The euro is the legal tender of around 331 million people in 17 EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
The symbol of the euro is €. The euro notes are identical in all countries but each country issues its own coins with one common side and one side displaying a distinctive national design. All the notes and coins can be used in all EU countries that have adopted the euro, including many of their overseas territories, such as the Azores, the Canaries, Ceuta and Melilla, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Madeira, Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City use the euro as their national currency, in agreement with the EU. This allows them the right to issue a certain number of euro coins with their own national designs. A number of countries and territories use the euro as their de facto currency such as Andorra, Kosovo and Montenegro.
EU countries using the euro: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain
EU countries not using the euro: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom
Rates will vary, but in January 2012 one euro bought approximately:
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The latest exchange rates can be found at the European Central Bank website and there is a handy currency converter to help with calculations. In European countries outside the euro area, many hotels, shops and restaurants, particularly in tourist areas, accept payment in euro as well as the national currency, although they are not legally obliged to do so.
Thanks to EU rules, withdrawing euro from a cash machine costs you the same anywhere in the EU as it does in your own country from a cash machine that does not belong to your bank. The transaction fee for making a debit or credit card payment in the EU in euro is the same as in your own country. The price you pay for sending a bank transfer in euro (up to €50 000) is the same whether it is a national transfer or a transfer to another EU country (or to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). Charges may of course differ between banks. These rules also apply to transactions in euro (e.g. between euro accounts) in countries outside the euro area and to payments in Swedish krona and Romanian lei.
The European banking industry, supported by the EU, is creating a Single Euro Payments Area to make all electronic payments across the euro area, whether by credit card, debit card, bank transfer or direct debit, as easy as a domestic payment.
You can enter or leave the EU with up to €10 000 in cash (or its equivalent in other currencies or assets) without declaring it. If you are carrying €10 000 or more, it has to be declared to the customs authorities. These cash controls are aimed at fighting money laundering and other criminal activities. Some member states apply cash controls to those travelling between EU countries.