A Complete Guide to British Currency

The UK unit of currency is pounds sterling (£), not the Euro. If you plan on visiting Britain, it's important to familiarize yourself with the UK currency, especially since new note and coin designs have been circulated between 2016 and 2018. Luckily, each note is a different color, so it is easy to tell them apart when you're looking through your wallet.

Currently, all of the banknotes and coins used in the U.K. feature the likeness of Queen Elizabeth II. However, due to her recent passing, currency will be updated with the new monarch, though it will take some years for the changes to go into effect.

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Fifty Pound Note

A roll of £ 50 on spread banknotes
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The 50 pound note has had several iterations with paper notes featuring the first governor of the Bank of England, Sir John Houblon, and later, Matthew Boulton and James Watt were depicted on it. In 2021, a polymer 50 pound note was released with a depiction of the famed codebreaker, Alan Turing. Paper notes can be used until Sept. 30, 2022 at which point only polymer notes will be accepted by businesses.

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Twenty Pound Note

Man with banknotes in his pocket
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The Bank of England issued the Adam Smith 20 pound note in March 2007. The note features Adam Smith, an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, and economist, on the back. It is the same size and predominantly the same color (purple) as the old 20 pound note that featured English composer, Sir Edward Elgar.

In 2020, a new 20 pound note featuring famous British painter JMW Turner entered circulation, replacing the Adam Smith bill. It will has a self-portrait (the same 1799 painting that can be seen in London's Tate Britain museum), the ship depicted in Turner's work The Fighting Temeraire, and the artist's quote "light is therefore colour" with his signature. Old paper 20 pound notes can be used until Sept. 30, 2022.

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Ten Pound Note (Old)

Ten pound notes
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The Bank of England 10 pound note is commonly referred to as a "tenner." Old versions, such as the one pictured above, feature Charles Darwin, who is recognized for his theory of evolution and natural selection. The paper note with Charles Darwin was issued in 2000 and withdrawn from circulation in March 2018.

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Ten Pound Note (New)

New 10 pound note
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As of September 2017, a new yellow-orange 10 pound note has been introduced, featuring renowned author Jane Austen. On the front, there is a new hologram with the crown, a see-through portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and Winchester Cathedral in gold foil. The reverse side has a profile of Jane Austen, a Pride and Prejudice quote, an illustration of Elizabeth Bennet, and an image of Godmersham Park. This new bill is also plastic and waterproof.

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Five Pound Note (Old)

Cropped Image Of Hand Holding Five Pound Note Against White Background
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This £5 note (also called a "fiver") was circulated in 2001 and discontinued in May 2017. It features 19th-century prison reformer and philanthropist Elizabeth Fry. Known as the "angel of prisons," Fry advocated for legislation that promoted humane treatment for incarcerated inmates.

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Five Pound Note (New)

Close up five pound note
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Introduced in Fall 2016, the most recent £5 note to go into circulation has a picture of Queen Elizabeth on one side and Sir Winston Churchill on the other. These bright teal blue notes are supposedly cleaner and more difficult to counterfeit thanks to enhanced security features. One problem with the new polymer notes is that they have a tendency to cling to each other from static electricity. So if you have several fresh ones, make sure you don't accidentally pay with two notes instead of one.

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UK Coins

Pound coins and bank notes

There are eight accepted coins in UK currency all of which are minted by the Royal Mint. The coins' values are 2 pounds, 1 pound, 50 pence, 20 pence, 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, and 1 pence (penny). In 2008, the backs of all the pence coins were redesigned to show different segments of the Royal Shield. Pound coins are sometimes referred to as "quids" by locals, so don't be confused if you hear that expression on the street or in shops. The slang term refers to the value rather than to the 1 pound coin itself. The expression is not used for other coins except in terms of their value. So, if you had a handful of mixed coins worth a total of 2 pounds you might say you had a couple of quids worth of coins. 

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Two Pound Coin

Two pound coin
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The British 2 pound coin has a silver-colored center and gold-colored edge. Since it was introduced in 1997, the 2 pound coin has featured three different portraits of Queen Elizabeth II. The front was designed by Jody Clark in 2015.

The reverse side of the 2 pound coin has also changed. Bruce Rushin designed the original coin, which was circulated from 1997 to 2015. It showed a group of connected gears and the inscription "standing on the shoulders of giants" around its edge to symbolize Britain's technical advancements from the Iron Age and the Industrial Revolution. The newest coin, in circulation today, has Antony Dufort's Britannia design with the inscription "quatuor maria vindico," which translates to "I will claim the four seas."

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One Pound Coin

Close-Up Of One Pound Coin
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At first, the 1 pound coin may look similar to the 2 pound coin. They each have Jody Clark's Queen Elizabeth II design on the front and both are bimetallic. However, the new £1 coin, which was introduced in March 2017, is 12-sided and has a completely new design on the back. As a nod to the United Kingdoms' four nations, there is an English rose, a Scottish thistle, a leek for Wales, and a shamrock for Northern Ireland, all rising from the top of a crown.

The coin is expected to get another makeover in 2023 with a design by Keyan-born British artist Michael Armitage.

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Fifty Pence Coin

Fifty Pence Coins
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The 50 pence (50p) coin is a seven-sided, silver coin. Since it was first created in 1969, the coin has had Queen Elizabeth's profile on the front.

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Twenty Pence Coin

British Money
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Twenty pence (20p) coins look very similar to 50p coins in that they're both seven-sided, silver, and have a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and a piece of the Royal Shield on the back. If you get confused, check out the label ("20 pence" or "50 pence") on the reverse of each coin to differentiate them.

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Ten Pence Coin

Ten pence piece
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The 10 pence (10p) coin is round and silver, with an image of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and a part of the Royal Shield on the back.

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Five Pence Coin

Five pence piece
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Five pence (5p) coins are similar to 10p coins. They are both round and silver, with Queen Elizabeth II on the front and a part of the Royal Shield on the reverse. However, the 5p coin is much smaller than the 50p, 20p, and 10p coins.

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Two Pence Coin

Two pence coins
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Round two pence (2p) coins stand out as they are made of copper. Otherwise, the design remains the same: Queen Elizabeth's portrait and a section of the Royal Shield.

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One Pence Coin

Britsh penny coins
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The copper one pence (1p) coin is commonly called a "penny." It is the lowest value coin to be circulated in the UK.