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U.S. currency – U.S. dollar: exchange rates, currency exchange, banks and bank cards guide| USD

U.S. currency – U.S. dollar: exchange rates, currency exchange, banks and bank cards guide| USD 

In this article I will tell you what currency it is better to take in the U.S. and how much money to have in cash and on a bank card, and share practical information from our travel experiences in different situations, when it was necessary to deal with money and pay for various goods and services in the U.S,

The currency of the United States is the U.S. dollar

The United States dollar is the unit of currency and the official currency of the United States, which is the basis of daily transactions for all citizens of this multinational country.

  • In many other countries where national currency is not the only legal tender, the dollar is often a supplementary currency and is in circulation much more often than local money.
  • The U.S. dollar exchange rate is one of the main indicators of trading on stock exchanges around the world. The economy of many countries is very dependent on the exchange rate of the local currency to the U.S. currency.
  • The appearance of U.S. money is shown in the picture above, so you now know exactly what U.S. dollars look like.

All freely circulating federal dollar bills issued since 1861 are legal tender in the United States and around the world. However, in some countries (for example, Myanmar) there is a strict restriction on accepting only certain series of dollars for payment; they must not be crumpled or folded, and they must be perfectly clean and without any marks on the banknotes.

There are also U.S. coins in various denominations, which are called cents and have various unofficial “nicknames”: penny – a coin of 1 cent, nickel (5 cents), dime (10 cents), quarter or quarters (1/4 dollar), half (1/2 dollar).

Basic information

  • A dollar is equal to 100 cents, 10 dimes, or 4 quarters.
  • Bills in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 are in circulation.
  • There are also very rare bills in denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 and $100,000, issued early last century in 1918 and 1934 for major interbank settlements and internal Fed settlements and still not completely removed from circulation. Today they are of special collector’s value.
  • Coins in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents, as well as $1 are used for small payments, fares on public transport and in various automatic machines. Moreover, the size of coins does not depend on their face value, and the smallest coin is a 10-cent piece. In the United States, unlike in many other countries, it is very common to pay with coins from ATMs and parking lots that usually don’t accept one-cent or one-dollar coins. Especially popular in America are quarters (25 cents), with which you often had to pay at all self-service machines (on the bus, in the laundry, at the gas station).
  • The basic design of dollar bills was approved in 1928.
  • All modern dollar bills have the same size of 6.14 by 2.61 inches (156 by 66.3 mm), regardless of denomination, and weigh about 1 gram.
  • All dollar bills feature portraits of U.S. statesmen from various eras on the front. Included are three of the four U.S. presidents pictured in the Rock of Presidents, a memorial on Mount Rushmore. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
  • The back shows images that illustrate American history – the Great Seal of the United States (one dollar bill), a reproduction of a painting of the Declaration of Independence (on two dollars), and various buildings like the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
  • The largest U.S. banknotes are hardly used in everyday life. Americans prefer credit cards for expensive purchases over $30 to $50. We have never seen anyone in the U.S. with a bundle of money in their hands, and in small towns they are suspicious of anyone who tries to pay with $50 and $100 bills.
  • The advantage of dollars is that they are printed on special paper, pleasant to the touch and making a characteristic rustling sound, which is forbidden for use by anyone else but the U.S. federal authorities. It is also known that this paper is used to make the currency of the Maldives, the Maldivian rufia banknotes. The formula for the ink used to print dollars is one of the top secrets of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
  • Approximately 35 million bills of varying denominations are produced each day in the U.S., averaging $635 million. At the same time, most of the money printed during the year (namely, 95%) is intended to replace worn-out banknotes that are withdrawn from circulation. The cost of making one bill is about 6 cents and is virtually independent of denomination.
  • Most U.S. dollar bills are not in perfect condition, but outside the country, the vast majority of banknotes are new. In general, a special feature of U.S. dollars is their horizontally elongated shape and high level of recognition outside of the United States, thanks to their attractive design. The color palette used, dominated by the green color scheme, allows you to immediately distinguish U.S. dollars from any other banknotes.
  • The only downside of U.S. dollars is some difficulty when trying to pay with large bills ($50 and $100) or when exchanging them outside the country, as it often requires additional verification. This is why it is a must to bring a credit card when you travel around the U.S. to avoid getting into trouble.
  • It is not easy to exchange currency in the United States, but you can do it in the branches of major banks in large cities and in exchange offices at international airports. In the rest of America, it is quite difficult to exchange foreign currency.

