United Kingdom Currency: the British Pound

United Kingdom Currency | British Pounds

What is the currency in London?  The pound sterling is the United Kingdom currency used in London.  Its official name is a sterling pound, but commonly known as the pound.  

One sterling pound is made of 100 pence, and this ‘£’ sign is the United Kingdom pound symbol.  The singular form of a pence is a penny.

Currency in London – Bank Notes and Coins

There’s no £1 note in circulation because the Bank of England only issues four denominations of sterling pound notes:

One British Pound
One British Pound
Two British Pounds
Two British Pounds
Five British Pounds
Five British Pounds
Ten British Pounds
Ten British Pounds
Twenty British Pounds
Twenty British Pounds
Fifty British Pounds
Fifty British Pounds

Other coins that are currently in circulation:

  • 1 penny – Copper
  • 2 pence – Copper
  • 5 pence – Silver
  • 10 pence – Silver
  • 20 pence – Silver
  • 50 pence – Silver

The most commonly used sterling pound notes in London are £5, £10, and £20.  Most people in London never used a £50 banknote, nor physically seen or touched one.  It is unusual to withdraw a fifty-pound note from a cash machine or to get it from the bank cashier.

Many people in London will undoubtedly be nervous about accepting one from anyone paying for something in cash — mainly because they have never seen or touched one.

Related: What is the Best Time of Year to Go to London?

Even some supermarkets, put up notices beside the self-service electronic point of sale (epos) declining £50 notes.  So best to have a combination of £20, £10, and £5 when you arrive in London. 

Exchange Money Before Travelling to London

If you are going to change the money in your country before travelling to London, make sure you get the real British banknotes.  Otherwise, you can be very exposed if you don’t know much about the British sterling pound notes. 

There are instances where people have arrived in London, only to find out the pound notes they exchanged outside the United Kingdom  are counterfeit.  

To check and identify a counterfeit pound note is very complicated, even for the people who use the currency every day.  So, the safest option is to go and exchange sterling pounds in London.  

Exchange to Pounds in London 

You can change your local currency to British pounds in London from almost all high-street banks, main Post Offices, Bureau de change, some supermarkets, and major Department stores.

All London major Airports have places for exchanging foreign currency to British pounds. However, the airport foreign exchange shops at the London Airports do not always offer competitive exchange rates.

Post Offices and some supermarkets do not take a commission on foreign exchange. However, watch out for any commission-free outlets, because free foreign exchange transactions do not exist.

They may not be charging a fee, openly, but it is always added somewhere on the exchange rate.

So, before exchanging the money, find out how much commission they are charging. It is also better to ask how many pounds in total you are going to get.

Look around for a better exchange rate, since it can differ from one bank or bureau de change to another. If you do not compare the rates, It can lead to paying a lot more than necessary for foreign exchange.

Automated Teller Machine (ATMs) in London

You can also use a bank debit card or credit card to withdraw the pound notes straight from ATMs, also known as cash machines or cash points in London.

The ATMs are everywhere in London, and the majority accept foreign bank cards with these symbols; Visa, Plus, Mastercard, Maestro, and Cirrus. You can find ATMs in airport terminals, train stations, big supermarkets, small shops, and bars.

Withdrawing sterling pounds directly from the ATM is the simplest and probably cheapest way to exchange money in London. You do not need to deal with anyone, and the exchange rate is usually better.

However, as someone who does not have a UK bank account, it may not be cheap if a home bank charges for using a card to withdraw money from a foreign cash machine.

Also, using a credit card to withdraw the pounds from an ATM is often more expensive. All withdrawal transactions made with a credit card become loans to repay later but with interest on top.

ATM Withdrawal Fees in London

Be aware that not all ATMs are free to use. Some can charge between £1.50 – £2 for withdrawing cash. Every ATM in London has a sign indicating whether it is free to use or not.

You can avoid paying a fee by using only the ATMs that display “free cash” signage. If there is a need to use one that charges a fee, check how much before completing the transaction.

The ATM will display what the cost will be for you to decide whether to withdraw the money or not.

Best for Exchange Rates

Using an ATM that charges a fee can still be a cheaper option than the commission charged by banks and bureaux de change. You can get the best exchange rate — provided you do not keep withdrawing small amounts frequently.

It is possible, however, to make ATM cash withdraws in London without paying fees. London is a major global banking center which means many foreign banks have branches or offices in the British capital.

Some offer their customers free of charge money withdrawals from their ATMs in the United Kingdom, of which most of them are in London.

So, It is better to check with the home bank before travelling to the United Kingdom if it has branches or it works in partnership with any banks in London.

Read also: Moving into London? Things to Know Before Moving to London

Debit and Credit Cards

Making payments with credit and debit cards is a common practice in London, and widely accepted in bars, airports, restaurants, shops, and some taxis. Using bank debit cards is now the most popular way of making payments, accounting for more than half of daily transactions in London.

But Londoners still use cash, and it’s very straightforward to access from the many Bank cash machines in London that don’t charge fees to withdraw money.

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