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Spending abroad: An around-the-world guide to your travel money needs

You’re heading to a new country. But are you properly prepared for what is in store for you when you land? Each country has its own quirks about how you pay for goods and services. Our guide details the important things you need to know.

 
Use the links below to jump to the currency that you’d like to know more about.

Argentina 🇦🇷 Australia 🇦🇺 Brazil 🇧🇷 Canada 🇨🇦
China 🇨🇳 Denmark 🇩🇰 Finland 🇫🇮 France 🇫🇷
Germany 🇩🇪 Iceland 🇮🇸 India 🇮🇳 Iran 🇮🇷
Italy 🇮🇹 Japan 🇯🇵 Mexico 🇲🇽 Morocco 🇲🇦
New Zealand 🇳🇿 Poland 🇵🇱 Russia 🇷🇺 South Africa 🇿🇦
Spain 🇪🇸 Sweden 🇸🇪 Thailand 🇹🇭 Vietnam 🇻🇳
UAE 🇦🇪 USA 🇺🇸

 

USA 🇺🇸

Currency
US Dollar.

US currency consists of bills in denominations of $100, $50, $20, $10, $5, and $1 and coins in denominations of $1, 25 cents (quarter), 10 cents (dime), 5 cents (nickel) and 1 cent (penny).
All of the bills are the same size, so make sure you don’t get them mixed up.

Using cards
At the end of 2015, merchants began making the switch to devices that can accommodate chip and PIN. Be aware some smaller retailers may still not have made the move so make sure your card has an up-to-date signature on the back.

Some independent merchants do not accept credit cards, so check with merchants before loading up your basket.

There are approximately 425,000 ATMs in the USA so cash is easily accessible.

Useful advice
Sales tax can be confusing in the USA. The tax is not normally included in the price shown and the amount of sales tax on goods varies from state to state. In California, sales tax is 6.5% in the District of Columbia, 5.75% and in New York 4%. Check the sales tax rate before you travel to avoid surprises.

Canada 🇨🇦

Currency
Canadian dollar.

Commonly available in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations. The $1 and $2 bills have been replaced with coins (the loonie and toonie). Other coins include the quarter, dime, nickel and penny, although production of the penny has been stopped so most establishments won’t accept them now.

Using cards
Most major credit cards are accepted but some shops only accept certain cards.

Useful advice
Sales tax varies around Canada but will normally be between 5% and 15%.

Mexico 🇲🇽

Currency
Pesos.

Notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. They also have 1,000 bills, but these can be difficult to use as people prefer smaller change. Coins come in values of 1, 2, 5 and 10 pesos. Cents, or “centavos,” are worth very little.

It’s easier to exchange US dollar travellers’ cheques and notes into local currency than Sterling. It’s not usually possible to exchange cash at hotel receptions – this can only be done at banks and bureaux de change.

Using cards
UK debit and credit cards are widely accepted for payment and in ATMs and it’s worth considering taking a prepaid currency card.

Useful advice
If you make purchases in Mexico, you may be able to request a refund of your tax. To do so, you must make purchases at establishments affiliated with the tax refund program and have spent at least 1,200 pesos on Mexican goods. You can claim the money back at the airport before you leave.

Many service workers depend on tips to supplement low wages. Pay 10% to 15% at restaurants. Hotel workers will be grateful for 5% to 10% of room costs.

Brazil 🇧🇷

Currency
Real.

The real come in 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 2 notes as well as 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cent coins. One real is made up of 100 centavos.

Using cards
Credit card and ATM machines are widely available in Rio De Janeiro and other major cities. Prepaid currency cards will ensure you are travelling safely and it also means you can plan ahead and top-up your card ahead of your trip.

There has been an increase in robberies at cashpoints. Some ATMs have been fitted with an anti-theft device that applies pink coloured ink to the notes of an ATM that are damaged or tampered with. Any pink coloured note will not be accepted. If you withdraw cash and it has any sort of pink marks, speak to the bank to get it replaced. If you’re outside bank hours or the ATM is not at a branch, get a bank statement showing the withdrawal and take it with the marked note to a police station to get a police report.

