The 2021 Travel Money Guide to Currency in Europe
Travelling to Europe is considered a 'right of passage' by many Australians. In fact it is one of the most popular places to travel to from Australia. With countries like France, Germany, Italy and Spain there is no shortage of fabulous things to see, eat and experience.
To make your savings go even further, read our easy to read guide on currency in Europe. This guide helps you with the following:
- The official currency of Europe
- The pros and cons of using a bank card in Europe
- What the Euro looks like
- The average costs of things in Euro
- Euro currency converter
- What to do with leftover euros
- How to exchange the currency in Europe
- Some hot tips to help you save money
- How to buy Euro before you leave
What Currency is Used in Europe?
The official currency of Europe is the Euro. The currency sign for the Euro is €, while the code is EUR. 19 countries within European Union (EU) use the Euro, they are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
In Europe, it’s more common to see the symbol written after the numeral, as in 10€. The Euro is the second most traded currency on the world’s foreign exchange markets, the euro is issued by the European Central Bank.
Euro banknotes have 7 denominations: €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500.
The Euro has 8 coin denominations: €2, €1, 50cent, 20cent, 10cent, 5cent, 2cent and 1cent.
What Does the Euro Look Like
First things first, there’s technically no such thing as a ‘country specific’ euro. While each country mints its own coins with a national design on one side, these coins can be used everywhere in the eurozone.
And vice versa: any coins minted with national designs from other eurozone countries can be used in all countries of the Eurozone.
Euro coins come in the standard eight denominations: one cent, two cents, five cents, ten cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1, and €2.
The ‘common’ side of the coin used across the eurozone features the numerical value of the coin and a map of the European Union.
On the reverse ‘national’ side, all coins bear the same design – although this design has been modified a number of times since countries have adopted the euro.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, and €500. The designs are the same throughout the eurozone with different sizes and colours denoting the different bill values.
You’re unlikely to come across a €500 note but it’s a good idea to avoid even the €100 and €200 bills as some merchants are reluctant to accept these higher denominations.
How to Exchange Currency in Europe
Places like Paris and Munich receive great numbers of tourists, so there are facilities to cater to money exchanges. Beyond these major destinations, it’s best to get cash before you venture into remote territory.
ATMs are everywhere throughout Europe, particularly in larger towns and cities like Rome and Madrid, so you’ll have no problem finding one when you need to withdraw cash. ATMs are called ‘Geldautomat’ in Germany and ‘Bankomats’ in Italy.
Most will accept your Australian card and the prompts will appear in English. Your 4 digit pin should work in Europe as well, just remember in some parts of Europe daily withdrawal limits may apply.
Don’t forget: Let your bank know you’re travelling! If they detect a foreign transaction but aren’t aware you’re overseas, they could end up freezing your card.
Currency Exchange in Europe
There are many currency exchanges in Europe, but the fees and rates can vary dramatically.
Currency exchange counters at airports and hotels are probably going to give you poor exchange rates, so it’s better to wait until you can compare options in town.
Keep in mind that bureaus in popular tourist destinations, especially around famous landmarks, often give poor exchange rates and add on high or hidden fees.
Make sure the notes you bring from home are in good nick. Some exchange services reject defaced or damaged banknotes.
Most currency exchanges will be a shop front with the word “exchange” in the signage and a currency board on display showing the buy and sell prices.
Not worth the bother! Travellers cheques are so outdated, very few banks even accept them any more.
They can’t be used as direct payment, so the only way to use them once you’re in the country is to swap them for currency at a bank or bureau de change office. Even then, very few banks will accept travellers cheques if you don’t have an account with them. And exchange services apply exorbitant fees and rates to them.
Using Your Bank Card in Europe
Most European businesses are well set up to receive card payments. While bank cards are becoming increasingly easier to use in Europe, it doesn’t mean you should rely on them exclusively during your travels.
It’s important to know about dynamic currency conversion (DCC) when using a bank card abroad. DCC is where the credit card processor, such as a shop or hotel, converts the currency and charges you in your home currency rather than euros.
You’ll typically be asked how you’d like to be charged – in every case, choose the local currency. Otherwise, you may end up paying additional fees for the service, alongside the other bank fees.
Debit cards can be used across Germany. Just beware, your home bank may impose high rates and fees if you use your card overseas. These fees might cover ATM withdrawals, overseas transactions, and currency conversions.
Some cards that offer more competitive rates and lower (or even no) fees include:
Credit cards can come with some enticing perks, including added security, loyalty programs, and even free travel insurance.
