Can you name the local currency for these 50 countries?

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October 16, 2019
Alexander Chaikin // Shutterstock

Can you name the local currency for these 50 countries?

People in the United States make a buck. In the U.K., they spend a pound. In Australia and Canada, they use dollars—but their dollars are unique to their own countries and valued differently. The United Nations recognizes 195 countries in the world, and many of them are likely not as familiar as Australia, Canada, and Great Britain. Two of them—Palestine and the Holy See—aren't even classified as full countries, but instead as U.N. "observer states."

Some countries like Taiwan have their own militaries, constitutions, and elections but aren't considered legitimate countries by many United Nations member states. Others, like Kosovo, declared themselves independent, but they haven't received full validation of those declarations. Others, like Aruba, are autonomous and independent but are still considered part of larger a larger kingdom or protectorate.

All of them, however, use the money to buy things. The history of currency dates back to at least 2500 B.C. when the ancient Egyptians began using metal rings as a purchasing medium. Around 700 B.C., the first coins emerged in modern-day Turkey, and approximately 1,500 years after that, the Chinese introduced paper money.

Unlike ancient gold and silver coins, most modern currencies don't have any intrinsic value. Today's currency is more representative of the worth assigned to the things it can purchase. There was a time when most money, including the world's currency—the U.S. dollar—was based on the gold standard. Money was valuable because governments could exchange it for fixed amounts of precious commodities, but the current dollar is widely believed to be valuable because the world trusts that people will accept it as payment.

However, the U.S. dollar is far from the world's only currency. Some countries have altered their monetary structures many times over to counter inflation or stabilize their economies. War or revolution can also force a change in how countries buy and sell things. Other times, newly liberated countries create their currencies and mints after abandoning the money forced on them by former colonists. Stacker used a variety of sources to develop a list of currencies used around the world. Some are part of centuries-old traditions, and others are brand new. However, all have interesting stories to tell about their roles in the global economy.

Click through the slideshow to learn about 50 global currencies and find out how many U.S. dollars a single denomination of each currency is worth. 

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Ethiopia: birr

- Exchange rate: 0.034

The Maria Theresa thaler, named for the empress of the Holy Roman Empire, was first minted in Vienna, and in 1855, Ethiopia adopted it as its national currency. The word “birr” became a synonym in the local dialect, kind of like “buck” to “dollar,” and in 1894. The first birrs were minted in Paris for Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II.

[Pictured: A vendor sells coffee beans at the market in Bahir Dar.]

Guatemala: quetzal

- Exchange rate: 0.13

The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala—beautiful and colorful, and it lends both its image and its name to the country’s official currency. The now-endangered quetzal has long been associated with buying and selling in the region. The Mayans who once lived there used the bird’s feathers as money.

[Pictured: A vendor sells vegetables at a market in Solola.]

Kazakhstan: tenge

- Exchange rate: 0.0026

Kazakhstan is the largest country by landmass in Central Asia and the #9 largest in the world. Even so, the country didn’t even open a mint until 1995, four years after it gained independence from the former USSR, making Kazakhstan one of the last Soviet republics to replace the ruble and create its own currency. Kazakhstan celebrates the arrival of the tenge, which took place in 1993, every Nov. 15 for the Day of the National Currency of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

[Pictured: The flag of Kazakhstan waves over the entrance to the Senate building in Astana.]

Nigeria: naira

- Exchange rate: 0.0028

Like so many countries in Africa, Nigeria’s monetary system was long based on shillings, pence, and other western currencies instituted by their colonial rulers. That all changed in 1959 when the Central Bank of Nigeria issued the first Nigerian national currency as the colonial period ended. In 1973, the naira was minted to replace the transitional currency, which had been equivalent to the British pound.

[Pictured: A vendor sells tomatoes at a market in Nigeria.]

Poland: zloty

- Exchange rate: 0.26

The history of the zloty can be loosely traced back nearly 500 years to 1528 and the introduction of the original ducat. Poland’s modern currency, however, starts with post-World War I economic reforms that took place in 1924.

[Pictured: People walk down a busy shopping street in Gdańsk.]

Sierra Leone: Leone

- Exchange rate: 0.000105290

The West Africa nation of Sierra Leone is desperately poor even though its land is teeming with minerals and other valuable natural resources. The Sierra Leone Leone (SLL) was established by the country’s national bank in 1964 to replace the West African pound.

[Pictured: People commute along the Makeni highway in Sierra Leone.]

Surinam: Surinamese dollar

- Exchange rate: 0.13

The smallest nation in South America, Suriname, boasts one of the strongest economies on the continent. The Surinamese guilder was the country’s counterpart to the Dutch guilder until 2004 when it was replaced with the Surinamese dollar.

