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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- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]2018 All rights reserved.