Spending money in Ireland, as in paying for goods and services, should not lead to major problems for visitors. On the other hand there are some problems with “Irish money”, as there are two totally different and wholly independent currencies in use on the island of Ireland. The Euro in the Republic, the Pound in Northern Ireland. And then there is that PIN and Chip thing with the credit cards, which might trip you up.
So brush up your knowledge of Irish money and the methods of monetary transaction available before you pay over the odds. Or cannot pay at all.
Unless you are on an all-inclusive cruise you will, more than likely, need to pay at least for some for goods and services in Ireland. Straightforward, you might think, just whip out the plastic. Not so fast: cash is the most immediate form of payment and accepted everywhere (in fact preferred in a number of cases), credit cards and traveler's checks school be seen as an alternative only. And then there are pitfalls. When visiting Ireland you will often have to cope with two currencies - the Republic is part of the Eurozone while Northern Ireland uses Pounds Sterling. The good news: in the border regions, both currencies tend to be accepted, but this should never be taken for granted.
Republic of Ireland - Euro and Cents
Here are the most important facts you need to know about the Euro used in the Republic of Ireland:
One Euro (€) has 100 Cent (c) and coins are available in denominations of 1 c, 2 c, 5 c (all copper), 10 c, 20 c, 50 c (all golden), € 1 and € 2 (silver with gold). While the design of the side bearing the numerals is standardized throughout the Eurozone the reverse is of local design, Irish Euros bearing a harp.
Non-Irish Euro coins are legal tender.
Take note that some machines will only accept non-Irish Euro coins with a bit of persuasion (try, try again) or not at all. Spanish coins are notorious in the latter department and can be a headache on automated tollbooths on the motorways.
Banknotes are totally standardized throughout the Eurozone and most commonly available in denominations of € 5, € 10, € 20 and € 50. Higher denominations (€ 100, € 200 and even € 500) are available but rare - some traders may refuse them. Improvements in design and paper quality have led to two versions of the € 5, € 10, and € 20 notes, the older one being still accepted, but then phased out.
Take note that the cost of production of 1 and 2 Cent coins exceeds their actual nominal worth, so they are slowly being phased out. In Ireland a “rounding system” has been introduced in 2015, the final sum to be paid will generally be rounded (up or down) to the nearest 5 Cents. Thus a sum e.g. ending in 11 or 12 Cents will be rounded down to 10 Cents, 13,14, 16, and 17 Cents will be rounded to 15 Cents, 18 and 19 Cents will be rounded up to 20 Cents. In the long run, you won’t be off any better or worse than before.
Northern Ireland - Pounds and Pennies
Here are the most important facts you need to know about the Pound used in Northern Ireland:
One Pound Sterling (£) has 100 Pence (p) and coins are available in denominations of 1 p, 2 p (all copper), 5 p, 10 p, 20 p, 50 p (all silver), £ 1 (golden) and £ 2 (silver with gold). 50 c and £ 1 coins can have commemorative or local designs on the reverse.
Banknotes are commonly available in denominations of £ 5, £ 10 and £ 20. £ 50 Notes are available but rare, again some traders may refuse them.
You should know, however, that banknotes in the United Kingdom are issued by individual banks, not by a central authority, with each bank using its own design. Apart from notes issued by the Bank of England, you will encounter notes from Northern Irish banks and the Bank of Ireland, plus you may also receive Scottish notes as change. All are valid currency but the different designs can be confusing.
The confusion is not eased by the takeover of Northern Bank, now part of Danske Bank, issuing Pounds Sterling with a Danish company name.
One word of caution. Notes not issued by the Bank of England may be hard to exchange back in your home country, so spend them first!
Rounding as outlines above is not the practice in Northern Ireland.
Possible—many shops in the border counties accept the "other" currency at their own (sometimes quite favorable) exchange rate (check it in real time at this link). You will, however, only get change in the local currency. You'll also find the odd parking meter that will accept Euros in Northern Ireland.
Plastic is Fantastic
Credit cards are widely accepted everywhere in Ireland, with Visa and Mastercard being the most popular. Acceptance of American Express and Diners cards is decidedly lower, JCB cards are nearly unknown. There might also be a minimum purchase clause in many shops—no credit card transactions below € 10 or even £ 20. And beware of the trader charging you in your own currency "for convenience." Insist on being billed in Pounds Sterling or Euros when purchasing goods, not in Dollars (here the trader uses his own exchange rate, which will be very convenient to him and more than likely leave you short-changed).
Most ATMs (colloquially called "Hole in the Wall" or simply cash machines) at banks (or in retail outlets, and many petrol stations) will accept credit cards for cash withdrawal, but check the fees with your credit card company first. The actual exchange rate is (usually) quite good. Another way to get handy cash is by "cashback" when making purchases, here the store charges you the goods plus e.g. € 50, handing you the latter in cash.
Credit card skimming is on the decline, but still a risk. So watch out for any contraptions at ATMs that look suspicious.
Beware: in Northern Ireland, only credit cards using the "chip and PIN" system are accepted in shops. In the Republic, things are heading that way too.
Debit cards are also widely accepted, again you should check with your card provider before traveling.
Old School - The Check
Travelers Checks used to be a secure and convenient alternative to cash and credit cards but even historically were not actually accepted outside the major tourist centers. These days, they are definitely facing extinction. Most traders will not accept them anymore, and you will even have problems exchanging them in most banks.
Personal checks are, generally speaking, not accepted at all. Especially not those from non-Irish banks.