Foreign Coin Exchange Values

India 5 rupees
Exchange value: $0.09 US

Recently we discussed ways that you can research the value of a foreign coin. We talked about the difference between book value, market value, and trade-in value for a coin. There’s another important value that you may sometimes find useful, but it only applies to recent coins – the exchange value.

If a coin is still being used in its home country (it hasn’t been devalued, or replaced with another currency such as when the French franc was replaced by the euro), then that coin has actual buying power in that country (in other words, you can spend it). These coins are called circulating coins, because in the issuing country they would be the coins that are currently in circulation – the coins that people use every day to buy things.

All active currencies have an exchange rate, which is how much that currency is worth in other nations’ money. You may have run into this before if you have done any international travel and had to exchange your money for that of the location you were visiting. For example, today $1 in US money is worth the same as 2 Brazilian reals, 12 Mexican pesos, or 98 Japanese yen.

The exchange value of a foreign coin is how much that coin is worth in your currency, based on the current exchange rate between that country’s money and your own. You can look up current exchange rates at places like CNN, CoinMill, and Yahoo (along with many others). The exchange value doesn’t care about condition, age, rarity, or anything else that affects the value of a coin as a collectible.

However, it only applies to current, active currencies which can still be spent in their home country. For example, much of Europe has changed over to the euro. The old Spanish pesetas, French francs, German marks, Italian liras, and Greek drachmas (to name a few) aren’t active currencies anymore – they can’t be exchanged, and have no exchange value at all. (If you’re unsure whether a coin that you have is a current circulating coin, you can use Web sites like Numista to find the coin and see if it is listed as demonetized – this means that it is no longer an active currency, and has been replaced with something else.)

A good example is money from the United Kingdom (Great Britain), which is consistently one of the highest-valued currencies in the world. A recent exchange rate for the Great Britain pound to the US dollar was $1.54 (1 pound = $1.54 USD). So if someone asked about the value of a 2010 1 pound coin in US dollars, you would have these “values” to choose from:

  • Book value: $3 (for a coin in uncirculated condition)
  • Market value: $1-$1.50 (approximately)
  • Trade-in value: $0.25 – 0.50
  • Exchange value: $1.54 (dependent on the current exchange rate)

In this case, the exchange value gives you the highest estimated value of the coin (unless you happen to have a coin in really great condition). This means that to get the most money for your coin, you’d need to exchange it for US dollars somewhere.

Australia 1 dollar
Exchange value: $1.02

And that is the problem with the exchange value – it is one of the hardest to capitalize on because it is not easy to exchange foreign coins for US dollars. Most large banks will exchange foreign bills (paper money) at a rate close to the daily exchange rate, but they usually don’t accept coins.

Instead, you’ll have to look for a currency exchange in your town. Currency exchanges are businesses which buy and sell foreign money. They are frequently used by people who have either returned from foreign travel (and have unused foreign money they want to get rid of), or people who will be traveling soon (and want to get some foreign money for their trip). Exchanges are sometimes found at bus stations (especially near Canada or Mexico) or airports (especially airports which have international flights). Cities which have a lot of international travelers (New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Victoria B.C.) may have exchanges located all around town to serve the many travelers who visit. Individual exchanges may or may not accept coins, so you may want to call first to ask.

At either a currency exchange or a bank, don’t expect to get an exchange rate exactly like the rate that you find online. These businesses need to be able to make some profit for the service that they provide, so they will typically buy foreign money at less than the current exchange rate, and sell it for more than the current rate.

Besides using a currency exchange, you can also try to sell your foreign currency to someone (a family member or business acquaintance) who is traveling to the country that the money is from. That way the money can be returned to its original country and spent. Or you can try selling your extra coins online through a service like eBay – people who are traveling to that country might buy your coins so that they can spend them on their trip (but you may or may not get values close to the current exchange rate).

Exchange value is one of several ways to measure the value of a coin, and it is a good value to be aware of when trading or selling coins (you wouldn’t want to sell 25 British pounds for $1.50 when the exchange value is closer to $37). But don’t let it restrict your trading, either – trading an Australian dollar ($1) for a Chinese yuan ($0.16) is a good trade if it adds something new to your collection. As with all measures of value, let it guide your trading, buying, or selling activity and help you make informed decisions.