The Ins and Outs of Australian Currency

Various Austrialian bank notes.
••• Carolyn Hebbard / Getty Images

It’s important to have a basic understanding of a country’s money before you get there – if for no other reason than so you don’t accidentally tip the waiter $100 for your meal when you meant to hand over a crisp $10 note!

Australian money is easy to work with, as it comes in a variety of different colors and sizes for ease of identification.

The Basics

The money in Australia consists of both banknotes and coins, and the denominations rise in value from 5¢ to $100.

While the banknotes and coins of the Australian currency are generally easier to differentiate from each other than those of other countries such as the U.S. currency, it’s still a good idea to become familiar with the denominations beforehand. Learning to associate different values with color and size is a practical way to prevent confusion.

Within the Australian currency, there is 100¢ in every dollar, as is the case with any decimal currency. Compared to the U.S. dollar, the value of the Australian dollar has varied from being worth around 50c of the greenback in the mid-2000s to rising above the U.S. dollar in the last five years, which was good news for those travelling to Australia!

Australia’s Colourful Banknotes

Australian banknotes, which may be referred to as bills in other countries, are all of higher value than the coins.

In order of denomination, they are as follows:

  • $5 – pink/purple
  • $10 – blue
  • $20 – orange
  • $50 – mustard yellow
  • $100 – green.

As mentioned, each banknote is a different color, which reduces the possibility of confusing values.

The $5 note is light pink in color and features various types of native Australian fauna, a picture of Parliament House in Australia’s capital city, Canberra, and the face of Queen Elizabeth II, highlighting Australia’s remaining place in the British Commonwealth.

In September 2016 a brand new $5 note was released with braille features for the vision impaired.

The $10 note is blue in color, and currently features Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson, the Australian bush poet, and on the reverse side, Dame Mary Gilmore, another Australian poet.

The $20 note is a burnt orange color, and depicts early businesswoman Mary Reibey on the obverse, and founder of the world’s first air ambulance, John Flynn is on the reverse side.

The $50 note is yellow in color and features Indigenous Australian author David Unaipon, and on the reverse side, the first female member of ​Australian parliament, Edith Cowan.

The green $100 note depicts soprano singer Dame Nellie Melba, and on the reverse side, engineer Sir John Monash.

Sizes and Shapes

Australian banknotes are all different sizes horizontally, though vertically they are identical. The smallest note is the $5, and they increase in size with value, ending at the largest note and highest value of $100.

While USD bills are currently made from cotton fibre paper, Australian banknotes are made from plastic. The process of producing plastic banknotes for currency was established in Australia.

Coinage

Australian coins are gold and silver, though these terms refer to their coloring rather than the metals contained within.

The denominations of the coins are 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and $2.

The 5¢ coin is silver, quite small in size and round in shape.

The 10¢ coin is also silver and round in shape, though bigger than the 5¢. The 20¢ coin is similarly silver and round, and larger than the previous two.

The 50¢ coin is the largest of all the coins, silver in color, and is shaped as a 12-sided polygon.

The $1 and $2 coins are gold, round in shape, and smaller than the 20¢ and 50¢ coins. The $2 is similar in size to the 5¢, and the $1 is akin to the 10¢.

Practical Advice

When preparing for your vacation in Australia, you should note that the currency used to include copper 1¢ and 2¢ coins, however, they are no longer in circulation. Therefore, the price of goods and services in Australia is generally rounded to the nearest 5c.

Often you will see items advertised for an amount that ends in 99c, however, this would be rounded up at the register: for instance, $7.99 would become $8.00 if you pay cash, or would be charged at $7.99 if you use a debit or credit card.

Some automatic-exchange tollbooths and other similar coin-operated facilities do not accept 5¢ coins. As a general rule of thumb, it’s wise to always carry $1 and $2 denominations for such situations.

Edited by Sarah Megginson.