But are they worth it?
Major local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, airline offices, and department stores, accept credit cards. But you might have to pay a surcharge.
Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted. You may also be able to use your American Express card, though local ATMs won’t accept them.
Just be aware of additional charges you may incur for foreign transactions. These could include:
- International transaction fees
- High exchange rate margins
- ATM fees
- Potential ‘cash advance fees’ if you use an ATM
If you still prefer credit cards over any other payment, consider going with a company that offers cards that waive certain travel fees. Bankwest Platinum and 28 Degrees card both have travel-friendly cards.
Prepaid Travel Cards
The biggest advantages of prepaid travel cards are that you can lock in a favourable exchange rate. You also get a handy back-up card.
Just remember that while they are convenient, you could end up paying a long list of hidden fees. Many travel cards still impose:
- Currency conversion fees
- Uncompetitive exchange rates
- International ATM withdrawal fees
- Initial load fees
- Reload fees
- Inactivity fees
How to Buy Euros Before You Go
There’s a certain reassurance that comes with stepping off the plane (or cruise ship) already cashed up with Euros.
Buying Euros before you leave Australian shores isn’t just convenient. It can also save you money. But it all depends on where you get your Euros in Australia. There are 3 main options:
- Buy EUR online and have it delivered or collect it in-store
- Swap Euro for Australian dollars from a money changer
- Buy Euros at your home airport
Try S Money or a similar online currency exchange store to get rates that reflect the comparisons you see on XE or Google.
If you choose online delivery or in-store pickup, check the processing time. Some exchange companies with online options suggest you allow between two and five days to process currency.
Prefer in-store currency exchange? Head to the CBD of your nearest city for the most competitive exchange rates; suburban bureau de change outlets tend to have poorer rates and fees.
Currency exchange counters in Australia’s airports are infamous for their atrocious exchange rates. Avoid them if you can.
The Average Cost to Travel Around Europe
Thanks to the surplus of ATMs and the ease of plastic payments, there’s not too much pressure on you to bring the exact amount of cash you need from the get-go.
Still, it’s a good idea to have a general daily budget to help you cost out the trip and make sure you don’t have leftover euros at the end of your stay.
The average daily travel budget in Europe is about $190. Some of the expenses you might be looking at include:
A room in a guesthouse
Two-course meal at a nice restaurant
A local beer
€20–30 per day
Leftover Euros at the End of Your Trip? What to Do with That Unused Cash
It’s annoying returning from a trip with a wad of foreign cash but there are plenty of ways to dispose of these unwanted coins and notes:
- Your airline might distribute envelopes for currency collection to donate to charities (check out Qantas’s Change for Good program with UNICEF).
- Australian international airports often have collection boxes for unwanted currency, which is donated to charity.
- Drop off your currency at any branch of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which then gives every cent to UNICEF.
- Change your currency either at the airport or, better yet, with a money changer in the city.
- Why not hold onto those euros for a friend just heading off? It’ll be a lovely surprise and going away gift for them!
- Keep your money for later trips to Europe. The euro is the official legal currency of 19 eurozone countries and accepted by many more.
7 Travel Money Tips for Trips to Europe
Many tourists waste money through not finding the best ways to exchange their currency.
To help you avoid this predicament, here are a few practical tips to help you get the most bang for your … euro:
- Avoid the airports! Currency exchange bureaus at the airport charge epic fees. If you like a good deal – or even just a reasonable one – avoid these at all costs.
- Only carry what you need – It can be expensive to change euros back into AUDs so only take what you think you’ll spend. Not only this – nobody likes to tuck wads of notes into their socks and toiletries for safekeeping on longer journeys.
- Ask for a mix of denominations – Make it easy on yourself and the vendors by getting a mix of smaller notes.
- Check your exchange rate – Google and XE.com are the standard market exchange rate but you’ll notice how wildly bank and currency exchanges can vary their rates. Try to get as close to the market rate as possible.
- Look out for hidden fees – The bane of our (financial) existence, hidden fees will often make a huge difference to the cost of your holiday. Be particularly wary of hidden bank fees for overseas card usage.
- The right card makes all the difference – Having a card is convenient but it can take a hit to the bank account if you have the wrong card. Research and arm yourself with the best card for travel for big savings.
- Mix it up! Many travellers only use their credit card while some only think about cash. But the best option depends on your situation. Save the card for huge purchases such as hotels and car hire and reserve your cash for smaller wins – transport, attractions, or meals out.