An in-depth guide to Scottish currency
As a tourist, currency in Scotland can be a little confusing. There are four countries within the UK; some have different notes and different localised slang for money. This article will look at how currency works in Scotland, along with some helpful tips!
The pound sterling - notes and coins of the United Kingdom
Scotland uses the pound sterling, which uses the symbol £. The pound (GBP) is the currency of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), and it is available in coins and notes.
Most coins are less than one pound: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p (the p stands for pence and is pronounced "pee"); there are also two coins of £1 and £2 in mass circulation. There is 100p in £1, and the £2 coin is the single highest value.
1p and 2p coins are brown/bronze coloured, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coins are silver. £1 and £2 coins are a mix of silver and gold (in colour only, silver and gold aren't used in any coins).
How to pay with Scottish coins:
When paying for things with coins, if the cashier said, "That's one pound fifty, please", meaning one pound and fifty pence (150p). You could hand over the following:
A £1 coin plus a 50p coin.
A £1 coin plus two 20p coins and one 10p coin.
Three 50p coins.
Any other combination of coins to make up £1.50.
However, handling over £1.50 with 75 2p coins would be frowned upon and take too long for the cashier to count. So try not to hand over a load of "shrapnel" or "joe broons"!
If you are paying for something that is one penny off, for example, £1.49, you can either say keep the change or accept your 1p penny in change; there is no right or wrong here.
Are coins useable throughout the United Kingdom?
Yes, the coins from 1p through to £2 are the same in all UK countries.
Scottish bank notes
Bank notes are available in denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100, and Scottish notes are easily recognisable at a glance by their colour.
£5 - blue.
£10 - brown.
£20 - purple.
£50 - red.
£100 - turquoise.
If visiting Edinburgh, there is a free Museum called "Museum on The Mound" where you can see Scotland's oldest banknote and a 1 million pound note!
Can you use English money in Scotland?
Yes, English banknotes are legal tender in Scotland. Despite Scotland being a country, it is currently within the political union of the United Kingdom and shares a currency with all of the constituent countries - England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Can I use Scottish money in England?
It's a bit of a contentious issue this one. Scottish notes can be used in England, and it is legal to use them, but many businesses will not accept them. Unfortunately, this often leads to an embarrassing scene with the shop owner holding them up to the light and scrutinising them closely before declaring them invalid.
Scottish notes aren't seen as much in some parts of England, so people unfamiliar with the look and feel of Scottish notes look at them with scepticism. It can sometimes come across as a bit anti-Scottish, and a bit pompous, but I guess if they have little experience with Scottish currency, it's reasonable for them to decline them.
On top of that, Scottish notes are technically not legal tender, even in Scotland, because Scottish retail banks issue them instead of the Bank of England. Scottish notes are "promissory notes", and UK law states that banks issuing Scottish notes (such as the Royal Bank of Scotland) hold English banknotes or gold of equivalent value. An odd system, but there we have it.
If you have Scottish banknotes and decide to visit England, it's worth visiting a local bank and asking them to convert them into Bank of England notes - it will make your life much easier south of the border. The same coins are used throughout the UK, so you will not need to convert those to an English equivalent.
Using your bank card in Scotland
Carrying cash is becoming less common in Scotland, especially with the current limit on contactless payments being raised to £100 per transaction. Cash is still commonly used to pay for smaller things like eating out and taxis.
Different bank cards will offer better or worse value in Scotland. Visa or Mastercard logo cards will likely be accepted in more places and offer better rates than American Express or Diners Club.
Be aware that some establishments, in particular bars and restaurants, may only accept cash, so it's worth having some banknotes on your person, too, just in case.
Using a debit card is a convenient way to pay for things in Scotland, but just be aware of high fees when using your card. Check with your card issuer to see what fees you may pay for transactions in Scotland.
Credit cards are accepted throughout Scotland, but it is worth checking if your particular card is accepted before purchasing or ordering anything. You will have a better chance of your card being accepted by using Visa and Mastercard than American Express. It's unlikely your Diner's Club card will be taken anywhere.
Overseas transactions may incur additional fees too:
An exchange rate margin.
International transaction fees.
A cash advance fee if you use an ATM.
Prepaid travel cards
Another popular option for paying for goods and services in Scotland is prepaid travel cards. I have used a Revolut card in Scotland, which works perfectly well. Just be aware of exchange rates when you exchange your home currency into pounds sterling for use on the card, and again be aware of any fees too.
Currency slang words
As with most places, money often takes on local vernacular. For example, "a few quid" means a few pounds in some areas, and in the northeast of Scotland, "a few poun" (missing the d) is common.
Doric language example:
"Fit like min, do you hae change o a poun?" / "How are you, do you have change of a pound?".
Some note denominations are also said in slang, for example, "fiver" for £5 and "tenner" for £10. Some Scots will also call money dosh and dough, but that usage is less common.
How do I withdraw cash in Scotland?
Getting cash in Scotland is the same as in most developed countries:
Physically within a bank by speaking to a bank teller or using an ATM found outside banks and at most supermarkets and high streets.
