UK Currency

The UK Currency

A Smart Traveller’s Guide to the British Pound

So you’re making the pilgrimage to ol’ Blighty. One of the best ways to prepare for your trip is to get up to speed on the UK currency.

Get your money’s worth and feel a little travel savvy with this helpful traveller’s guide to the British pound.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

What Currency Is Even Used in the UK?

The pound is the official currency of the United Kingdom. The pound is represented by the symbol £ and the currency code GBP. The UK includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Don’t forget, the Republic of Ireland uses the euro so if you’re planning to cross from Northern Ireland to Ireland or vice versa, you’ll need two currencies.

The UK currency is called the pound.

The Pound: The Face of the UK’s Currency

UK currency consists of banknotes and coins

The base unit of the UK’s currency system is the British pound, often called a quid. One pound is made up of 100 pence (represented by the symbol p and more commonly called ‘pee’).

Many Brits also refer to the pound as the sterling while locals often refer to the £5 and £10 notes as fivers and tenners respectively.

British coins are circulated as 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, and £2. Banknotes are available in £5, £10, £20, £50, and £100.

New plastic, waterproof sterling notes and new coins have been circulated since 2016 but if you still have pounds in the older styles, many banks will swap them for the flashy new versions.

Each British note has its own distinct colour that makes them easily distinguishable from one another. Queen Elizabeth II is featured on every British currency. The reverse side typically has a British landmark or historic figure, or national symbol.

Scottish and Irish Banknotes

While both Scotland and Northern Ireland use the pound sterling, they actually have different banknotes to those issued in England and Wales.

Even though these notes are not considered official legal tender in England or Wales, they’re typically interchangeable there. While businesses are not obligated to accept Scottish and Irish notes, it’s a rare occasion when they will refuse them.

Most banks will swap out Scottish and Irish notes for English notes without a fee. The standard English banknotes are accepted throughout the UK.

Using a Currency Converter

The British pound fluctuates according to a range of global political and economic factors, including recent political events, the British economy, and supply and demand of the currency globally.

To get the best exchange rate for the Australian dollar to British pound, use the foreign currency converter below. This will also tell you how much it would cost you if you bought your pounds with S Money today.

AUD to GBP

AUD
*Wholesale exchange rate updated

How to Exchange Currency When You Arrive in the UK

Many people plan to change their money at the port of entry – an international seaport, train station, or airport. This can be a mistake as currency exchange outlets in these areas tend to offer some of the worst exchange rates and fees.

There are several ways to change your money to pound sterling once you get beyond the airport.

You can get UK currency from ATMs.

ATMs in the UK

One of the easiest and most popular ways to get money is simply to use your everyday bank card at an ATM (often called a cashpoint in the UK).

Most UK ATMs accept international cards with chips and PINs; cards with Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, and Plus logos are the most commonly accepted.

You can find cashpoints connected to every bank and within supermarkets, convenience stores, and petrol stations. Just keep in mind ATMs in these smaller establishments tend to charge more.

You may also face a range of additional charges. Most ATMs charge a small fee for withdrawals from non-UK accounts. And your own bank might hit you with fees for currency conversions, overseas withdrawals, and over-the-counter payments.

Currency Exchange in the UK

There are plenty of Bureaux de Change or currency exchange outlets in London and other major cities across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Travelex and other currency exchange companies have offices in most towns and cities, major train stations, ferry terminals, and airports.

You can also change money at most bank branches, post offices, and even the popular British department store Marks & Spencer.

Exchange rates and fees can vary drastically between outlets so do some research on the current exchange rates before you go. Exchange outlets in the bigger cities typically offer better deals than those in rural areas.

Travellers cheques are considered as outdated in the UK as currency

Travellers Cheques

A fairly outdated concept in the UK today, travellers cheques are not generally accepted in stores (although larger chains such as Harrods may take them). In reality, it’s better to stick with online or over-the-counter currency exchanges or ATM withdrawals.

Buying Pound Sterling Before You Go:

Ultimately, you’ll get the best deals by buying your pounds before you head overseas. There are three standard ways to exchange AUD for GBP before you leave:

  • Buy currency online and have it delivered or collect it in-store.
  • Buy from a currency exchange outlet.
  • Buy the currency at your home airport.

