I have a bad habit of not properly utilizing foreign currency coins when I tour any country. When I pay in bills and get back coins I don't know why my brain is programmed to think of them as change and for the next purchase I would again use a new bill.

Sometimes it is also due to the fact that I don't like to spend a long time on a counter trying to count coins up to a certain amount so just to make it easy for me I would just pay with a currency note that's slightly bigger than the required amount, or use a combination etc. It is also due to the fact that sometimes its hard to get used to the denominations specially for coins on a short trip; they sure do some in various shapes and sizes, whereas on for paperback it is comparatively easier.

I usually bring all those coins back home, they are quite a bunch of them by the end of a trip. I bring them home as a memory or as something that relates to my trip for a long time to come. I am not a coin collector but sometimes when I see that this coin that I have is from a country which i visited when i was a child it makes me feel good. Sometimes my family members take some of them as souvenirs.

The only time I use those coins abroad is on vending machines and lately in theme parks for my kid on toys which operate with coins.

Lately I have been reading about this fairly global practice that all coins should either be used at the airport or given to homeless people in that country before you fly out.

That has got me wondering whether what I do is unethical? I am not a miser nor do I have any use for those coins when I reach home but even when I find a homeless person abroad I give them a currency note instead of a coin.

Is this a bad practice?

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    It should be noted that some countries have restrictions on owning foreign currency. For example in South Africa "..travellers must convert unused foreign exchange to Rand within 30 days of returning to South Africa." However you're unlikely to be hauled into the police station for a few coins
    – Paradise
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 8:59
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    It should also be noted that some countries have a "Closed Currency", where it is against the law to take any of their currency outside the borders of the country. Tunisia is an example.
    – pbristow
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 14:23
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    leftover coins from after an international trip are my favorite type of souvenir. they are guaranteed to have value, and if i ever go back, i can use them again. it's my money—i can't think of a single reason this would be considered unethical.
    – user428517
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 17:07
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    A big part of the point of money is that if you have it, it's yours.
    – djechlin
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 21:41
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    Your money is yours and you get to choose what do to with it. Don't let people make you feel guilty for something that is not really unethical. For example some people might tell you that giving to the homeless or to beggars is also "not right". Ultimately, you should decide on your own. Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 12:33

7 Answers 7


I don't personally think there are any ethical issues with taking change away. One good reason for doing so is to land with a little change next time you visit; I find it quite handy to have a couple of quarters in my pocket when I land in the US, just in case I need to make a small purchase from a vending machine, or a call from a payphone. Visitors to the UK, where a pound coin is very often used as a return-to-stand deposit on luggage (and shopping) trolleys, would probably find similar utility in a little pocket change.

But if you do feel bad about this, and you ever fly BA, they're still running their Change for Good scheme with UNICEF; you put all your change in the envelope in the seat back, hand it to the cabin crew, and they get it to UNICEF who use it for the great good that they do. No doubt some other airlines have similar programmes, and I've noticed that some banks in the UK, particularly in tourist areas, have charity collecting boxes for foreign coinage.

As a passing note (hah!), I'd mention that in many countries, where the lowest denomination note is still fairly valuable (eg, the smallest note in the UK is worth about USD8), the practice of using notes for everything and disregarding change can get both expensive and heavy quite quickly. One visitor of ours, from the US, bemoaned how expensive things were in the UK. That's not a novel observation for US visitors, but he seemed particularly upset; when we did a bit of digging, we found a pile of change by his bed, with over £120 in it, which he had mentally discarded as "worthless". I don't think he spent anything but coins for the rest of his trip; you may find that a re-examination of your every-transaction's-a-note policy reaps dividends, here.

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    The largest UK coins are £2/$5, which can certainly add up quickly if you're not spending them.
    – pjc50
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 11:11
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    @pjc50 £2 is $2.88 USD
    – rleelr
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 11:41
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    As an American who moved to Canada, I had the same phenomenon. My wife sells items on Facebook auctions and Kijiji (like Craigslist up here) so many items go for 2, 3, or 4 dollars. Since our smallest note is a 5, we end up with many rolls of loonies and toonies ($1 and $2 coins). It doesn't take long for the small jar to have a couple hundred dollars of change in it, where I had originally dismissed it as "just change".
    – corsiKa
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:35
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    "the UK, where a pound coin is very often used as a return-to-stand deposit on luggage (and shopping) trolleys" - many of these trolleys in the UK work (legally) with either one-pound or one-euro coins, and some UK supermarkets no longer use "coin operated" trolleys at all.
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 14:49
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    Some airports have large charity boxes where you deposit your foreign coins/notes.
    – CSM
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 13:08

There is nothing unethical about keeping your own money. The money you earn is your to spend as you see fit (other than what your government demands you give them in taxes ;-).

Lots of travelers keep their leftover coins and currency as souvenirs, as you mentioned, it brings back fond memories.

Lots of travelers bag up their leftover currency and coins to hold on until they next travel back to that country.

Lots of travelers place their coins in donation boxes or UNICEF envelopes, because they like to help others and have other souvenirs to remind their travels.

Fund raisers will do their best to pull at your heart strings in order to get your donation, but you have to evaluate if their cause is something you want to help. You should not feel guilty simply because you didn't donate.