[Pictured: A vendor sells souvenirs by the waterfront near Paramaribo’s city center.]

Serbia: Serbian dinar

- Exchange rate: 0.0094

Just like its country and its people, the currency of Serbia endured centuries of turmoil dating back to the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of the Balkans, which temporarily spelled the end for the Serbian dinar. Long a staging ground for rival empires, Serbia and its money changed hands several times, with the Turkish currency giving way to the Yugoslavian dinar. Then a version of the dinar that corresponded to the German reichsmark came about during the Nazi occupation. In 2006, Serbia gained full independence and now uses the dinar, as do several of the former Yugoslavian republics.

[Pictured: An aerial view shows the old center of Belgrade, Serbia’s capital city.]

Vietnam: dong

- Exchange rate: 0.000043

The dong is one of the most highly denominated currencies on Earth—Vietnamese people can become millionaires just by collecting two 500,000 dong notes. The word “dong” comes from the Chinese tóng qián, which refers to the gold coins used during China’s and Vietnam’s dynastic periods.

[Pictured: A person walks to the market in Hội An, Vietnam.]

South Africa: rand

- Exchange rate: 0.067

The word “rand” comes from the area around Johannesburg, where most of South Africa’s gold was discovered. Gold was used as money in South Africa during the 19th century which many competing authorities issued their own currencies. A non-convertible version of the rand was developed in the latter half of the century to prevent an outflow of wealth when the world began divesting from South Africa in response to apartheid. Any non-South African company that sold its holdings there could only do so for non-convertible rands.

[Pictured: People walk through a shopping area in South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg.]

Afghanistan: afghani

- Exchange rate: 0.013

The original afghani replaced the rupee in 1925. Since then, a seemingly endless string of attempted conquerings, repelled invasions, and civil wars have plagued the country, sending the economy into disarray and the afghani to near worthlessness. In 1992, hyperinflation sent the exchange rate soaring from around 50:1 against the U.S. dollar to 16,000:1. In 2002, in the wake of the U.S. invasion, the country switched to the much more stable modern afghani, which is still in use today.

[Pictured: People stroll through the busy marketplace in Kabul.]

Bangladesh: taka

- Exchange rate: 0.012

The Bangladeshi taka emerged in 1972 during a tumultuous and unstable time in South Asia in the decades following the partition of the subcontinent of India. When Pakistan stopped recognizing 100- and 500-rupee banknotes, which were still widely circulated in Bangladesh, the country responded by creating its national currency, the taka.

[Pictured: Vendors sell food and vegetables at the floating bazar in Chittagong, Bangladesh.]

Georgia: lari

- Exchange rate: 0.34

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Georgia used the Persian abbasi, then briefly created its own currency before converting to the ruble after Russia absorbed the country into its empire. The ruble was replaced by the maneti after the Russian Revolution and World War I. Then, the kuponi replaced by the maneti after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1995, Georgia began minting its modern currency, the lari, which loosely translates to “property” or “to hoard.”

[Pictured: An aerial view displays the distinctive urban landscape of Tbilisi along the Kura River.]

Guinea: Guinean franc

- Exchange rate: 0.00011

Guinea is Sierra Leone’s neighbor in West Africa, and the currency used today is actually the second version of the franc. A French colony until it gained independence in 1959, Guinea initially used the CFA franc, short for “colonies françaises d'Afrique,” which translates to “former French colonies in Africa.” The syli was issued from 1971 to 1985, which was later replaced by the new Guinean franc.

[Pictured: An aerial view of a residential area in Mali-ville.]

Cambodia: riel

- Exchange rate: 0.00025

Another country that gained independence from France in the 1950s was Cambodia, which debuted the riel in 1953, the same year of its liberation. The currency endured until the takeover of the country by the genocidal Khmer Rouge in 1975. Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and Cambodia started minting the second and current version of the riel the year after. Although it remains the national currency, 90% of Cambodia’s monetary system is dominated by the U.S. dollar.

[Pictured: A morning commuter rides his motorbike through the rainy streets of Phnom Penh.]

Brazil: real

- Exchange rate: 0.24

Before 1994, the official currency of Brazil was the cruzeiro. That year, however, it was replaced by the real, which was initially closely tied to the U.S. dollar. However, as Brazil’s economy expanded, inflation worries forced the government to “float” the currency. Then Brazil’s economy quickly cooled, and the value of the once-rapidly appreciating real slid below the currencies of most emerging markets.

[Pictured: The Brazilian flag waves high over the city of São Paulo.]

