What to do with Foreign Coins?

 a.drian via Flickr under the following Creative Commons Licence

Every time I travel I come home with a hand full (or four) of foreign coins. Usually I find a few in my suitcase, some tucked into pockets and a bunch in my purse. I blame being from the US. I’m not used to coins being worth anything and I forget to spend them. Seriously though, coins are so annoying – they take up a ton of room, make noise and are heavy. My wallet is just not built for coinage. So I throw them in my bag and forget about them.

So whats the issue with foreign coins? Banks won’t take them. Nope. Neither will a lot of currency exchange places. Even when you are IN the country where they are valid. Ugh. So then there you are stuck with tons of coins. Endless coins.

Then I get home and wonder what to do with them. I googled “what to do with foreign coins” and here are some of the “helpful” suggestions I encountered:

1. Throw them away Okay – normally I am a big fan (at least in theory) of simplifying my life but I just can’t get behind the idea of literally throwing away money. I know 1 Sole is literally worth next to nothing but still. Next.

2. Make them into jewelry/bookmarks/paper weights Yes. Because that’s exactly what will set off my outfit. A lovely necklace made out of Yen. Next.

3. Put them in a jar and save them Even though this idea is about a profitable as 1 and not anywhere near as “useful” as 2, this is what I ended up doing. Year after year, trip after trip, my little cache of coins grew and grew and grew until I had this: (PS. Please forgive the awful photos in this post. I used my iphone and clearly it has a yet to be diagnosed camera issue)

Foreign Coins

Foreign Coins

Don’t you love the quarter so obviously in the forefront of my “foreign coin” box? Obviously my coin sorting skills are A+.

So in summary – all not wonderful ideas. I knew there had to be a better way. Plus the coin collection was getting out of control. I had to devote an entire large box to them. (The picture really doesn’t do it justice). I could have made it rain with worthless foreign coins. Finally, after years of ignoring the issue it was time to take action. That’s when I stumbled across this place half an hour from my home: Coin Exchange Sign

I won’t say that place isn’t sketchy – I didn’t have high hopes. I kept putting it off, telling myself that the gas to get out there would be more money than I would get. But eventually I headed over there with my somewhat embarrassing box o’ coins.

First off, I had the guy explain to me exactly how the process worked. I expected that he would only take a few of my coins – maybe the euros and a few other currencies. Turns out he would take ALL the coins. Some he could exchange out and other he would buy for their scrap metal value. (I did have some concerns about the implications of ruining a country’s currency but I guess they weren’t doing anyone any good in my closet anyway).

Let me tell you – this man was a coin sorting machine. I wonder if his friends call him Coin Star? If not they should. He had this entire box sorted by currency in about 10 minutes. He told me he had been doing it every day for 15 years and had pretty much memorized all the coins and their values  (I guess he also could have just been making up numbers and I would have had no idea).

So after the quick sort here was the break down (including some extra paper money I had lying around):

  • Foreign Coins: $23.00
  • Coins for Scrap Metal: $4.00
  • Small Bills Paper Currency: $37.51
  • Bill Exchange Fee: $6.00

Total: $57.51 (plus about $2.00 in US coins I had hiding in the box).

Check out this after shot:


An after shot of my former "box of coins"

That’s crazy. At first I was super pumped (Woo $57!) but then I realized what this means – I have wasted a LOT of money by holding on to foreign coins. That money would have been worth a LOT more in country. So then I was a little bit like :- (

If you live in the DC area and want to trade in your foreign coins, you can check out the place here. Fair warning, I think their exchange rates for paper money are kind of bad and they charge a fee – but for coins this was one of the only options I could find.

What do you all normally do with your leftover foreign money?

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9 Responses to What to do with Foreign Coins?

  1. That’s pretty cool! I usually try to spend the last of my coins at the airport buying candy and last minute souvenirs. And for countries that I tend to revisit, I just hold on the coins. :)

    • ElizabethJ_Bird says:

      Yeah – I usually try to do that also. Its those pesky coins that seem to hide in random places in my bag that always get me!

  2. rob says:

    Drives me nuts, too. I usually have enough time to make strategic purchases of consumables at the airport before I leave, and a lot of airports have places to toss your foreign money. Or you can be wild and crazy and just give it to someone who works at the airport before you step onto your plane.

    Fortunately, with Europe mostly going Euro it’s less a problem than it was, as Euros aren’t going out of style anytime soon.

    Do be wary of hanging on to the money to use the next time you’re there. 5 years between trips to Norway and my stash of Norwegian Kroner was useless. They change their money fairly frequently (no, I don’t know why) and the “old money” stops being money shortly after the change. And sometimes it’s still money, but worthless nonetheless. I had this happen to me with Yugoslavian Dinars back in the early 90s. When the inflation rate is in double digit percentages on a week to week basis, keeping money for your trip “next month” is a painful exercise.

    • ElizabethJ_Bird says:

      Great point Rob. Several of the coins I brought in were no longer in use and I could only get scrap value. The Euro is probably a safe bet, but you never know with other coins.

  3. Holly says:

    This actually never occurred to me. I always thought the money exchange places were a rip off (though, admittedly, I have no basis for this assumption). I wonder how much money I have hidden in random places around my house that I could exchange…

    • ElizabethJ_Bird says:

      They might be a bit of a rip off but it’s more money than you were getting from them sitting around your house :-)

  4. As far as leftover coins (and bills) of former European currencies are concerned, there is a nice way of using them:
    In case you and your family/friends have been travelling a lot and still got German mark, as well as Spanish peseta or Austrian schilling, Irish pound, Slovenian tolar, a.s.o. you can still donate these leftovers to UNICEF via euromoney24.com/donations

  5. John in SF says:

    I always give all my leftover coins to a janitor at the airport. Preferably one who is cleaning the bathrooms. They surely need it more than I do.

  6. Frederick Kokot says:

    Update: This is what you can (still) do..it changes all the time, as central banks use different elapse times (esp. for coins)
    • Deutsch Mark – banknotes + coins
    • Austrian schilling – banknotes + coins
    • Estonian kroon – banknotes + coins
    • Belgian franc – only banknotes
    • Irish pound – banknotes + coins
    • Spanish peseta – banknotes + coins
    • Cypriot pound – only notes
    • Luxembourg franc – only notes
    • Maltese lira – only banknotes
    • Dutch guilder – only banknotes
    • Portugese escudo – only notes
    • Slovenian tolar – banknotes + coins
    • Slovak koruna – only banknotes
    • Latvian lats – banknotes + coins
    • Starting 2015: Lithuanian litas – banknotes + coins
    You still can either exchange or donate to UNICEF and now PETA via a commercial service like Euromoney24 or you go to every single central bank.

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