Romania is a member of the European Union since 2007 but do not expect to pay in Euro. Although most of the private tours can be prepaid in Euro, once entered Romania you must use the Romanian Currency. But what is it you ask? Read on and find all about the Romanian leu, exchange rates and what are the payment methods available.
RON, leu, lei – what’s that all about?
The official Romanian currency is the leu (lei for plural). Funny fact: leu means lion Romanian. You will also hear or see the word RON. It basically means the same thing. RON is the New Romanian Leu. In 2005 Romania had a monetary reform and exchanged the old leu (ROL) with the new leu (RON).
1RON equals 10.000ROL. Basically, we dropped four zeroes because it was getting crazy with big sums of money. It was a somehow hard transition for Romanians, but keeping the old design of the banknotes helped. Old people still refer to prices in the old leu but everybody else uses the new currency.
The leu or RON is divided into bani (ban for singular; they literally translate to money). A leu has 100 bani.
Leu – look and feel
Romanian currency is available both in banknotes form and coins. And when I say banknotes do not think of dollars. No, the Romanian leu comes in plastic and are quite durable and hard to tear. We made the switch in the communist era both with changing the coins from aluminum to alloys.
Banknotes are available in values of 1 leu, 5 lei, 10 lei, 50 lei, 100 lei, 200 lei and 500 lei. Coins in 1ban, 5 bani, 10 bani and 50 bani. The value of the coins is quite low and just like everywhere else people tend to avoid them. But having at least a couple of 50 bani coins will come in handy being necessary to get a cart at the supermarket or to buy different things at the vending machines.
The banknotes are easy to distinguish, each bears another color and feature different Romanian poets, inventors, composers and politic persons. On the back, they feature famous Romanian landmarks. As an example, the 1 leu banknote features Nicolaie Iorga, former prime-minister, poet, literary critic, historian and on the back it features the Cathedral in Curtea de Arges, the Romanian Royal family burial place.
The five lei banknote has George Enescu, famous Romanian composer, and The Romanian Athenaeum, a building that can be seen by taking a walk down Victoriei Avenue.
Romanian currency – Exchange rates
A Euro is approximately 4.6 lei, and 1 dollar is 3.8 lei. The currency exchange rates are communicated by the BNR, National Bank of Romania. This is the central bank of Romania that issues the lei, sets the monetary policy, holds the currency reserves and manages the exchange rate. The building itself can be admired in the Old Town, right in the center of Bucharest.
There are many exchange spots throughout the city but it is advisable to be careful with the ones in tourist crowded places. Check with the BNR exchange rate to see if it’s similar and look out to have 0% commision. If not sure, exchange your money at a bank or withdraw it from an atm.
Types of payments
The big cities of Romania are very tourist friendly and have plenty of ATMs, exchange offices and places where you can pay with a credit card. But if Rural Romania is on your list, meaning remote villages and not tourist resorts, then cash is your best friend. On the flip side, a little bit of cash will buy you fresh produce directly from the peasants’ gardens.
Prices in Romania
Depending on where you’re coming from, Romania’s prices will seem very low or just reasonable. A two ride ticket with the subway is around 1 euro, bread varies from 1 leu to 5 lei, most admissions at museums are under 5-6 euros. And the nightlife won’t leave you cashless as well. A beer is around 10-15 lei (3 euros!?), a nice dinner in a restaurant will be somewhere around 10-20 euros. Street food is dirt cheap and with 3-5 euros, you’ll be set.
As a rule of thumb, have change and carry small banknotes. Unless you have to pay for the hotel, a car rental or a special tour (which you can pay with credit card) do not carry banknotes larger than 100 RON. Have plenty of 1, 5 and 10 lei for snacks, admissions, tips (advisable but not mandatory) and the occasional 50, 100 lei for restaurants and various shopping.
Instead of a conclusion, I will finish with a clarification. Romania is a rather safe country. Tourist crowded places sometimes attract pickpockets but it’s not the norm. Just be careful with your belongings and display of cash just as in any other touristic place.