Indonesia: rupiah

- Exchange rate: 0.000071

As in so many other countries, the nature of currency changed in Indonesia following the end of colonial rule. In 1949, the rupiah became the national currency of Indonesia, replacing the Dutch East Indies guilder. In the 1950s, however, the rupiah depreciated so dramatically that the government replaced it with a new rupiah in 1965.

[Pictured: An aerial view shows the densely populated city of Jakarta.]

Israel: New Israeli shekel

- Exchange rate: 0.28

The ancient shekel is arguably the most famous currency in history, as was mentioned dozens of times throughout the Bible. Israel replaced the old shekel with the new Israeli shekel in 1985, but the country has used several currencies in the modern age, even before its founding in 1948. Among them were piastres during Ottoman rule, Palestine pounds, Egyptian pounds, and Israeli pounds.

[Pictured: A vendor sells groceries at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.]

Mozambique: metical

- Exchange rate: 0.016

Mozambique replaced the escudo with the metical as the national medium of exchange in 1980. The metical’s value plummeted, however, as a result of dramatic inflation. In 2006, Mozambique revalued its currency, issued new coins and notes through the Bank of Mozambique, and the modern metical was born.

[Pictured: A cyclist carries large bags of coal to market in Nampula.]

Myanmar: kyat

- Exchange rate: 0.00065

Kyat initially circulated in the second half of the 19th century, but when the British took over Burma (called Myanmar today), the colonial government replaced it with the Indian rupee. The Japanese then took over Burma, leading the British to “liberated” it, and the country has since been taken over and surrendered by several other militaries and movements. After being replaced and reintroduced many times over the decades, the kyat is again the national currency.

[Pictured: People walk on a busy street in downtown Yangon.]

Swaziland: lilangeni

- Exchange rate: 0.067

In 2018, Swaziland reinvented itself as Eswatini, and the African country’s currency is the lilangeni. Swaziland later established its own money in 1974 when it split with the South African rand. However, the lilangeni is still tied to the rand. In 1974, the establishment of the Rand Monetary Area allowed not just Swaziland, but Lesotho and Botswana to create different currencies.

[Pictured: A view of the Ezulwini Valley between the cities of Mbabane and Manzini.]

Malaysia: ringgit

- Exchange rate: 0.24

Also known as the Malaysian dollar, the ringgit is issued exclusively by the Central Bank of Malaysia. In a familiar narrative, the ringgit was born in 1946 when it shook off the currency of its colonial rulers, which had been the Straits Settlements dollar.

[Pictured: A view of Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.]

Madagascar: ariary

- Exchange rate: 0.00027

One of only two non-decimal currencies in the world, ariary translates literally into “one iron weight,” but it means “silver dollar.” The country was dominated by several versions of the French franc, which circulated alongside the ariary. In 1961, one ariary was worth five Malagasy francs, but it was split into five sub-currencies called iraimbilanja, making it an incredibly rare non-decimal currency.

[Pictured: A truck drives along the Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar.]

Laos: Lao kip

- Exchange rate: 0.00011

Free Lao kip notes were the first iteration of the Lao kip, but they circulated only from 1945 to 1946. Later, the French promptly replaced them with piastre de commerce, the currency the French circulated in all of its colonies in what was then known as Indochina. In 1954, Laos declared independence and the Royal Lao kip, which later became the Lao kip, was adopted as the national currency.

[Pictured: A food stall operator grills chicken at the night market in Vientiane.]

Costa Rica: colón

- Exchange rate: 0.0017

The Spanish name for Christopher Columbus is Cristóbal Colón, which is where the Costa Rican colón gets its name. In 1896 the colón replaced the Mexican peso at a rate of one to one. Today in Costa Rica, the colón is sometimes still informally referred to as the peso.

[Pictured: A display of fruits and vegetables as seen at the market in San Jose.]

Bolivia: boliviano

- Exchange rate: 0.14

Bolivia replaced the scudo with the boliviano in 1864. It was initially aligned with the franc, but then it moved to the gold standard and pegged with the British pound. By 1940, it was accepting exchange rates with the U.S. dollar. Runaway inflation plagued the boliviano for decades, but by 2012, the currency had stabilized.

[Pictured: People walk along the streets of La Paz.]

Aruba: florin

- Exchange rate: 0.56

In 1986, Aruba attained what is known as "status aparte" from the Netherlands, which made Aruba an autonomous state within the European kingdom. One of the first moves Aruba made after achieving its quasi-independence was to launch its own currency, the florin.

[Pictured: A diving boat delivers patrons to a seaside restaurant in Aruba.]

