The only type of plastic money I had ever heard of was a credit card. I picked up a few pounds for our short emergency stay in London during Covid a few years ago. Returning to the states, I did not get a chance to exchange or spend them. After sitting on them for two years I discovered the money I was holding no longer had any utility in England.
All paper notes were to be exchanged for new money in 2022.
Just prior to our trip I learned that Britain had moved from paper money to plastic money. The new polymer bills are supposedly superior to the old note and last much longer. However, people holding the old paper notes were no longer able to exchange them after October of 2022. I had heard there were a few exceptions, but in the states, no one was willing to exchange my money prior to our trip in the spring of 2023.
Back to my story. After visiting the Tower of London, we went to lunch in the nearby financial district. Having about two hours before our appointment to visit the Sky Garden, I felt we should explore the possibilities of exchanging the £20 Pound notes in my pocket. After all, we were in one of the greatest financial districts in the world. And there were four beautiful portraits of the Queen on the useless old £20 notes in my pocket.
The first bank was three blocks from our restaurant. At the Halifax bank, the representative delightfully told us that the money was no good any longer. We asked if there was anywhere that would still exchange the money. She explained none of the banks in London would exchange the money. This was not a surprise to us, as we were six months beyond the exchange date. After asking us if we were tourist, she explained that tourists could still go to the Bank of England for the exchange. I asked if there was a branch nearby, and to our luck, the young lady looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, yes. The Bank of England is only about 10 blocks away.”
Knowing we were burning critical time, as our impeding Sky Garden visit was growing closer, Kellie and I set off quickly trying to walk the additional 10 blocks to The Bank of England. As we arrived at the front doors to The Bank of England, there were a few people clustered together on the sidewalk along with a smartly dressed bank worker.
Looking like tourist, he proceeded to ask me why I wanted to go into The Bank of England. I told him that we wanted to change money, we were tourists, and here for just a few days. He proceeded to tell me that the queue inside for changing money was an hour and a half long. We were disappointed as there was no way we could wait that long, because of our appointment and we were leaving in the country very soon.
He then handed me a piece of paper with a map to a nearby post office. He stated that the post office would also change the money. I was a bit skeptical, but we thanked him, took the map and quickly took off on our second 12-block journey, through the London Financial District.
We're walking, we're walking!
After Kellie and I quickly walked the next 12 blocks we arrived at the post office, only to find a line with about 20 people in it. This made me nervous as I had been told it would only be a five-minute que, and I was not confident that there was actually money exchanging hands here. Also, there was no movement in the line and the Sky Garden appointment time was closing in - quickly.
I went forward to one of the tellers and just as described, they were taking in the dirty old money, and they were trading it for plastic notes. I got back in line with Kellie, and in about 10 minutes we received four polymer notes in exchange for our dirty old paper money.
We felt like we had a windfall, but as I looked at the time, I realized we only had 15 minutes to walk 20 blocks for our Sky Garden appointment. It was a lovely, joyous walk back with our new spendable money, even if it was at a fast clip. Finding out we had a window of an additional 15 minutes we were relieved. In fact, we used one of the notes to buy a G&T at the Sky Garden. If you want to know more about the Sky Garden, please read our article, as it is one of the great values in London.
On a final note, King Charles and Camilla are to be coronated on the 6th of May 2023 at Westminster Abbey. The Bank of England has announced that new bank notes are to be released with his portrait on the front of the banknotes, as well as a cameo appearance in the see-through security window on each bill. According to The Bank of England, this time, the new polymer banknotes carrying the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II will remain legal tender and do not need to be exchanged.
London is almost a cashless society
By the way, don’t worry about obtaining new polymer Pounds, as hardly no one wants to deal with money in London. London is almost a cashless society, and we had a tough time spending the few we had. Further, by using your credit cards, Apple Pay or PayPal you will get a much better exchange rate.