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    No telling without knowing how that particular machine detected coins, some go by weight, some by size, and apparently some now scan the coin optically.
    – user13044
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 11:13
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    @HankyPanky: There can always be forged coins around. And vending machines would be very strict with weights, sizes and so on to avoid forged coins.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 14:14
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    @gnasher729 true dat. The Mint has estimated that over 3% of the pound coins in circulation in the UK are fakes. Hopefully the new bimetallic dodecagonal pound coin will cut that down a bit when it comes in, next year.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 15:00
  • Regarding the last paragraph, even if their cause is something you want to help, you could always just pay them in some other way (bills, check, card, etc.) and keep your change if you want to hang onto it as a souvenir.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 15:08
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    @HankyPanky Some vending machines are just bad though. One time I had a roll of fresh quarters from the bank. I tried the whole roll in a certain vending machine and it only took two out of the roll! Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 16:17

I once visited a country (I forget which, but it was Spanish-speaking) where there was a shortage of coins for reasons I don't recall. There were signs in many places asking people not to hoard their coins. Of course, that induced me to hoard coins for the duration of our trip. But I made sure to spend most of them before we left, with only a small few for souvenirs. I guess the lesson here is that it depends on the currency. Nobody's going to get burned up by your collection of Euro coins. But in some countries it's a scarce resource, not very nice to remove. And seemingly, you don't care about the value of the coins - so just give them away in the airport on your last day.


Seigniorage,the difference between the value of money and the cost to produce and distribute it, is usually positive. In the US for example:

║  Coin   ║ Cost ║ Seigniorage ║  
║ cent    ║ 1.7  ║ -0.7        ║  
║ nickel  ║ 8    ║ -3          ║  
║ dime    ║ 3.9  ║ 6.1         ║  
║ quarter ║ 9    ║ 16          ║  

So if a visitor takes home US quarter, he has effectively donated 16¢ to the US government.

Taking home lots of pennies (as we Americans are wont to call our one-cent pieces, using an American pluralization of the name of a British coin) technically costs the government money, but my opinion about the ethics of this is that if a government wants to play stupid games, nobody should feel bad about awarding it stupid prizes.

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    The whole "a penny costs more to make than it's worth" is actually a fallacy. Yes, the cost to manufacture a penny is greater than its face value, but a penny is exchanged between many parties over the course of its life in circulation, and each exchange in and of itself has economic value that ultimately means that the government gets many times its original investment back.
    – Mike Lewis
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 0:30
  • Exactly. I'd say this is the best answer. However, there are two sides. It is okay to take coins home, because you donate money to the government of the country you're leaving. On the other hand, you're stealing this money from your own purse or even from your own family, since this money could also be donated to your own kin. So, it is ethical and unethical at the same time.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 0:32
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    @MPLewis a Mint can issue a coin only once and thus the issuing party will make a loss if the intrinsic value of the coin is higher than the nominal value. Therefore, no matter how you look at it, a penny costs more than its nominal value.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 0:34
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    @Mark you're mostly correct, but the purpose of a government issuing currency is not for the value of that currency, it's for the value of the economic activity produced by the exchanging of that currency. This is why it's possible for our GDP to be many times the value of the currency in circulation; there is economic value in an exchange of currency above and beyond the value of the currency being exchanged. This is one of the reasons why the government still issues pennies at all, since they end up encouraging more economic activity than they lose on production.
    – Mike Lewis
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 0:41
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    @Mark I understand your point but there is not such thing as stealing from yourself. And stealing from your family?!? The money I didn't give the beggar is NOT stolen from the beggar! That's twisted!
    – D_Bester
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 6:02

The question of ethics is generally centered around conflict of interest. An ethical conflict of interest exists when you have an opportunity to do something that will benefit you personally, but will cause problems for a different obligation that exists for you in this context. (For example, a stockbroker who recommends a stock that will earn him a nice commission, but isn't likely to actually benefit the client who purchases it, is behaving unethically by choosing to benefit his own interest at the expense of his professional responsibility to his client.)

If you have an interest in taking money out of a country, but no professional or moral interest in having to leave it there, there's no reason why this should be unethical. However, in some specific cases, depending on the countries involved, doing so could be illegal or subject to legal restrictions, and you definitely have an interest in obeying the law, and an obligation to do so. But in the general case, no, there's no ethical problem with this.

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    Can you give a hint, a country or two where it's illegal to leave with even a bit of change? Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 21:16
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    @JoeTaxpayer According to a comment above, Tunisia is one such country. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 23:33
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    @JoeTaxpayer India as well (quora.com/…)
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 14:36

If you're taking money from a country with deflation then you're doing a microscopic piece of harm to the country by removing money from circulation. In a country with hyperinflation you're doing them a very small favour.


By asking "is it ethical", I hope you realize that answers will be primarily opinion-based, so here's a counter opinion:

Some nations (like China, last time I was there) have laws prohibiting removal of currency from their borders. So, if you knowingly and deliberately removed currency from one of these nations, I'd say that it is, in fact, unethical.

Of course, if violating a law is required the fulfill a higher moral obligation, then there is no problem, but I do not consider desiring to have a keepsake a higher moral obligation.

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    By the book breaking the law is first and foremost illegal or even more strictly unlawful but not necessarily unethical.
    – Ghanima
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 18:34
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    @ Malvolio. Other nations, presumably not "murderous kleptocracies" have similar laws. In any case, I know of no moral precept that allows an individual to ignore laws because they were enacted by some authority that he does not like. @Ghanima if the State has the moral authority to enact laws, then you have the moral obligation to obey them, presuming the laws themselves do not violate a higher moral principle.
    – Michael J.
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 21:33
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    That's a pretty big "if"... Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 7:05

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