Whether you’re traveling abroad on business or a family vacation, it’s likely one of the first things you’ll need to do after landing in the foreign country is exchange currency so you can hit the shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. But what you may not realize is that since you’re a foreign visitor, you’re the target for receiving counterfeit currency – after all, it’s likely you aren’t aware of the different security features of the local currency.


Typically, it’s easiest for counterfeiters to exchange their fake currency for the real thing in places with high concentrations of foreign visitors – places like touristy shops, markets, street vendors and even at some foreign currency exchanges. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some of the most commonly counterfeited currencies and explore some of the ways you can avoid them.

Most Common Counterfeited Currencies

Mexican Pesos

According to marketplace.org, the Bank of Mexico found that roughly 300,000 counterfeit bills, amounting to about 99.1 million pesos, with the most common denominations counterfeited being the 20, 100 and 50 peso notes. While this may not seem like a lot, it’s worth noting that unsuspecting tourists are one of the easier ways to get these counterfeit bills into circulation.

British Pounds

Even though the British pound features many state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting features, it remains one of the most counterfeited currencies in the world. According to a report by the Bank of England, some 33,000 counterfeit notes were spotted and removed from circulation in the first half of 2020 alone. The most common among those was the £20 note.


A recent report from the European Central Bank finds that even though counterfeiting Euros is at historically low levels, it’s still quite a problem. According to their estimates, the €20 note and €50 note are the most commonly counterfeited denominations.

US Dollars

It may not come as a surprise to learn that the US dollar is the most commonly counterfeited currency in the world according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. With counterfeiting operations active not just in the US, but also overseas, you still have to be vigilant about counterfeit dollars when you’re traveling abroad if you plan to exchange your foreign currency back to dollars before leaving town.

Three Ways to Protect Yourself

Even though tourists and foreign visitors are generally the easiest people to pass a counterfeit bill to, there’s a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself:

Exchange At Your Bank

At National Bank of Arizona, you can exchange your US dollars for foreign currency before leaving home. Not only can you rest assured that you’re receiving the real thing, it’s also one less thing you must do after you arrive at your destination. When you return, exchanging your foreign currency back to US dollars is as simple as a trip to the bank.

Check the Fine Print

Much like the US dollar, most foreign currencies feature things like microprint, small lines and designs, and other small print that’s difficult to replicate on all but the most expensive printers. Give your bill a good visual inspection (use a magnifying glass if you need to) and if you don’t see any of these features or the small details look blurry, you should be suspicious.

Look for a Watermark

In addition to the security features we mentioned above, most currencies all feature some sort of watermark, like Benjamin Franklin’s image in the $100 bill. When you receive a foreign bill – especially a large denomination bill – hold it up to the light and look for a watermark. If you can’t find a watermark or it’s difficult to see, you should think twice before spending the bill.

Got Some Currency to Exchange?

If you’ve got a trip overseas coming up or you have a few foreign bills or coins laying around from a previous trip abroad, National Bank of Arizona can help you exchange your currency. To get started, simply schedule an appointment at any of the following branches, which always have foreign currency on hand.

  • Biltmore:  6001 N 24th St Phoenix, AZ 85016
  • Wilmot: 335 N Wilmot Rd Tucson, AZ 85711
  • Cornerstone:  9878 W Camelback Rd Glendale, AZ 85305
  • Kingman: 3825 Stockton Hill Rd Kingman, AZ 86409
  • Yuma Regional: 538 E 16th St Yuma, AZ 85365
  • Flagstaff:  211 N Leroux St Flagstaff, AZ 86001