Where does the name “dollar” come from?

The history of the origin of the name “dollar” is interesting. At the very beginning of the settlement of North America by Europeans (XVIII century) in use was another currency – the thalers, which were used by the Dutch and some other settlers as the unit of currency for calculations. They were made of silver, and in England at that time, all silver coins resembling the thaler were called dollars. Therefore, after the proclamation of independence of the United States, it was dollars that were chosen as the national currency of the country. At first, all dollars were silver coins, and later there were paper banknotes (appropriations, bills), which were originally gray-green in color and were used to pay between banks and other large organizations.

Important to know:

The dollar is the only legal tender in the United States. You cannot pay with foreign currency in America except for Canadian dollars (only in border areas).

Why are dollars green?

In general, it is quite curious to know why the dollar turned green. When, in 1869, the U.S. Treasury Department signed a contract with a company in Philadelphia to produce special paper with watermarks for dollar bills to protect the money from illegal photographic copying. At the same time, the Treasury Department began to print dollars mainly in green paint. The reason for this was that the green color psychologically aroused confidence in the money and gave a sense of optimism, as well as being fairly resistant to external influences and not fading in the sun.

Why are dollars called bucks?

Virtually everyone knows the unofficial name for the dollar, which is actively used in international culture, movies, songs, and informal speech. It is the word “buck.” In fact, the word “buck,” which is pronounced bucks in the plural, came from a simplified pronunciation of the first part of the English word “buckskin,” which means “pelt of a male deer.” These hides were obtained by the Indians in order to sell them or exchange them at the settlement of white people for things they needed, such as weapons, tools, or “fire water. That is, today’s bucks are a slang name for dollars originally used to refer to the equivalent of trading or bartering between whites and Indians in North America.

Interesting fact: In 2015, the U.S. decided to change the familiar design of the 10-dollar bill and issue a new one with the image of a woman. They were going to put it into circulation by 2020. But that decision was canceled in 2016 due to the increased popularity of Alexander Hamilton (he is depicted on the banknote today), not least because of the Broadway production of the musical about his life.

Where to withdraw dollars in the United States

You can withdraw cash from your account, receive a money order, or exchange currency in the United States at a local bank. Usually banks in small U.S. cities are concentrated on a single street in the downtown area. In large cities and metropolitan areas, you will find banks everywhere, but they are especially common in business and shopping districts.

Banking hours are set individually for each bank in the United States but generally they are open every weekday (Monday through Friday, except holidays) from 9 a.m. to 3 to 5 p.m. Usually each bank is open one hour longer on one particular day of the week, for example until 6:00 p.m. Some bank branches located near shopping malls are open on Saturdays (usually only in the morning, before lunch) and sometimes on Sundays.

Money Transfer to the United States

To get an urgent money transfer to the USA you can visit one of the branches of major banks, as well as the U.S. Post Office, where there is one of the special services for sending money (Western Union, MoneyGram, Xpress Money, and others). It takes from several minutes to several days to transfer money to the United States, depending on the method you choose and the terms of the payment system.

Credit cards and bank transfers in the USA

It is known that the USA is the country with one of the highest rates of cashless payments (payments made with cards instead of cash) in the world. That is why it is very convenient to pay with any plastic cards – both debit and credit ones. And magnetic stripe cards without additional protection may not be accepted, because almost everywhere already accept bank cards with a chip and even contactless payment technology Paypass. In addition, instead of traditional money in retail chains and services, payments from your cell phone or other useful gadgets (iPad, Apple Watch, etc.) are increasingly being made through Apple Pay or similar technology.

Where in America you can pay with a bank card

All bank cards (Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, American Express and others) are accepted for payment almost everywhere without restrictions: in hotels, cafes and restaurants, stores and supermarkets, cinemas, museums and stadiums, self-service gas stations (where you have to enter your zip code), vending machines and payment terminals for various services, both in large cities and in the countryside, except in remote areas without electricity and Internet (eg. national parks).