If we’re frank, we’d advise you to scratch that last option. Australian international airports are renowned for having some of the worst exchange rates and fees in the world.

Instead, order your currency online through a money changer like S Money, which offers the exact same exchange rate you’d find on Google or XE.

Travelex and Travel Money Oz also enable currency orders online but expect to wait between two and five business days for the order to be delivered or ready for pick-up.

Using Your Bank Card in the UK

Plastic money is popular across the UK, with contactless payments becoming increasingly common, up to £30 per transaction.

The value you’ll get from using your bank card will vary depending on the bank you use and the type of card you have.

You’ll have greater ease using a card with a Visa or Mastercard logo; you may have trouble paying for items with American Express or Diners Club, especially outside London.

Below we’ve listed some of the pros and cons of the various types of plastic money to use in the UK.

Debit Cards

Still a favourite among travellers, debit cards make it easy to pay for things overseas but you may pay for the convenience in high fees.

Many banks charge a range of fees for debit card use overseas. These can include withdrawal fees, international ATM fees, and currency conversion fees – often throwing a poor exchange rate into the mix as well.

This is the case for most but not all bank cards. The ones listed below are renowned for good exchange rates and low fees:

Using debit cards for UK currency is acceptable
Using credit cards is common practise in the UK for currency.

Credit Cards

As with bank cards, credit cards are commonly accepted everywhere in the United Kingdom. But they may come with a host of additional fees for overseas transactions, among them:

  • An international transaction fee
  • An exchange rate margin
  • An ATM fee
  • A potential ‘cash advance fee’ if you use an ATM

If you still enjoy the peace of mind of having a credit card, try the 28 Degrees credit card, which is made for frequent travellers.

Prepaid Travel Cards

They’re not always the golden option you expect. Long lists of fees often accompany bank prepaid travel cards. You might also be looking at poor exchange rates and difficulty converting any UK currency back to Australian dollars.

If you like to lock in currency and load up a card, look to the Revolut and TransferWise debit cards, both of which provide this option at a good exchange rate.

The Average Costs to Travel in the UK

If you want to be money smart, you’ll want to get just the right amount of British pounds for your trip. To help you calculate that amount, here are some of the average costs of travelling throughout the UK (keeping in mind prices may be a little higher in London):

£60+

A double room in a typical hotel

£8+

A standard pub meal

£3-4

A pint of beer

£2.40

A single Tube journey with an Oyster card

£10

Entry to castles and similar attractions

Excess Pounds? What to Do with Unused UK Currency

Where to put your leftover UK currency after a visit.

Returning from the UK with stacks of British banknotes is hardly an ideal situation but there’s no need to consider it a loss.

Here are some ways to dispose of those last few quid:

  • Many airlines distribute envelopes for you to deposit your remaining currency as a donation to various organisations (for example, Qantas has its Change for Good program with UNICEF)
  • Australian international airports also have collection points where you can deposit your remaining currency as a donation to charity.
  • The Commonwealth Bank of Australia also collects foreign currency and gives every cent to UNICEF.
  • You can change your currency at an exchange office at the airport but keep in mind, you will get terrible exchange rates and fees.
  • For larger amounts, use a money changer in the city to convert your USD back to AUD.
  • Give those greenbacks to a friend heading to the States and make their day!
  • Keep it for the next trip! Aside from the United Kingdom, the pound sterling is also used in British Overseas Territories, the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan de Cunha.

7 Money Tips to Get You Through the UK

Millions of travellers head to the UK each year. Sadly, many waste their money on unnecessary foreign currency conversion.

So here are a few practical tips to help you get your money’s worth:

  1. 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.
  2. Only carry what you need – It can be expensive to change GBPs back into AUDs so only take what you think you will spend. Not only this – nobody likes to tuck wads of notes into their socks and toiletries for safekeeping on longer journeys.
  3. Ask for a mix of denominations – Make it easy on the British vendors and try to get a mix of £20 and £10 notes.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
UK Currency tips

Heading Elsewhere?

Popping across the Channel to France or heading over to Ireland while you’re so near?
Learn more about the French currency and Irish currency today.

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