Can You Spend Leftover Euros in London and Around the UK?

Wallet with Euros and pounds
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As a visitor traveling between the UK and Continental Europe, you may wonder whether you have to keep changing your currency every time you cross from the Euro Zone into UK. Can you spend your euros in London and elsewhere in the UK?

This may seem like a simple, straight forward question but the answer is a little more complicated than that. It is both no and - surprisingly - yes...and also maybe. More importantly, is it a good idea to even try to spend euros in the UK?

After Brexit

The United Kingdom never adopted the euro as its currency and has always handled it as foreign currency, just like dollars. So, following the UK's vote to leave the European Union (EU), the situation regarding spending euros in the UK is not likely to change. Those stores that do have facilities for accepting euros only do so as a courtesy service for the many foreign tourists who visit them.That is unlikely to change.
What may change, however, at least for some time, is the volatility of exchange rates between the pound sterling and the euro. Before you try to use your euros in one of the UK shops that accept them, check the exchange rate (one of these tools will help) to see if some other method of changing them might be better.

First the "No You Can't"

The official currency of the UK is the pound sterling. Shops and service providers, as a rule, only take sterling. If you use a credit card, regardless of the currency in which you pay your bills, the card will be charged with sterling and your final credit card bill will reflect currency exchange differences and whatever fees your issuing bank levies on foreign exchange.

And Now for the "Yes, Maybe"

Some of the UK's bigger department stores, especially the London stores that are tourist attractions in themselves, will take euros and some other foreign currencies (US dollar, Japanese yen). Selfridges (all branches) and Harrods will both take sterling, euros and US dollars at their ordinary cash registers.

Selfridges also takes Canadian dollars, Swiss francs and Japanese yen. Marks and Spencer does not take foreign currency at the cash registers but it, like other stores popular with visitors, has bureaux de change - where you can readily change money - in most of its larger stores.

Lately, I've also noticed that some pay telephone boxes in London and some other popular tourist spots, have started accepting euros. But as working public payphones that take cash are becoming a rarity these days, I wouldn't count on it.

And About That Maybe

If you are thinking of spending euros in England or elsewhere in the UK keep in mind that:

  • even if a shop takes foreign currency at its cash registers, your payment is still a foreign exchange transaction, subject to exchange rates - the difference in value between one currency and another.
  • exchange rates calculated at the cash registers by stores that take euros may not be the best rates you can get, may be out of date, or may be subject to a small extra fee.
  • shop assistants are not really accustomed to taking foreign currency and your transaction may take longer than you'd like.
  • those stores that do take euros will generally only take euro notes - they will not take coins.
  • you will have to pay for your goods using one currency or another. You cannot pay for part of your purchase with euros and part of it with pounds sterling.

The Best Strategy for Euros and Other Foreign Currencies. . .

. . .Change it when you get home. Every time you change money, you lose some monetary value in the exchange. If you visit the UK as a last stop before heading home, or if your visit is part of a tour of several countries, it's tempting to change your funds into the currency of country you happen to be in. Don't. Instead:

  1. Buy the minimal amount of currency you think you'll need to get by. It's better to use your credit or debit card or to buy a little extra than to have loads of foreign currency left over.
  2. Remember to use up your coins - they are almost impossible to change between currencies.
  1. Hang onto your leftover currency until you get home. Put away your euros, Swiss francs, Danish krone, Hungarian forints in a safe place and change them all at once into your own national currency when you get home. If you don't, you lose value with every exchange.

Beware of Scammers

In some parts of the world, dealers who have identified you as "foreign" may try to sell you currency in exchange for dollars or euros. If you've traveled to the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe and Africa, you may have already encountered this.

This practice is virtually unknown in the UK so, if you are approached, don't be tempted. Be on your guard because you are probably being hustled. The person offering you the exchange may be trying to pass you counterfeit money or may simply be distracting you while their pickpocket/purse snatcher friends get to work.