How To Find What Country A Euro Note Is From

With Greece once again said to be on the verge of exiting the Eurozone, where it has been on and off for the past five years, a move which would demonstrate that an "irreversible" currency is very much reversible and just what happens when Mario Draghi runs out of other people's "political capital", here a reminder that despite Europe's common currency, some European bank notes are more equal than others, courtesy of a post that was written over three years ago. Because sadly, despite all-time record market highs, nothing has changed in over 1000 days of so-called progress.

From This is Money:

How to find out what country a euro note is from

As forecasts hit fever pitch of Greece being bundled out of the euro, there was bound to be plenty of wild speculation – and a snippet doing the rounds is that holidaymakers should be worried about holding Greek euro notes.

Travel firm DialaFlight even posted a blog, swiftly removed, making some fairly bold claims about whether Greek euro notes would prove worthless if the troubled nation fell out of the currency.

It asked: 'Will other members of the Eurozone accept them? If not anyone holding Greek Euros may find themselves out of pocket.'

‘Greek euro notes,’ I hear you cry. ‘But surely the whole point – of this euro experiment was that everybody has exactly the same money?’

And that is true. The euro is a common currency, entirely equal across all nations, and while it is printed in individual member countries, wherever your note comes from the design is exactly the same.

But while the Eurocrats would have you believe that each of those notes is absolutely equal, there is one tiny crucial difference that lets you see where they come from. That involves a little-known trick I learnt about a few years ago.

Every euro note has a serial number on it. And at the start of that serial number is a prefix (usually a letter) - and this is what tells you where it is from.

Where do my euros come from? The code breaker

Star pupil German notes begin with an X, while bottom-of-the class Greek notes start with a Y. (It it ironic these letters correspond with the two determining chromosomes?)

Spain is V, France U, Ireland T, Portugal M and Italy S. Belgium is Z, Cyprus G, Luxembourg 1, Malta F, Netherlands P, Austria N, Slovenia H, Slovakia E and Finland L.

But there is a crucial point for anyone considering being swept up by talk of Greek euro notes proving to be duds, if it falls out of the common currency.

While we don’t know what will happen if a country drops out, as cunningly the euro experiment architects didn’t build in an exit strategy, we can be fairly certain it won’t involve a small army of Eurocrats marching around, checking the letters on your banknotes and taking them off you.

Beyond the fact that this is completely impractical, that's because notes from different countries end up all over the place.

Some quick pocket surveys conducted by This is Money readers when I first wrote about how to work out where your euro note came from revealed the extent.

One reader on the furthest westerly reaches of the Eurozone in Ireland had the following: 5 German, and one each of Greek, Belgian and Irish.

Another, in Greece, had four notes out of a Greek cash machine that read like the start of a bad joke: Two Germans, a Belgian and an Italian.

Meanwhile, we also conducted another test today in the This is Money office. Richard Browning has luckily just bought €130 from our very own Arthur Daley, Ed Monk, on his return from an Italian holiday.

He has five Dutch notes, a Slovakian, a French note and a German.

Clearly, there are going to be a lot of Europeans and businesses out there, with assets that have no link with Greece, but a stash of notes with a Y on them.

If Greece does head back to the drachma, one way to make a bad situation worse would be to start randomly cancelling those notes – that makes it highly unlikely to happen.

In reality, no one knows what will take place. Mainly because the Eurozone authorities seem to have decided that even admitting the possibility that a ten-year-old currency experiment could fail in some way, would be tantamount to triggering its decline.

That’s unfortunate for Greece, but fortunate for those who love a bit of spurious speculation.

The best guess is that euro notes would remain as they are, and in order to iron out any problems with money supply, some would be gradually withdrawn. That would most likely mean any Greek holding euro in cash and able to get them out of the country would still be able to spend them.

Where they would be hit is in their assets. Savings, investments, property values and all the important things that make up their wealth, would somehow be transferred back into drachma (most probably) and greatly devalued compared to their previous euro status.

So, those checking their pockets and finding a Greek Y in there should have no need to panic, unless they’re playing euro Top Trumps, of course.