Home Tips and Tricks How To Avoid Getting Counterfeit Money When Traveling

How To Avoid Getting Counterfeit Money When Traveling

by SharonKurheg

Counterfeit money has been around for a long as money has been around. It’s big business, especially when you’re talking about money from Europe, the U.K. (even the coins! Which also explains why our money “expired”) China, India and many of the countries in the Americas.

Governments have gotten wise to counterfeiters and in recent years have made it more and more difficult for them to copy “official” bills (and coins). Which doesn’t mean the counterfeiters don’t keep trying. So here are some things to pay attention to and to look for when you’re dealing with foreign currency…

Most Important: compare!

Chances are good that not ALL of your money from any given country at any given time will be counterfeit. If you can get money that you’re 100% sure is legit (i.e. from an ATM from a legit bank, or from a bank itself), you’ll be able to get get a better idea of what their “real” money looks and feels like, to help you compare it to what could potentially be counterfeit bills, should you get them.

If you want, you can also look for pictures and/or explanations of the bills on the internet – just do a search for EXAMPLES COUNTERFEIT NAME OF MONEY (i.e. Examples Counterfeit Yen, Examples Counterfeit Euro, etc.), both for posts and photos. You’ll be able to learn some of its distinctive markings but not, unfortunately, anything that includes feel.


What to look for

Obviously, not every single country’s bills will have every single marking I’m going to mention. But it should have at least some.

  • Printing – is any of the printing blurred? Bleeding? Too light or too dark? Does anything go outside the lines unusually? Lacking detail of “real” money? It might be a counterfeit
  • Color-shifting ink – if you look at the “shiny” number on the front of a U.S. bill, it changes from gold to green, depending on the angle of the light. The same goes for some foreign currency if they use that method of anti-counterfeitism (if that’s not a word, it is now).
  • Colored fibers – there may be colored fibers embedded in, and are part of the paper bill. If you think you see those fibers but they look like they were printed rather than embedded, it might be a counterfeit
  • The paper – the borders of the paper money should be straight, cleanly cut and the exact same size as all other bills of that denomination in that country. Also, counterfeit notes tend to be thicker than real currency. You may also feel a difference between real and counterfeit bills, the same as cotton and cotton/poly blend clothing feels different to the touch.
  • Portraits/pictures – they should appear sharp and, although not 3D, raised. If they’re flat, dull or blend too much into the background, they might be counterfeit. Some photos or pictures may have micro-printing on the edge of a portrait or image that can only be seen with a magnifying glass; that’s a detail that’s difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce
  • Serial numbers – if the numbers are unevenly spaced, or not aligned right, or (especially!) are all the same number on different bills, chances are good it’s a counterfeit
  • Watermarks – watermarks are particularly hard to reproduce. They’ll usually appear as threads running across the bill, or as an embedded photograph or image. In lots of countries, there’s a duplicate watermarked photograph in the background that matches the primary portrait image in the center of the bill. Most watermarks should be visible from the front and back of the note.
  • Polymer money – some countries have begun using polymer instead of paper currency. The material is much more difficult to copy, plus it can have security features that paper notes can’t, such as clear see-through areas. Polymer bills also have an entirely different feel to them than traditional paper money, since they’re plastic.
  • About counterfeit banknote detection pens – some people say they’re foolproof, but lots of people question their accuracy.


If you do get a counterfeit bill, don’t try to pass it off onto someone else; it’s illegal. You won’t be able to take legal recourse, either – you’d just be out of luck. So before you accept a bill from someone, make sure it’s not a fake, or you will have wound up with a souvenir that could have cost you a pretty penny (you see what I did there?).

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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