Albania: lek

- Exchange rate: 0.0089

In the Albanian language, Alexander the Great’s shortened name is Leka, and Albania’s national currency is named after the legendary conqueror. Before World War I, the Ottoman Turkish piastre was widely circulated, but the country’s monetary system was based on the gold standard. In 1926, after military occupation by several countries, Albania introduced the lek as its official purchasing medium.

[Pictured: A man bikes through Tirana, Albania’s capital city.]

Armenia: dram

- Exchange rate: 0.0021

The Armenian dram originated as silver coinage in the 13th century, but the modern dram is the result of a failed attempt to stay aligned with the Russian ruble immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia’s monetary reform movement in 1993, however, made that impossible, and Armenia launched the dram, which translates simply to “money.”

[Pictured: A cold winter morning dawns over Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city.]

Mongolia: tugrik

- Exchange rate: 0.000374195

The Mongolian dollar and other currencies were used in Mongolia before 1928 when the tugrik became the official medium of exchange. Because of local currency rules, outside exchanges are limited to only 815 tugriks.

[Pictured: A view of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, near the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.]

Samoa: tala

- Exchange rate: 0.370196

Samoa used the German mark before World War I, but when Germany came out on the losing side, Samoa was ceded to New Zealand. It used British and New Zealand coins tied to the pound sterling until 1967, although Samoa gained independence five years earlier in 1962. Today, the tala is the official currency of Samoa.

[Pictured: Coconut palm trees and villas line the beach on the island of Upolu.]

Suadi Arabia: riyal

- Exchange rate: 0.27

Some countries changed currencies shortly after changing currencies only to change them again—Saudi Arabia is not one of them. The kingdom was a tribal society characterized by instability, poverty, and factional fighting until 1902 when the powerful King Abdulaziz Bin Abdul Rahman Alfaisal captured the capital of Riyadh and unified the tribes. The riyal, however, has been the standard currency since the country was founded. Before, it was one of the most common currencies in the Mediterranean region during the reign of the Ottoman Empire.

[Pictured: People shop at a street bazaar near Nabawi Mosque in Medina.]

Switzerland: Swiss franc

- Exchange rate: 1.01

The Swiss franc has spent the last 15 years gaining value and stands today as one of the world’s strongest currencies against both the euro and the U.S. dollar (currencies are traded in pairs). Issued by the Swiss National Bank, the Swiss franc is also one of the most stable currencies in the world. The country’s tiny, wealthy neighbor Liechtenstein also uses the Swiss franc—the result of the 1919 treaty that created a common economic area in the region.

[Pictured: Flags are posted in Zurich in anticipation of Swiss National Day.]

Russia: ruble

- Exchange rate: 0.016

With a history dating back to the 13th century, the ruble is one of the oldest currencies in the world. Peter the Great was responsible for sweeping economic reforms in Russia in the early 1700s when all rubles were first minted with the image of the reigning tsarist ruler. When the Russian empire came crashing down in 1917, so, too, did the ruble—between 1917 and 1923, the ruble fell from 11:1 against the U.S. dollar to 2 million:1.

[Pictured: Modern skyscrapers and ancient architecture as seen from a historic bridge in Moscow.]

Sweden: krona

- Exchange rate: 0.10

The word “krona” is the plural of kroner, which translates to “crown.” It was born out of the Scandinavian Monetary Union in 1873, which unified the currencies of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. However, the union dissolved with the outbreak of World War I.

[Pictured: Pedestrians stroll throll Drottninggatan, a popular shopping street in Stockholm.]

Ukraine: hryvnia

- Exchange rate: 0.040

Throughout much of its history, Ukraine was split between rival empires, most notably the Austria-Hungary Empire and the Russian Empire, neither of which survived World War I. The Russian ruble was Ukraine’s common currency through most of the 20th century. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the national currency became the hryvnia, which is also used in parts of Russian-annexed Crimea.

[Pictured: Tourists make their way through Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in the capital city Kiev.]

South Korea: won

- Exchange rate: 0.00084

Sometimes spelled “hwan,” the won is used by both North Korea and South Korea. However, the North Korean won and South Korean won are different currencies with different values. Most importantly, the won associated with the reclusive and renegade North is not convertible or exchangeable. The authoritarian government created a special convertible won for use by foreigners in the country.

[Pictured: Crowds gather on a shopping street in Seoul.]

Peru: nuevo sol

- Exchange rate: 0.30

Translating into “new sun,” the modern nuevo sol is the result of a long and tumultuous history in Peru. The sol emerged in the 1860s but disappeared when Chile occupied the country. It returned in the 1930s but disappeared again in the mid-1980s—this time falling victim to severe inflation. The sol was replaced by the inti, which was then replaced by the modern nuevo sol in 1991.

