A Smart Traveller's Guide to Currency in Latvia
This small Baltic country often flies under the radar but it’s one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Blessed with beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, and old-town charm, Latvia is a delight to discover.
It’s natural to want to stretch your savings as far as possible to explore this stunning European country but if you’re not careful, you can fritter away a lot of your money on currency exchange fees and rates.
This guide is here to help you understand Latvia’s currency situation so you can save where you can. You’ll become savvy about:
- The official currency of Latvia
- The pros and cons of using a bank card in Latvia
- What the Latvian Euro looks like
- The average costs of things in Latvia
- How the euro converts
- What to do with leftover euros
- How to exchange the currency in Latvia
- Some hot tips to help you save money
- How to buy Euros before you leave
What Currency is Used in Latvia
The official currency of Latvia is the euro, which is often represented by the currency code EUR or with the sign €. One euro is a base unit, made up of 100 cents.
This impressive currency is used by 19 European countries in total, collectively called the eurozone. Since its inception, the euro has become the second most traded currency on the foreign exchange market.
Latvia adopted the euro in 2014, replacing the Latvian lat (LVL). Latvijas Banka will continue to exchange lats at a fixed rate indefinitely – and for free.
As in other European countries, including its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia often displays its prices differently. That is, decimal commas replace points and the currency symbol is written at the end of the price, as in 10,50€ (instead of €10.50).
The Euro: Familiarise Yourself with Latvia’s Currency
Throughout the eurozone, the European Central Bank is responsible for the circulation of euros. But the individual countries are charged with producing their own coins and bills.
The euro has a standardised fifteen denominations, with seven banknotes in a common design used throughout the eurozone.
These bill denominations are available in €5, €10, €20, €100, €200, and €500, though the €500 banknote is on its way out and the other larger denominations may be hard to spend.
Euro coins are a little different. All eight coins feature a common side with a design found across the eurozone (of a map of the European Union).
But on the flipside, they have a national design chosen by the individual countries. Thankfully, these coins are accepted throughout the eurozone regardless of where they were issued.
In Latvia, there are three unique designs. The €1 and €2 coins depict a Latvian maiden, which originally appeared on lats coins. The 10 cent, 20 cent, and 50 cent Latvian euro coins feature the main coat of arms of Latvia while the smaller 1¢, 2¢, and 5¢ coins bear a symbol of the lesser coat of arms.
Euro coins come in denominations of 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, and 50¢, as well as €1 and €2.
A handy tip! You might come across the word eiro in Latvia. This is just a different spelling of the word ‘euro’ and is only ever used in non-legal matters.
Using a Currency Converter
The euro is a floating currency, with its value influenced daily by factors such as supply and demand of the currency, economic policies, and political events both regionally and globally.
Our foreign currency converter below will show you the mid-market exchange rate - the midway point between the buy and sell rate. This is the ‘truest’ rate you’ll find (the one shown on Google and XE).
Use this tool to get a real-time rate of AUD to EUR and find out how much it will cost you to buy euros with S Money.
How to Exchange Currency in Latvia
It’s undoubtedly enticing to save your currency exchange until you arrive in Latvia. But take care to choose the right place to buy euros – some options are better than others.
ATMs in Latvia
You’ll have no trouble finding an ATM in Latvia, particularly in the bigger cities like Riga, where there’s an extensive network. If you plan to head into rural areas, it’s always a good idea to carry cash with you.
Latvian ATMs should accept credit and debit cards from the most popular providers, including Visa, Mastercard, and Maestro.
Just remember that some ATMs charge a fee to withdraw cash – this is more common with independent ATMs than with bank ATMs.
Even if you manage to find a fee-free ATM, you could still be hit with fees from your home bank for overseas ATM withdrawals and currency conversions.
Before you head off, check with your bank to see if it has partnered with any local Latvian banks. This might reduce your fees while away.
It’s becoming increasingly common to find ATMs offering to charge your card in your home currency rather than euros. It sounds like a fine offer but is rarely a good one.
