Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency. In this guide, hotels are the exception, because almost all of them quote prices in euros. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
The basic unit of currency in Hungary is the forint (Ft or Huf). Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Ft. Banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 Ft. As of November 15, 2009, 200 Ft paper notes are no longer legal tender. If you saved some from a previous trip, they are no longer useable, but you have a lovely green bookmarker.
Telling coins apart can be confusing. The small gold-colored ones are 5 Ft. Ten and 50 Ft coins are both round and silver, but the 50 is larger in circumference. Both the 100 and 200 are dual-colored silver on the inside with a gold-colored band around the outside. The 100 Ft is the smaller of the two.
Paper money with all of the zeros really confuses travelers. The 500 Ft is reddish-brown, 1,000 Ft is blue, but the 2,000 Ft bill is also a brown color, while the 5,000 Ft is a greenish-blue. If you have a purplish-blue bill, it is 10,000 Ft, but the 20,000 Ft note looks like pink was smeared on it. Most importantly from 1,000 Ft and higher, they should all have a silver band on the left face side to be legal. Never exchange currency on the street unless it is at an authorized change kiosk. If you are approached on the street to change money, just walk away; it is illegal. I definitely advocate printing out an exchange rate cheat sheet from www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet before leaving home and carrying it in your wallet. When people get to an ATM, they lose all sense of how much money to withdraw because the zeros throw them off.
In Budapest, in the city center, you will find ATM machines from different banks within the same block, but elsewhere in the city there is one within a few blocks. We have no shortage of ATMs in the capital. In other cities and towns, there are fewer, but there are still an ample number.
Banks do not charge ATM fees other than what your home bank charges. All banks are not equal with their fees, so you should consult with your home bank to find out if they have a cooperative agreement with any banks in Hungary.
All ATM machines accept a four-digit pin code. OTP bank ATMs will accept up to an eight-digit pin code.
Some travelers have reported having problems using their debit cards as opposed to a credit card. In Hungary, which cards an establishment can accept is dependent on which bank they deal with. Not all banks will accept American Express or debit cards, but there is no rule of thumb as to whether to use a debit or credit card. One thing that you should know is that whether or not you use a debit or credit card, the cashier may give you a machine. If it is a debit card, enter your pin code. If it is a credit card, just press the green button, which authorizes the sale.
It is not a rare occurrence when paying the bill in a restaurant to find that suddenly the machine is not working. Sometimes this is due to their Internet connection to the bank, but other times, it means business has not been too good, so that cash influx is necessary.
Insisting you have no cash can sometimes miraculously fix the machine. At other times, someone gets left there, while someone else goes to an ATM.
If you were to leave one credit card at home, contrary to the commercials, it should be your American Express. This is the least widely accepted card here. If you have a Diners Club/MasterCard, you will be fine, but if you have a dedicated Diners Club card without the MasterCard tie-in, your chances of using it are close to nil.
For those with the new chip-embedded credit cards, you should make sure it is able to be swiped, as the chip technology has not hit Hungary as of yet.
Budapest has become increasing costly for residents as well as visitors. When we moved here in 2001, we could buy 3 days worth of groceries for 5,000 Ft. Now, that amount just about buys one day's worth. Inflation on prices has been 8 to 11% annually, including utilities and in the VAT has recently risen to 25% for goods and 18% for hotel rooms. Still a bargain when compared to other major cities like NY, London, and Tokyo, but it really depends on the currency conversion.
Traveler's checks are next to impossible to cash and only a few banks will take them, and not all branches of the banks do. American Express closed their office years ago, but are in conjunction with Western Union, where you will get the worst possible rates of exchange.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.