Sometime during my first stint living in Ireland I typed this very question into Google.
I was on a weekend trip to Edinburgh. I had just cast down my Northern Irish pounds sterling and scampered from the restaurant where I’d just enjoyed lunch with a friend. It was the only money I had brought with me – having come through Northern Ireland – and since it is supposedly pounds sterling, I planted it down. But why did I feel so bad?
Well, because of the mysteries of legal tender and the somewhat arbitrary way notes are accepted or not accepted in the UK depending on where they were issued.
So what’s the answer? It depends.
Great answer, right? Read on to find out where you can use Northern Irish and Scottish banknotes in the UK.
// What is ‘legal tender’?
Coins and notes that can be exchanged in payment of a debt.
Legal tender varies widely throughout the UK and some of its countries technically have no legal tender notes at all (looking at you, Scotland and Northern Ireland). Legal tender really only comes in as protection against being sued for not paying your debts. It has little bearing on day to day life unless it is being withdrawn. You can read more about that over on the Bank of England website.
In fact, the term legal tender is a bit redundant when referring to using notes and coins to buy stuff. Paying for things is ultimately an agreement between two parties. If the person or company you’re buying something from agrees to take the notes you’ve got, that’s acceptable for that transaction. You may find small shops in England refusing to take £50 notes because they find it hard to give change. Although it is legal tender, the shopkeeper can refuse to take them if they want to.
Where you are in the UK will affect what kind of notes are commonly accepted. Let me break it down for you.
// Northern Ireland
As part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland uses the pound sterling as its currency, just like England does.
Some banks in Northern Ireland have permission to print their own bank notes. Of course, that means every bank went and made their own designs and put different pictures on them. It might look like play money, but I assure you it’s completely legit. These are the banks with printing rights:
- Bank of Ireland
- Danske Bank
- First Trust Bank
- Ulster Bank
Just don’t try to use those notes in England…
The English refuse Northern Irish notes left and right. They don’t recognize them. I’m not just saying that in the monetary sense where they chose not to take them – they literally do not recognize them. The pictures are unfamiliar and strange so their taxi drivers and corner shopkeepers, who have probably never been to Northern Ireland, will not accept them as payment for stuff.
I’ve included a tips section at the end of this post to give you some ideas about what to do so you don’t get caught out with the “wrong money” at the end of your trip. [jump now]
Scots are a little more forgiving. They will often accept Northern Irish bank notes. Reciprocally, Scottish pounds are widely accepted in Northern Ireland.
Like Northern Ireland, Scotland is licensed to print its own pound sterling banknotes. It’s really up to the person you’re paying if they want to accept your Northern Irish notes or not. Although annoying, they’re well within their right to refuse a note they don’t recognize or want.
// The Republic of Ireland
Since it’s part of the EU, the Republic of Ireland uses the Euro (€). Some border towns will accept sterling and many large chain retailers will take them, as well. They will give you change in Euro.
// Tips & Tricks
- Forgotten to get some sterling before you travelled to Northern Ireland? Not to worry, many big name retailers (like TK Maxx) and attractions (like the National Trust) will accept Euro notes and give you change in sterling.
- Provided it’s not a Sunday, the Post Office is a great place to change money. Banks may also do it, but sometimes require you to be a customer of the bank.
- When receiving change you can politely ask for Bank of England notes. Retailers will normally be happy to oblige if they have some.
- ATMs are widely available, spitting out notes with local pictures, and card payments are generally accepted across the UK.
But wait, there’s more!
Trying those Gibraltar pound coins in Northern Ireland? Not a chance, matey. Manx pounds? Uh-uh. Although they are also pound sterling, no one is obliged to take them. So they don’t. Banks should be willing to exchange them for a local version.
Have you had any interesting experiences using the different kinds of pounds? Let us know below!