Romania’s national currency is the leu (plural lei), which literally translates as “lion” in Romanian. There are 100 bani in a leu (singular ban). The new leu (code RON) replaced the old leu (code ROL) on July 1, 2005, at a rate of 10,000 old lei for one new leu. Old ROL banknotes and coins are no longer legal tender as of the beginning of 2007, although they may still be exchanged at the National Bank and its associated locations.
Coins are minted in quantities of 1 (gold), 5 (copper), 10 (silver), and 50 (gold), however 1 ban coins are uncommon, despite shop pricing often ending with 99 bani. Store clerks will not give you precise change until your entire expenditure is divided by 5 bani. When clerks are very short on change, they may provide tiny coffee bags, oranges, or anything like as a replacement, although they may not take it back as tender. Banknotes exist in denominations of 1 (green), 5 (purple), 10 (red), 50 (yellow), 100 (blue), 200 (brown), and 500 (blue and purple) lei, are composed of polymer plastic, and, with the exception of the 200 lei, are the same size as a euro banknote. However, banknotes of 200 and 500 lei are uncommon.
Romania is quite inexpensive by Western standards; you can purchase more in Romania than in Western Europe or North America, particularly locally produced goods. However, although food and transportation are cheap in Romania, purchasing imported goods such as a French perfume, an American pair of athletic shoes, or a Japanese computer is as costly as in other areas of the EU. Clothing, wool suits made in Romanian, shirts, cotton socks, white and red wine bottles, chocolates, salami, a variety of local cheese, cheap leather jackets or costly and fancy fur coats are all potential excellent buys for foreigners.
It is strongly advised to utilize exchange bureaus or cash machines while exchanging money (which will provide ready access to most foreign bank accounts). Avoid black market transactions with strangers at all costs: in the best-case situation, you may come out ahead by a few percentage points, but this is uncommon. Most obvious black marketers are con men of one kind or another, who will either leave you with a bankroll full of worthless Polish zlotys or simply engage you in conversation for a few minutes while waiting for their partners, who will pretend to be police and try to con you into handing over your wallet and papers. (This is referred to as a maradonist con game.) Exchanging money on the street is also prohibited, and in the worst-case situation, you may wind yourself spending the night in prison. It is also not advised to convert money at the airport, since they tend to overpay for transactions and have extremely poor exchange rates; instead, use a card and an ATM for urgent requirements (taxi/bus) and exchange additional money later in the city.
You should browse around for the best exchange rates. Some exchange offices in prominent locations (such as the airport) may attempt to take advantage of the typical tourist’s lack of knowledge when establishing the conversion rate, and it is not recommended to use them since the exchange rates may be very ridiculous. Before departing for Romania, visit the National Bank of Romania’s website to get an idea of what currency rates to anticipate. Typical exchange offices should not advertise discrepancies from the official exchange rate that are more than 2-3%. Also, when choosing an exchange office, make sure it has a visible sign that says “COMISION 0 percent”; Romanian exchange offices typically do not charge an extra commission aside from the difference between the buy and sell rates, and they are also required by law to display a large visible sign stating their commission, so if you don’t see such a sign or if they charge something extra, keep going. Choosing a fair exchange office, which is not difficult with the information in this paragraph, can save you up to 10%, so keep this in mind. It’s also a good idea to exchange money at a bank’s exchange office.
With Romania, most transactions are conducted in cash. Although some establishments take Euro or USD, it is not recommended since you will be charged an extra 20% if you pay by this way, but this is changing. The best way is to pay in lei, the native currency (RON). Most Romanians own either a charge card or a credit card; nevertheless, they are mostly utilized at ATM machines; online payments are still relatively new, and some businesses still view them with mistrust – so much so that they need payment upon delivery. However, card payments are accepted at many stores and supermarkets. MasterCard, Visa, American Express (at certain establishments – but this is quickly increasing due to a strong push by American Express) and Diners Club are the credit/debit cards accepted (usually only in hotels, and even then expect stares and incredulity that such a card even exists). Almost all POS transactions (supermarkets, stores, etc.) will need you to input your card’s PIN as well.