Travellers cheques are not favoured in Brazil and you will be losing money when you cash them due to high fees.

Useful advice
In restaurants, the 10% service charge will usually be added to the bill. Parking assistants receive no wages and are dependent on tips, usually 2 reals or more.

Argentina 🇦🇷

Currency
Peso.

Denominations: Peso banknotes come in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 2. Coins come in denominations of AR$1 and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 centavos.

Using cards
Carrying some cash and a debit or prepaid currency card is the best way to travel in Argentina.

Useful advice
Tips can’t be added to credit card bills so carry cash for this. The extra charge that some restaurants add is not a tip; it’s a cover charge for the use of utensils and bread.

New Zealand 🇳🇿

Currency
NZ dollar.

Notes have values of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Coins have values of 1 and 2, as well as in cents – 10, 20 and 50. 100 cents equal one dollar.

1c, 2c and 5c have been discontinued. Goods on sale will be “rounded” up or down to take this into account.

Using cards
ATMs are widely available for those who take prepaid currency cards or bank cards. Credit cards are accepted widely too.

Useful advice
Tipping in New Zealand is not obligatory, even in restaurants and bars. Tips for good service are made purely at the discretion of the customer.

Australia 🇦🇺

Currency
Australia’s national currency is the Australian dollar which comes in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Coins come in 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and one and two dollar denominations.

Using cards
ATMs are widespread, although facilities may be limited in remote towns and the Outback.

Useful advice
Australia has a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 10 per cent. You may be able to claim a refund for the GST paid on goods if you have spent AUD$300 or more with a single business, no more than 60 days before departing Australia.

South Africa 🇿🇦

Currency
Rand. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200.

Coins are issued in 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c. The South African Rand is also legal tender in Swaziland and Lesotho, and is accepted in Namibia.

There are limits on the amount of currency you can bring into South Africa. For cash in South African Rand, the limit is 25,000. For combinations of cash in other currencies, the limit is US $10,000.

Using cards
ATMs are found throughout the country and cards are widely accepted. But there is high incidence of credit card fraud and fraud involving ATMs, so beware. Make sure your PIN is not seen by others when withdrawing money from an ATM and refuse offers of help from bystanders. Don’t change large sums of money in busy public areas. Protect any documents containing details of credit cards or bank accounts.

Useful advice
Wages are low here and tipping is expected. Restaurants and cafes – expect to pay 10% to 15%. Hotels – a standard tip of 10 Rand to 20 Rand is welcomed. Car guards – offer 2 Rand or 5 Rand for longer periods. Petrol stations – anything from 2 Rand – most of the attendants also wash and check the tyres. Taxis – tips are not expected but rounding up the fare will be appreciated.

China 🇨🇳

Currency
The official Chinese currency is the Renminbi (RMB or CNY), which can be translated as ‘the people’s money’. The basic unit is the yuan.

The yuan comes in note denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5. One and 2 yuan notes are occasionally seen, but these are going out of circulation. Coins come in denominations of 1 yuan, 5 jiao, and 1 jiao. One yuan is divided into ten jiao.

China is largely a cash economy so you should always carry it with you. In major cities, however, many people prefer to use other means of payment. If you top up a prepaid currency card in the UK, it will allow you to buy the currency you need when the pound is strong against the Renminbi and the card can be used in China to withdraw cash from ATMs or used as a debit card in hotels, restaurants and shops.

Travellers to China are not allowed to bring in or take out more than 20,000 yuan in cash or the equivalent in another currency.

It is also not possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes in banks or bureau de change.

Using cards
Outside of major cities, credit cards are not always accepted and the availability of ATMs is limited.

Useful advice
In general, there is no need to tip if a service charge has been added to your bill. Tipping is never expected at cheap or many mid-range restaurants. Hotel porters may expect a tip but taxi drivers won’t.

Japan 🇯🇵

Currency
Yen.

Banknotes that are frequently used include: 1,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 10,000 yen and coins in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen denominations.

It is primarily a cash society so it is a good idea to carry currency with you at all times.

Using cards
Post offices and most convenience stores have international ATMs. Credit cards are accepted at most major establishments, though it’s best to keep cash on hand.