Prices in U.S. restaurants, cafes, and stores are in dollars, not including taxes (federal and local), which are added to the cost of goods when you buy. Pay in America can only be made in U.S. dollars, and preferably with a U.S. dollar card (linked to a bank account with U.S. dollars). All hotel prices – room rates and additional services are written in USD including taxes to make it easier for tourists.

In my experience I can say that in the U.S. there are no problems to pay in cash dollars in stores, restaurants and cafes, but at the gas station you can pay only with a bank card. In cabs you also need to pay by card, but in the buses only cash is accepted, and the driver does not give change.

Tip: Sometimes at gas stations in America when paying with a card at the cashier’s desk we were asked for an ID (ID is an identity document in the USA), to confirm who the owner of the card is. We always showed our passport, and that was enough. You can do the same if you have any difficulties with self-pay at the terminal.

How to withdraw dollars from a bank card in the U.S.

Withdrawing cash from a bank card in America is not a problem at all. There are ATMs in all cities and towns in the USA. Most of them accept Russian and other foreign bank cards (debit and credit) of different systems – Visa, MasterCard, etc. The amount of cash you can withdraw per transaction is usually limited and usually ranges from $300 to $1000 (it depends on the bank that owns the ATM). The bank charges usually vary from $3 to $5 per transaction, so it is better to withdraw larger amounts at once rather than just a little.

Cash in America

Cash in America is certainly useful when you buy souvenirs during tours, as well as to pay for travel on public transport (where they don’t give change) and to use parking lot machines or terminals accepting only cash payment. So stock up on small bills and as soon as possible get coins (dimes and quarters are especially useful). In addition, keeping $300-500 dollars in your wallet just in case, just in case, when you suddenly run out of money on your card, or it is blocked by mistake at your bank, may help you during your trip to the USA.

Experienced travelers advise taking several bank cards (debit and credit) issued by trusted banks. The credit card is better for making deposits (for example, when renting a car), and the debit card can be used for paying at hotels and restaurants, as well as for everyday purchases.


By the way, you can book a car inexpensively for a trip to the U.S. and take it wherever you want (for example, at the airport upon arrival, or you can have it delivered directly to your hotel for free) on a proven site of car selection and rental

Cashing Out in the U.S.

If you urgently need a small amount of cash in the U.S., and there is no ATM or bank branch nearby, keep in mind that in America you can cash out dollars directly in a regular store or supermarket. This service is called cash-out. All you need to do is request simultaneous withdrawal of the amount you need when paying with plastic card.

The amount up to 20 dollars will be given at the cashier without any questions, and if you want to get more cash you will need to provide a passport to identify your identity. In addition, not all stores provide this service, and it is not carried out on all cards of foreign banks. In any case, it is possible, and you can find out on site whether a particular bank card is suitable for it.

Traveler’s checks

If you are planning to travel around the U.S. and don’t want to carry around a bundle of cash with you, it is useful to know about another way to pay for your trip: by traveler’s checks. Traveler’s checks in U.S. dollars can be cashed at hotels, big stores, and restaurants (American Express, Visa, and Thomas Cook checks are accepted quite easily, but the rest – as luck would have it). And although this method of transporting money is considered rather archaic, nevertheless its main advantage over cash is protection against loss or theft (you can quickly restore it). In addition, a traveler’s check, unlike a bank card, absolutely no one will block.

Tipping in the U.S. (tips)

At the end I will try to talk briefly about tips in the U.S., although this topic is really quite broad and you should first get better acquainted with American culture and traditions before talking about when you should pay tips and when you shouldn’t leave them (they may be included in your final bill). So I’ll get right to the point.

So, it is customary to tip in America virtually everywhere, for any service that is rendered exclusively to you. And the amount “for tips” is included in the final bill before taxes, so keep in mind that the total will be even higher. It is also worth bearing in mind that it is not customary to leave tips for medical services, as well as public employees and civil servants, it may even be considered as a petty bribe.

It is useful to know: Tips are not usually included in the bill, but it is not customary to forget to leave them in the U.S. (it is considered bad manners and can be very negatively perceived). Their size is at the client’s discretion. In hotels it is customary to tip maids (if you stay for several days) and butlers, as well as in case of ordering room service. In expensive restaurants the tip amount is usually 15-20%, and in large cities like New York or Los Angeles their minimum amount can be higher.

