Money and Costs
Euro (€), pound (£), Swiss franc (Sfr), rouble (R)
Bargaining isn't common in much of Europe, but it is known in and around the Mediterranean. In Turkey it's virtually a way of life.
ATMs are common; credit and debit cards are widely accepted.
Across major European towns and cities international ATMs are common, but you should always have a back-up option, as there can be glitches. In some remote areas ATMs might be scarce.
Much of Western Europe now uses a chip-and-pin system for added security. You will have problems if you don’t have a four-digit PIN and might have difficulties if your card doesn’t have a metallic chip. Check with your bank.
Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN and make sure there are no unusual devices attached to the machine, which can copy your card’s details or cause it to stick in the machine. If your card disappears and the screen goes blank before you’ve even entered your PIN, don’t enter it – especially if a ‘helpful’ bystander tells you to do so. If you can’t retrieve your card, call your bank’s emergency number, if you can, before leaving the ATM.
It’s a good idea to bring some local currency in cash, if only to cover yourself until you get to an exchange facility or find an ATM. The equivalent of €150 should usually be enough. Some extra cash in an easily exchanged currency is also a good idea, especially in Eastern Europe.
Visa and MasterCard/Eurocard are more widely accepted in Europe than Amex and Diners Club; Visa (sometimes called Carte Bleue) is particularly strong in France and Spain.
There are, however, regional differences in the general acceptability of credit cards; in Germany, for example, it’s less common for restaurants to take credit cards. Cards are not widely accepted off the beaten track.
To reduce the risk of fraud, always keep your card in view when making transactions; for example, in restaurants that do accept cards, pay as you leave, following your card to the till. Keep transaction records and either check your statements when you return home or check your account online while on the road.
Letting your credit-card company know roughly where you’re going lessens the chance of fraud – or of your bank cutting off the card when it sees (your) unusual spending.
The euro, used in 19 EU states as well as four other non-EU states (Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City), is made up of 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500, though any notes above €50 are rarely used on a daily basis. Coins come in 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, €1 and €2.
Denmark, the UK and Sweden have held out against adopting the euro for political reasons, while non-EU nations such as Albania, Belarus, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine also have their own currencies.
Montenegro and Kosovo have both unofficially adopted the euro as neither country has a currency of its own.
It’s always worthwhile having a Maestro-compatible debit or Visa-debit card, which differs from a credit card in deducting money straight from your bank account. Check with your bank or card provider for compatibility.
Euros, US dollars and UK pounds are the easiest currencies to exchange. You may have trouble exchanging some lesser-known ones at small banks.
Importing or exporting some currencies is restricted or banned, so try to get rid of any local currency before you leave. Get rid of Scottish pounds before leaving the UK; nobody outside Britain will touch them.
Most airports, central train stations, big hotels and many border posts have banking facilities outside regular business hours, at times on a 24-hour basis. Post offices in Europe often perform banking tasks, tend to open longer hours and outnumber banks in remote places. While they always exchange cash, they might baulk at handling travellers cheques not in the local currency.
The best exchange rates are usually at banks. Bureaux de change usually – but not always – offer worse rates or charge higher commissions. Hotels and airports are almost always the worst places to change money.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
International bank transfers are good for secure one-off movements of large amounts of money, but they might take three to five days and there will be a fee (about £25 in the UK, for example). Be sure to specify the name of the bank, plus the sort code and address of the branch where you’d like to pick up your money. To avoid bank charges consider using an online transfer service such as TransferWise.
In an emergency it’s quicker but more costly to have money wired via an Amex office or Western Union.
Taxes & Refunds
When non-EU residents spend more than a certain amount (around €175, but amounts vary from country to country) they can usually reclaim any sales tax when leaving the country.
Making a tax-back claim is straightforward. First make sure the shop offers duty-free sales (often a sign will be displayed reading ‘Tax-Free Shopping’). When making your purchase, ask the shop attendant for a tax-refund voucher, filled in with the correct amount and the date. This can be used to claim a refund directly at international airports, or stamped at ferry ports or border crossings and mailed back for a refund.
Service charges are increasingly added to bills. In theory this means you’re not obliged to tip. In practice that money often doesn’t go to the server. Don’t pay twice. If the service charge is optional, remove it and pay a tip. If it's not optional, don’t tip.
Tipping isn't such a big deal in Europe as it is, say, in North America. Small change usually suffices in Italy or Spain. Between 10% to 12% is common in the UK. Unlike North America, credit-card machines generally don't have in-built tip requests meaning you'll have to leave your gratuity in cash.
Budget: Less than €70
- Dorm beds: €15–30
- Museum admission: €5–15
- Pizza or pasta: €8–12
- Double room in a small hotel: €70–120
- Short taxi trip: €10–20
- Meals in good restaurants: per person €20–40
Top end: More than €200
- Stay at iconic hotels: from €150
- Car hire: per day from around €35
- Theatre tickets: €15–150