The most unique currencies in the world

Canadian

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Canadian “Mounties” holding the new $10 bill.
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Yu Ruidong/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

  • Many countries around the world have currencies that boast unique features.
  • Australian money is waterproof, while South African rands and New Zealand dollars are known for their detailed portraiture.
  • The Vietnamese đồng and Israeli shekel feature ground-breaking security measures to avoid counterfeits, and to aid the visually impaired.

Currencies around the globe are upping their game – aesthetically, but also in terms of security measures.

Raised ink, detailed illustrations, and security codes are featured on the currency of Israel, Canada, South Africa, and many other countries. Australia, a forerunner of high-tech currency, has even made their banknotes waterproof.

Keep scrolling to see some of the most beautiful and cutting-edge currencies around the world.


Australian money is waterproof, and notoriously difficult to counterfeit.

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Australian banknotes.
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Shutterstock

Australian money is some of the most advanced currency in the world: not only is it completely waterproof, but it’s notoriously hard to counterfeit due to its complex design.

Australian bills are made of a material called polymer, which feels like wax, whereas US dollar bills and most other currencies feel more like paper. Australia was the first country to introduce polymer banknotes back in 1988, and since then countries like China and Vietnam have followed suit.

One of the coolest features of Australia’s $5 banknote is a visual rolling effect, in which an image of an eastern spinebill (a native bird) on the banknote appears to move its wings as you move the banknote itself. The see-through little windows are nifty, too.


China invented a 100-dollar bill so intricate it stumped its own ATM machines.

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100 yuan bill, nicknamed “high-roller gold.”
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VCG/VCG via Getty Images

China’s yuan was at the height of its anti-counterfeit game when it released new notes in 2015.

The 100-yuan bills released that year were accented with gold 100s – hence, the nickname “high-roller gold” – and other intricate details that made them hard to fake.

The massive banknotes were so high-tech, in fact, that China’s ATM machines couldn’t read them at first, and the government had to release a statement saying it would take several days for the machines to be “updated” to recognize the new currency.


Aruba’s Florin banknotes feature various animal motifs that correspond to each monetary denomination.

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A 10 Florin banknote depicting a conch shell.
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Wikimedia Commons

When designing its currency, Aruba aimed to represent the country’s essence. Each of Aruba’s banknotes (10, 25, 50, 100, 500) are a different color, and have a bit of native wildlife to match. Everything from a conch shell, rattle snake, owl, frog, and grouper are depicted on the bills.

They also include historical designs and motifs. According to the Centrale Bank van Aruba website, “images of the Aruban animal wild life were combined with decorative motives found on pre-Columbian pottery, thus emphasizing the relation between past and present.”


South African rand bills feature the “Big Five” animals of the country on one side, and the face of Nelson Mandela on the other.

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10 South African rand.
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Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When South Africa became a republic in 1961, the rand – the country’s national currency – was introduced. Its banknotes depict the “Big Five” animals of the region.

A rhinoceros (R10), elephant (R20), lion (R50), buffalo (R100), and leopard (R200) covers one side of bills, while the face of former president Nelson Mandela was added to the other side in 2012.

South African Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus described the currency as a “unique symbol of our nationhood.”


New Canadian banknotes are vertically oriented, and partially see-through.

Canadian

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Canadian “Mounties” holding the $10 bill.
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Yu Ruidong/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

In March 2018, Canada unveiled a plan for a new $10 dollar bill. Nova Scotia’s Viola Desmond, a civil rights activist, is depicted on the front-facing side of the first vertically oriented bill in the country’s history – which also features a see-through portion.

According to Azure Magazine, “Each note is made from a single piece of polymer, to increase its longevity and to embed forgery-resistant security features, including a transparent window with a moiré pattern.”


The Vietnamese đồng boasts microprinting and other cutting-edge security measures.

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Vietnam’s đồng currency.
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Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Vietnamese đồng has had a turbulent history: after going through five different iterations before 2006, all of which experienced problems due to lack of uniformity, the đồng’s current design is its most effective yet. It might even be one of the most sophisticated currencies in the world.

The current đồng bills feature a portrait of Ho Chi Minh, the country’s former president, and many intricate line drawings described as “microprinting.” Bills also feature at least two security codes, making them especially difficult to counterfeit.


New Zealand won “Banknote of the Year” for its stunningly detailed bills.

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An example of the portraiture on New Zealand currency.
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Dennis Owen/Reuters

Back in 2015, the International Bank Society named New Zealand’s 5 dollar bills “Best banknote of the Year” for their intricate portraiture.

According to the IBS’ website, “The Reserve Bank of New Zealand began releasing a new family of ‘Brighter Money’ banknotes in 2015, beginning with the $5 and $10 denominations.” These polymer beauties took the prize that year for their detailed depictions of historical figures, maps of New Zealand, and many upgraded security features.


Bahamian money is known for its unique coins, which feature engravings of starfish and pineapples.

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1 Bahamian cent.
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Wikimedia Commons

Though the banknotes of the Bahamas are quite colorful, the island is perhaps best known for its loose change. Bahamian currency features five different coins, all of which depict different objects that represent the Caribbean country. The 1 cent coin features engravings of three starfish, and the 5 cent coin has a detailed pineapple on one side.

Bonefish, hibiscus flowers, and a “Native Sloop” (sailboat) are featured on the other coins, and the Central Bank of the Bahamas’ website even offers rare, limited edition coins for sale.


The currency of the Cook Islands depicts an ancient myth about a woman and a shark.

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Cook Islands 3 dollar bill.
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DeAgostini/Getty Images

Cook Islands is a self-governing country off the coast of New Zealand, comprised of about 15 islands. These islands have their own creation myth, which is depicted on different banknotes of their currency.

On Cook Islands’ $3 banknote, the story of “Ina and the Shark” is displayed via an intricate painting: legend has it Ina rode a shark to get to her betrothed, Tinirau, the God of the Sea, after traveling from the Cook Islands.


The Israeli new shekel has raised ink, transparent portraits, and features for the visually impaired.

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Israeli shekel.
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Ariel Jerozolimski/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Israeli currency the shekel is known for its colorful banknotes, and its bills have more features than meets the eye. The governor’s signature that appears on bills is written in raised ink, so it can be felt and makes the bills difficult to counterfeit. Shekel banknotes also vary in length according to denomination, in order to aid the visually impaired.

In 2017, Israel announced it would be rolling out new shekel banknotes featuring portraits of female Hebrew poets Rachel Bluwstein and Leah Goldberg. These were the first shekels to feature women since the early 1990s.

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