A Travel Money Guide to Portugal
Famous for its port wine and custard tarts, its pristine beaches, and its athletic football stars, Portugal is a fascinating destination to visit. And now you’re heading there yourself!
But to make your savings stretch, it’s helpful to know everything you can about currency exchange and spending in Portugal. In this guide, you’ll find out about:
- The official currency of Portugal
- The pros and cons of using a bank card in Portugal
- What the Portuguese Euro looks like
- The average costs of things in Portugal
- How the euro converts
- What to do with leftover euros
- How to exchange the currency in Portugal
- Some hot tips to help you save money
- How to buy Portuguese currency before you leave
What Currency is Used in Portugal?
Portugal was one of the first countries to adopt the euro, replacing the former currency, the escudo, on 1 January 1999. For a while, the escudo was accepted alongside the euro until it was phased out of circulation on 28 February 2002.
The euro – the official monetary unit of the European Union – is represented by the symbol € and the currency code EUR.
In Portugal, as elsewhere in Europe, you’ll commonly see prices written with the currency sign following the numerals, as in 10€. In Portugal, the uses of the decimal point and comma are reversed: decimal points are used in thousands (e.g. €10.000 instead of €10,000 while you’ll find €1.50 written as €1,50).
The Euro: Familiarise Yourself with Portugal’s Currency
As the second most traded currency in the world, you may already be familiar with euro coins and banknotes.
There are 15 denominations. Coins currently in circulation in Portugal come in denominations of €0.01, €0.02, €0.05, €0.10, €0.20, €0.50, €1, and €2.
Every euro coin shares one common side, with a map of the European Union and the numerical value of the coin. On the reverse side, coins feature a national design. In Portugal, the coins feature the royal seals, coat of arms, and castles of Portugal.
Euro banknotes are homogenous across the eurozone – the region of Europe where the euro is the official currency. Produced by the European Central Bank, these banknotes are available in the following denominations: €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500.
Larger banknotes are more difficult to use as many smaller businesses will refuse to accept them. And the €500 banknote is so rare that you probably won’t come across it during your travels.
Euro coins and banknotes can be traded across the eurozone, regardless of their origins.
Using a Currency Converter
As one of the most important currencies in the world, many people track the rise and fall of the euro.
But its value fluctuates all the time on a whole range of factors, which include everything from politics and economics to the supply and demand of the currency itself.
The foreign currency converter below will give you a real-time comparison of the EUR to the AUD and tell you how much it would cost to buy euros with S Money.
How to Exchange Currency in Portugal
There’s so much to plan leading up to your trip that you might forget – or simply defer – organising your travel money. If that’s the case, there are three main ways to access cash once you arrive in Portugal.
Portuguese Bank ATMs
24-hour ATMs are available virtually everywhere in Portugal. These ATMs generally accept cards with Visa, Maestro, Mastercard, Cirrus, Plus, and other common logos.
There’s a maximum ATM withdrawal limit of €200 for Multibanco ATMs, though Euronet ATMs may allow higher withdrawals. Euronet ATMs claim to offer fee-free withdrawals.
Alongside the ATM fees, you might also end up paying more in fees from your own bank account for overseas withdrawals and currency conversions.
Currency Exchange Outlets
Currency exchange outlets, locally called cambios, are still common in Portugal. Exchange rates are typically more common in bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto.
Most Portuguese banks no longer offer currency exchanges so you’ll need to use a bureau de change. In touristy areas, these offices are usually open seven days a week.
Don’t be lured by currency exchange outlets that advertise ‘no commission’. They’ll likely still have hidden fees built into the exchange rate.
Although not common, some currency exchange desks request your passport so you may want to have ID on you just in case. Also, be sure to have undamaged notes as some places may refuse defiled banknotes.
Hotels and airport currency exchange counters are other exchange options but their rates vary drastically – and not normally to your advantage – so it’s best to avoid them if possible.
You’ll struggle to find places to exchange travellers cheques these days and you’ll be hard pressed to find a retailer that will accept them as direct payment.
Better to avoid the travellers cheques altogether in favour of bank cards and currency exchanges.
Buying Portuguese Currency Before You Go
The best value when exchanging currency comes from organising your currency before you leave your home shores. You have three main options for doing this:
- 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.
Australian airport exchange outlets have some of the worst exchange rates in the world so we recommend skipping that option altogether.
Instead, you’ll likely find the best value using online currency exchange retailers like S Money. Here, you’ll find the same exchange rate as the one quoted on Google or XE.
If you prefer a direct, immediate transfer of AUDs to EURs, head to an inner-city exchange bureau, which will likely offer more competitive rates than those you’ll find in the suburbs.
Using Your Bank Card in Portugal
Some of the best travel money cards include debit, credit and prepaid cards. But you may find that many Portuguese establishments are a little less friendly towards plastic money than you’re used to.
Some supermarket chains and other retailers used to refuse credit and debit card payments for purchases below €20 and though this may be changing, you might still come across minimum purchase requirements in some stores.
You have a range of options when paying with a bank card, each with their own pros and cons.
Credit cards come with the advantage of providing a little extra security in emergencies, but they likewise incur many fees when used overseas.
You could come home to a credit card bill filled with international transaction fees, ATM withdrawal charges, and cash advance fees if you used the card in an ATM.
28 Degrees is one credit card option that is travel-friendly with lower fees and charges.
Prepaid Travel Cards
It’s all in the name: travel money cards. So they must be great for travel, right?
Prepaid travel money cards typically come with a host of fees, such as reload fees, inactivity fees, and ATM withdrawal fees.
There can also be a wait of several days between reloading your currency and receiving it on the card.
But we understand: it can be nice to lock in an exchange rate and prepay your currency. If that’s the case, the Revolut and TransferWise debit cards are great value.
What Will the Portuguese Euro Buy Me?
Whether you’re ordering currency online or exchanging it at a bureau de change, you’ll need to have at least an idea of your budget. Coming home with excess foreign currency is always frustrating and you might end up wasting money changing back to AUDs.
So to help you cost out your trip, here are some of the average prices you can expect in Portugal:
A double room in a mid-range hotel
Dinner at a nice restaurant
A cup of coffee
A train ticket from Lisbon to Porto
Entry 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 Portuguese 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 Portugal
While Portugal is a veritable tourist hotspot (who doesn’t want to visit the fairytale Pena Palace?), many tourists waste money through not finding the best ways to exchange their currency.
To help you avoid this quandary, 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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