Money Talks: What to do when lumped with a €500 note

The highest-value euro note is a hefty €500, but if you find yourself in possession of one, it could be more hassle than it’s worth, says Simon Calder

In daily life in Britain, few of us encounter our largest banknote: the £50. But compared with the highest-value bill in the eurozone, it constitutes small change. The top of the currency tree in Europe is occupied by the €500 note, worth about £400. And, if like a listener to Radio 4’s Money Box programme, you find yourself landed with two of them, you could struggle to spend or convert them.

When the Money Box team told me about the case of Mark from East Sussex, who received his €1,000 fee for a lecture in Croatia in just two banknotes, I investigated how travellers could be stumped by high-value notes.

Q. Who uses €500 notes?

A. Not the average European traveller. The  denomination was introduced because several nations that signed up for the euro had high-value notes and a strong dependence on cash. Germany had a 1,000 Deutschmark note, which was worth almost €500.

With similar high-value notes used in Austria, Belgium and Holland, it seemed a natural step to have a large euro note. But the euro was quickly recognised as a global currency – and organised crime immediately recognised its potential for increasing the ease with which they could move cash around.

Cash says less about the bearer than a bank account ever can, and for villains keen to move illicitly acquired money around, portability is a virtue. One million pounds in £50s weighs about 20kg, while the equivalent value in €500s weighs only 2.5kg.

According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the vast majority of €500 note are handled by criminals, who account for more than  90 per cent of UK demand for the note. “Crime is a cash-based business, and paying large amounts of cash into the banking system attracts unwelcome attention,” says Soca.“Instead, criminals try to reduce the bulk of the cash as far as possible and move it undetected out of the country. Exchanging low-denomination notes for high- denomination notes has historically been a favourite way of doing this.” British banks stopped supplying the €500 two years ago – the highest value you can legitimately buy is €200, worth about £160.

Q. What if you inadvertently find yourself with a €500 or two?

A. You can’t buy a €500 here, nor break it into smaller-denomination euro notes, but you can exchange it for sterling at some places. Most high-street banks will accept €500 notes from customers, on the basis that if there are any problems with the notes they know where you live. Some bureaux de change will also change them. There are, however, a couple of conditions: you may well have to show your passport or driving licence, and you are likely to get a poor rate. A typical quote is €1.35 to the pound, compared with perhaps €1.28 or so for substantial quantities of “normal” notes.

Q. Is there a better solution?

A If you go to a big bank in a European city such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Vienna, you can ask to get a €500 or two changed, and – subject to security procedures – you will probably be successful. These cities are in countries which were accustomed to high denominations before the euro replaced their local currencies. But in France, the largest franc note was the 500, and in Spain the 10,000 peseta, both worth about £50, so you may be regarded with suspicion in Paris or Madrid. Or you could splurge the cash on a night at Hôtel de Crillon in the French capital, which (with breakfast) should leave you with a few small notes in change.

Q. What other large denominations can cause problems?

A. The biggest note I’ve found in a major currency is 1,000 Swiss francs, worth about £670; even in Zurich, you can expect raised eyebrows should you try to pay for a coffee with it. Elsewhere, the US $100 is difficult to offload – as are larger euro notes outside Europe. In Cuba, for example, so alarmed are many traders about accepting fake notes that if you try to spend or change a €50 or €100, you may have to provide your passport  details in case there is a problem with the transaction. Small denominations avoid this issue, and are almost always the best choice for travellers. A common example shows why: you get a cab late at night, and hand over €50. The driver gives you change from €20, and then claims that is what you gave him. If you have nothing bigger than a €20, this cannot happen.

Q. Any other tips?

A. Tips, as in “filter”, is the operative word. Keep tabs on what else may serve as hard currency. Before the fall of communism in Romania, the extensive black market was based upon an unusual currency: State Express 555 cigarettes. They were dreadful to smoke, but nobody ever did because – when sealed in cellophane – they were recognised as the best store of wealth.  Travellers like me took them in and lived like kings thanks to the king-sized cigarettes.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen