Romanian Currency Guide: Interesting Facts About the Leu

Last updated on March 6th, 2024 at 05:38 pm

Romanian currency: portrait of Romanian buildings and houses

Romania is one of the minority of countries in the European Union that have not yet adopted the euro (EUR) as a unit of currency. Thus, the Romanian leu (RON) is currently the only official Romanian currency. If you intend to visit Romania or sending money there, you should understand the history and use of this unique currency.

Romania and its people

Romanian currency: colorful Romanian houses

Romania is a small country in Eastern Europe with a long and proud history. In much of the world, it’s best known for the story of Vlad Tepes, who was later the basis for the fictional character of Count Dracula.

Romania excels in music and the arts, including immaculately painted Easter eggs. The country is also rich in natural beauty and features the Carpathian Mountains, which are the second-largest mountain range in Europe.

Though some travelers to Europe consider Romania off the beaten path, the country has gained well-deserved popularity as a destination for adventurers. Not only is the Romanian capital of Bucharest historic, but the country’s diverse natural landscape ranges from snow-capped mountains to large forests and a wine region.

Significant numbers of Romanians live abroad as well. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Romania has the fifth-largest emigrant population in its member countries — about 3.6 million people.

5 key facts about Romanian money

Women dancing on a stage

If you’ve never handled Romanian currency, you may not know about its denominations or even what it looks like.  Read on for some key facts about the currency of Romania.

1. Leu means “lion” in Romanian.

Historians differ about the exact origin of the name “leu” and when it was first used to refer to Romania’s currency. The word “leu,” though, literally means lion in the Romanian language, though many scholars believe that it has its origins in the Dutch language.

Some familiar with the history theorize that the word “leu” (and its plural, “lei”) descends from the name of the Dutch currency Leeuwendaalder (i.e., the lion thaler). That currency was popular in the Romanian region in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Romanian society started using the term more broadly to refer to its own currency.

2. The 5-lei note features a famous Romanian musician.

The five-lei banknote features a violin, a music note, and an image of the composer and musician George Enescu.

Enescu became famous in Romania during the 20th century. Historians consider him to be one of Romania’s greatest musicians, as well as one of the top musicians in the world among his contemporaries.

He was born in 1881. Accounts have him picking up a violin when he was just four years old and composing music at five years old. In addition to his famous musical pieces (including the Romanian Rhapsodies), he also wrote at least one opera.

3. It’s (nearly) impossible to rip Romanian currency.

Anyone who has spent much time with Romanian currency can tell you that a leu bill is nearly indestructible. Try as you might, you’ll find that ripping them or soaking through them with water is tough.

The National Bank of Romania produces the banknotes with a strong polymer material that makes them incredibly durable.

4. The Romanian National bank created an app that can educate you even more about Romania’s money.

The Romanian National Bank has an app called Romanian Leu (or Leul Românesc in Romanian) that you can download directly from both the Apple app store and the Google Play market.

In the app, you can access pictures of the banknotes and coins to see designs and security features up close. You can also take quizzes about the history and portraits on the banknotes, and even play a game that lets you make your own portrait.

5. The future of the leu is short.

Though Romania hasn’t adopted the euro yet, that time is fast approaching. Romania has set a target to adopt the Euro by 2024, though it has already joined the European Union.

It is likely that there will be a transition period where the Romanian people can swap in their lei for euros at the bank before the euro completely replaces the leu.

A short history of Romanian lei

Stacks of Romanian lei

The Romanian National Bank (RNB), which was founded in 1880, issues both lei banknotes and the smaller coin denominations called bani.

The RNB helped to work through the re-denomination of the old leu (ROL) to the new leu (RON) in 2005. With this transition, one new leu (RON) was exchanged for 10,000 ROL, and the old currency ceased to be tendered in 2006.

With the move to the RON, currency exchange became more straightforward. The old, high-denomination banknotes (paper money) ranging from 10,000 to 1,000,000,000 lei were removed from circulation.

The RNB then replaced them with the new banknotes, ranging in value from 1 leu to 500 lei.

You can break one leu note into coins called ban (singular) or bani (plural), with 100 bani comprising 1 leu. The coins and notes in current circulation by the RNB are:

  • 1 ban coins are yellow brass-plated steel with a plain edge.
  • 5 bani coins are red copper-plated steel with a milled edge.
  • 10 bani coins are white nickel-plated with an intermittent milled edge.
  • 50 bani coins are light-yellow brass with a lettering edge. They are frequently reissued as commemorative coins.
  • 1 leu notes are green polymer and feature a gentian flower, the Romanian Coat of Arms, and a portrait of historian Nicolae Iorga.
  • 5 lei notes are light violet polymer and feature a carnation flower, a violin and two notes, and a portrait of composer George Enescu.
  • 10 lei notes were issued twice, in 2005 and again in 2008. They are pink polymer and feature a Hollyhock flower, a paintbrush and palette, and a portrait of painter Nicolae Grigorescu.
  • 50 lei notes are yellow polymer and feature an edelweiss flower, an airplane propeller, and a portrait of airplane builder Aurel Vlaicu.
  • 100 lei notes are blue polymer and feature a violet flower, two theater masks, and a portrait of playwright Ion Luca Caragiale.
  • 200 lei notes are orange polymer and feature poppy flowers, an open book of poems from 1895, and a portrait of poet Lucian Blaga.
  • 500 lei notes are polymer with multiple shades of blue. They feature lime leaves, flowers, an inkpot, and a quill, along with a portrait of poet Mihai Eminescu

Romanian currency exchange rates

Aerial view of a Romanian church

You can find Romanian currency exchange rates directly in the Remitly app, on the RNB website or with a quick online search for currency converters.

Romanian currency is often exchanged for the British pound sterling (GBP), the euro, the U.S. dollar (USD), or the Canadian dollar (CAD).

Sending money to Romania

Do you need to send money to loved ones in Romania?

Remitly makes international money transfers faster, more transparent, and more affordable.