at most bank branches and post offices.

It’s a good idea to shop around, as exchange rates and fees can vary greatly from place to place. The easiest way to find out which is the best option is to ask how many pounds you will get for your money after all charges have been deducted. If you are heading to a rural area, it is also a good idea to exchange money at your first point of entry. The bigger the city, the more options you will have and the better rate you will get.

Use of your card at ATMs and points of sale

Alternatively, it is also possible to use your regular bank card to withdraw local currency from an ATM (often called an ATM in the UK). Any international chip and PIN card should be accepted at most ATMs, although those with a Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus or Plus symbol are your safest bet. Fees are almost always incurred for non-UK accounts, although these are generally minimal and often cheaper than the commission charged by exchange offices.

ATMs located within convenience stores, gas stations, and small supermarkets generally charge more than ATMs located within a bank branch. Your bank will also likely charge a fee for overseas withdrawals and point-of-sale (POS) payments. It’s a good idea to check what these fees are before you leave, so you can plan your withdrawal strategy accordingly.

While Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted everywhere, it is worth remembering that American Express and Diners Club cards are not so easily accepted for POS payments (especially outside of London). If you have any of these cards, you must also carry an alternative form of payment. Contactless card payments are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. You can use the contactless Visa, Mastercard and American Express cards to pay for public transport in London, and for POS payments of less than £ 30 in many shops and restaurants.


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