20 Feb

Ethan Morris, a graduate student in the public history program, is the first MTSU student to participate in the study abroad program at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England!



I’m scared of packing, and decisions about whether to pack four shirts or five can easily keep me up at night. Needless to say, packing for a five-month trip to England consumed a considerable amount of my time. Of all the items that I packed, the most important in my opinion would be money. Most of you will travel to England on a Tier Four General Student Visa. It’s the only visa that allows exchange students to work. Regrettably, the visa will not allow you to earn money while working. The money you have when you arrive in Newcastle is all the money you will have until you return to the States five months later. You’ll want to try new foods, visit faraway places, ride the metro, and buy a few things for friends back home, and the worst thing that could happen is you run out of cash. In this post, I will talk a bit about British currency and how to get the most for your money.

The American dollar looses value in the United Kingdom. Currently, one British pound (£) is equal to $1.45. Two months ago, the conversion rate stood at $1.60 to £1. As the conversion rate will likely change by the time you arrive, watch the going rates on oanda.com (the British government’s preferred exchange rate website). Adapting to the deflated value of the American dollar will take some time. Don’t be sucked into buying things for seemingly low prices. Remember a £25 pair of pants is not $25, its $36. Look for coupons, watch the clearance rack, and wait for the price to go down. Frequent places like TK Maxx (the European branch of America’s TJ Maxx), Poundland (a British version of Dollar General), and Boot’s Pharmacy. English pharmacies are similar to the American pharmacies of thirty or forty years ago. For example, most Geordies will pick up a workday lunch at Boot’s (a sandwich, side, and drink for £3.29). Although it may seem odd to a twenty-something-year-old American, British pharmacies serve excellent food.

Alongside the conversion rate, be aware that the British love coins. In America, we keep pennies, nickels, and dimes for luck and then throw them into fountains or put them in parking meters. We rarely use them. In England, the British spend their pence (what Americans call cents). There are one, two, five, ten, twenty, and fifty pence coins. There are also one and two pound coins. As the British government does not issue any bank notes (what Americans call bills) lower than five pounds, and as most British purchases (especially meals) are lower than five pounds, you’ll find lots of Brits transacting in coins. You also might find it interesting that the singular for pence is penny, the likely origin for calling our one cent piece a penny.

Lastly, the English have all but converted to chipped cards (a supposedly more secure means of transaction). In the States, banks are just beginning to issue chipped credit or debit cards. As such, most Americans still carry around cards with magnetic strips, and you will likely come to England with cards with magnetic strips. Be aware, however, that some British businesses won’t accept a card with only a magnetic strip. As such, its advisable to get a chipped card before you come over. Rest assured, however, if you do have a debit card with only a magnetic strip and want to pull out money from an ATM, Lloyd’s Bank’s ATMs read both chip and magnetic strip (and, as an added bonus, don’t charge processing fees).


Top row, from left to right—one, two, five, ten, twenty, and fifty pence. Bottom row, from left to right—one and two pounds. Do you notice any patterns to help you differentiate the coins? And yes, all coins and notes have a picture of the Queen!

-Ethan Morris, Public History Graduate Student


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: