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Do you know where your Euros are coming from ?

Euro Bank Notes Large

If tomorrow some countries are leaving the "Euro Monetary Union", how does that work in real life ? Does all the money on for example Greek bank accounts get converted to the old Greek Currency at a devaluated rate ? Do the Euro banknotes and coins issued by the countries leaving the Euro become worthless ? And if so, can you recognize Euro bills from say Greece, Italy, etc in your wallet ? Yes, you can identify which country has issued the bank notes in your wallet...

The Euro Banknotes carry an individual serial number, which allows you to identify which country has issued this specific bill (and as such in the old days should have provided the financial guarantees to back this issue). With Euro coins it is much easier - every coin has one "national" side clearly showing the issueing country. With Euro notes you have to be a little more skilled to determine the country of origin...

The serial number of a Euro bill consists of a letter, followed by 11 digits. I'll come back on those digits later on. First, make note that the letter in the first position of the serial number uniquely identifies the issueing country - and well as follows:

  • Z - Belgium - België/Belgique/Belgien
  • Y - Greece - Ελλάδα [Ellada]
  • X - Germany - Deutschland
  • V - Spain - España/Espanya/Espanha
  • U - France - France
  • T - Ireland - Éire/Ireland
  • S - Italy - Italia
  • R - Luxembourg - Luxembourg/Luxemburg/Lëtzebuerg (has not printed any Euro notes, so prefix has not been used)
  • P - Netherlands - Nederland
  • N - Austria - Österreich
  • M - Portugal - Portugal
  • L - Finland - Suomi/Finland
  • H - Slovenia - Slovenija
  • G - Cyprus - Κύπρος [Kypros]/Kıbrıs
  • F - Malta - Malta
  • E - Slovakia - Slovensko
  • D - Estonia - Eesti

Denmark, Sweden and the UK do currently not issue Euro notes, however, they have their prefixes reserved:

  • W - Denmark - Danmark
  • K - Sweden - Sverige
  • J - United Kingdom - United Kingdom

That leaves following letters available for future countries joining the Euro:

  • Q, O, I - not used by design
  • C, B, A - kept available

So... if you want to remove all the risk associated with Greece existing the Euro zone from your wallet... just make sure you spend those bank notes starting with a Y !

One more thing... the list of letters and countries above is not "random" - like nothing seems to be random in the EU. If you order the country names written in their official language, you have the list sequence mentioned above. The letters of the alphabet are then assigned in reversed order. Simple, eh ?