Customer using a mobile to pay in a swipe machine.

The 5 European countries closest to a cashless future

Is your country headed for a cashless future? The shift to a cash-free society may happen sooner than you think!

6 min read

Before COVID-19, many countries were already heading towards . But, the increase in and online shopping triggered by the pandemic saw a huge—but just not at the same speed. Even in Europe, payment preferences still vary wildly. But, there’s a handful of countries that are leading the cashless revolution. Here are the top 5 European countries closest to a cashless future.

The 5 most cashless countries in Europe

Within Europe, there’s a huge divergence of preference when it comes to paying with cash. In 2019, , with Norwegians taking out just €35. While in 2020, , compared to only 9% in Romania. 

However, working out exactly which European countries are the closest to a cashless future is tricky for two reasons:

  1. Physical cash is untrackable
  2. There isn’t a Europe-wide uniform method for tracking cashless payments

That being said, there’s still a wealth of reliable data out there that gives us a solid understanding of exactly which European countries are leading the race to a cashless future. Read on to discover what we found out. 

Sweden 

, Sweden looks set to be one of the first European countries to get rid of them. , and , physical cash is fast becoming a relic of the past in Sweden.

The move to a cashless Swedish society . In Sweden, it’s fully legal for a merchant to refuse cash payments. This essentially forces consumers to purchase their goods via a cashless payment method. This combined with the fact that and ATMs are a scarce commodity, it’s little wonder that according to the Swedish Central Bank, Sweden !

Norway 

Norway is the European country closest to a cashless future, a. Nearly all Norwegians (98%) own a debit card and that only 3–5% of all point of sale transactions were carried out with physical cash—with three out of every four card transactions being contactless. What’s more, —and as of 2020, apps were the most popular way of transferring money peer-to-peer, .

However, Norway’s shift to becoming a fully cashless society has concerned some senior government officials. In 2021, the establish a plan that guarantees banks will still offer physical cash to customers. This comes as a backlash to many Norwegian banks denying that it’s their responsibility to offer cash services, as has been the case in Sweden. 

An interesting by-product of heading towards a cashless future is an increased focus on digital currencies. In April 2021, that it was researching digital currency options to help support the switch to a cash-free society.

The Netherlands

According to GlobalData, the Netherlands card payments market Already well-established as a country where it’s easy to be cash-free, —with 90.5% of all card payments made with debit cards in 2020. However, there’s a hesitancy towards using credit cards due to a .

Interestingly, the Netherlands is the , which account for over 33% of total smartwatch transactions in Europe. This could be, in large part, due to the fact that two of the Netherlands’ biggest banks are compatible with both FitBit and Garmin smartwatches.

Finland 

has predicted that it will be an entirely cashless country by the end of 2029—and there’s a lot of data to back up this claim. With , nearly the entire population can pay without using cash. Finland’s cashless transactions reached a staggering €50bn in 2018 and .

80% of Finns prefer paying by debit card when in a brick-and-mortar store. This number is only increasing, with a forecasted . However, not all Finns are convinced that a cashless future is the way to go. , 13% are unsure about it, and only 26% believe that going completely cashless would be beneficial for Finnish society.

The United Kingdom 

The UK was an early adopter of digital payment methods—and today, . , which amounted to a sizable 9.6 billion payments! 

In 2011, cashless payments accounted for 50% of all transactions, whereas today five out of six British payments are cashless. COVID-19 also played a role in the British shift toward going cash-free. reported a 35% decrease in cash payments in 2020, largely due to the pandemic. The paper also revealed that 79% of adults use online banking and 54% use mobile banking apps proving that the UK is well on its way to becoming cashless.

Why are Nordic countries among the most cashless in the world?

With Sweden, Norway, and Finland all included in this list, it’s clear that the Nordic countries are leading the way when it comes to going cashless—but why is that? Well, it might have something to do with trust. Culturally, the Nordic countries . Thus, they believe that their money is just as safe, if not safer, in the hands of a digital bank than it is in their own. 

Combine that with a , and banks that , and you have a recipe for a fully cashless Nordic region in the not-too-distant future!


Your money at N26

Want to be part of the cashless revolution? As a fully digital bank, N26 let’s you manage your finances 100% online. Plus, every single account, including the comes with a , so you can make payments with just a tap of your smartphone. Secure, simple, and hassle-free, in a matter of minutes.

By N26

The Mobile Bank

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