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Where to exchange currency and exchange rates

The British currency has two units - the pound and the penny.

100 pennies make £1.
Currency paper notes are £5, £10, £20 and £50.
The different notes are quite similar in size and appearance, so be careful! £50 notes are not common, and many shops will not accept them, because of the danger of forgeries.
Coins are:
£2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p.
In Scotland, Scottish banks issue their own Bank notes of various values. British and Scottish notes and coins are interchangeable but you might find some reluctance in the South of England to accept Scottish notes though area's near Scotland will happily accept them, we therefore recommend that you have exchanged / spent any Scottish currency before leaving Scotland .
Channel Islands and Isle of Man have some different coins from the mainland.
You can spend British currency there, but you cannot use Channel Islands and Isle of Man currency in the rest of Britain.
The Republic of Ireland has coins and notes of similar sizes to Britain
They are a different exchange rate to the UK pound.
You cannot use British money in the Republic of Ireland, or Irish money in Britain.

In conversation and shops, people often do not say 'pounds'. Something which costs £6.50 would usually be described as"six fifty". For things which cost less than one pound, people may say "pence", but often they say "pee", meaning "p". For instance, "That is ninety-nine pee".

This goes back to the time in 1971 when decimal currency started. Before that time, there were 240 old pennies to the pound. At the time of change, to avoid confusion, people called the new pennies "new pee" or "pee".

The larger coins will often be called, for example, "a fifty pee", or a "fifty pee piece".

Best ways of obtaining British money

You can change cash and traveller's cheques at British Banks, Building Societies (these are similar to banks), larger Post Offices, larger Travel Agents, some larger Tourist Information Centres, American Express, and Bureaux de Change.

Be careful, as some cost more than others!

You will probably pay much more at Bureaux de Change at airports and in the centre of London.

Banks, building societies and travel agents will usually charge a fixed percentage fee, about 3%, with a minimum of fee of £2.50. Or it might be 2%, with a minimum fee of £3.

Some, such as the Halifax building society, may charge a £2 handing charge, plus 1% fee. It is worth looking around.

Larger Post Offices charge only a 1% fee, minimum £2.50, so they can be a good place to go.

Can it be cheaper?

Yes. For instance, Thomas Cook, one of the largest travel agents, make no charge for cashing sterling traveller's cheques issued by one of their own branches in another country.

Barclays Bank also make no charge for cashing travellers cheques issued by Barclays in another country. And as mentioned, Post Offices can be cheap.


Different companies will use different exchange rates from each other. So, although their "commission charge" may be lower, or free, they may be using an exchange rate which is not so good for you. They will often use a slightly different rate for buying or selling cash, than for traveller's cheques.

So bring a pocket calculator, and compare rates!

The Online Universal Currency Converter will give you exchange rates for any combination of about 75 currencies.
The Oanda 164 Currency Converter offers conversion of no less than 164 different currencies! The UK Currency Converter gives quite a good range of info about a conversion... eg: GBP/euros

Banks, building societies and post offices are open all weekdays, and Saturday mornings. They are not usually open Saturday afternoons or Sundays. Travel agents are often open on Saturday afternoons, and some may open Sundays. They usually close for national holidays.

Credit / debit cards

Most shops will accept payment by Credit / debit cards, a sign will be displayed outside the shop or need the payment point. Some shops do make a charge for the use of a credit card.
In an attempt to prevent fraud and misuse of cards new protection systems are being introduced in the UK, the use of "pin numbers", check with your bank if the facility is available for your card.
In most towns, you will find cash dispensers which will accept Switch(Maestro) cards, VISA and MASTERCARD credit cards. This can be a cheap way of obtaining British currency, because they work on a good exchange rate. There will probably be a fee for credit cards used this way, this is often about 1.5%. Check the situation with your own bank first. There will probably be a maximum amount of money that you can withdraw each day, in this way. Please be warned that some independent cash dispensers will charge to withdraw cash, a notice should be displayed to inform you of a charge.

What to bring

It is safest to bring money in several forms - some cash, some traveller's cheques (which, if stolen, can be replaced), and, if you have them, credit/debit cards. You may bring into Britain, or take out from Britain, as much cash as you wish. There may be rules in your own country, however, as to how much you may take out, or bring back.

If you are coming from a country where the currency is not very stable, or not very common in Britain, (South America, Russia, for example), it will be much easier for you to exchange cash if you bring in US dollars, instead of your own type of currency.

Of course, if you intend to stay in Britain for a period, for example as a student, it will be best to open a British bank account. Money can then be transferred from your own country directly into your British bank account.

A few shops in tourist areas may accept some well-known overseas currencies, but this is not usual. Most shops, restaurants, and places of entertainment will accept payment by credit or debit card. This is a good way of paying as there is not usually a fee charged by your credit card company.

Shops may wish to check on larger payments first.

Value added tax

Value Added Tax - "VAT" - at 17.5% is added to most sales and services. Usually it is included in the price quoted.

If you live outside the European Union, it may be possible to reclaim VAT in certain situations. Keep all your receipts, and see the section in the British Tourist Authority 'BRITAIN' booklet about how to do this. Some shops, selling more expensive goods, operate a scheme for overseas visitors outside the European Union, to sell to you without VAT at the time of buying.

Before you buy expensive things, be sure that you will not have to pay too much for them in customs, on returning to your country. Make sure, too, that any electrical goods will operate on the voltage in your country. Especially note that televisions and videos sold in Britain may not operate on the television systems in your country. Thought for the day:

  These are true words and everyone should believe them. Christ Jesus came into the world to save bad people. And I am the worst of all. 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 15