The Ultimate Guide to Money & Currency in Scotland
Travelling to a new country can lead to worries about how you’ll pay for things when you get there, especially if you’re not familiar with the currency. Thankfully, most retailers in Scotland widely accept a variety of payment methods. Our currency, the Pound Sterling (£), isn’t too difficult to get to grips with.
When you’re paying for something, remember that 100 pence make up one Pound, much like 100 cents make a Euro or a Dollar. The singular form of pence is penny, and it’s symbolised by a lowercase letter ‘p’—pronounced ‘pea’. So, if you ask the price of an item, you might be told it’s “three fifty”, “three pounds fifty”, or “three pounds and fifty pence” (£3.50). If the item is less than £1, the price will often be spoken as “fifty pence” or “fifty pea” (50p, or £0.50).
With those basics covered, here’s everything you need to know about paying for things in Scotland.
Does Scotland Use Euros Or Pounds?
Scotland uses the Pound Sterling (GBP) as its official currency, like the rest of the UK. There were discussions of Scotland adopting the Euro if it became independent and rejoined the European Union (EU), but this is a long way off, if it ever happens.
Recognising Sterling Notes and Coins
Understanding the local currency and its different denominations is essential for a smooth trip to Scotland.
Scottish banknotes can be slightly difficult to get to grips with, as there isn’t a standard design. Instead, there are three banks in Scotland which each print their own designs (Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Clydesdale Bank). South of the border, you’ll find all Bank of England notes look the same.
Thankfully, all Sterling notes have the same colour scheme to help you out. Their value is also clearly printed on them on both sides. Notes also vary in size, getting larger as the value increases.
- The smallest notes are five pound notes, which are coloured blue.
- Slightly bigger are the brown ten pound notes.
- Bigger still are twenty pound notes, which are purple.
You also get £50 and £100 notes, but you’re unlikely to come across these. £100 notes are produced by all three of Scotland’s issuing banks, while £50 notes are only produced by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland. Depending on the issuer and whether the notes are cotton or polymer, £50 and £100 notes can be either green, red, or turquoise.
Here are two notes you’ll commonly come across: the Bank of Scotland £5 and £10 notes. Notice the colours of the notes and the slight size difference. On the left, you’ll see the front side of the notes, while the image on the right shows the reverse side:
Coins can also be a bit difficult to understand at first if you’re not used to them, as they come in many shapes and sizes! The denominations Sterling coins come in are:
- 1p: Bronze, round, and quite small
- 2p: Similar to the 1p coin, but larger
- 5p: Silver, round, and very small (smaller than a 1p coin)
- 10p: Similar to the 5p coin, but larger
- 20p: Silver, heptagon (7-sided), small
- 50p: Similar to the 20p coin, but larger
- £1: The newer-style pound coins that have been in circulation since 2017. They are 12-sided, silver in the middle and gold on the outside. Prior to this, the coins were round and only gold in colour. They’re thicker than the smaller value coins.
- £2: The highest-denomination Sterling coin, £2 coins are similar in colour to the new £1 coins. However, they’re round rather than 12-sided, and they’re also larger in diameter.
Here are all the coins lined up in order from largest to smallest. You can see both the front sides (top) and rear sides (bottom) of each coin:
Identifying Fake Notes
It’s worth familiarising yourself with the different features of Sterling banknotes so you can identify counterfeits (fakes). You should be able to see a security thread running through the note with its value printed on it. There’s also a see-through element on the note, which changes when held up to the light. If in doubt, compare the note you’re unsure of to one that you know is genuine.
Here’s a look at a Bank of Scotland £10 note before (top) and after (bottom) holding it up to a light to see the security features (highlighted):
Are Royal Bank Of Scotland Pound Notes Still Legal Tender?
Although they stopped being widely produced in 2001, Royal Bank of Scotland £1 notes can still be used. They haven’t been widely used since around 2006, and they might raise some eyebrows if you try to use them in shops! If you get your hands on one, consider keeping it as a souvenir instead.
Can You Use Paper 20 Pound Notes In Scotland?
Polymer notes were introduced in Scotland in 2015, gradually replacing paper notes one denomination at a time. On the 30th September 2022, paper £20 notes were officially withdrawn as legal tender, although it is still possible to exchange them at one of Scotland’s three issuing banks as of August 2023. So if you still have some paper notes left from a previous trip, you’ll need to head to a bank to exchange them as they’re unlikely to be accepted by retailers now.
