What Are the Most Cashless Countries?

Digital advancements have catapulted many countries around the world into a cashless society. The pandemic was the trigger for much of this as people wanted a contactless way to make payments. Post-pandemic, contactless payments don’t see any sign of slowing down and instead, we’re seeing countries such as Norway and Finland becoming incredibly close to a cashless society.

The UK isn’t quite there yet, especially amid campaigners for the elderly arguing that cashless payments are ageist. Critics also argue that a cashless society will exclude parts of society such as those in rural areas.

Whether or not you’re pro–cashless, we are slowly inching toward this reality in some parts of the world, notably in Europe. Below we’ve listed the most cashless countries in the world, based on their unbanked population and the number of ATMs per 100,000 people.

And, if you’re interested in going cashless, we can help you compare quotes from EPOS system providers. Just fill in our quick form.

Overview: The Most Cashless Countries

Norways is the most cashless country, with only around 2% of payments being made by cash, and 100% of the population having a bank account.

The most cash-forward country is a little harder to pin down, but it’s most likely Morocco, where only 19% of the population has a bank account, meaning the vast majority have no choice but to pay with cash.

Here are a few more facts about how people pay all over the world:

  • Only 17% of UK consumers prefer paying with cash
  • Finland only has 37 ATMs per 100,000 people
  • Only 1% of payments in Sweden are made with cash
  • China rolled out a digital currency experiment in 2020, to great success
  • In Romania, 78% of payments are made with cash
  • In Egypt, 60% of payments are cash payments

Which countries are closest to a cashless society?

It’s difficult to quantify this question and provide a definite answer, especially as the studies on this are hard to carry out across numerous countries. Typically, we’re relying on each country’s data and approach to cashless payments. But based on current data trends, we can say that the following countries are the closest to becoming cashless:

  1. Norway

Norway has an unbanked population of 0%, meaning every single citizen has a bank account. Only around 2% of payments in the country are made with cash.

With 32 ATMs per 100,000 people, Norway is currently one of the most likely countries to become a cashless society.

  1. Finland

Finland has similar numbers to Norway, with 0% of the population being unbanked and 37 ATMs per 100,000 people. The Bank of Finland estimates that banknotes will no longer be in use by the end of 2029.

  1. Sweden

Sweden was the first country to issue banknotes, however, it is now one of the leading countries to use mobile payments. Sweden’s usage of mobile payments is also very high, accounting for around 20% of transactions. Currently, only 1% of payments in the country are made with cash.

According to some predictions, Sweden should already be cashless, but that hasn’t happened yet, largely due to elderly people still using it.

Following in the steps of Finland and Norway, 0% of its population is unbanked.

  1. China

Compared to the other countries on this list, a lot of China’s population is reliant on cash. However, in 2020, the Chinese government rolled out an experiment to see how well digital currency would function. This experiment was so successful that it is now expected that China will become a cashless country in the near future.

Digital payments are so popular that China has now made it easier for foreign visitors to make cashless payments. Previously, a Chinese bank account was needed to use popular payment apps Alipay and Wechat, however, visitors can now link their bank account to these apps.

  1. New Zealand

New Zealand boasts a hefty 54 ATMs per 100,000 people and has an unbanked population of 1%. However, the cyclone that hit NZ in February has exposed the risks of cashless payments as cash machines and payment services were wiped out. New Zealanders found themselves unable to buy necessities, forcing the central bank to reconsider the importance cash can play in societies.

  1. United Kingdom

In the UK, 17% of consumers prefer paying by cash, however, this is a much larger figure compared to other countries on this list. Despite this, the UK is still one of the leading countries for cashless payments which is why many businesses are considering whether or not to go cashless.

The UK has one of the highest ratios of ATMS, with 99 ATMs per 100,000 people.

Most Popular Digital Wallets

A digital wallet holds digital versions of your credit and debit cards stored in wallets on your mobile device. A digital wallet makes it easy to make payments using your mobile, in the UK there are currently around 10 million contactless mobile payment users. In Sweden, around 8 million people use the payment app Swish to make mobile payments. Mobile payments have become so popular in Sweden that the verb Swisha (to swish) has made its way into everyday language.

  1. Apple Pay

Apple Pay is one of the most popular digital wallets, having over 500 million users. Apple Pay can be used within stores as well as to make purchases online. Apple Pay makes it easy for iPhone owners to easily make payments online as it just requires pressing the lock button twice to activate it. Users don’t need to confirm card details or personal information and can make online payments within seconds.

  1. Google Pay

For those using an Android phone, Google Pay is the digital wallet relied on. As well as your credit and debit cards, you can also store your digital keys. Just like with Apple Pay, you can use Google Pay for in-store contactless payments as well as online payments.

  1. PayPal

PayPal is different from the above digital wallets as it doesn’t come built-in to your iPhone or Android phone but instead, it is a separate account you can set up yourself. PayPal is handy for business owners as it can be used for customers to easily make payments.

With PayPal, you don’t just have to add your payment cards, instead, you can directly link it to your bank account. This way when you have funds in the account you want to transfer to your bank account, you can easily do this.

Countries Which Use the Most Cash

While some countries are close to becoming completely cashless, many countries in the world are heavily cash-reliant. These include:

  1. Morocco

Morocco is one of the most cash-reliant countries in the world, despite 84% of the population having access to the internet so this isn’t due to internet access. But it is likely down to the fact that 71% of the population are unbanked.

  1. Romania

Romania is Europe’s cash king with 78% of transactions made with cash. 42% of the population is unbanked so this is likely the reason for the high number of cash transactions.

  1. Egypt

60% of transactions in Egypt are made with cash, likely because 67% of the population is unbanked.

  1. Kenya

Interestingly, only 30% of the population has access to the internet, however, cash-based payments account for 40% of payments. While this number is lower than the other countries in this list, 40% is fairly high, especially when compared to more cashless countries such as Norway where cash payments are around 2%.

What is the future of cash?

Cashless payments have become the norm for many thanks to the ease and convenience of it, but it doesn’t come without criticism. For many, the move towards going cashless has slowly iced out parts of society that struggle to use cashless payment methods. Although the UK has a while to go before becoming cashless, the impacts are already being felt with large numbers of high-street banks being closed down, and even the way we bank is changing towards more digital methods.

Despite concerns, it seems the country is heading towards a largely cashless-based society. Based on the figures above, we may not be close to a cashless world but we are close to seeing cashless countries in our lifetime.

Written by:
Zara Chechi
Zara is a Payments Expert, specialising in writing about Point of Sale systems. With a Law Degree from City University of London, she has used her legally-honed research and analytical skills to develop expertise in the Business Services world. Featured in FinTech Magazine, she quickly became an expert in payroll, POS systems, and merchant accounts.