You’ve exchanged your currency and have a wad of interesting-looking international money in your hand.

This summer vacation is really happening!

The imagery on the notes you’re holding can often give you a sneak-peek of the culture, landscape, flora and fauna you’re about to be immersed in. Currency is produced differently around the world, and for many countries, banknote design is one of the most public displays of national pride.

Some stand out for their colors, illustrative oddity or use of materials. Here is a countdown of the most beautiful currencies you can come across in your travels.

10. Australia


Living in the USA, we’re accustomed to paper money. So when you visit Australia, their plastic polymer bills can be a pleasant tactile surprise. Australian cash was the first in the world to use a transparent window with a hologram security feature. The new 2016 series of Australian notes will have a “touch” feature to help the vision-impaired community tell the value of the notes.1

When you’re in Australia, you’ll fit right in if you refer to the yellow fifty-dollar note as a “pineapple.”

9. Bermuda


In terms of sheer beauty, a number of nations could stake a claim to the honor of being number one. But currency designers truly thought outside the box when they designed the Bermudian two-dollar bill to be vertical. The note features exquisite imagery of a perched bluebird set against a backdrop of flowers and butterflies, with a boat sailing to the horizon. The reverse side features the Bermuda Maritime Museum’s statue of Neptune and dockyard clock tower.

Since 2004, an annual poll has been run by the International Bank Note Society to determine the “IBNS Banknote of the Year.” Bermuda’s two-dollar bill received this honor in 2010.2

8. Comoros


The IBNS’ 2006 winner, the Comorian one thousand-franc bill, was rewarded for its innovative design, well-balanced color, and sensible use of modern security features. The front of this banknote is dominated by a coelacanth, a prehistoric fish long thought to be extinct that was found living in the Comoros waters in recent years.3 Comoros’ one-franc note also has a dreamy tranquility that belies the island nation’s notoriously tumultuous leadership.

7. São Tomé and Príncipe


São Tomé and Príncipe is a small nation of volcanic islands off the West African coast, and it describes itself as “Paradise On Earth.” Its fifty thousand-dobra banknote – which shows a kingfisher and a highly intricate illustration of the famous leader Rei Amador – is an accurate reflection of this.

6. Bhutan


For astonishing levels of detail, it’s hard to ignore the Bhutanese Ngultrum, with its dragons and multilayered blue tones. Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage, which has largely remained intact because of its isolation from the rest of the world until the mid-20th century.5 A sample of this is on display on the Ngultrum banknote.

5. The Netherlands


Some of the world’s most impressive banknotes disappeared when the euro took over in 2002. One example of this was the Netherlands’ Dutch guilder. This beautiful currency was known for its bright colors and how it depicted the beauty of everyday objects such as windmills, lighthouses, sunflowers and a bird called the common snipe.6

4. Switzerland


The eighth series of Swiss francs were gorgeously designed but are currently being phased out. The new design has taken more than ten years to finalize, due in part to the Swiss National Bank’s design competition. Manuel Krebs won the competition, but the general public opposed his designs, which included depictions of blood cells and embryos. As a result, the bank did not go forward with them and chose to use the second-place designer’s concepts instead.7 For the purposes of this countdown list, the vote is for the discontinued eighth series of Swiss francs.

3. South Africa


Its value may have plummeted over the past 20 years, but the South African rand is iconic in ways no other currency has replicated. There can be no mistake – when your wallet is full of notes with beautiful representations of the “Big Five” wild animals: elephant, lion, rhino, water buffalo, and leopard – you know you are in a land of wonder. And the portrait of Nelson Mandela is a powerful reminder of this country’s deep political history.

2. Hong Kong


These days, it’s Hong Kong that leads the way for futuristic money. Hong Kong dollars are not only visually striking (you’ll want to bring some home to frame) but they are almost impossible to counterfeit. There is less than one fake per million in circulation. These notes are currently being redesigned to have even more security features.8

These are all great currencies, but the winner is …

1. Norway


For something that stands out from the crowd, look no further than the Norwegian krone. A design competition was held in 2014 to decide Norway’s new notes, which was finalized at the end of 2014, with design firms Snøhetta and Metric System sharing the win. The winning design blended pixel motifs with traditional images. The theme is the meeting of land and sea, perfect for Norway and its reported 62,705 miles of coastline, including all islands, fjords and everything in between.8

Norwegian banknotes are the perfect example of how money is an art form in itself. When you travel, make sure to take a close look at the cash in your pocket and be amazed at how much you can learn from a small rectangle of paper – or plastic polymer.


1 “Next Generation Banknotes: Additional Feature for the Vision Impaired.” ( (Press release). Media Office-Reserve Bank of Australia. 13 February 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
5 Kharat, Rajesh (200). “Bhutan’s Security Scenario”. Contemporary South Asia 13 (2): 171–185.

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