Pounds & Pence
Britain's decimal monetary system is based on the pound sterling (£), which is made up of 100 pence (written as "p"). Scotland issues its own currency, but English and Scottish money are interchangeable (although using Scottish notes in England can be problematic). There are £1 and £2 coins, as well as coins of 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p. Banknotes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20, and £50. Unlike in England, Scots still use £1 notes, as well.
After the financial turmoil of 2008-09, Britain's bailout of the country's largest banks has meant the currency is under threat (as is the euro), while the U.S. dollar has been more stable. As rates fluctuate, consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
For visitors from North America, prices in Scotland will make it seem like an expensive destination, on par with visiting major U.S. cities, for example, rather than Central European countries. That is particularly true with hotels, dining out, and drinking in pubs. In general, goods and services are priced in the same amount as they would be in U.S. dollars, but because of the exchange rate this means they really cost nearly one-third to one-half more. Exceptions to this general rule are theater and cinema tickets, which are about the same and sometimes cheaper given the exchange rate.
In Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as in most towns around these cities, there are as many ATMs (or cash points) as you would find in any major city.
Regarding the British Pound & the Euro -- Tourists from other parts of Britain don't need to be told, but for those arriving from overseas: Europe's primary currency, the euro, is not officially used in Scotland. Great Britain's currency is the pound sterling. However, some euro-friendly businesses in central Edinburgh and Glasgow will accept euro coins and notes.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from a cash machine or cash point. The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN. Keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now add a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).
Credit cards universally accepted are MasterCard and Visa, with American Express allowed less frequently. In the past few years, Scotland has imposed a "Chip and Pin" system, which means that all credit cards issued in Scotland have a computer chip embedded in them and users must know their PIN. In effect, the PIN has replaced the signature on credit card purchases. Many businesses can override the "Chip and Pin" requirement and revert to the once common "swipe" of credit cards - although it often depends on staff's knowledge of the equipment that the business uses.
Traveler's checks are becoming something of an anachronism. These days, traveler's checks are less necessary because 24-hour ATMs allow you to withdraw small amounts of cash as needed. You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are most commonly offered in denominations of £50, £100, and £200. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/807-6233 or 800/221-7282 for cardholders - this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322) - AAA members can obtain Visa checks at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378; and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).
American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard offer foreign currency traveler's checks, which are useful if you're traveling to one country, or to the euro zone; they're accepted at locations where dollar checks may not be.
If you carry traveler's checks, keep a record of their serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
What Things Cost in Edinburgh & Glasgow (in £)
Taxi from the airport 15-20
Double room, moderate 120
Double room, inexpensive 60
Three-course dinner for one, without wine, moderate 20-30
Bottle of Imperial beer (in a bar) 3
Bottle of Coca-Cola (in a bar) 2
Cup of coffee 1.50
1 liter of unleaded gas (petrol) 1.25
Admission to most museums free
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.