Check your euro-change

After next February hanging on to eurozone currencies will be very silly. After February, different countries adopt different deadlines, and the old currencies will no longer be legal tender.

Thomas Cook, the bureau de change operator, says nearly six in 10 holidaymakers have notes and coins from the 12 eurozone countries languishing in their discarded suitcases.

A survey of 2,000 travellers found that four in 10 households have at least £20 in foreign currency at home, and Cook estimates that £120m in European currencies is merely lying about. Most people in the survey said they kept the foreign notes and coins in case they return to the country. A quarter had less than the equivalent of £5, but one in 100 had more than £250 in foreign form.

After next February hanging on to eurozone currencies will be very silly. In the new year the European Central Bank will issue the first euro currency notes and coins. After February, different countries adopt different deadlines, and the old currencies will no longer be legal tender.

In practice, banks will still convert your old holiday money into euros, but that will become increasingly difficult. And continental retailers, bars and restaurants are unlikely to take your old notes to the bank for you.

The eurozone countries are Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Other destinations, including the Channel Islands, Switzerland and Scandinavia, are unaffected.

The top five retained foreign currencies are the Spanish peseta, French franc, US dollar, Greek drachma and Italian lira. Cook is running a special offer to change bank notes from any of the 12 eurozone currencies back into sterling without charge. The offer is open until February. Cook's normal rate for changing foreign currencies into sterling is 2 per cent, subject to a minimum fee of £3. All foreign coins will be donated to the BBC's Children in Need appeal, and customers can pick up a free leaflet advising how the euro will affect you when you travel abroad.

From January most banks and bureaux de change will sell euro notes. And many people would welcome any move from Cook to extend its commission-free offer to convert old European currencies straight into euros, because regular visitors to the Continent will need them for next year's holiday. This would avoid making two conversion transactions.

A Cook spokeswoman promised that the company, which is owned by Travelex, would consider free euro conversion in the new year.

If you are confused, you are in good company. A European Union poll this week found that one in five people on the Continent did not realise the euro would be useable in any eurozone country.

The same survey found that two-thirds of the eurozone's 300 million citizens believe shops and businesses will cheat and round up prices in euros.

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