Are 100 Pound Notes Accepted In Scotland?
Yes, £100 notes are accepted in Scotland, and Scotland’s three issuing banks still produce them.
With that said, many retailers choose not to accept the 100 pound note in Scotland (as well as £50 notes in some cases), particularly for lower-value items, due to concerns about counterfeiting. If you’re exchanging a large amount of cash, it’s better to get it in smaller denominations (£10 and £20) to avoid any difficulties in using larger notes in shops.
And, if you’re travelling onwards to England, you’ll almost certainly struggle to use your £100 notes. The Bank of England doesn’t produce notes in this denomination—you’ll probably confuse some shopkeepers if you try to use one!
Can You Use English Money In Scotland?
Yes, English money can be used north of the border in Scotland. In fact, any Sterling notes can be used in Scotland, although Bank of England notes are more readily accepted than Irish banknotes.
Is English money legal tender in Scotland?
Bank of England notes are not actually legal tender in Scotland, but they will be accepted anywhere that accepts cash. Interestingly, Scottish banknotes are not legal tender in England either… or even in Scotland!
Essentially, no banknotes are legal tender in Scotland due to some complicated and no doubt outdated regulations.
Don’t panic though, you’ll be able to use both Scottish and English banknotes throughout the country anywhere that cash is accepted with no issues.
Getting English Money in Scotland
While you won’t need English banknotes in Scotland, it might be worth getting some if you’re planning to continue your journey into England. You might also need some if you’re travelling onwards outside of the UK and will need to exchange currencies upon arrival—many banks and exchange bureaux in other countries won’t accept Scottish notes.
Some retailers in England won’t accept Scottish banknotes, but usually it’s fine. Mine piqued the interest of some shopkeepers during a recent trip to London, but they were always accepted after a quick “ah you’re from Scotland, wow look at these designs” and so on.
ATMs from one of Scotland’s issuing banks will dispense their own banknotes. So if you’re wondering how to get English money in Scotland, you’ll have to find a Natwest or Barclays ATM. These will generally give you English notes.
It’s also common for ATMs in airports to give English notes, although it’s better to try and get them sooner in case you can’t get any in time! Generally, most banks will give you English notes if you ask for them.
You might get lucky and find an ATM that tells you “this machine dispenses English notes only”—they’re common in tourist hotspots like Inverness and Edinburgh where many may be travelling onwards to England.
Are Bank Cards Accepted in Scotland?
Major bank cards are widely accepted in Scotland. There are a few places where cash is necessary, but the vast majority of the time you won’t struggle to get by with just your card. Visa and MasterCard debit and credit cards are readily accepted across the country, as are cards from Eurocard, Diners Club and American Express.
Prepaid travel cards are also a valid option, although it’s becoming increasingly common for banks to offer great value fees for use abroad. Platforms like Wise and Revolut are excellent options, as they offer favourable exchange rates for many major currencies, and lower fees than many other options.
If you lose your card in Scotland, report it straight away using the following numbers:
- American Express: 0800 917 8047
- MasterCard & Diners Club: 0800 86 4767
- Visa: 0800 89 1725
Using Your Bank Card in Scotland
You might have to let your bank know that you’re travelling to Scotland to avoid your card being blocked. At the same time, check what fees they might charge—sometimes there’s a fee on every transaction plus a less favourable exchange rate, so using your card a lot can add up.
Chip & PIN is the standard for making card payments in Scotland if not using contactless (which I’ll cover next). However, many American cards require the cardholder to sign the receipt rather than entering a PIN when using the card. There’s usually little problem using these cards, though. During a recent trip around Scotland with an American friend, the only time the card caused a slight problem was at the self-service checkout in a supermarket (it was still accepted but confused the shop staff a little!).
What About Traveller’s Cheques?
Traveller’s cheques are becoming less common thanks to the ready availability of international cards. They aren’t accepted everywhere and can incur high fees, so it’s not the most favourable option and one I’d recommend against unless you have no other choice. You’ll generally have to exchange them for cash at a bank or bureau de change.
Digital Payment Methods in Scotland
Contactless and other digital payments are on the rise in Scotland, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. Touch-free payment methods were preferred during this time, and their convenience has caused them to stick.