Useful advice
Tipping is not customary in Japan. In fact, some might even find it insulting. ‘A price is a price’ and the Japanese may find the offer of extra money confusing. Offering exceptional service comes as standard here. High-end restaurants and hotels will usually add a 10% service fee to the bill and are more used to the custom of tipping – but most staff will be trained to politely refuse the offer.

Vietnam 🇻🇳

Currency
Dong.

Banknotes include: 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 500,000 and coins come in denominations of 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000.

Cash is the main form of payment in Vietnam.

Using cards
ATMs can be found everywhere, even in smaller towns. Debit and credit cards can be used in hotels but not in many other places.

Useful advice
Tipping is not expected in Vietnam and locals will never tip. In restaurants, you could leave 5% to 10% if the service is exceptional. Hotels and guides will appreciate a small offering.

Thailand 🇹🇭

Currency
Thai Baht.

Banknotes are in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000.

If you’re changing money in banks or a bureau de change in Thailand, it may not be possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish notes. Most places will deal only with cash.

Using cards
Some foreign credit cards are accepted in more expensive establishments such as hotels.

ATMs are widespread but there is a foreign transaction fee (200B) in addition to whatever fee your home bank charges. To keep ATM withdrawals to a minimum, take out as much cash as you feel comfortable carrying. Most ATMs allow 20,000B withdrawals.

Useful advice
Tipping is not expected here. But if you have a large bill, you could leave the change from a note. More upmarket restaurants will add a 10% charge to your bill.

India 🇮🇳

Currency
Rupees.

Banknotes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 or the rarely used 1 and 2 rupee note. Coins most frequently used include: 1, 2, 5, 10, or 50 paise – 100 paise equates to one rupee.

Using cards
There are ATMs in most towns but you should carry cash as a back-up.

Useful advice
Bargaining is the norm here, except in fixed-price shops.

Iran 🇮🇷

Currency
Riais. Notes come in 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 200, 100, as well as 100,000, 50,000, 20,000 and 10,000.

Using cards
Cash is king here – you cannot use UK credit or debit cards here, not even in cash machines. Bring enough cash in US dollars or euros. It is usually not possible to change travellers’ cheques. It is illegal to change money on the street.

Useful advice
Tipping is not usual in Iran. In upmarket restaurants, a 10% gratuity might be expected.

UAE 🇦🇪

Currency
Dirhams.

Notes come in denominations of 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5.

Coins tend to come in 50 and 1 Dirhams.

Using cards
ATMs are common in urban areas.

Useful advice
By law, only food and beverage outlets in hotels are entitled to tack a service charge onto bills. This charge rarely ends up in the pocket of the person who served you. So a few dirhams are appreciated for them.

France 🇫🇷

Currency
Euro.

Notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 notes are rarely used.

Coins are: 1, 2 and 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent and 50 cent. 1 and 2 cents are not used as much.

Using cards
ATMs are common and only credit cards with a chip and PIN are accepted here. All currency can be subject to volatility – a prepaid card means you could buy when rates are most favourable.

Useful advice
By law, restaurant and bar prices are service compris – they include a 15% service charge so there is no need to leave a tip. You can leave a small extra tip if you are particularly happy with the service.

Italy 🇮🇹

Currency
Euro.

Notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 notes are rarely used.

Coins are: 1, 2 and 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent and 50 cent. 1 and 2 cents are not used as much.

Using cards
ATMs at airports might be empty over the weekend as they may only be refilled on a Monday so it’s a good idea to bring some cash with you.

All currency can be subject to volatility – a prepaid card will ensure you load up with currency at the time that it is in your favour.

Useful advice
Tipping is customary in restaurants and optional elsewhere.

Germany 🇩🇪

Currency
Euro.

Notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 notes are rarely used.

Coins are: 1, 2 and 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent and 50 cent. 1 and 2 cents are not used as much.

Using cards
ATMs are widely accepted in cities and towns but rarely in villages. Cash is king almost everywhere; cards are not widely accepted.

All currency can be subject to volatility – a prepaid card will ensure you load up with currency at the time that it is in your favour.

Useful advice
Restaurant bills always include a service charge but most people add 5% or 10% unless the service was awful. For taxis, tip about 10% rounded to the nearest euro.

