The Conundrum of Foreign Coins

Is it wrong to throw away money? Literally?

Long after an international trip ends, traces of the destination remain: Coins. I’ve never successfully exited a country without them, and can only aspire to a net-zero departure. And while the pervasiveness of credit card acceptance means I get less cash now than years ago, I still always use some and have never, ever fully spent it down before departure.

My parents were intrepid travelers and visited more than 40 countries. In going through their household recently, I found dozens of little bags and stashes of coins, many containing other countries’ currency mixed in with quarters, nickels and dimes. Before going off to a Coinstar machine, I created a big pile of the foreign ones. Clearly, my parents had the same problem as I—what to do with these coins.

I suppose organized travelers who visit the same countries repeatedly will file coins for retrieval on the next trip. But I don’t travel internationally enough to make this a worthwhile practice. Instead, I pass them along to my 11-year-old son. A gear-shaped HK$2 piece from my recent visit to Hong Kong has become his lucky talisman.

There’s something that feels “wrong” about scooping up my parents’ coins and throwing them in the garbage. But the buck stops here, and I don’t see another choice.

How do you handle the small change from another country when you return?


  1. I always make a point of dumping left over coins from other countries on the hotel bedside table on the day I check out as part of my tip for the housekeeper.

  2. Look for charity bins at most airports. It’s a great way to make some change with your change.

  3. I do the same as Gary, and some like the UNICEF ones you often see in Europe, very specifically say they can make use of currencies from all over, not just the country of the airport.

  4. I usually put most of my change into the UNICEF box that the flight attendants pass around on international flights. However, I still keep some as souvenirs and make coin magnets out of them. After doing that for a while, I decided to make a Kickstarter project so others can enjoy it as well. 🙂


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