Heading to Europe for the first time? There are a few things about money you need to know before you go! From what bills to have on hand to understanding tipping and when to use cash or card, here are 10 money tips you need to know about money as an American visiting Europe for the first time.
1. Not Every European Country Uses the Euro
Many European countries (19 of them!) use the Euro as their currency, but there are 8 major exceptions. While we’re only listing those within the EU (and Switzerland, as a popular tourist destination), it’s important to note that most Eastern Europe and the Balkan countries also have their own currency. Familiarize yourself with the local currency to avoid any hiccups during your journey!
If the country you’re visiting is not mentioned here, they probably use the Euro! And to squash any strange ideas now – no, they absolutely do not want and will not take your US Dollar.
- Croatia – Croatian kuna (Until January 2024, then it will move to Euro)
- Czech Republic – Czech Koruna
- Denmark – Danish Krone
- Hungary – Hungarian Forint
- Poland – Polish Zloty
- Romania – Romanian Leu
- Sweden – Swedish Krona
- Switzerland – Swiss Franc
- UK – British Pound
2. Cash Does Not Mean Dollars
We feel like we shouldn’t even have to clarify this, but after overhearing an American woman in Italy exclaim “I don’t have cash, I only have euros!” Apparently some things must be said. Cash is not an American thing. Cash refers to bills and coins in any currency. Cash is euros, coins, pounds, swiss francs, krone, etc. Any money you can physically hold is cash. (The more you knoooow.)
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3. Cash Versus Cards
Before embarking on your first Europe trip, it’s crucial to understand the currency and payment options available in your chosen destination. While most cities across Europe widely accept credit and debit cards, it’s always wise to carry some cash, especially for smaller establishments and markets. As a general rule, be prepared with small bills for any purchases under $20. Why small bills? Because even though a 20 euro bill seems perfectly adequate to most, we have witnessed far too many scoffs over breaking a ten for a 3 euro gelato. They’ll do it, but they’ll often give attitude for “excessive” change making.
4. How To Get Cash
The best practice (and cheapest) for having cash on hand in a new country is to go to your bank 5-10 business days before your trip and ask them for the new currency. Depending on your bank, this transaction will either be free or just a few dollars. If you’re like us and realize the airplane tires hit foreign soil that we forgot to do this, then find an ATM to take out money in cash! You can do this even with an international debit card and even some credit cards. There will typically be a small transaction fee along with the exchange rate. It’s still cheaper to take out cash this way than to go to a money exchange or Western Union.
5. European ATMS
ATMs in Europe will almost always have an English option to help you navigate the machine. We recommend exclusively using ATMs that are attached to a national or international brand instead of more randomly placed and branded ones to prevent fraud. When possible, we recommend using ATMs inside of a bank to withdraw cash as needed.
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6. Some Change Is Worth More Than You Think
While in America, anything over 99 cents is a bill. In Europe, coins go up to 2 euros! Ironically, the 2 euro coin is also one of the smallest. You’ll find 5, 10, 20, and 50 cent as well as 1 and 2 euros all in coin form. So unless you’re feeling extra generous, maybe consider the coins you’re tossing into a street performer’s guitar case or throwing into the Trevi Fountain in Italy.
7. Tipping Culture
Tipping practices in Europe differ from those in the United States. While in America, tipping is customary and often expected, it’s not as prevalent in Europe. Some countries include service charges in their bills, but tipping in Europe is not common. It’s always courteous to leave a few euros for a tip when service is phenomenal, but it’s rarely the expectation. In fact, some countries consider tipping rude. Always check local customs and norms in the country you’re visiting, as each country may have unique tipping practices.
8. You’ll Need Coins for Most Public Restrooms
Finding public restrooms in some European cities can be challenging, and many require a small fee to use them. Carry some coins (typically 50 cents to 1 Euro) to access public restrooms in train stations, museums, and other public spaces. In some cases, making a small purchase at a café or restaurant may grant you access to their restroom.
While we’re on the topic, know the rules are not the same as they are in the US. Hotels, stores, and cafes don’t have to provide a restroom for you. You can never demand to use a place’s toilet nor expect to find one in each attraction or shop you visit. Also, don’t ask for a “bathroom” or “restroom.” If you’ve gotta go, look for WC (water closet) or toilet (or toilette) signs. “Bathroom” doesn’t translate the same in Europe! Think toilet, toilet, toilet.
9. Beware of Pickpockets
Speaking of money, it’s important to keep what you bring by protecting yourself against pickpockets. Pickpocketing is the most common type of crime in Europe. And while most of Europe is relatively safe for tourists, it’s always prudent to remain vigilant, especially in crowded tourist areas. Pickpockets can be opportunistic, so keep your belongings secure and be cautious with your valuables. Don’t put anything in your back pockets, and consider using a crossbody bag and keeping your phone tethered to a phone leash to deter pickpockets and minimize the risk of theft.
10. Use Small Bills For Local Public Transportation
One of the best ways to explore Europe is through its efficient and extensive public transportation networks. Trains, buses, trams, and metros are commonly used to get around, and they provide a budget-friendly option to travel between and within cities and towns. Unless you’re using a transportation app like Trainline, you’ll need small bills or coins on hand for most public buses, trolleys, trams, and boats for journeys costing under $10 that have people operating the transportation. This doesn’t mean every train ticket needs to be paid in cash! It’s easier to keep small cash on hand to give to bus, tram, or trolley operators when you need a short ride for 50 cents-5 euros per ride instead of finding out how to buy a ticket in advance.