Almost everywhere that takes card will also offer contactless payments, meaning you can tap your card or use a digital wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay. Keep in mind that there can be limits on how much you can spend when paying with one of these methods. For contactless cards, it’s usually £100—for sums larger than this you’ll need to insert your card into the card reader.
Digital Wallets can be a bit more flexible. Although Apple states that you may not be able to use Apple Pay for transactions over £100, many retailers do not have a limit. I use Apple Pay for almost everything and have yet to have it declined for the total being too high.
Apple and Google Pay are one of the best payment methods for most transactions in Scotland. With them, you don’t have to worry about carrying your card or a large amount of cash. You also have the added benefit of being able to keep track of all your payments in one place.
Cryptocurrency isn’t yet widely accepted in Scotland, although the Bank of Scotland does have facilities to help customers buy and sell crypto. To use Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies to buy goods in Scotland, you’ll probably have to use a Bitcoin debit card, which works like a prepaid card, instead. Until crypto use becomes more widespread, I’d advise travellers to stick to other payment methods rather than relying on crypto.
Do I Need Cash When Visiting Scotland?
While you can probably just about get by without any cash in Scotland, it’s a good idea to take at least a small amount as a backup. Some places don’t accept cash anymore following the pandemic, and card is very widely accepted.
However, there are a few things you might still need some loose change for, like:
- Certain parking meters (although many now take card or have apps where you can pay).
- Leaving tips in a restaurant (again, sometimes possible with card nowadays).
- Paying small retailers who don’t have a card reader (for example, some market stalls).
How to Exchange Money in Scotland
You can exchange currencies at major banks and dedicated bureaux de change in Scotland. You can find these at the airport and in some supermarkets, travel agencies, and Post Offices.
If you want to use cash in Scotland, it’s a good idea to do it before you leave. Exchanging currency at the airport once you arrive is likely to carry higher fees than doing it at a bureau de change in your home country. In fact, Investopedia claims that the airport is the worst possible place to exchange currency!
Airport bureaux de change, like all other airport facilities actually, exploit the fact that travellers might need their services urgently, charging over the odds just because they can. If you have to get cash at the airport for your onward journey, try and do it at an airport ATM instead of at the kiosk.
If you’d rather wait until you arrive at your destination, a good choice, a bank will usually offer a better exchange rate. ATMs are increasingly giving better exchange rates too, so you can withdraw cash directly from a machine. Check with your bank to ensure your card can be used for this purpose abroad and that there are no or minimal fees attached.
If you’re looking to exchange money in the city centre or other popular tourist areas, it’s best to do it at a bank or Post Office. Here, you’ll get better rates than if using exchange bureaux or hotels.
Using ATMs in Scotland
ATMs are fairly easy to come across in Scotland. You’ll find them attached to banks, but also in many supermarkets and some shopping centres (malls).
Be careful, though—the latter will often charge a fee for withdrawing money (even for local cards), which can be up to £5 per withdrawal. These fee-charging ATMs are also quite common in tourist areas.
However, most ATMs offer free cash withdrawals. If there is a fee, it will be clearly displayed on the screen before you go ahead.
It’s quite easy to find ATMs that don’t charge for withdrawals. As of most recent estimates, there were 4655 ATMs in Scotland and 3763 had no charge to withdraw cash. Using a bank’s ATM is the best and easiest way to avoid any withdrawal fees.
There’s also a chance that your foreign card will attract further fees when used at a Scottish ATM. Check with your bank, as fees will vary between providers. There’s likely to be both a transaction fee and a non-native currency withdrawal fee. Don’t forget to factor these into your budget if you plan on taking out cash regularly during your trip.
ATMs in Scotland generally accept all cards from major networks, including prepaid cards. You will need a 4-digit PIN to be able to make withdrawals from an ATM.
What Can I Do With Spare Pounds After My Trip?
Exchange rates are likely to be poor if you want to exchange Sterling back into your local currency when you get home. It also means you could have to pay exchange fees again, after already paying them to buy your Sterling initially. However, if you have no further need for your money, this might be the only option.
Alternatively, you could save them for a future trip back to Scotland or elsewhere in the UK. The only other country that uses Sterling as legal tender is South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.
If friends or family are visiting the UK soon, consider giving or selling your leftover money to them. If not, why not donate it to charity before you leave?
