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About 15 years ago I travelled over a period of weeks from N. Ireland to Scotland to England in that order, carrying along bank notes from the prior place and trying to spend them in the new place. In each situation, vendors were funny about it and in one case a Scottish vendor refused to accept N. Ireland notes actually accepting USD in its place. I've never understood this (is not a pound sterling a pound sterling?). But I may be making that same journey again soon and I am wondering if this is still the situation in the UK? Is there a "trick" to it that doesn't involve the money exchangers?

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    There are no 'UK' banknotes as such. These are Banknotes issued by banks. In England there is only one, in Scotland and Northern Ireland multiple banks with different motives. On my last trip to Northern Ireland each ATM gave out different notes. So it should not be surprising that elsewhere these notes are relatively unknown. Elsewhere banks must exchange the notes, but shops are not required to accept them. They are collected and sent back to the issuing bank. See the Great Train Robbery (1963) - Wikipedia. Aug 15 at 17:25
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    @MarkJohnson Bank of England notes do have specific privileged in that all the other bank notes must be backed by Bank of England currency, at least partially in the form of bank of england notes. (The Bank of England issues a special million pound, 10 million pound, and 100 million pound notes for this purpose). Only the Bank of England can print notes without backing assets. Aug 16 at 1:33
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    As a customer, I simply refuse Scottish notes when they're proffered. "Hi, can I have an English note, please, I'm heading over the border" is always sufficient and has never resulted in any follow-up other than "Sure, not a problem". Scottish vendors are aware that not everyone takes their notes, especially if you're heading out of Scotland.
    – Valorum
    Aug 16 at 7:17
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    A few years back, I was waiting to pay in a shop. The cashier was low on change and was trying to persuade the customer in front of me to accept a Scottish £10 note. The customer was reluctant so I offered to exchange it for her. Of course, when it was my turn, I used it to pay. The cashier could not refuse but I could sense her thinking: "Damn, I thought that I had got rid of that".
    – badjohn
    Aug 16 at 12:44
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    You are truly wicked badjohn. @Valorum it has never occurred to me to press the vendors for foreign notes. Thanks for the tip.
    – dhinson919
    Aug 16 at 14:52
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The trick which works is asking the shop people to exchange your (last) notes for the English ones before you cross the border or take a ferry or flight. Most of them will be happy enough to do that if you do not have too many.
And if you pay with cards for most of your payments you do not need too many banknotes.

And as I put in a comment, if you happen to have the 'wrong' notes, try to get them spend as near to the border as you can. Mostly the shop owners in places near the North Ireland ferry and the Scottish/English border are more familiar with the money of the other UK parts.
I have used Scottish banknotes on the ferry Amsterdam to Newcastle, which is often used by people traveling to and from Scotland.

And if everything else does not work, find someone going to that part of the UK and aak them for an informal exchange. This has the best chance on success if it is someone living there and familiar with the money.

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    All good answers but but this is specifically the kind of practical advice I'm looking for and I think it will be useful to others as well. Thanks.
    – dhinson919
    Aug 16 at 15:05
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    Just out of curiosity, since nobody's mentioned it - where does Wales fit into this, or for that matter the smaller places like Isle of Man etc.? (I guess I'm just spoiled in the US, where it's all one currency - heck, most places here will even accept Canadian coins, though probably not bills.) Aug 17 at 16:16
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    @DarrelHoffman Wales BoE notes only since 1908. It does not have any bank issuing notes still.
    – Tim
    Aug 17 at 18:29
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    Wales uses Bank of England notes like England does. The isle of man, Channel islands, and some british overseas territories have their own pounds which are pegged at 1:1 to the UK pound but their banknotes are unlikely to be accepted most places in the UK (their coins sometimes do find their way into UK circulation, but more by lack of attention than by deliberate intent on the part of those accepting them). Aug 17 at 21:12
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In the past I was happy to accept Sterling (GBP) notes issued by any bank, because all bank notes were printed on special paper that could be tested with a cheap and readily available banknote pen. Very few forgers would use, or could obtain, the correct paper. So as long as the note appeared to say the right things, had embossed ink and passed the pen test, I would consider it to be genuine, and I could pay it into a bank (even if I could not spend it in a shop).