Before leaving a restaurant, if you pay in cash, it is customary to simply leave the amount on the table without change, taking into account the tip. If you are going to pay by credit card, the waiter will bring the bill, where the amount of ordered dishes is already written and there are two more empty lines. One of them is the line “tips”, which must be filled in by the client, and in the second line you must enter the total amount, and it is not recommended to leave it empty, otherwise restaurant workers can fill it without the knowledge of the client and write the increased amount.

In cafes and fast-food restaurants (fast-food) it is not accepted to pay tips, although you can put the change in a special box for collecting tips, located near the cash register.

At the end of a trip when paying by card you should choose the tip beforehand (15, 20, 25 percents of the fare on the counter or more), and it is not possible to pay and refuse to tip a cab driver at all, as he doesn’t accept cash.

Here’s the size of tips that are customary to leave in the U.S. for different services:

  • At the restaurant – 15-25%.
  • For cab rides – 15-25% and $1-2 for each piece of luggage.
  • Porter – $1-2 per item
  • Maid: $2-$5 per day
  • Waiter for room service – 15-20% of bill
  • Bartender – $1-2 for each approach or 15% of bill
  • Hairdresser or massage therapist in a beauty salon – 10-15% of the cost of services rendered
  • Instructor at a ski resort – 10% of bill or lunch fee
  • Courier (pizza delivery to your home, etc.) – 10-15% of the order, usually 2-5 dollars

How much money to take with you on a trip to America

Now let’s talk about how much money to take with you to America. In fact this question is not easy, because everyone has his own ideas and how much and what he wants to spend. After all, agree it’s one thing to live in a luxury villa in the city of the rich in Santa Barbara, on the U.S. Pacific Coast, and quite another – to travel on a budget and stay in hostels.

So, if you are going to America on a trip, then most likely you have already paid for all the travel and hotels when you bought the tour. So you will only have to pay for food in cafes and restaurants, and buy gifts and souvenirs. I recommend to aim at 50 to 100 dollars per day per person, depending on the length of your trip and the intensity of your program. Hiking in expensive restaurants and booking additional excursions will roughly double that amount.

  • A dinner for two in a restaurant can cost $100-150, but a bite at a cafe alone can cost as little as $7-10 (coffee and donuts or a sandwich). The average check for lunch at inexpensive restaurants is usually $12-20. If you buy products in stores and cook yourself, it will be even cheaper because the prices for products in the U.S. are quite low, but you must always pay a lot for services.
  • Public transportation in the city will cost 6-8 dollars a day.
  • Visiting museums usually costs between $5 and $20, but in some you can pay at your discretion, such as just $1.
  • Admission to lookouts, the zoo, or a movie ticket will cost $20 to $40.
  • Go to the theater to see a Broadway musical, buy a ticket to Disneyland or to a sporting event (hockey, basketball or baseball) – from $70 to $200.
  • If you are going to travel around the U.S. on your own, as we did, I advise you to carefully work out your itinerary for the States and roughly calculate the planned costs. Even if you don’t spend a lot of money, you are unlikely to spend less than $1,000 per person for 2 weeks in the U.S.. However, if you stick to a plan for austerity, you can cut costs by about half.

The most important thing to know: In any case, a tourist in the U.S. to live on less than $250 per week is unlikely to succeed. Usually frugal people who come to America for 2-3 weeks end up spending in the States $3,000 to $5,000 for two people.

To summarize, I advise you to take cash with you in the U.S. (or withdraw it from ATMs in America), based on your own needs. It is best to bring several bank cards and small cash U.S. dollars, denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 20 USD, in any condition. These are the best-selling bills and are accepted for payment everywhere. But no one will accept foreign currency (for example, rubles or euros).

The money on the card should be enough to pay for the hotel, car, gasoline, etc., while it is desirable to have a reserve on the balance or a large credit limit. If you are going to buy expensive excursions and tours, eat in a restaurant, pay for transfers and buy expensive gadgets and souvenirs, then take at least $ 2,000 a week for two (that’s besides paying for the hotel). So it all depends first and foremost on yourself.

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