G&D | Trends and Insights | Banknotes in Circulation | The Life of a Banknote

The Life of a


Banknote Solutions Team

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500,000,000,000 banknotes around the world

There are currently around 357 billion banknotes in circulation. Their average circulation lifespan ranges from under 12 months to several years. About 150 billion banknotes are printed every year to replace the worn notes taken out of circulation. What is more, statistics show that the number of notes in circulation continues to increase by around 3 percent each year.

From cradle to grave

G&D | Trends and Insights | Banknotes in Circulation | The Life of a Banknote

Before a banknote enters circulation, it passes through numerous production steps and security tests. After production of the banknote substrate and integration of security elements into the paper, printing and inspection takes place, followed by cutting and packing of the finished notes.

Today, banknotes are high-tech products with numerous different security features distributed over well-defined security levels. These levels are associated with user groups. Some are designed for the general public, overt and easy to recognize, while others can only be read by sensors on sorting machines. The overall durability of a banknote is therefore limited not only by its optical appearance to the human user but, above all, due to altered signals in automated authentication. Notes that no longer meet the quality criteria for reliable processing must also be exchanged.

G&D | Trends and Insights | Banknotes in Circulation | The Life of a Banknote

Best before

All these factors influencing the length of time a banknote stays in circulation are considered by central banks when establishing specifications for new banknotes. In Germany, for example, according to information from the Deutsche Bundesbank, the typical lifespan is between one and five years. Whereas five- and ten-euro notes must be exchanged around once a year, 500-euro notes are used significantly less, so remain in use for up to five years.

If a banknote no longer meets the required quality standards, it must be taken out of circulation by the central banks and replaced with a new banknote. Secure destruction at the end of the note’s lifecycle is also very important, in order to ensure that it cannot be put back into circulation.

All of the banknotes in the world would cover...

  • ...a total length of 30 million kilometers
  • ...one fifth of the distance to the sun
  • ...the surface of 180,000 football fields