The last option (and perhaps the most fun) is to simply spend it on some last-minute treats and souvenirs!
What Will My Pounds Get Me in Scotland?
Scotland isn’t the cheapest country to visit, but that’s not to say you can’t do it on a budget. Costs vary widely depending on where you’re visiting, if you plan to eat out, and which attractions you want to visit.
Generally, cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow will have higher costs than smaller towns and more remote areas. However, the cost of living has been increasing a lot recently across the UK, and many shops and restaurants have increased prices accordingly.
As a very rough guide, here’s what you can expect to spend each day when in Scotland:
You might also want to bring some emergency cash and set aside some spare funds in your bank account in case you need them. In some remote areas, cards and digital wallets may be less widely accepted. Having cash on hand is a good idea if you’ll be heading out of the city.
Certain businesses also have a £5 or £10 minimum spend on card due to the fees involved. So, you might need cash for making some small purchases.
Exchange rates constantly fluctuate, and can vary between banks, too. As a very rough guide, at the time of writing (August 2023), the exchange rate between major currencies and GBP was as follows:
- 1 USD = 0.78 GBP
- 1 EUR = 0.86 GBP
- 1 CAD = 0.58 GBP
- 1 AUD = 0.51 GBP
- 1 JPY = 0.0054 GBP
- 1 INR = 0.0094 GBP
- 1 ZAR = 0.041 GBP
VAT Refunds for International Travellers
These were stopped in the UK, including Scotland, at the start of 2021. There are talks of reintroducing them again in 2024-25, although nothing has been confirmed yet. The UK’s VAT rate is one of the highest in modern economies (20%), so travellers stand to save quite a considerable amount if the scheme returns.
A Last Word…
Most trips to Scotland are hassle-free in terms of making payments, as long as you’ve done your research. Remember:
- Scotland’s currency is Sterling, and English banknotes are freely accepted.
- Major cards and digital payments are very widely accepted.
- You can exchange your currency for Sterling at bureaux de change, banks, or withdraw Sterling from ATMs. Fees and charges vary.
- Look into different card options before you travel: you might find one with low or no fees for international use.
- Ask for cash in lower denomination notes, as £50 and £100 notes may be difficult to use.
- Avoid exchanging currency at airport bureaux de change if possible.
Are foreign currencies accepted in Scotland?
No, the only currency that’s widely accepted in Scotland is the pound sterling. Some say you might be able to use Euros or US Dollars in major tourist areas, albeit at a poor exchange rate, but I’ve yet to come across a business that will readily accept them at all.
It’s better to play it safe and stick to Sterling.
Are there any restrictions on bringing cash into Scotland?
Yes, as with many countries, you cannot bring large amounts of cash into Scotland without declaring it at UK Customs. You can bring amounts of up to £10,000 in cash (or equivalent in other currencies) into Scotland without declaring it. It’s also forbidden to bring counterfeit notes of any kind or value into the country.
You’ll also need to declare any cash over £10,000 or equivalent when leaving Scotland, no matter where you are travelling onwards to (unless you are staying within the UK). Remember, your destination might also have restrictions on bringing in large sums of money.
The above rules apply to the total sum of the cash carried by your family or group you are travelling with, even if individual members have less than £10,000 each.
Is Scotland going cashless?
While cash is still very widely accepted, there has certainly been a shift towards card, particularly contactless, payments in recent years. It was seen as a more hygienic option during the pandemic, and the convenience has stuck. However, there are very few, if any, places in Scotland that won’t still take cash as well.
What was Scotland’s currency before the pound?
Sterling has been used in Scotland since the Act of Union in 1707. Before this, the Pound Scots was used.
Can Scotland use the pound after independence?
What Scotland’s currency might be if the country becomes independent is a much-debated topic. However, it’s generally accepted that Sterling could continue to be used, at least in the early days of independence. It’s thought that a Scottish Central Bank would be established, which would eventually release its own currency, the Scottish Pound.
Is it safe to carry cash in Scotland?
Pickpocketing is quite rare in Scotland, and tourists should generally have nothing to worry about. Of course, it’s always sensible to avoid carrying more cash than you need to just in case. Just be aware of your surroundings, especially during busy times like the Edinburgh Fringe or sports events, and keep cash safe within your wallet.