Best Ways To Use Money In Europe

Backpacking europe

Don’t! But seriously at some stage you’re going to have to dip those short arms into those very deep pockets and spend the hard-earned, tough-saved money you put aside for your big backpacking trip. Make sure you follow these tips to soften the blow and make the most of your funds.

European money

One of the many delights of the European Union project is the euro, that cross-border multinational single currency that you can use from Spain to Slovakia. The euro is so much better than trading your pesetas for francs for lira just to take a one-day drive. The euro comes at you in: 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, 1€ and 2€ coins, and 5€, 10€, 20€, 50€, 100€, 200€ and 500€ bills.

The 50€ and €100 notes are difficult to get change for in places, so if you have a choice opt for smaller bills from ATMs (see below). Also, there’s a good chance you won’t see a 200€ or 500€ note unless you’re an international drug smuggler, and the small coins are pretty much useless. The 1€ and 2€ coins can buy you a bottle of wine, and the 5€ notes will get you a meal in most places, and the rest of them are very handy and should be treated with reverence whenever they land in your hands.

The exchange rate for the euro varies, but generally it is similar to the US dollar, and one Australian dollar will get you about 70¢ euro. Make sure you check the exchange rate to keep tab of what you’re spending. You’ll be surprised at how mathemagical you become, quickly processing the price of beer into your own currency and coming to the conclusion that it’s a damn good deal. Xe.com is a great site to compare exchange rates and even view trends, if you want to become a Wolf of Struggle Street.

Some nations in Europe still don’t use the euro, so when you’re visiting: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Romania, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, you’ll have to learn a new exchange rate and become proficient in converting their currency into your own.

Best way to get cash in Europe

The humble ATM is the best way to pull out as much money as you are willing to spend/need, while getting competitive exchange rates. There’s a bit of an imprecise science to using automatic teller machines in Europe, but generally if you have a credit or debit card with the Cirrus or Plus stamp on it, it will work all over Europe, so long as your card has a four-digit PIN.

You have to check with your bank at home before you set out, but depending on your account and card type you will be hit with different fees for using your account abroad. Some banks issue a flat-fee per transaction, something like five bucks, which is encouragement for you to take out large amounts, while other banks will hit you with a small percentage fee. Many banks nowadays are issuing travel money cards which allow you to convert your home currency to the currency of the place you are in, as well as withdraw money without a fee. If your bank offers this service, it’s definitely worth your while to look into it.

The bank you use to withdraw money from in Europe may also charge you a fee for the service. In our country guides we’ll give you an indication of the better banks to use in each place, but as a general rule the ATM will inform you of any charge on their behalf and you can choose to go ahead with the transaction, or to cancel it and find a more favourable rate at another bank. Once you find a bank that is kind to your balance stick with it wherever possible.

You can also use your debit and credit cards to perform purchases in stores and restaurants/bars across Europe. When prompted always opt to perform the transaction in the currency of the country you are in. That will ensure you get the best exchange rate. It’s also better to use a credit card as the service provider will offer you another defence against fraud if someone tries to rip you off.

Some other things to consider when using debit/credit cards across Europe are:

  • Always have a backup card/cards, a few accounts and make sure you have access to internet banking so you can move your money around as you need to. That way, if you misplace a card you can quickly move money out of that account so if it falls into the wrong hands you won’t be cleaned out.   
  • Try not to get scammed. Sure, that’s easier said than done, as the whole point of a scam is to fool you, but if the ATM seems tampered with, or dodgy, give it a miss and find another. European scammers are very slick and chances are if they want to get you, they will. Thankfully, if you report the scam immediately your bank or travel insurance will reimburse you.
  • Make sure that your card has “chip and pin” capabilities, thus allowing you the best chance of being able to access your accounts both in ATMs and in store.
  • Make sure you inform your bank that you’ll be travelling abroad. It’s very nice of them to protect us from theft and fraud, but when they freeze your account because you took some money out it can be a big pain in the posterior.

Alternatives to using  banks

To save on bank fees and get the best exchange rates across multiple currencies, consider apps like Revolut, which provide fee-free spending in any currency around the world (over 130 currencies) and that offer the best exchange rates out there. Just download the app, top-up your account and order a card. You can save on fees, and the app is pretty slick and easy to use. 

Exchanging money

You can also exchange all currencies into euros, although people are doing this less and less now as ATMs offer better rates and more security. The best way to exchange currency would be to avoid, where possible, doing it in the airport and instead waiting until you get to a tourist spot where vendors compete with each other with rates. Make sure you confirm how much you’ll receive once the exchange is done and compare that amount with various money changers. Some of the tricks they employ is sliding exchange rates for different amounts exchanged, and charging commission after the rate has been agreed upon. Always double check the amount given to you, but this isn’t as dodgy as other parts of the world, where ripping travellers off with sleight of hand is a part of their business model.

Stokie says:

“Someone once skimmed my card in the tinies village in the remotest part of Spain. No idea who was going all the way out there to put a skimming machine on the ATM, but they got me. I always give the machine a little shake to make sure nobody’s added anything, so these guys were really good I can’t see how I could have avoided being ripped off. They got me good, too, draining me to the bottom and then going into overdraft and I don’t even have overdraft! Anyway, it was a bit of a hassle and I had to borrow money, but I got it all back eventually. The banks are good like that.” Sammy, 28, security

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