Travel Tip: Don’t Leave Home with Old Money


On my last trip to St. Petersburg, Russia during the Christmas holidays, I brought the same amount of emergency cash I usually do. On every solo trip I always bring a certain amount of cash, my emergency fund, to exchange in the event I lose my wallet with my credit/debit cards, or if the ATM machines stop working or are unavailable.

Halfway into my Russia trip, I needed Russian rubles for some street vendor shopping after I had already spent all of the initial rubles I exchanged at the airport. My hotel didn’t exchange US dollars into rubles and it didn’t have an ATM machine on the premise but conveniently, the building it was housed in had a bank.

Many Foreign Banks Do Not Accept Old Bills for Exchange

I went around the corner to the bank, approached the teller and proceeded to give her $300 US dollars in twenty dollar bills to be exchanged. She inspected each bill and declined to convert two-thirds of my bills explaining to me my money was too old and too worn and damaged to be converted.  

This had never happened to me before. It’s safe to say I was shocked and disappointed that my money was rejected. I tried to persuade her to reconsider some of the bills but she declined because the condition of the cash was unacceptable for conversion.

ATM’s are Not Always Available

Luckily, I managed to locate an ATM the next day and get some cash but the whole episode left me a little unnerved knowing my trip emergency cash fund was nonexistent. Everything went well during the rest of the trip and thankfully, I didn’t need to exchange any more of my worn out US money. When I got home I researched this experience.

Many countries around the world now only accept new or almost new currency bills for exchange. Money is consider to be new if it is clean, unmarked, un-creased, and not torn. Additionally, US currency should not be printed earlier than 2006. Some countries will accept pristine US currency as early a 2003 while others insist that a recent US Treasury Secretary’s signature, such as Henry Paulson’s or Timothy Geithner’s, be on the bill.

New $100 US Bills Get the Best Exchange Rate

If new money is somewhat worn or in small US dollar denominations that is smaller than $100 bills the exchange rate you will receive can be discounted from 2%-5%. Most small vendors, restaurants, hotels and even cab drivers who do accept US dollars for payment are aware of these currency requirements and likewise, will only accept clean, crisp, new money. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Jordan, Mexico, Kenya, Turkey, South Africa, South and Central America only exchange new money with Latvia having the strictest standards.

Two weeks before I left for my around the world trip, I requested that my bank only give me new bills, which they happily did. All I had to do was place the currency order far enough in advance, two weeks prior to my departure, and getting clean cash would not be problem. For my trip emergency fund I divided my cash into $20, $50 and $100 dollar bill increments. I always like to have some $20 bills in my wallet with my foreign currency in case I have a cash problem while touring, shopping, or another activity.

Bottom line: Don’t leave home with old money!