The country of Moldova uses the leu as its official currency. The leu is singular – if you are referring to the plural you would need to use the word lei.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
The leu is divided into 100 bani, or ban in the singular form. Unlike some countries, where the subunit is no longer used because of inflation, Moldova only actually has coins valued in bani. These are the 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 bani coins.
To use the lei you will have to use the banknotes. These are available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1,000 lei, so there are plenty of these around to pay with.
From past to present – the history of the Moldovan leu
Moldova was once part of Romania, so it is no surprise to learn they once used the Romanian leu, at least in part of the country. Transnistria is allegedly part of Moldova but is governed separately and this section doesn’t use the leu, but instead uses its own version of the ruble. The parts of Moldova that did use the Romanian leu did so from 1918 through to 1940, with a short break before commencing the use of it again in 1941 for three years.
However it would not be until 1993, many years later, that Moldova created its own version of the leu. This is the currency it still uses today. The new currency came in when the Soviet Union came to an end and Moldova was transformed into an independent republic.
How to get hold of the Moldovan leu
As you might imagine, the leu is not high on the list of currencies requested by people in the UK, let alone other countries further afield. This means you won’t be able to get any of the currency until you touch down in Moldova. Cash machines are relatively easy to find, especially in the capital, so this is often your best bet to get cash. It becomes less likely you will find any (at least any that would accept a foreign cash card) once you go out of the capital, so bear this in mind.
Traveller’s cheques aren’t impossible to cash but they are challenging, so you may want to forget about taking these. You should take in cash in your own currency really, since this is easy to exchange when you get there. A debit card allows you to use the cash machines (although do check with your bank to make sure you can use yours there) but you’re unlikely to be able to pay with it. The same applies to credit cards. Moldova is very much a cash-friendly country so you have to bear this in mind and make sure you never travel anywhere without some.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Moldovan leu
Any good currency converter should have a variety of currencies loaded onto it, including this one. The best way to locate it is either to type in Moldova if you can, since this should bring it up, or to use the currency code MDL. If neither of these strategies work you might need to find another converter to use.
As with many other countries, Moldova has an embassy in the UK and it is located in London. The embassy maintains a website with some interesting information on it; this might come in handy if you are considering travelling there for any reason. The link for the English-speaking version of the website is http://www.mfa.gov.md/start-page-en/.
Travelling safely with the Moldovan leu
The situation in Ukraine in 2014 could result in problems in Moldova, since the two are very close together geographically. However at the time of writing things appeared to be fine. Obviously the main thing to be aware of here is the need to keep abreast of happenings in the country and elsewhere if you are planning on making a trip there. Even if you book a holiday there you should continue to keep an eye on events nearby while you are there.
We’ve mentioned Transnistria already and its use of a different currency. While Moldova once included this part of the country it no longer governs it, so while you can visit it you should be careful as Moldova has no control here.
The main rule of thumb – as is the case in so many places you could visit anywhere in the world – is to keep your valuables to a minimum when travelling. Once you arrive at your hotel you should ensure you put your passport and all other essential items in your hotel safe. Make sure you photocopy your passport first though, and carry that photocopy with you in case you are asked for identification at any time. You will need to carry cash on you of course, but try and keep it to a minimum. Don’t carry large sums with you as you may be unlucky enough to lose some or all of it. Whatever you do carry can be divided into smaller sums and kept in different pockets. It would be very unlikely for someone to pick more than one pocket if they do target you.
The capital, Chisinau, is perhaps most at risk for petty thievery. Not only does pickpocketing occur here, bag snatching is also problematic. Keep your bag close to you and be aware of who is around you at all times. If you can hook the shoulder strap of your bag across your opposite shoulder it keeps the bag safer and makes it much harder to snatch.
Where to spend your lei in Moldova – and what to spend them on
You may already have guessed that Moldova is located in the eastern part of Europe, from the clues we have provided above. To be more exact, it is a country sharing its borders with only two other countries. The first is Ukraine, which lies to the north and east of Moldova, as well as its southern tip. The second is Romania, which largely sits along its western edge. As such the country is not bordered by any water, although geographically speaking the Black Sea is not too far beyond its south-eastern border with Ukraine.
The capital of Chisinau lies just south of the centre of the country. There is an airport here so it is quite easy to reach. This is not the city to visit if you want to see great architecture or a long history though, since many of the buildings here are only just over two decades old. There are some nice buildings to be seen though, one of which is the Kishinev Cathedral. This was originally built in 1836 but the version you will see today dates only from 1997. This is because the original was knocked down when the country was part of the Soviet Union. The devastating damage it sustained during the Second World War, not to mention an earthquake that occurred during the early part of the war, put paid to any great history that may have been present.
One of the best places to visit in the capital is Stefan cel Mare Central Park. This is a bright and relaxing place boasting an impressive fountain among other things. If you want to escape the busy nature of the city, this is the best place to come to. Some of the trees here are approaching their 200th birthday! While there are many things to see in the park, you should definitely find the so-called Alley of Classics, which has assorted sculptures and busts you can see.
Elsewhere in the country there is the option to visit the Royal Forest Reserve. This is a reservation and one of the finest in the country. Locally it is known as Padurea Domneasca and it dates back to the 1400s. There are ancient forests here that play host to much flora and fauna, providing a habitat many birds and mammals call home.
While some areas of Moldova do not come steeped in history, Capriana is not one of them. This village is home to the Capriana Monastery and it is a truly amazing structure. The bright external design contrasts against the deep green of the grassy areas surrounding it. While no one is quite sure of its exact age, it is thought to date back to the 1400s at the very least. It had to be rebuilt in the 1500s but it has stood here ever since.
Moldova is perhaps not the best-known of countries in Europe, but it has a history that stretches back a long way. Its status has changed over the years, as has its currency, but all seems to be quite settled there now. The country has a pleasant capital city to share with its visitors, not to mention the assorted rural locations that are there to explore. It all depends what you want from your holiday there, but as you can see there is lots to discover.