The euro (symbol: €; ISO 4217 code EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cents; sometimes referred to as 'euro cents' to differentiate them from their US and other counterparts. Established in 1999 and introduced in cash form on January 1, 2002, the euro removes the need for money exchange. As such it is not only a boon to pan-European business, but of course also to travellers.
It is interesting that each member nation has a unique design at the back of the euro coins minted in their country. Rest assured that regardless of the origin of the designs at the back, the euro coins are legal tender anywhere throughout the euro zone.
The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. Those countries which have replaced their own national currencies are commonly called the Eurozone. By law, all EU countries except Denmark and the United Kingdom have to eventually adopt the euro.
Outside the EU, Kosovo and Montenegro have unilaterally adopted the euro, but all other countries still retain their own currencies. Euros are widely accepted in European countries outside the Eurozone, but not universally, and at shops and restaurants the exchange rate is rarely in your favor. Many hotels, though, price and accept payment in euros. Money changers will generally give good to excellent exchange rates for the euro, and in a pinch they will be accepted by nearly everybody.
Do not accept any of the obsolete currencies. While several countries' banks will still change them into euros, it's a lot of hassle and there is no guarantee that this will be possible everywhere or on short notice. You should also expect to leave your personal information with the bank as a precaution against money laundering.
Throughout Europe, automatic teller machines are readily available. They will accept various European bank cards as well as credit cards. However, be prepared to pay a fee for the service (usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum of few euro) which may be in addition to the fees your bank already imposes on foreign withdrawals. Read the labels/notices on the machine before using.
European ATMs do not usually have letters on the keypad. PINs longer than 4 digits are generally no longer a problem.
Credit card acceptance is not as universal as in the United States, especially in Eastern Europe, but growing steadily. Some countries mandate that merchants check your ID for purchases of as little as €50, and many shops will insist on ID for any credit card transaction.
An increasing number of European countries, notably the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and the Nordic countries, have moved to a chip and PIN system, where credit cards all have a chip built in and you have to punch in your PIN code instead of signing a receipt. Any store that displays Visa, MasterCard, Amex etc. logos is required to accept "traditional" sign-and-swipe cards, so be persistent if they initially refuse, although you may need to escalate to the manager. (With most terminals, swiping your card and simply waiting 20 seconds without entering the PIN will cause them to print out the signing slip.) However, with self-service like gas pumps and ticket vending machines, you may be out of luck.
With 50 intricately linked countries and 28 currencies squeezed into an area roughly the size of Canada or China, the planet's largest diaspora due to the continent's colonial ties with virtually the entire world, and more tourism arrivals than anywhere else, currency exchange is a fact of life in Europe, and the market is probably better established than anywhere else in the world, and readily available nearly everywhere. Banks will, nearly without exception, exchange all European currencies, and within the European Union banks will accept nearly any currency that is legally traded abroad. Specialized currency exchange companies are also widespread, especially in major tourist destinations, and are often slightly cheaper than banks. However, with ATMs accepting all major credit and debit cards available everywhere, many visitors simply withdraw money electronically to get as close to the real exchange rate as possible.
The EU will seem expensive for most visitors. For souvenirs, prices will often be less at smaller stalls than in larger stores. When dining, many items that you might not expect to be charged for (eg, water, bread) may appear on your bill.
Most goods and services offered in the region are required to include value added tax (VAT) in their published prices, especially the large print. The VAT may be refundable if you are a non-resident and take the goods out of the EU unused. Just request a voucher from the store and show it to customs at your exit point. To be safe, look out for a VAT refund sticker at the door or window of the store.