The American Dollar is accepted as currency in many countries around the world, and is the main currency of the USA, Ecuador, El Salvador, East Timor, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks & Caicos Islands, the Caribbean Netherlands, Zimbabwe and Panama. Many other countries will accept American Dollars alongside their own currency and in some cases it is the preferred method of payment – always do plenty of research on your destination before ordering your foreign currency and be sure the information you have is up to date.
What does it look like?
The American Dollar comes in both coins and notes. Detailed descriptions of what these look like are listed below, so you know exactly what you’re looking for.
American coins are relatively easy to identify and use, but are slightly less common than notes thanks to the existence and widespread usage of the $1 note. Be aware that the size of the coin does not always correspond with how much it is worth. The coins each have their own name, which can be confusing at first. These have been noted within brackets after each coin’s denomination below:
1 cent (Penny) Medium (19.05mm diameter) copper-coloured coin featuring Abraham Lincoln on one side and the Union Shield on the other, overlaid with a banner stating ‘ONE CENT’. Plain edged.
5 cents (Nickel)
Large (21.21mm diameter) silver-coloured coin with Thomas Jefferson on one side and Monticello - Jefferson’s plantation - on the other. Plain edged.
10 cents (Dime)
Medium (17.91mm diameter) silver-coloured coin with Franklin D. Roosevelt on one side and an olive branch, a torch and an oak branch on the other. Scored edge.
25 cents (Quarter)
Large (24.26mm diameter) silver-coloured coin with George Washington on one side and one of many different designs on the other side (five different designs are released each year). Scored edge.
50 cents (Half)
Very large (30.61mm diameter) silver-coloured coin with John F. Kennedy on one side and the presidential seal on the other. Scored edge.
Large (26.50mm diameter) gold-coloured coin with Sacagawea and her child on one side and a variety of different designs on the other (a bald eagle in flight was used for $1 coins between 2000-2008, and there has been a new design each year ever since). Lettered edge.
Unlike the money we are used to, American Dollar notes do not change in size dependent on their worth. To add to the confusion, they also all used to be the same colour (green). In recent years, most denominations have been re-designed with their own colour to make things a little easier. You may still come across green notes – particularly in separate countries who have adopted the dollar from the USA - which are still in circulation alongside the newer coloured versions. Each note has its denomination clearly printed in all four corners, which helps with identification, particularly if the notes are folded or stashed away in a money belt. All American Dollar notes have a plain border – the design does not come up to the edges of the paper.
Features George Washington on one side and what is known as the Great Seal of the United States on the other.
Features Thomas Jefferson on one side and an artist’s rendering of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the other.
This note features Abraham Lincoln on one side and the Lincoln Memorial building on the other.
Watermark: two number ‘5’s
This note features Alexander Hamilton on one side and the US Treasury building on the other.
Watermark: Alexander Hamilton
This note features Andrew Jackson on one side and the White House on the other.
Watermark: Andrew Jackson
This note features Ulysses S. Grant on one side and the United States Capitol building on the other.
Watermark: Ulysses S. Grant
This note features Benjamin Franklin on one side and Independence Hall on the other.
Watermark: Benjamin Franklin
Colour: Light blue/green
How much should I expect to spend?
The following information is about the United States of America only.
As with any country you visit, prices are likely to be higher in popular tourist areas and cheaper when you explore the less touristy areas. However, as the USA is such a large country, prices can also vary considerably from state to state. You should also be aware that in many states, the tax you pay when buying an item is added on at the end, so your total at the till is likely to be a bit more. (13th January 2020)
Double-occupancy hotel room – $207
Meals for one person, for one day – $42
Bus/taxi fares average cost – $36
Bottled water – $2
Is it customary to barter and tip?
Haggling or bartering is not overly common in the USA and is generally not deemed acceptable in general stores, supermarkets and restaurants. Much like the UK, there can be some bartering when it comes to flea markets, garage sales or when buying a more expensive item like a car or white goods, but again the accepted custom can vary from state to state, so make sure you do plenty of research before you go.
Tipping is widespread in the USA and although technically optional, has an almost mandatory status in many establishments. If you do not tip when you should, or you have not tipped enough, it is likely that this will be mentioned to you. In many cases, bartenders and waitresses are legally paid very little an hour, and tips are expected to make up the rest of their wages. This means tips are extremely important to them.
In restaurants it’s customary to tip 15-25% of the total bill, or more for exemplary service. At bars, it’s expected that you add a dollar per drink if you’re sitting at the bar itself. For table service drinks, a 10% tip on top of the bill is expected. Taxi drivers and hairdressers will also expect a tip of around 20%, and bellhops at hotels will expect a tip for helping you with your bags – usually $1 per bag plus a few dollars.
Other customs to be aware of:
Beware: if you are in a restaurant and you leave a 10% tip, this is generally seen as a sign that you’ve had bad service. If you leave no tip at all, you may be chased down and asked for an explanation.