What You Need to Know About the Euro

Euro bank note and coins in jar at the beach during sunset
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Traveling around Europe before 2002 meant obtaining a new currency and learning a new exchange rate every time you crossed a border. On January 1, 2002, the euro replaced most national monetary units with a single, shared currency for some of the countries that are a part of the eurozone.

The original 12 countries to adopt the euro were Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. In the following years, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania adopted the euro as well. Additionally, the four microstates of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City adopted the euro, despite not being members of the European Union.

Outside of the European Union, there are several other countries and territories that pegged their currencies to the euro, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and 15 countries in Africa. 

How Prices Are Written

The euro sign (€) references both the Greek letter epsilon and the letter "E" for Europe. Depending on what country you are in, the currency sign may come before the number (€12) or after (12€). Be aware that many European countries use a decimal comma, so €12,10 (or 12,10€) is 12 euros and 10 cents.

Which Currencies Did the Euro Replace?

Before the adoption of the euro, each country had its own national currency. 

  • Belgium: Belgian franc  
  • Greece: Greek drachma  
  • France: French franc
  • Italy: Italian lira
  • Netherland: Dutch guilder
  • Portugal: Portuguese escudo
  • Germany: Deutsche mark
  • Spain: Spanish peseta
  • Ireland: Irish pound
  • Luxembourg: Luxembourg franc
  • Austria: Austrian schilling
  • Finland: Finnish markka 
  • Estonian: Estonian kroon
  • Latvia: Latvian lats
  • Lithuania: Lithuanian litas
  • Slovakia: Slovak koruna
  • Slovenia: Slovenian tolar
  • Cyprus: Cypriot pound
  • Malta: Maltese lira

About the Euro

Paper money is issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros, although notes over 50 euros are rare. The bills have a universal design across the eurozone, so a 5 euro bill looks the same whether you receive it in France or Greece.

Coins are circulated in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, as well as 1 and 2 euros. Each country is able to customize the back face of its coins, using a design that represents the national identity. For example, the euro coin made in Ireland shows an Irish harp. The coins are transferrable across borders, so you can use coins minted in one country in any other eurozone country.

Outside the Eurozone

There are several nations in Europe that didn't adopt the euro, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Croatia, and Switzerland. If you're traveling to any of these countries, you'll need to exchange for the local currency.

Switzerland is unique because it's completely landlocked by countries that do use the euro. Although the official currency of Switzerland (and Liechtenstein) is the Swiss franc, shops and restaurants in Switzerland often accept the euro. However, they are not obliged to do so and they will apply an exchange rate that won't be to your advantage. If you are planning on staying in Switzerland for an extended period of time, it's smarter to get some francs.

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