The three Scottish retail banks are:
Bank of Scotland
Royal Bank of Scotland
Another option on offer is to ask for cashback in supermarkets. Basically, when purchasing items from an assistant at a till or from the self-service machines, you can ask or select cashback while paying for your items. You will pay for your items and then receive the cash amount requested. This method is useful if there is no ATM nearby or just to save time.
How do ATMs (automated teller machines) work in Scotland?
ATMs work the same way as in other countries and can be accessed using international bank cards. Here are the basic steps for using an ATM in Scotland:
Insert your card into the ATM.
Enter your 4-digit pin code.
A welcome message will appear asking you what service you want.
Select withdrawal and choose the amount. Preset amounts will appear, but you can enter your own amount if you wish.
Your card will be ejected from the machine.
Collect your cash from the dispenser.
Please note that some ATMs do actually charge you to withdraw cash from them, sometimes as expensive as £1-2 pounds per use! Very annoying! You should see a message on the ATM before you withdraw if there is an additional fee for withdrawing cash. Charges are more likely to occur at a petrol station or fast food outlets; banks and supermarkets ATMs usually are free to use.
What if the ATM gives me the wrong amount of money?
If a bank is attached to the ATM and is open, enquire with a bank teller there. If at a supermarket you could ask at customer services, but you may have to call the helpline for the ATM provider.
Tipping in Scotland
Tipping isn't expected in Scotland, but it is a nice thing to do, particularly for younger people, as their pay is significantly less. A 10% tip is average, but it won't offend not to tip. Sometimes service charges can already be added to your bill, so check before tipping. You can read my dedicated guide to tipping in Scotland here.
How much do things cost in Scotland?
The costs of goods and services vary wildly across our wee country. Things tend to be much more expensive in the major cities and tourist-heavy areas.
Accommodation - £2 to £150 per night.
Daily car hire - £10 to £120.
Fish and chips - £8 to £10.
Three-course evening meal for two - £50 to £70.
Pint of beer - £4 to £5.
Whisky distillery tour - £20.
Self-catering is much cheaper than eating out daily; Aldi and Lidl are the cheapest supermarkets; ASDA, Tesco, Morrisons, and Sainsbury's are midrange, and Marks & Spencer are the most expensive.
Camping and B&Bs are cheaper alternatives to hotels. Chain hotels offer good value for the money, but independently owned hotels can offer a more unique experience. For example, in Aviemore, you have Premier Inn and Cairngorm Hotel; I would choose the Cairngorm every time!
Scottish currency FAQs
Here are a few frequently asked questions on Scottish currency.
Could a future independent Scotland use the pound?
This is a topic for another article as there are many pros and cons for Scotland the pound if it decided to break away from the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government have proposed using the pound sterling during a transitionary period to launch Scotland's own currency - the Scottish pound. A new independent Scottish central bank would be established to take over from the Bank of England.
Does Scotland have its own currency?
No, the currency used in Scotland is used throughout the United Kingdom. The pound sterling is used in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Scotland could have its own independent Scottish currency in the event of independence from the UK.
How do I exchange currency in Scotland?
Banks, post offices, or dedicated exchange offices found at airports are the most common places to exchange currency. Exchange rates vary wildly, so shop around for the best deals. You can check on www.xe.com for the current rates; you should try getting as close to that website's rate as possible when you exchange currency.
Can I use foreign currency in Scotland?
No, you can only use the pound sterling in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. However, you can take your foreign currency and exchange it at banks, post offices and kiosks at airports.
Can Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies be used in Scotland?
Digital currencies are treated as foreign currency in Scotland, and there is no easy method to spend Bitcoin at Scottish businesses. A few isolated ATMs will work with bitcoin in Aberdeen, Dundee, Dunfermline, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Can Euros be spent in Scotland?
No, only the pound sterling can be used as valid currency in Scotland and the UK.
Is it safe to carry large amounts of cash in Scotland?
Generally yes, but why risk it? Scotland is a very safe place to visit, but as with anywhere in the world, loss and theft are possible. Using a card and keeping a little cash for smaller purchases is far safer.
Are Scottish pounds and English pounds the same value?
There is no difference in value between Scottish pounds and English pounds.
Can I spend a damaged Scottish banknote?
No, damaged notes cannot be spent. You can go to a bank and give them the damaged note. Provided both halves of the note survive and identifying numbers are readable, you should be able to have the note replaced. If the banknote is significantly damaged, you may not be able to have it replaced.
Key information recap on Scottish currency
Scotland uses the pound sterling for its currency.
The pound sterling is used in all UK countries, including England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
English banknotes can be used in Scotland.
Scottish banknotes should be exchanged for English banknotes if they are to be spent in England.
Sterling coins can be used throughout the UK without being exchanged for regional variants.
Tipping isn't expected in Scotland, but 10% is the norm if you decide to.
Some ATMs can charge you per transaction. Use a free one instead.
Cryptocurrency is not a valid form of payment.
Scotland may develop a new Scottish currency if it achieves independence from the UK.
I hope this article has been helpful in learning about how money works in Scotland. I'll leave you with this Scottish Proverb: "Wealth gars wit waver", meaning people lose their wits when money is involved; hopefully, this article will help you keep yours!
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