FAQ for England
The currency of England (and Britain) is the pound sterling. Paper money comes in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations, although £50s can be difficult to change because fakes circulate. Other currencies are very rarely accepted if you’re buying goods and services, except for some places in the ferry ports of southern England, which take Euros, and the smarter souvenir and gift shops in London, which may take euros, US dollars, yen and other major currencies.
Debit or credit cards are perfect companions – the best invention for travellers since the backpack. You can use them in most shops, and withdraw cash from ATMs (often called ‘cash machines’) which are easy to find in cities and even small towns. But ATMs aren’t fail-safe, and it’s a major headache if your only card gets swallowed, so take a backup. And watch out for ATMs which might have been tampered with; a common ruse is to attach a card-reader to the slot; your card is scanned and the number used for fraud.
Credit & debit cards
Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards are widely accepted in England, and are good for larger hotels, restaurants, shopping, flights, long-distance travel, car hire etc. Smaller businesses, such as pubs or B&Bs, prefer debit cards (or charge a fee for credit cards), and some take cash or cheque only.
Since early 2006, nearly all credit and debit cards use the ‘Chip and PIN’ system; instead of signing, you enter a PIN (personal identification number). If you’re from overseas, and your card isn’t Chip and PIN enabled, you should be able to sign in the usual way, but some places will not accept your card.
Finding a place to change your money (cash or travellers cheques) into pounds is never a problem in cities, where banks and bureaus compete for business. Be careful using bureaus, however; some offer poor rates or levy outrageous commissions. You can also change money at some post offices – very handy in country areas, and exchange rates are fair (and usually commission free).
Travellers cheques offer protection from theft, so are safer than wads of cash, but are rarely used in England, as credit/debit cards and ATMs have become the method of choice. If you prefer travellers cheques, note that they are rarely accepted for purchases (except at large hotels), so for cash you’ll still need to go to a bank or bureau.