Explore different types of currency with this handy guide.
Different colors, shapes, and sizes, the currencies of different countries are as diverse as countries themselves. And learning about money around the world often leads to interesting facts about the history and culture of other nations.
We’ve rounded up some different currencies of the world – grouped by geographic region – below, along with an interesting fact or two about each. While this isn’t a complete list of worldwide currencies, it will give you a taste of how varied money around the world can be, and what to expect if you’ll be traveling internationally.
The British Pound was the official currency of Nigeria until the Naira was introduced in 1973.
|R||South African Rand
South African banknotes (i.e. paper money) are decorated with the country’s “Big Five” safari animals: the lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo, and rhino.
The Bank of Tanzania hosts this page that has basic information on the country's currency, the shilling.
|$||The Bahamian Dollar
The Bahamian and U.S. dollars have the same value in the Bahamas. Outside the Bahamas, however, Bahamian dollars quickly lose value, so visitors are encouraged to use them while on their trip (or risk keeping them as collector’s items!).
Belize, which was called British Honduras until 1973, prominently features Queen Elizabeth II on its banknotes.
One of the world’s highest-value currencies, Canadian bills and coins all feature images of important national symbols, including a caribou and polar bear.
|$||East Caribbean Dollar
With the exception of the British Virgin Islands, which use the U.S. dollar, the East Caribbean dollar is the currency in eight of the nine nations that comprise the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
The Guatemalan quetzal is named after the national bird of Guatemala, the resplendent quetzal. Celebrated for its striking beauty, the colorful bird was revered by the ancient Mayan and Aztec peoples.
The Jamaican $500 banknote features an image of the Rt. Excellent Nanny of the Maroons, the island nation’s lone national heroine.
Twenty and 50-peso banknotes are now printed on polymer plastic, making them more difficult to rip, less prone to bacteria, and waterproof. (Excellent news for those of us prone to spills and other soggy mishaps!)
Interesting facts abound about the U.S. dollar, especially the dollar bill, which costs just 4.9 cents to produce and featured Martha Washington in the late 1800s—the only woman in U.S. history to be featured on a U.S. banknote. (This will change in 2020.)
Introduced by the Communist People’s Republic of China in 1949, the official term for Chinese currency is “renminbi” (“the people’s currency”). While “yuan” is a unit of renminbi currency, the two words are used interchangeably in casual settings when referring to money in China.
Indian rupee banknotes feature Hindi, English, and 15 of the 22 official languages of the dialect-rich Asian nation.
All Pakistani banknotes feature a portrait of the late Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The beloved statesman is also known as MA Jinnah and Qaid-i-Azam (“Great Leader” in Arabic).
In 2005, the Central Bank of Philippines produced a 100-piso banknote with the name of the county’s president — Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — spelled incorrectly (“Arrovo”). While the “Arrovo bill” was recalled soon after production, the limited batch is still in circulation.
|₩||South Korean Won
In use for thousands of years, today’s South Korean won features early Yi dynasty — the nation’s last and longest imperial dynasty (1392-1910) — figures, including King Sejon the Great and writers Yi Hwang and Yi I.
The British pound sterling — or “pound,” as it’s more commonly known — is the oldest existing currency. There are 100 pence to a pound. When in the UK, expect to hear Brits refer to pence as “pee,” a pound as a “quid,” a five-pound bill as a “fiver,” and ten-pound note a “tenner.”
From statues to its coat of arms, lions, which represent the bravery of the Bulgarian people, abound in Bulgaria. So it makes sense its national currency, the lev, means “lion” in old Bulgarian.
With origins in the 1960s, the euro was originally launched in 1999 as a virtual currency. Coins and banknotes were introduced in 2002. The euro is now the official currency in 19 of the 28 European Union (EU) member countries.
The namesake of the ruble, one of Europe’s oldest currencies, is rooted in the Russian verb “rubit.” Translated as “to chop,” it refers to chopping off small pieces of silver — used to make silver coins — from the Ukrainian hryvnia.
In 2012, Sweden introduced colorful banknotes adorned with portraits of Swedish icons of the 20th century, including early cinematic legend Greta Garbo and children’s author Astrid Lindgren (creator of Pippi Longstocking).
Egyptians have light-hearted nicknames for different denominations of their currency, including “arnab” (“rabbit”) for 1,000,000-pound bills and “feel” (“elephant”) for 1,000,000,000-pound banknotes.
The Iranian rial (also known as a “riyal”) gets its name from Spanish currency, the real (“royal”), which was in use when the rial surfaced in the late 18th century.
|_د.ع _||Iraqi Dinar
The Iraqi dinar was once the most highly valued currency on earth, worth more than 3 USD (3 U.S. dollars) before the Gulf War. Despite investments in the foreign currency, the Iraqi currency’s value has plummeted over the past 20-plus years and is currently valued at less than one-tenth of a U.S. penny.
|₪||Israeli New Shekel
Israel’s shekel (introduced in 1980) was replaced by the new shekel on January 1, 1986. With deep roots in both the Old Testament and Hebrew language, the currency’s coin design feature motifs based on ancient Jewish history.
Consistently valued at over 3 USD, the steady Kuwaiti dinar remains one of the most valuable currencies on earth.
|﷼||Saudi Arabian Riyal
The riyal has been the currency of Saudi Arabia before the Middle Eastern country (named the Kingdom of Hejaz from 1916-1925) was even known as Saudi Arabia.
Australia was not only the first country to launch a complete series of durable polymer banknotes, its coins — which feature celebrated Australian wildlife, including kangaroos and a platypus — were designed by Queen Elizabeth II’s official jeweler, the late Stuart Devlin.
|$||New Zealand Dollar
Informally known as a kiwi, the New Zealand dollar is also used in the Tokelau, Pitcairn Islands, Niue, and Cook Islands. Its nickname stems from the long-beaked, flightless bird native to New Zealand — its national symbol — not the furry, green-fleshed fruit exported from the island nation.
|K||Papua New Guinean Kina
“Kina” (banknotes) and “toea” (coins) were selected as national currency names to honor Papua New Guinea’s native peoples. “Kina” refers to a pearl shell widely used for trading. “Toea” is the name of another valuable shell found deep in the ocean, available only at certain times of year.
Interested in learning more?
Has this guide piqued your interest about different types of currency? There’s no shortage of things to learn about money around the world, from the most colorful banknotes to why many currencies share the same name. You may start to see that while all countries, and the people in them, are unique, the need for currency is universal. And that makes our world just a little bit smaller.
*This article has been updated from its original posting on November 1, 2016. Stephanie Lo contributed to this article.