Can you get coronavirus from handling foreign currency notes and coins?

currency and a mask


The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, making it hard to work out what is safe to touch without risk of contracting the coronavirus. If you need to handle bank notes or coins from overseas, can you be sure it's completely safe?

How long Coronavirus lasts on different surfaces depends on the material you are touching. Touching a surface made of copper is different to touching plastic or cardboard.

Research from the University of California (UCLA) has given some insight into how long the virus remains on different surfaces. They discovered that COVID-19 was still detectable on different surfaces up to 3 days.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus was detectable

  • Up to 2-3 days on plastic or stainless steel
  • Up to 24 hours on cardboard
  • Up to 4 hours on copper

When it comes to foreign currency, a lot will depend on which currency you are touching and where it came from.

What are foreign currency banknotes and coins made out of?

Most coins in the US, Eurozone, UK, New Zealand and Australia are made from a mixture of metals but the main component is copper.

Banknotes are different though.

US dollar banknotes are made up of cotton and linen. Euronotes are similar, being composed of cotton fibre.

In the UK, it depends on how old the notes are. Older banknotes which are still in circulation are made out of cotton paper. The newer banknotes issued from the Bank of England are made from a plastic polymer.

Australian and New Zealand notes are made up from a plastic polymer.

20 us dollar bills

Stay safe when touching foreign banknotes and coins

With no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it's important to keep safe when buying foreign exchange.

  • To protect yourself, the CDC, recommends cleaning your hands often, avoiding close contact and wearing a face mask if you are sick
  • The World Health Organisation also recommends coughing and sneezing into your elbow
  • Many currency exchange stores will be closed during lockdowns and may not be able to sell or buy currency temporarily


The amount of time COVID-19 remains on a surface (including banknotes and coins) depends on what it is made out of. Most foreign coins are made from copper while banknotes are made from either cotton or a plastic polymer.

While most foreign currency that is sold in Australia comes from overseas, it takes days to arrive.

When buying or selling foreign currency at a store, take into account that while the foreign currency may not have the virus, the staff serving you may be inflected.

With many currency exchange stores closed due to the virus, call ahead to make sure the money changer you want to use is still open.

Updated: Posted on