- a thematic guide to Britain
British currency, how to pay for things, and other tips
and pence - the British currency
Throughout the United Kingdom - though not in the Republic of Ireland -
the currency used is the Pound, or Pound Sterling. The bank reference
for this currency is GBP.
One pound is divided into 100 pennies, or pence.
To specify sums of money, pence
normal plural form
of the word penny
one pound is worth more
and more than
one US dollar.
After the Brexit referendum result, the pound fell in value by
world currencies, meaning that Britain got quite a
cheaper for foreign visitors. Since then it has risen again; but there
is still uncertainty over what Brexit will bring, and the British
currency could go up in value, or could go down. The value of the pound
will remain volatile until the final outcome of Brixit has been
determined. Until then it will probably fluctuate as international
currency speculators push its value up and down.
Here are the conversion rates as of January
2020 conversion rates : One British
||1.31 US dollars
||1.7 Canadian dollars
|1.9 Australian dollars
||144 Japanese yen
||9 Chinese yuan
In other words, for example, an item costing
costs the equivalent of 117 €uros, 131 US dollars, 170
Canadian dollars, 900 Chinese yuan, etc.
Coins are used for units up to the value of
£2. Banknotes start at £5.
Sums are expressed in different ways by different
speakers. For example, the sum of £24.99 may be expressed as
"Twenty-four ninety-nine", or "Twenty-four pounds ninety-nine", or even
"Twenty-four pounds and ninety-nine pence".
Sums below one pound may be expressed, for
example, as "Forty-five pence" or "Forty-five pee", but never
"forty-five pennies". The word "pennies" is not used in sums
or transactions; only in generic expressions such as "pounds and
The word "quid" is slang for "pound(s)", as in
"That'll be fifty quid please".
The word "a grand" is slang for a thousand pounds.
UK shops offer online sales, with (often free
delivery to Europe or even worldwide.
Some have prices in Euros or dollars, others in sterling. For a
selection of the best shops, see Online
By far the easiest way to pay for things in Britain - in shops,
restaurants and hotels, is by "plastic". International credit or debit
cards, notably Visa
can be used all over Britain. Many outlets and ATMs also accept
American Express and
other international cards. For smaller amounts, most shops and traders
are now equipped with contactless card readers, which can be used
without the need to enter your PIN number, below a certain sum.
Paying in cash
However, there are always a few places - not many
- that do not
accept plastic cards - for instance small shops, small restaurants,
market stalls, old parking meters, and so on, so visitors to Britain
need to have some pounds and pennies available.
It is however now quite possible to spend a week
or two in Britain as a tourist, without ever needing to use cash.
It is not usually possible to pay for things in cash in
Britain using dollars or euros. It is normally essential to have pounds
and pennies. However in London, some of the big department stores, such
as Marks and Spencer or Selfridges, accept payment in Euros and/or
dollars. But the exchange rate is liable to be unfavourable.
It would be far better to withdraw pounds from an ATM (cash
machine, cash distributor, cashpoint) and pay in sterling, rather than
to try and pay with a different currency.
getting your pounds
Credit or debit cards and ATMs
The easiest way to get your British pounds, and often the cheapest way,
is to use your Visa or Mastercard in a British ATM, just as you would
at home. But before you come to the UK, make sure that you
tell your bank at home that you are going to the UK, and ask them to
set your maximum withdrawal level as you will need it. Many banks have
security systems that will stop a card being used, abnormally, in an
unusual location; so if your card is suddenly used for withdrawing
money in the UK, your bank's computer system may imagine that this is a
fraud, and block your card. This can be extremely problematic
for visitors in a foreign country.
Exchange fees and commissions
Your bank will normally charge you a small fee for using your card
abroad, and a small foreign exchange fee. So it does not make a lot of
sense to use your card for a lot of small purchases or withdrawals, on
which you will pay a lot of exchange fees; far better normally to
withdraw a useful amount of cash (1 withdrawal = 1 fee), and pay for
small purchases in cash.
bank-operated ATMs in the UK will not normally charge you for using
their ATM; however, there are a lot of ATMs in non-bank locations
(garages, train stations, motorway service areas, etc.) which are not
bank ATMs, but are run by private finance companies. These can, and
usually do, charge an
for using their machine, in addition to those
that your own bank will charge.
means of obtaining your Pounds
you do not want to, or cannot, use a credit card or debit card while
visiting Britain, you must make other arrangements. The best method is
to get Sterling (GBP) from your bank before leaving home
either get cash or sterling-denominated travellers cheques.
Your own bank may well offer you a better exchange rate than other
You can also buy British pounds in exchange
for foreign banknotes in many banks in the UK; however,
even if the UK is a relatively safe country, it is not advisable for
tourists to go round with hundreds of pounds worth of cash in
banknotes, on their person.
find yourself having to exchange money at a "bureau de
change" or foreign exchange kiosk in at an airport, ferry terminal, or
other location. Privately operated currency-exchange kiosks often take
considerable commissions, even when, as often, they announce "We take
Don't fall for that one. They may take no
"commission" in the sense that they don't take any further fee off the
sum in Sterling once they have converted it for you. On the other hand,
they may use a hugely unfavourable exchange rate, well below
that offered by reputable banks. So even with "no commission", they
don't give you a good rate for your exchange transaction. It's easy to
lose up to 10% when converting money, especially if you convert small
are no longer much used, as they have been largely made redundant by
the use of credit and debit cards, and the availability of cash
dispensers (ATMs). However they still exist, and can be cashed in major
banks in the UK, though are little use elsewhere. It's maybe useful to
have some for use in an emergency if all your credit cards should stop
working, or reach their limit.
is often possible to have money wired to you while in the UK, using the
services of companies such as Western Union or Moneygram - even Paypal.
Union has agents in most UK towns and cities, in a variety of types of
establishment including travel agencies, newsagents, grocery stores,
financial services agents, and other outlets, but not usually banks.
Moneygram tends to use more institutional agents, notably
Post offices and big travel agencies.