Tips to get paid for UK and foreign currency – including old notes and even coins

If the past couple of years involved less international travel and more home decluttering, then like me, you may have found a veritable treasure trove of random coins and notes from countries you're not sure you ever visited, or even still exist (and even if the country still does, the currency may not!). In this blog, I'll show you how I easily turned mine into spendable cash and how you can too.

During the coronavirus lockdowns I set to the task of having a good sort-out at home and found so many random coins (many from places I've never even been) in containers I inherited from my mum... 16 years ago. Of course, currencies such as French francs and Italian lire are no longer used, having been replaced by the euro, and UK banks no longer accept old 5p, 10p or... sixpences and shillings (yes, the hoard contained those too!).

My search was inspired by the 2021 MSE News article warning £1.4 billion in old notes and £1 coins could be stashed in people's homes – have a read of that if your sofa and piggybank-breaking coin-collecting antics unearth old £5 or £10 notes, or old round £1 coins, as it goes through all the steps on how to make those spendable.

My goal was to collect all the non-spendable-in-the-UK coins together and exchange them at the same time. However, the type of coin as well as its age needed to be taken into account to get the best bang for my bucks. Here's how I did it...

First check if you've any recent notes in a common currency

If you still have recent notes in a currency that's still legal tender and have the receipt from your purchase of currency, such as euros or dollars, you may be able to return them to the place you bought them and get a pretty decent rate.

But if you can't (or can't remember where you got them), check our TravelMoneyMax tool to see where you can get the best buyback rates. Some allow posting, and with others you'll be able to take your notes to a physical location – handy if you're looking to avoid postage.

I couldn't really make use of this one, as the only note I had was a 10 euro note from 16+ years ago. I therefore opted to send it in with the coins I had as it meant I could get everything done at once... so read on!

Then I looked at where to exchange foreign coins, including defunct ones such as francs

I also found French francs, Italian lire, Swiss francs, Norwegian kroner, Icelandic kronor, US dollars, euros, English florin (two shillings), sixpences and Romanian lei. I've never been to Italy, Switzerland, Norway or Romania so these coins have been inherited from my family, or given to us in change instead of UK coinage.

Given a lot of this currency was unusable, I wondered what could be done with it which sparked a memory of an MSE blog from 2017 asking people "Do you still have leftover francs?" – my answer was of course yes. So I checked, and Leftover Currency, an online currency exchange service, is still operating (the other company mentioned in the blog isn't). Given its five-star Trustpilot rating, I went online and added all my coins to the basket to see what I could get.

With the promise of £20.07 for them all, I taped them to a piece of cardboard and sent them, paying £3.39 for a signed-for second-class large-letter up-to-500g service (coins are heavy). Yes, it's annoying to have to pay for postage as it means I actually only got £16.68 back but the coins are no longer in my house, and it's much better than nothing.

I taped all my coins down then predictably found more so I had to repackage everything and get another quote. It does take time putting in every coin but I'm committed to decluttering, and the promise of £20 spurred me into action.

Getting the best rates for defunct and/or foreign banknotes

If your notes are in a defunct currency you'll usually still be able to exchange them with Leftover Currency, but do note that as with the defunct coins, they're being bought for their collectable value – so you may get less than you expect. This is why I chose to keep my English £1 banknote, also because it's pretty cool.

You may be able to sell them for a little more on eBay (a quick check suggests I could get up to £2 for my note), but obviously that's going to take longer, be more hassle, and you'll have to pay eBay fees. See our eBay & second-hand selling guide for tips if this is what you choose.

Remember, if it's a common currency you're likely to get more back using TravelMoneyMax's buyback comparison. 

Check the value of UK coins removed from circulation such as large 5p and 10p pieces, sixpences, shillings, threepences and so on

And if you've old UK currency as well, such as old 5p and 10p coins – removed from circulation in 1990 and 1993 respectively – then you might be wondering what to do with them if your bank doesn't take them. As I only found one of each I didn't want the hassle of going to a bank branch to see.

I then checked the value of my non-spendable UK currency. It was MSE Kelvin's mention of the Britannia Coin Company online valuation tool in his MoneySavingIdiot cashed in his coin jars blog that struck gold with my scheme. Well, it struck silver specifically – let me explain.

If you've a stash of older pre-decimal currency such as shillings, sixpences, and threepenny bits then it's worth checking the date on each coin. Coins minted pre-1947 contain about 50% silver by weight, and as such are worth more than their face value due to their silver content. If you find any pre-1920 coins then you're even more in the, er, money, as they're made from sterling silver (92.5% pure silver). 

Sadly, from my 56-coin collection of pre-decimal goodness, only three coins were minted before 1947 (top tip: look for King George VI on the back to quickly sort them out from the rest, then check the dates). These weigh about 15g, so I'd only get £3.47 – for me it wasn't worth the cost of sending them in separately to the Britannia Coin Company (I actually sent them to Leftover Currency with my foreign coins), but for you it could be, especially if you've a decent haul of coins.

These sites do work – one MoneySaver got £100+ back from old notes and coins...

Since I published this blog in April, MoneySaver Maria got in touch with her success...

I had leftover currency from my travels over the last 10 years, including currencies from countries I was unlikely to return to – Nigeria, India, Israel and so on. I went to the sites I found on MSE. I managed to exchange ALL of my currencies, including coins and got over £100! Thank you so much!

Have you found any weird and wonderful coins down the back of your sofa? Do your family also hoard defunct currency? Let me know on Twitter how much you've made or could make by exchanging them.