Recognising currency with your Smartphone

Person holding a phone and a wade of bank notes in separate hands

by Joe Lonergan

Many of us with a vision impairment know how difficult it is to distinguish one banknote from another, but as the saying goes, there’s an app for that.

Actually, there are a few apps for checking currency. I will mention what works for me. I mostly use Seeing AI. Seeing AI is an app we have spoken about before. It helps you recognise the world around you with the use of the camera. Point the camera at an object and Seeing AI will tell you what it is or read you back text or recognise colours. All these features are separated into channels in the app. There is a specific channel for recognising currency.

The reason I like Seeing AI for recognising currency is firstly it is accurate, I can not put a percentage on it, but in my experience, it has not got any notes wrong yet, even crumpled, or older notes it seems to do a good job on, but occasionally it may take a little longer to process the older more worn notes.

The Seeing AI currency channel recognises popular currencies like American dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, and British pounds with more expected to be added in future updates.

Siri Shortcut – Recognise currency.

Inside the Seeing AI app you can go to Settings and set up a Siri shortcut to recognise currency

  1. Open the Seeing AI app then go to settings.
  2. Go to configure Siri shortcuts.
  3. Then select the activities that you wish to use with Siri shortcuts.
  4. Choose Recognise Currency and tap on Done.

Now you can quickly access the Currency channel by saying “Hey Siri recognise currency” and then hold the camera about 12 inches away from a banknote and Seeing AI through VoiceOver will announce the nomination such as Five euros. No button needs to be pressed, just hold a note in the palm of your hand or place it on a table while pointing the camera at the note.

Seeing AI is available on Android and iOS.

Note, that Siri Shortcuts are only available on Apple iOS.

Android users can also use the popular app Google Lookout to recognise currency, It is similar to Seeing AI as it has different channels or tabs for different tasks. At the moment Google Lookout app on Android recognises 3 different currencies, American dollar, euros, and Indian rupee.

So how accessible is the physical money itself?

The European Central Bank cooperated with the European Blind Union to come up with solutions to develop a Euro currency that people who are blind or vision impaired can manage with confidence. Well, that was their plan but their solutions may not suit everybody so that is when you may need to turn to technology.

Some of the accessibility features that you can find on the current series of banknotes include:

Different sizes

The higher the value of a banknote, the larger it is. The €50, €100, and €200 banknotes have the same height, with the length of the note increasing as the value increases.

Brighter colours

For those of us that have some useable vision colour might be an important factor in recognising Euro banknotes.

All denominations now have more intense and better contrasting colours. The €5 banknote is grey, the €10 is red, the €20 is blue, the €50 is orange, the €100 is green, the €200 is yellow-brown and the €500 is purple.

I do not think any of us will have to worry about trying to recognise a purple €500 note as they are not made anymore but it is still legal tender and may still be in circulation.

Large numerals and raised print

Bank notes also have large numerals and raised print for easier identification for people who are blind or vision impaired. I personally find this difficult to recognise but may be handy for some.


There is no official app for recognising coins, but to help someone with a vision impairment the Euro coins do have different weights and tactile markings that you can learn.

Different weights

The higher the value, the heavier the coin (except for the 50-cent coin, which is heavier than the €1 coin).

Clearly, displayed values on the common sides of the coins

Different edges

€2 Coins have letters engraved into the fine-milled edge.

€1 Coins have a fine-milled edge interspersed with three smooth sections.

50 and 10-cent coins have larger indents all along the edge.

20-cent coins are smooth and have seven indents along the edge.

5 and 1-cent coins have a smooth edge.

2 cent coins are smooth and have a fine line engraved along the edge.

If you are having any difficulty recognising currency, hopefully the above information will help. Always remember in most cases Technology can enable you to recognise most things including currency. If you need any help with the apps mentioned above, please contact the V I Labs team.

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