#Budapest financials: banking and currencies in the city

Hungary’s currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). In some places where a sign states Euros (EUR) are also accepted but make sure you change your money to Forints as you will have better rates when paying in Forints. ATMs accept all cards, are accessible everywhere in the city, and you can withdraw Forints (some of them allow you to withdraw Euros as well). Western Union and other exchange offices are also available everywhere in the central areas, all exchange rates are visible. Paying with a card is available in most places but make sure you’ll ask before you pay. Opening a local bank account, however, is a bit complicated, you will definitely need a local address to open an account.

 

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The local currency: Forints

The local money in Hungary is the Hungarian Forints, shortened to HUF or Ft. In some central areas Euros are also accepted with the exchange rate displayed on the counter, but staying with the Forints is advised as you have bad rates in shops. Cards are widely used but cash is still popular, and some shops won’t accept cards so having some money with you is always useful.

The notes are valued from 500 Ft to 20 000 Ft. Have smaller signs with you all the time as some shops can’t change more massive bills to smaller coins. Make sure the zeroes match when you get the change back. The most commonly used notes are the 1 000 Ft and the 5 000 Ft as you can buy pretty much any smaller items and food with them. 10 000 Ft and 20 000 Ft notes are considered as high values (you can buy a crap-old car with 2-3 pieces of 20 000 Ft notes).

Coins spawning from 5 Ft to 200 Ft are also available. 200 Ft has a goldish coloring around it, 100 Ft has a silver color ring. 100 Ft is pretty much the 1 USD note here (except that 1 USD adds up around 270 Ft). Coins under 100 Ft are considered low values, they are like cents.

Paying with cards

In the central, card payments are widely accepted but still worth asking before buying anything, especially in restaurants. VISA and MasterCard are universally accepted, but American Express isn’t or rarely. Paying with card might have some extra fees, and it’s not globally free. Also, the minimum payment should be higher than 5.000 HUF in almost all places. Contactless payment is growing but not available everywhere. After making the payment, ask for the receipt to check the amount. Paying with your phone or any other types of payment is not available.

ATMs, banks and money exchange

As cash is widely used around the city, ATMs are very easy to find. Most of them are open 0-24 and accept all foreign credit or debit cards. Some ATMs charge extra for withdrawals, usually the ones that are operated in big malls or don’t belong to any high street banks.

The central banks in Budapest are the OTP, Erste, CIB, Raiffeisen, K&H, Unicredit, Budapest Bank and SBER Bank. There are local branches for Citi, China Bank, KDB Bank, and some other branches but they rarely have personal accounts (only business). The majority of banks have Hungarian, Austrian, German, Italian or Spanish backgrounds. Banks are open usually between 9am to 6pm, weekdays. In big shopping malls,, some of them are open on Saturday as well.

Currency change shops are more advisable than banks as they give better rates and accept more currencies. However, rates may vary at different shops. Currency change shops have better prices if they are not in big shopping malls or railway stations. Western Union is widely available and recommended to use.

Opening a bank account

If you’re staying for longer in Budapest, opening a HUF bank account is recommended. You need 2 items to open a HUF account: your passport to validate your ID and your address card which you can obtain after you checked in to the flat at the local council where you live. As changing your own currency takes time and ATMs give you not ideal rates from your non-HUF bank account, a HUF bank account is recommended on the long term. Make sure you close the account once you’re not using it anymore as it charges you every month with a minimal fee. In the banks,, most of the staff speaks English.

Tips on currencies and money

1. Search for Western Union shops to change currency, avoid big shopping malls and railway stations to get better rates and unlicensed street vendors to prevent frauds

2. Always pay in Forints and check your returned cash

3. If your notes are damaged, you can change them in a local Post Office

4. Carry some money with you all the time as some places don’t take cards

5. American Express is not accepted in most of the places, but VISA and MasterCard are accepted anywhere

6. Payless or touch-only cards have become popular in recent years, but PIN code is required for higher purchases (usually above 5 000 Ft)

7. Tipping is preferred via cash except in restaurants

8. 1 000 Ft and 5 000 Ft notes are the most widely used notes

9. Higher notes like 10 000 Ft and 20 000 Ft have more plastic feels and more anti-fraud design features, avoid getting a counterfeit copy

10. Never show off your cash in public places

 

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