The United States uses the United States dollar ($) as its currency, divided into 100 cents (¢). American bills usually come in denominations of $ 1, $ 5, $ 10 and $ 20. Denominations of $ 2, $ 50 and $ 100 can also be found, but they are uncommon, especially the $ 2 bill. All $ 1, $ 2, $ 5, $ 50 and $ 100 bills, and older $ 10 and $ 20 bills are all green.
The standard coins are the penny (1 ¢, copper color), the nickel (5 ¢, silver color), the dime (10 ¢, silver color) and the quarter (25 ¢, silver color). Note: The size of American coins does not necessarily correspond to their relative value: the dime is the smallest coin, followed by the penny, nickel and quarter in that order. Large 50 ¢ and $ 1 coins are uncommon. $ 1 coins (silver or gold) slightly larger than a quarter have been introduced, but are uncommon.
There is a large variety of different coins in circulation. In many cases, for a particular denomination the coins will have an identical front but totally different backs. For example, for quarters (25 ¢), each state is commemorated on the back of the coin. This means that there are 50 different coins, in addition to the traditional eagle and the 1976 bicentennial commemorative quarter.
The dollar is one of the world's most common currencies and is convertible to most other currencies. Conversion rates vary daily and are available online. Foreign treaties are almost never accepted. Canadian currency is sometimes accepted at larger stores within 100 miles of the border, but discounted for the exchange rate.
Some US banks will only change currency for customers. Foreign travelers are often the exception, as long as you have proper identification (passport) and a major currency. It is best to call ahead to verify that you will be able to make the exchange.
Note: It is not common to find currency exchange centers outside of major coastal and border cities, and international airports. Many banks can also provide currency exchange services, although certainly not for large amounts of money. You are best to bring dollars with you from your home country.
Most automated teller machines (ATMs) can handle foreign bank cards or credit cards bearing Visa / Plus or MasterCard / Cirrus logo; note, however, that many ATMs charge fees of about $ 1.50 for use with cards not from the bank operating the ATM (this is often waived for cards issued outside of the USA but then again, banks in one's home country may charge their own fees) . Smaller ATMs found in restaurants etc. often charge higher fees.
Note: For German travelers, customers of "Deutsche Bank" are not charged for withdrawals from ATM machines that are operated by Bank of America. If you intend to use your overseas bank card or credit card, be certain that you have a PIN (personal identification number) that will work internationally (usually 4 digits) and that you know how much each transaction will cost (minimum and percent rate exchange fees).
Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are widely used. Other cards such as American Express and Discover are also accepted, but not as broadly. Almost all sit-down restaurants, hotels, and stores will accept credit cards. Authorization is made by signing a sales slip or sometimes a computer pad. When making large purchases, it is fairly typical for stores to ask for picture identification, but no additional security precautions are taken, so guard your cards carefully.
Gas station pumps, selected public transportation vending machines and some other types of automated vending machines often have credit / debit card readers. Note, however, that some automated vending machines accepting credit cards ask for the Zip code of the US billing address for the card, which effectively advances them from accepting foreign cards. For gas stations, it would be advisable to check first with the station attendant inside.
It may or may not be wiser to bring traveler's checks or use the ATM, depending on your bank's policies. It's always good to come with some currency on hand. Many establishments are unfamiliar with traveler's checks, and may not know how to process them. You should have no trouble using a traveler's check at a hotel or tourist site, but you may be out of luck at a grocery store or gas station.
American Express Travel cards would be a safe alternative to traveler's checks. They work like credit cards but are pre-credited with the amount you determine.
In order to open a bank account in the United States, the federal government requires that you have a tax identification number or social security number. If you are visiting the United States for a while you can apply for a TIN.
Many "regular" checking accounts offer free online bill paying options. However, be aware, that "free" may not be so. Be sure to read the fine print. There are often other charges tied to checking accounts (which many travelers will know as "chequing" accounts) such as checking processing fees, ATM fees and overdrafts.
- Recently many of the paper bills have been redesigned with additional security features including the use of microprinting, colors and larger faces on the bills. Old-design bills, however, are still in circulation. Keep in mind that if you return home with large amounts of old-design bills, your local banks may be unwilling to exchange them for fear of receiving older counterfeits.
- It may be wise to convert money in your home currency into US dollars prior to arriving in the US since it is uncommon to find currency exchange centers outside of major coastal and border cities, and international airports.
- Some establishments will try to disallow the use of credit cards for small purchases, but this practice is forbidden by the credit card companies. You can either pay in cash, or simply remember the cashier that they are required by the credit card companies to take cards for purchases of any amount.