If vibrant cities with excellent dining, a great nightlife and eclectic architecture are your thing, you’ll love Romania. From trendy city hotspots to enchanting medieval villages and fairytale castles, this underrated destination truly has something for everyone. Even better, it’s one of the safest and cheapest countries to visit in Europe.
But what’s the best way to pay for things in Romania?
Read on find out about the best ways to get money for an unforgettable holiday in Romania.
Even though it joined the European Union in 2007, Romania hasn’t adopted the Euro yet (it’s scheduled to do so in 2019). The country’s official currency is the Leu (Lei in plural).
The Leu is a floating currency, which means its exchange rate fluctuates depending on supply and demand. One Leu (L1) is made up of 100 Bani.
A reform in 2005 changed the Leu’s value so that L1 in new money is equivalent to L10,000 in old Lei. Old banknotes in the higher denominations are no longer in circulation.
New Lei banknotes are available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 200 and 500. L1, L5, L10, L50 and L100 are the most commonly used notes. L200 and L500 notes are rarely used. They also aren’t dispensed by ATMs. Bani coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 50. 10 and 50 bani are the most common coins in circulation.
Euros are sometimes accepted at larger hotels in Bucharest. However, the Leu is the only currency that should be used in Romania.
Lei aren’t readily available outside of Romania, which means you’re unlikely to get a good rate if changing currency before your trip. It’s best to exchange your money once you arrive in the country. ATMs often offer the best rates. Banks and authorised exchange bureaus are another option, and are widely available in Bucharest and in other large cities.
Beware of companies that claim they don’t charge fees and commissions. While they may not charge an outright fee, they often build their profit into an unfavourable exchange rate.
Always check the mid-market rate before you commit to buying Lei, as this is the fairest exchange rate you could possibly get. You can check the current mid-market rate by using this handy currency converter.
You should make sure you have new, undamaged bills, as no one will accept notes that are torn or marked.
Avoid exchanging your money at airports and train stations, as they offer the worst rates and charge hefty commissions. Some larger hotels may exchange Euros, Pounds and US dollars, but they’ll also offer unfavourable rates.
While it’s possible to cash travellers’ cheques at larger banks or at the airport, it might be difficult to do. It’s also unlikely you’ll find anywhere to cash them outside of Bucharest.
What’s more, few hotels and exchange bureaus accept them, and they’ll likely charge a considerably high commission with a low exchange rate. You’re much better off exchanging cash or using an ATM.
Visa, MasterCard and AmEx are accepted in large hotels, by car rental companies and in larger stores and restaurants in Bucharest and in most other major cities. However, many places only accept chip-and-pin cards. If your card isn’t chip-and-pin enabled, always make sure you have enough cash in your pocket to cover the bill.
Remember to always perform transactions in the local currency, i.e. Lei, when paying by card. If you choose to be charged in your home currency, the exchange rate will be worked out using Dynamic Currency Conversion, which results in an unfavourable exchange rate.
It’s highly unlikely that your cards will be accepted in smaller towns and in the countryside. Cash is still very much king here. If you’re planning to travel outside major urban centres, make sure you have enough money on you at all times.
Remember to notify your bank or credit card provider before leaving home. If your card is being used in a foreign country without notice, it’ll be considered suspicious activity and your bank may block the transaction.
ATMs are the quickest and most convenient way of getting cash. They also offer the best exchange rate, but only if you choose to be charged in the local currency.
ATMs are widely available throughout the larger cities in Romania, and most of them accept Visa (Plus), MasterCard (Cirrus and Maestro) and AmEx. You can find the nearest ATM by using these convenient ATM locators:
ATM scams are rife in Romania, so only use machines that are attached to banks or in larger shopping centres with security cameras. Most bank-owned ATMs also charge lower fees than other ATMs. Euronext ATMs charge the most expensive fees, so you should avoid them if at all possible.
Your home bank may also charge fees. You can expect to be charged an ATM usage fee plus a foreign currency exchange fee. You can check with your home bank to to give an estimate of what these charges will amount to.
There are over 40 banking groups operating throughout Romania.
BCR (Banca Comercială Română) is Romania’s number one bank, and it has the biggest national network of ATMs in the country. BRD (owned by French bank Société Générale), Alpha Bank, Raiffeisen Bank and UniCredit Bank are also major banks with hundreds of branches and a wide network of ATMs. Rural Romania tends to be dominated by the state-owned CEC bank.
There are also a number of well-known foreign banks in Romania, including Citibank and BNP Paribas.
Here’s a list of the most popular retail banks in Romania:
The following international banks have branches in Romania:
It’s a good idea to ask your bank back home whether they've a partnership with a Romanian bank. If they do, you may be able to use their ATMs free of charge or pay lower fees.
But if you have access to a Romanian bank account, that’s even better. For fast and convenient access to your money, simply use TransferWise to make a transfer into your Romanian account at the mid-market rate. You can then use your Romanian bank card to withdraw cash without having to pay foreign currency and international transaction fees.