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Understanding the Euro

Handling money in much of Europe is easier than ever

Handling money in much of Europe is easier than ever

The introduction of the euro in 2002 may be the most important change in currency since the Roman Empire. The single monetary unit for most of the European Union (EU) states has become even stronger than the US dollar. But what are the effects for travelers in Europe and how is the new currency used?

When did the changeover happen?

The last date for changeover to the euro was February 28, 2002. By this date, all coins and notes of old currency became unusable. Some countries changed over earlier; in Germany, for example, the last day that the Mark was permitted was December 31, 2001. As new countries join the EU, they will also switch over to the euro, though strict financial and economic standards must be met before they can adopt the currency.

Which countries use the euro?

There are currently 23 countries using the euro: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Vatican City. In all of these countries the only accepted currency is the euro. Three major members of the EU still continue to use their own currency: Great Britain (the pound), Denmark (Danish krone) and Sweden (Swedish krona).

There are also a number of other countries in the European Union that have still not adopted the Euro as their main currency: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

More than 330 million people now use the euro as their currency.

What does the euro look like?

Like the US dollar, a euro is divided into 100 cents. There are seven different bills and eight different coins in use. The coins are: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents; and one and two euro pieces. The bills are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros. The coins all have the same front, but each country in the Eurozone has printed different designs on the back. Countries that are monarchies often have a picture of the reigning monarch and others tend to have national symbols or representations of the country. The Italian euro coins, for instance, all have individual designs on the back, relating to a common theme. The one euro coin has a picture of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci on the back; the five cent coin has a picture of the Colosseum. The Italian people were allowed to vote on the choice of designs by a TV poll. However, coins from all EU countries are interchangeable and can be used throughout the Eurozone.

The euro bills all have a common design on both sides.

What are the effects of the euro's introduction?

The introduction of a single European currency was intended to stimulate trade and travel within Europe. Though some countries who adopted the euro found that there was a slight rise in prices immediately after it was adopted, the news is all good for those traveling in Europe. The ease of using the same currency in more than 12 countries within a close geographical location is noticeable. Not only do you not have to change currency more than once if you're planning on visiting France, Italy and Germany, but you also won't have to pay commissions to get money converted, so if you're visiting a lot of European countries, you can save a considerable amount of money. The conversion rate from dollars to euros fluctuates, but as of August 2012, $1 = .81 euros (1 euro = $1.22).

 
 
Melisse Hinkle
A New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has lived in four U.S. cities, spent a summer in Hawaii, made her way through wine-producing regions in Australia and New Zealand, and traveled around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Content Manager for the U.S. and Canada at Cheapflights.