The Euro is now legal tender in the 12 countries of the euro zone.

Apr 14, 2001 (Updated May 26, 2005)

The Bottom Line The euro is now the sole legal tender in 12 European countries comprising the euro zone.

The good news for tourists is that twelve European countries (Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Finland and Greece) now share a common currency. This means fewer stops to exchange currency and less travel money lost to currency exchange commissions. Here are some of the practicalities of the Euro:

Notes and Coins

There are seven denominations of euro notes: 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 euros. The different denominations are different in size, colors, and detailed design, but they are uniform throughout the euro area (unlike the coins, as described later).

All the designs are symbolic of Europe's architectural heritage although they do not represent existing monuments. Windows and gateways dominate the front side of each note, and the reverse shows a bridge from a particular age. All notes have advanced security features including watermarks, embedded security stripes, color changing inks and holographic stripes or foils. All euro notes are legal tender in all countries of the euro area.

There are eight euro coins denominated in 2 and 1 euros, then 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 euro cents. Every coin has a common European face, but on the obverse, each Member State has decorated the coins with its own motifs. No matter which motif is on the coins, they can be used anywhere in the euro zone. The common European face of the coins has a map of the European Union against a background of transverse lines and the stars of the European flag.

Americans should be aware of a few differences between the commonly seen and used euro and dollar denominations. First, 2 euro, 1 euro and 50 euro cent coins are very common and are regarded as completely normal, while in the US, $2 bills are rare, $1 coins are very unpopular compared to $1 bills, and 50 cent coins are considered a bit odd. Furthermore, American ATMs dispense their cash as large wads of $20s, while European bancomats seem to dispense EUR 50s, 20s and 10s in appropriate proportions.

To see pictures of all the notes and coins, check out the English language web site .

The Euro Symbol

The graphic symbol for the euro looks like a C or lower case e with two clearly marked, horizontal parallel lines across its "spine." It is normally seen in yellow/gold on a blue background. The official international abbreviation for the euro is "EUR." For pictures of the symbol and complete information about the euro, check out the web site .

The following is an attempt to use "standard" html to display the euro symbol: [ € ]. If you see a euro symbol between the square brackets, your browser and operting system are doing a good job.

Using the Euro

For American travelers, using the euro is no different from using any other foreign currency. Banks, currency exchanges, and ATMs in the euro zone dispense euro bank notes, and when you use your credit card, you'll be charged in euros.

Widespread use of the euro has reduced but not eliminated currency exchange hassles in Europe. You don't have to exchange currency within the twelve-country euro zone, but you still have to exchange if you visit popular non-euro zone countries such as the UK, Switzerland, Denmark, and the countries of eastern Europe.

One helpful aspect of the euro for Americans is that, at the moment, the dollar and the euro are not too far apart in value. Actually, in July 2004 one euro was worth about 1.24 dollar, and one dollar was worth about 0.81 euro. So, if you see something priced at 100 euros, you won't be too far off if you just think 124 dollars, at least for the time being. This is much less mind bending than wondering about the dollar equivalent of 1,000 francs or 300,000 lire.

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Although you'll be using cash, you'll probably pay most of your bills with a credit card. Most credit cards charge an extra 2% to 3% on all foreign transactions, but this one doesn't: Great Visa card for foreign transactions.

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