You’re likely to be ripped off by atrocious exchange rates so it’s better just to accept payment in the local currency and let your bank sort out the exchange rate.
Currency Exchange Outlets
Whether you’re arriving in Latvia by ferry, plane, train, or bus, you’ll likely find currency exchange options at your port of entry. But while it’s convenient, keep in mind these bureaus tend to have a captive market and will offer poor exchange rates and high commissions.
Of course, banks are always your best bet as foreign exchange offices may demand higher fees.
You might also see offices advertising ‘zero commissions’. This is misleading because they’re likely to bundle up the costs with a poor exchange rate. Before buying your euros, check the mid-market exchange rate to avoid being ripped off.
Finally, check your notes before you leave the bureau; many Latvian businesses are fussy about banknotes and won’t accept them if they have the slightest damage.
Hardly a popular option, travellers cheques will likely prove more hassle than they’re worth. It can be hard finding a bureau that will accept them and banks often apply high fees for exchanges.
Buying Euros Before You Go
If you like the reassurance of having the local currency readily available from the moment you step off the plane, you have three options to pick up the cash before you go:
- Buying euros online to be delivered or for you to pick up in-store.
- Swapping AUD for EUR at a currency exchange store.
- Buying euros at the airport.
Online money changers like S Money often have the best exchange rates by offering the real mid-market exchange rates you see on Google or XE.
Travelex and Travel Money Oz also offer foreign exchange services online but it takes between two and five business days before the currency is ready for pick-up or delivery so you need to be organised!
Buying your currency in-store can be a good option but it all depends on where you go. The money changers in the centre of the main cities tend to be more competitive than smaller stores in the suburbs.
Only change money at the airport as a last resort. The exchange rates and fees at Australian airports are among the worst in the world so avoid it at all costs if you want to get the best value.
Using Your Bank Card in Latvia
While bank cards are becoming widely accepted, many establishments still only accept cash so make sure you have some on you.
Even so, in bigger establishments and tourist areas, credit and debit card payments are embraced. In fact, you can even pay by card in taxis!
Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards but you can also try your luck with American Express and Diners Club. Just make sure your card has a chip and PIN for a hassle-free experience.
The value you get from using a bank card will vary depending on the type of card you use and the provider so we’ve listed some of our best recommendations below.
Though the most commonly used cards, debit cards tend to have the worst currency conversion rates and fees.
There are a few outstanding exceptions with excellent exchange rates and low fees. These include:
Visa and Mastercard – and sometimes American Express – are widely accepted in Latvia, especially in hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Pay attention to the fees you may incur by using your credit card overseas. These could include cash advance fees for ATM withdrawals, international transaction fees, and overseas ATM withdrawal charges.
Prepaid Travel Cards
A prepaid travel card is made for international travellers so surely it’s the best option, right?
Though you avoid some fees, you might end up squandering those savings on other charges, such as reload fees and inactivity fees. Travel cards also usually apply ATM withdrawal fees.
Not only that, it’s often expensive and tricky to convert remaining balances on the card back to Australian dollars upon your return.
It can also take days for your currency to actually load onto your card, leaving you potentially cash-strapped.
But don’t fret! There are some good alternatives. The Revolut and TransferWise debit cards allow you to prepay or buy your currency ahead of time. Plus they both use the best online market exchange rate you see on Google or XE.
But if you do want to use either of these cards, plan ahead. It takes 1-2 weeks for delivery.
The Average Cost to Travel Around Latvia
It’s one of the cheapest countries to visit in the European Union so you’re in for a treat. Even so, it’s still handy to have a budget for your trip, not least so you know just how much currency to buy.
Here are some of the average costs in Latvia to help you cost out your trip:
€50 per night
A double room in a mid-range hotel
A three-course meal in a nice restaurant
A pint of beer
Public transport ticket
Entrance to a museum
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 Latvia
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.
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