[Pictured: A woman shops for fabrics at a market stall.]

Romania: new leu

- Exchange rate: 0.23

In the city of Bucharest, the euro and U.S. dollar are commonly used and exchanged, but the new leu is Romania’s official currency. The new leu is the fourth in a series of currencies that first arrived in 1867. The new leu replaced the old leu in 2005.

[Pictured: Colorful umbrellas canopy a shopping street in Timișoara.]

Somalia: Somali shilling

- Exchange rate: 0.0017

The Somali shilling has been the official currency of the northeast African nation of Somalia since 1921. Longevity, however, should not be mistaken for stability. The country suffered from civil war, natural catastrophes, famines, and political upheaval between that time and now, and along the way, the Somali shilling experienced wild volatility and often unpredictable fluctuations.

[Pictured: People gather at a beach in the capital city of Mogadishu.]

Tonga: pa'anga

- Exchange rate: 0.43

Tonga’s first currency, which began circulating in 1921, wasn’t Tongan at all. The Polynesian island kingdom used the British pound from that year until 1967, when the colonial period ended, and the pa'anga became the national currency.

[Pictured: Boaters enjoy the tropical paradise of Tonga.]

Turkmenistan: manat

- Exchange rate: 0.29

Like most countries in Central Asia, Turkmenistan used the ruble when it was part of the USSR. When the Soviet Union fell and Turkmenistan became an independent republic, the natural gas-rich country adopted the manat as the national currency in 1993.

[Pictured: Ashgabat’s Independence Monument features towering statues of historic figures.]

United Arab Emirates: dirham

- Exchange rate: 0.27

The UAE dirham is among the world’s most stable currencies and is pegged to the U.S. dollar. The dirham was first circulated in 1973 to unify the country’s monetary system, which previously comprised several currencies, including Qatar’s and Dubai’s version of the riyal.

[Pictured: A view of Dubai and the Burj Khalifa.]

Vanuatu: vatu

- Exchange rate: 0.00846300

The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu gained independence from the Anglo-French New Hebrides in 1980. One year later, in 1981, the archipelago republic replaced the New Hebrides franc and established the vatu as the national currency.

[Pictured: A man surveys market offerings in Port Vila.]

Malawi: kwacha

- Exchange rate: 0.0014

The landlocked southeastern African nation of Malawi is one of the least developed countries on Earth—about nine out of 10 residents live in rural areas. Even still, the country has its own currency. The kwacha replaced the Malawian pound in 1971.

[Pictured: A view of Mulanje Massif in Malawi.]

Maldives: rufiyaa

- Exchange rate: 0.065

The Maldives, an island chain nation located in the Indian Ocean, has the rufiyaa. Although it officially replaced the Ceylonese rupee in 1947, the rufiyaa was circulating in the country as early as the 19th century.

[Pictured: An aerial view of the capital city of Malé.]

Mauritania: ouguiya

- Exchange rate: 0.027

In 2018, the Mauritanian ouguiya lost a zero. The northwest Africa Islamic republic’s national currency first entered circulation in 1973. The currency was revalued last year, so a 10-ouguiya coin became a single ouguiya.

[Pictured: A woman prepares traditional tea in the village of Maden.]

Mexico: peso

- Exchange rate: 0.052

Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella overhauled the Spanish monetary system in 1497, and out of that reorganization came the peso. Most Spanish colonies kept the peso when they gained their independence. It’s most closely associated with Mexico, but the peso is the national currency for many countries in Latin America and beyond.

[Pictured: Pedestrians on in the historic streets of Mexico City.]

Nicaragua: cordoba

- Exchange rate: 0.030

Nicaragua is one of the Latin Americain countries that doesn’t use the peso—its national currency is the cordoba. The first cordobas, which are named after Nicaragua founder Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, appeared in 1912 and contained some gold. There was a time when it was equal to the U.S. dollar.

[Pictured: The sun sets over the historic city of Granada.]

Papua New Guinea: kina

- Exchange rate: 0.30

One of the most culturally and biologically diverse countries on Earth, Papua New Guinea, uses the kina. The currency is named for a pearl shell that was historically used for money in the region. Both Great Britain and Germany ruled part of the island starting in the late 19th century, and Australia invaded during World War I. The country was also the site of intense Pacific Theater fighting during World War II. In 1975, Papua New Guinea gained independence and launched its own currency.

[Pictured: Houses built on mangrove stilts are seen in the village of Kapari, Abua district.]

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