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Some websites claim that you can know which country printed an euro banknote, by looking at the serial number. Is that technique fool-proof ?

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This really depends what you mean by where Euro banknotes are from. It can either mean by which country they are issued (which would be most logical) or where they were physically printed (note, that physically printing is not done by all Eurozone countries, and some non-Euro countries do the printing).

In either case you can find information in the numbers printed on banknotes, but only in the first case it's the serial number.

euro notes do not have a national side indicating which country issued them (which is not necessarily where they were printed). This information is instead encoded within the first character of each note's serial number. (source: Wiki)

Currently in use:

  • Z — Belgium
  • Y — Greece
  • X — Germany
  • V — Spain
  • U — France
  • T — Ireland
  • S — Italy
  • P — Netherlands
  • N — Austria
  • M — Portugal
  • L — Finland
  • H — Slovenia
  • G — Cyprus
  • F — Malta
  • E — Slovakia
  • D — Estonia

However, where the banknotes have been physically printed can be determined by another number:

On each of the seven denominations of the banknote, there is a small six-character printing code which uniquely identifies the printing information of each banknote. These printing codes have an initial letter, followed by three digits, followed by a single letter, and ending in a digit, for example, "G013B6". The initial letter identifies the printing facility, as described below. (source: Wiki)

  • D — Setec Oy, Vantaa, Finland
  • E — F. C. Oberthur, Chantepie, France
  • F — Österreichische Banknoten und Sicherheitsdruck, Vienna, Austria
  • G — Koninklijke Joh. Enschedé, Haarlem, Netherlands
  • H — De La Rue, Gateshead, United Kingdom
  • J — Bank of Italy, Rome, Italy
  • K — Central Bank of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
  • L — Banque de France, Chamalières, France
  • M — Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre, Madrid, Spain
  • N — Bank of Greece, Athens, Greece
  • P — Giesecke & Devrient, Munich & Leipzig, Germany
  • R — Bundesdruckerei, Berlin, Germany
  • T — National Bank of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
  • U — Valora—Banco de Portugal, Carregado, Portugal

Printing code is bit harder to see than the serial number:

5euro printing code

In case of the banknotes issued by Greece, they may have been physically printed in 5 different locations: Austria, Netherlands, Germany (both locations) and the Greece itself.

  • Be aware that this answer is now outdated, since it only reflects the first serial numbers and print facility codes used in the first series In the second series of euro notes, the print facility is identified by the first letter of the serial number. There is no 'printed for country XYZ' designation on the notes anymore. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 2 '15 at 15:07
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You can determine which country it was printed for, but not necessarily which country it was printed in. By examining one of its more important design elements, you can identify the "central bank that commissioned the printing of a banknote (but not necessarily the country of printing)" according to this web site:

  ECB: Banknotes - Design elements
  http://www.ecb.int/euro/banknotes/html/index.en.html
  (see the section entitled "Country codes" in the last quarter of the page)

enter image description here

In the above pictured partial sample banknote, the letter code "S" means that Banca d'Italia (Italy's central bank) commissioned the printing; for Greece, there would be a letter "Y" instead. I've included the complete list of country codes (which shouldn't be confused with the ISO's list of official international country codes), which is also included on that web page, here for your convenience:

Z: Belgium
X: Germany
D: Estonia
T: Ireland
Y: Greece
V: Spain
U: France
S: Italy
G: Cyprus
?: Luxembourg (1)
F: Malta
P: Netherlands
N: Austria
M: Portugal
H: Slovenia
E: Slovakia
L: Finland

(1) Uncirculated euro banknotes issued by the Banque centrale du Luxembourg bear the code of the central banks of the countries where the banknotes for Luxembourg are produced.

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