Spending Money in Europe… Contactless in king!



Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, Europeans tended to use cash for their day-to-day spending much more than Americans did. Back in the early 2000’s Europeans carried lots of cash in their pockets on a daily basis.  Even as recent as 2019, I would deal mostly in cash when making purchases less than €50.  But, that has all changed with “social distancing” and the Covid-19 Pandemic panic.  

In 2022, CONTACTLESS payments are the way to go.

igenicoMachine Either TAP your contactless credit/debit card to the MACHINE or your WRISTWATCH to the machine.  However, you must set this contactless system up with your bank and credit card provider before leaving home.  ApplePay and GooglePay have similar systems for phones and portable devices.

And, by the way, the MACHINE is portable.  It comes to the table at a restaurant, and your credit card never leaves your hand.




If you need CASH, use a BANK ATM Machine

Using your debit card from your local back home is still the best way to get cash while traveling in Europe.  There are ATMs (often called Bankomats) everywhere, and you treat them like those in the United States.  Insert your card, type in your PIN code, and choose the cash amount. The machine makes noise and then spits out cash in the local currency.   

EuroNet ATMAVOID EURONET ATM MACHINES! – These machines have popped up all over Europe in the last year.  The machines are typically in storefronts and advertise “free cash withdrawals.”  Those traveling with me have reported high fees and exorbitant exchange rates combined into 20% or more markups.  

If you have cash to spend, get to know the currency, both notes, and coins.


Paper currency (notes) are very easy to identify in all European countries.  They all have a number in the corners denoting the value of the note.  To make it even easier, European notes have different sizes and colors for each denomination.  A €50 note is larger than a €5 note and is a different color.  This holds whether you’re spending UK Sterling, the EU euro, or any other currency.  Other than it looks like Monopoly money, you should have no trouble working with paper currency.
I still carry a small daily supply of banknotes in my front pocket, secured with a money clip.   Each morning I take inventory of my banknotes and load up with what I think I might need to spend during the day.

The remainder of my stash of cash (and passport and credit cards) goes in my money belt tucked neatly and safely inside my pants.  Now, of course, I know this is not living like a local, but it does give a peace of mind knowing that in unfamiliar circumstances, I don’t have to worry about my important stuff being taken from me.



You’ll likely use a few coins in Europe, like for doing laundry. It’s a good idea to do a little homework before your trip and study the different coin denominations, colors, and sizes.  Here are some hints:

I like to lay all the coins out and do a mental and physical quiz each time I arrive in a new country.

Here is how I begin this quiz in the European Union.


Here is how I begin this quiz in the United Kingdom.

I like to use two pockets to sort out my coins; one for small coins under €1/£1 and another for large coins over €1/£1.
Before going into a shop, I take inventory of the coins in my pocket so that when the merchant gives me the total, I’ll know if I have enough coins to make the purchase or need to pay will bank notes.
Gone unchecked, coins can be overwhelming.  It is a good idea to use many coins as you can on a daily basis.  
After your trip, spend or cash in the coins before leaving the airport.  Since many European coins are high-value, it can be expensive to fly home with a pocket full of change.  Before heading home, spend them, trade them in or give them away.

Plastic Credit Cards 

Europeans don’t make a distinction between credit cards and debit cards. I don’t believe I’ve ever had anyone ask “debit or credit.” I use my plastic (credit card) for larger purchases such as hotel bills, airline tickets, car rentals, and other big-ticket items.  It makes perfect sense to use a credit card for online and telephone purchases.  Credit cards also come in handy for purchases at unattended self-service machines in train and bus stations and at those unmanned European gas stations. Unfortunately, you’ll most likely need a chip-and-pin card for these.  See my chip-and-pin card article for more information.

American credit cards work throughout Europe and are widely accepted at major hotels, stores, and attractions, especially in tourist-oriented areas.   In smaller towns and mom-and-pop operations, credit cards may not be accepted because the merchant must pay the credit card company a hefty fee for the “privilege” of accepting credit cards.  Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted.   The American Express card, although a well-known name in the travel industry, is often not accepted due to the higher transaction fees the merchants must pay American Express.

Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) is a service offered to credit cardholders that offers to convert a foreign transaction at the point of sale into the home currency of the cardholder.  This is never a good idea for the consumer because it comes with inflated exchange rates that benefit the merchant.  An unsuspecting cardholder can lose up to 7% by opting into this feature. Since DCC works against the purchaser, never say you would like your purchases to be converted to dollars.

About the Author
If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers, and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below. ------David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small-group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

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