Are you prepared for the day where cold, hard cash goes away? Banking experts expect that cash will not exist in Sweden within a few years; by 2023, to be exact. All transactions will use some form of digital transfer—plastic, RFID signals, direct transfers via smartphone, and the like. Nobody expects anything like that in the U.S. or Canada within a short time span, but the world is trending in that direction—and very quickly in some areas.
At this time, several barriers are slowing down any move to cashless here in North America. In the U.S, for example, a body of law establishes cash currency as “legal tender,” meaning that anyone selling anything has to accept cash as a form of payment. To bolster that law, several U.S. cities have passed local ordinances prohibiting any retail establishments from going cashless. And there’s good reason for that: the fact that a sizable majority of residents do not have any digital resources—bank account, credit card, or similar—means that widespread cashless will not dominate any time soon.
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But visitors to Stockholm—along with a handful of other areas, including Seoul, Singapore, Reykjavik, and big cities in China—may have to cope with cashless. The chat and payment app WeChat is widespread in China. But Sweden, in particular, is poised to go cashless first: In the Swedish legal system, laws allowing retailers to establish cashless policies have precedence over banking laws that establish cash as legal tender.
The move to cashless is propelled both by customer convenience and retail cost. Handling cash can be a burden for a merchant, it increases security risks, and it slows down transactions. Those incentives are not going to go away.
As a traveler, you’re presumably already used to relying on plastic for both purchases and getting cash from an ATM. Going cashless also relieves you of the burden of getting ATM cash without paying a stiff per-transaction fee. With either a credit card or debit card, your exchange loss is limited to about three percent—with many cards catering to travelers imposing no conversion fees. And cashless stores these days can accept either actual plastic or smartphone “wallet” payment.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.