Spain 🇪🇸

Currency
Euro.

Notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 notes are rarely used.

Coins are: 1, 2 and 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent and 50 cent. 1 and 2 cents are not used as much.

Using cards
You may need to show ID when using credit or debit cards in Spain. In some establishments, your driving licence or photocopy of your passport should be sufficient. In others, they will want to see your actual passport.

Useful advice
Tipping is always almost optional. In restaurants, people leave small change and up to 5% tip is considered generous.

Poland 🇵🇱

Currency
Zloty. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2 and 5. The smaller currency of 100 grosz make up one zloty. They come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50.

It is not possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes in Poland. Only the English equivalents are generally accepted.

Using cards
ATMs are widely available and credit cards and prepaid currency cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants.

Useful advice
It is customary to tip in restaurants and service establishments, such as hairdressers. At smaller businesses and for cheaper bills, round the bill to the nearest 5zl or 10zl. In other situations, 10% is standard.

Morocco 🇲🇦

Currency
Dirham – in denominations of 20, 50, 100 and 200 notes. Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50.

There is no limit on the amount of cash you can bring into the country. You won’t be able to change Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes here.

Using cards
Most major credit cards are accepted in the larger towns. ATMs are widely available in most cities and towns.

Useful advice
Tipping is an integral part of life in Morocco. Unskilled workers in Morocco earn less than dh100 a day.

Iceland 🇮🇸

Currency
Icelandic Krona.

Banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 while the most frequently used coins are 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100.

Using cards
Iceland is expensive. Cash is rarely used and card is almost always favoured, even in the most rural areas of the country. Some banks will require you to give them notice before using your card there. PIN is required to make purchases.

Useful advice
Service and VAT are always included in the prices so tipping isn’t required here. But rounding up the bill at restaurants or leaving a small tip can be appreciated.

Sweden 🇸🇪

Currency
Swedish Krona.

Banknotes are in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, as well as the rarely used 1,000.

Coins are 1, 5, 10.

Using cards
ATMs widely available and cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.

Useful advice
Tipping is rare and usually reserved for great service. Service is normally included in restaurant bills but a small tip of 10 to 15% is appreciated.

Denmark 🇩🇰

Currency
Danish Krone.

Banknotes come in denominations of 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 while coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50.

Using cards
Cards are widely used here and often preferred over cash. ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and shops.

Useful advice
Hotel and restaurant bills and taxi fares include service charges in the quoted prices. Further tipping is unnecessary.

Finland 🇫🇮

Currency
Euro.

Notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 but this note is rarely used.

Coins are: 1, 2 and 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent and 50 cent. 1 and 2 cents are not used less frequently.

Using cards
Credit cards widely accepted and ATMs are common wherever you go.

Useful advice
Service is considered to be included in bills, so there’s no need to tip at all unless you feel the service has been well above average. Doormen in bars and restaurants will normally expect a cloakroom tip if you are not being charged for it.

Russia 🇷🇺

Currency
Ruble.

Banknotes come in denominations of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, as well as the rarely used 10 and 5 note. Coins come in breakdowns of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50.

It can be tricky to exchange British pounds for currency in Russia. US dollars or euros are preferred.

Using cards
Exchange your cash before you leave and consider topping up a prepaid currency card; you just top up in the UK and use it at ATMS in Russia to withdraw the local currency or use as a debit card in shops, restaurants and hotels across the country.

Most places will also accept credit cards and there are ATMs in most major cities. You should inform your bank before you travel to avoid having a temporary stop on your card.
It is illegal to pay directly for general transactions with dollars or euros.

Travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted.

Useful advice
It is customary to tip in restaurants and cafes but optional elsewhere. Leave 10% or small change if the service warrants it.

Take the hassle out of travel money with a FairFX Prepaid Mastercard®. Manage on the go with ease and use it to spend in shops, restaurant and at ATMs, wherever you see the Mastercard Acceptance Mark.

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Miles Hobson

Miles Hobson

Miles oversees marketing communications at FairFX. He has a passion for travel and loves to explore new cities on foot to find their hidden gems.

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