Most small communities have one or two ATMs and a bank, while big cities have hundreds of ATMs and bank buildings. (It is not unusual to find three bank branches adjacent to each other in Bucharest’s residential districts.) ATMs may also be found in many communities (generally at the post-office or the local bank-office). Bancomat is the Romanian word for ATM. Credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants, hypermarkets, and shopping centers in major cities. Expect to be unable to use a credit card at any train station or on public transportation (the subway and RATB of Bucharest, for example, are cash-only because they consider that card transactions would slow down the queues at the ticket booths). Gas stations and a wide range of other businesses accept Visa and MasterCard. Even in big cities, it’s a good idea to have a modest amount of cash on hand (around 50 lei or more). Apart from lei, no other common money (such as euros or dollars) may be withdrawn.
Romanian companies are not required to give you full change for every transaction, and their tills are often depleted of tiny coins in particular. Many prices, fortunately, are in round multiples of 1 leu, and they are nearly always in multiples of 10 bani. Even if a shop can exchange a 100 lei note, they will initially ask for lesser change. For extremely modest sums (say, 20 or 50 bani), they may occasionally insist on you purchasing something of equal value rather than giving you change.
Tipping is customarily 10% of the total and is required at restaurants, coffee shops, taxis, and hairdressers.
Romania is usually extremely inexpensive, and is likely the cheapest nation inside the EU, but it is still more costly than neighboring Ukraine. Inflation has hit Romania in many areas, and some prices are as high as or greater than those in Western Europe, although this is typically reserved for luxury, hotels, technology, and, to a lesser degree, restaurants. However, raw food, transportation, and lodging remain reasonably priced, as does general shopping, particularly in markets and outside the city. Bucharest, like every other capital in the globe, is more costly than the national average, especially in the city center. Bucharest has grown more costly in the last 2-3 years, and this trend is likely to continue for some time. Travelers from the Nordic countries, on the other hand, will find all costs in Romania to be very cheap, particularly for transportation (both short and long distance), restaurant meals and beverages.
Supermarkets and convenience stores
Farmers’ markets are a wonderful location to buy for food, although hypermarkets such as Auchan, Billa, Carrefour, Cora, and Kaufland have grown popular in Romania.
Neighborhood grocery shops, known as ‘alimentare,’ differ from supermarkets. The shops are dark, ancient Communist-era establishments that may be less expensive. These stores, which are similar to British cornershops, may be useful if you live in the suburbs or a smaller town. Despite their outward look, they offer high-quality cuisine. Expect unusual payment or selection procedures in ‘alimentara’: you may not be allowed to pick goods from the shelf yourself, or one person may calculate your total before another handles the cash, and so on. Many locals, on the other hand, prefer these businesses because they provide a personalized touch, with many salesmen remembering each buyer’s preferences and catering particularly to their requirements.
The hours of operation are very regular and incredibly lengthy. Some stores will display a “non-stop” sign, indicating that they are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Shops that are not open 24 hours are typically open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with some remaining up until 2 or 3 a.m. in the summer. Supermarkets and hypermarkets are open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., except on certain days around Easter and Christmas, when they are open all night. Pharmacies and specialty stores are often open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., occasionally later, while farmers’ markets typically open at 7 a.m. and close at 5 or 6 p.m.
The countryside fair
The weekly fair (târg, bâlci, or obor) is a traditional way to shop in the countryside. Typically held on Sundays, everything that can be sold or purchased is available, from live animals being exchanged among farmers (the primary reason fairs were established centuries ago) to clothing, vegetables, and occasionally even used automobiles or tractors. Such fairs are frantic, with people bartering, music and dance events, amusement rides, and quick food booths selling sausages, “mititei,” and charcoal-grilled steaks amid the numerous buyers and sellers. In certain areas, it is customary to attend them after a significant religious occasion (for example, after St. Mary’s Day in Oltenia), making them large communal gatherings that draw thousands of people from surrounding villages. Such festivals are very vibrant, and for many, they provide a glimpse into life centuries ago. The Obor fair in Bucharest is one such rural fair (though it is certainly NOT in the countryside) – it has been running everyday for more than three centuries in an empty area right in the heart of the city.