An Essential Guide to the Ethiopian Birr

Last updated on May 29th, 2024 at 12:12 pm

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Do you want to send money home to Ethiopia — or if you’re planning a trip to this country in the Horn of Africa — you may want to turn your U.S. dollars, euros, pounds, or other currency into Ethiopian birr.

Do you want to know the current birr-to-dollar (or dollar-to-birr) exchange rate? Here is today’s rate with Remitly.

The Ethiopian birr is the official currency of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The symbol for the birr is either “Br” (using the Latin alphabet), “ብር” (using Ethiopic script), or “ETB” (the ISO currency code). It is subdivided into 100 santim. The National Bank of Ethiopia issues the currency.

Banknotes in circulation are in the following denominations:

  • 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 200 birrs

Coins in circulation are in the following denominations:

  • 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 santim
  • 1 birr

Ethiopian Birr

5 Interesting Facts About the Ethiopian Birr

1. The birr was not the first currency used in Ethiopia.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Maria Theresa thaler coins and blocks of salt called “amole tchew” served as currency in Ethiopia.

The Maria Theresa Thaler coin was a silver bullion coin used for trade throughout the world during this time. Named after Maria Theresa, who ruled Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia during the 1700s, this coin was minted in Austria and is still being produced by the Austrian mint today.

2. Lions are prominently featured on birr coins.

The 1-birr coin is bimetallic, meaning that it is made of two metals: It has a nickel-brass center and a nickel-plated steel outer ring. In the center of the coin is the image of a lion’s head, representing the Lion of Judah.

The lion is commonly used as a symbol of leadership, and the lion used on birr coins is no different. The Lion of Judah is the symbol of the Israelite tribe of Judah from the Book of Genesis. In Ethiopia, the Lion of Judah is the national symbol, and “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah” is the title given to every Ethiopian emperor.

3. New banknote denominations were introduced in 2020.

In 2020, the Ethiopian government announced that it would introduce new banknotes of 10, 50, 100, and 200 birrs. The 200-birr banknote is a new denomination aimed at tackling inflation. Older issues of 10-, 50-, and 100-birr bills were demonetized in December 2020. These efforts were aimed at stabilizing the Ethiopian economy, managing inflation, and reducing sovereign debts.

4. Ethiopian birrs are printed in Europe.

Like more than two-thirds of its African neighbors, Ethiopia prints its currency in Europe and North America. Ethiopia, specifically, has its money printed by a British printer called De La Rue.

Only a handful of countries on the continent have enough resources to print their own banknotes or mint their own coins. Thus, production is often supplemented with imports.

For currencies like the birr, which are only used in Ethiopia and do not have a global reach, printing the currency domestically can be more expensive than the face value of the bill.

5. ETB is considered an “exotic currency” in foreign markets.

In foreign exchange markets, the birr is often regarded as an “exotic currency.” This means that the birr tends to be thinly traded and is not used often in global financial transactions, unlike U.S. dollars, British pounds, or euros. There is not much demand for this currency outside of Ethiopia. From 2014 to 2019, the U.S. dollar gained strength over the birr, meaning it cost more ETB to buy 1 USD. Understanding this context helps to make sense of why Ethiopia introduced new, larger banknotes in 2020.

About Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a democratic republic with a deep history. It is located on the Horn of Africa, bordering Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, and Kenya. The country is home to more than 104 million people, with around 4.5 million living in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest countries, with its territorial borders varying over the millennia of its existence.

Ethiopia is home to varied landscapes, from highlands and lowlands to the Great Rift Valley, sometimes called the “cradle of humankind.”

Ethiopia is an ethnically diverse country, consisting of Oromo, Amhara, Somali, and Tigray populations, among others. Some differences among these populations stem from their languages, with a vast majority of those belonging to the Semitic, Cushitic, or Omotic groups. The language used by the government of Ethiopia is Amharic.

Christianity was introduced in Ethiopia in the fourth century, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest organized churches in the world. Forty-three percent of the country identifies as Orthodox Christian, with 34% identifying as Muslim and 19% as Protestant.

Ethiopia is known globally for its cuisine. A traditional Ethiopian meal is served on a communal platter with thin sheets of injera, a flatbread made from teff.  Regional delicacies from countries like Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda are also enjoyed.

Ethiopian Birr

Sending money to Ethiopia

You can send money to Ethiopia with Remitly. New customers may be eligible for a special offer on their first transfer.

Further reading

Remitly has all the information you need to understand exchange rates, inflation, and Ethiopian holidays and cultural events.