Now though, notes have been re-issued in the new plastic style. These are supposed to be harder to forge, but the catch is I am not well versed with the anti-forgery techniques used, and do not know what they are supposed to look like. The detector pen is no use. So I refuse all notes that are not issued by the Bank of England.

So speaking as a vendor in England, I will not now accept any notes issued by banks of Northern Ireland or Scotland. Moreover, I now prefer card payments to cash anyway.

If there is a 'trick' to it, pay by card. There are some vendors who still do not accept card payments, or who refuse small value card transactions, but the way things are going, they won't stay in business for long...

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    Maybe I'm spending cash in weird places, but I honestly think you're in the minority. While I have had trouble in the past, the last time I had a Scottish or Northern Irish banknote rejected in a shop was years ago - and I do make frequent visits to Scotland especially and often withdraw cash there. I live in the south of England. In terms of polymer banknotes I'd really be surprised if those are easier to forge than "paper" ones; and the feel of the plastic is really quite distinctive. Note detector pens work by detecting ordinary paper - they'll still work for that.
    – Muzer
    Aug 16 at 11:41
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    @Muzer I thought I had made it clear that the detector pens are for paper and not for the polymer notes, but there very few paper notes in circulation now. As for their 'feel' I handled paper money from childhood and could often suspect a fake note by its feel, but in the declining use of notes today, the new notes have neither a familar feel nor look about them: all of them have an 'unreal' quality. There are forgeries, but whether they are easier or harder to make isn't relevant, and obviously the new fakes won't be on paper, to be even remotely credible. Aug 16 at 11:50
  • You would accept notes from Scotland and NI, but not England? Aug 16 at 13:55
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    @AzorAhai-him- no, the other way round. I am in England and don't accept notes from other banks. Aug 16 at 13:57
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    Edited to clarify. Aug 16 at 14:00
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In theory, all these notes are mostly portable, although it is worth noting that only Bank of England notes are legal tender anywhere within the UK. However, settling a court-mandated debt is unlikely to figure in most visitors concerns, so that is largely irrelevant.

In practice, most staff taking the notes off you will only have experience with Bank of England notes and notes issued by local banks. They will often decline to take notes they are unfamiliar with simply because they do not know if what you are offering is a legitimate note, a fraudulent one, or simply an entirely fictional one from "The bank of dhinson919".

For a visitor travelling around the UK, this can be somewhat frustrating (although it is worth noting that in 2021, cashless payment is by far the norm, with more than 80% of transactions now being electronic). Some solutions you can attempt to employ:

  • Request Bank of England notes before leaving the territory where other notes are issued
  • Use automated devices - most "self checkouts" will accept all valid notes, but will give change in local notes (and coins that have no such problems)
  • Attempt to exchange your national notes for Bank of England at any physical bank branch (note that some offer this service to customers only).
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    In my personal experience, claims that vendors in England will "often" decline Scottish banknotes are untrue. You may encounter some scepticism, particularly further south but I've never actually had a note refused. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I would describe it as a rare occurrence. Aug 16 at 10:33
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    My one experience with trying to use scottish notes in England saw it declined. I can believe that near the border it's not a problem. Some retailers provide identification charts for staff to refer to. At the same time others have explicit signs that Scottish and N. Irish notes will be refused.
    – CMaster
    Aug 16 at 10:35
  • It can also depend on which bank, where you are, and how trustworthy the retailer thinks you are. Aug 16 at 11:05
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One other thing to consider is that, since covid, it is perfectly possible to not use bank notes at all. Practically everywhere will accept contactless payment. I live in the UK and do not carry cash at all now, have not used it for over a year.

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  • Welcome to the site. Thank you for helping out. What you wrote was already mentioned in several of the answers, if less strongly worded.
    – Willeke
    Aug 17 at 10:17
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    Regretably, this isn't the case for coins. There are still plenty of places where a coin in a slot is the only payment option (car parks, public toilets etc.). It's very frustrating because the prevalence of card payment means I struggle to get hold of coins these days. Aug 17 at 15:52
  • @DaveGremlin However even those places are converting. Car parks usually have a contactless/card option available, and even the garage air machine I last used for my car tyres did (charge: 30p). Aug 18 at 12:23

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