moldovan leu currency bills notes cash money pile

Currency Spotlight: Moldovan Leu

In Business and Currency by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

Moldova has a history of being invaded and traded by major neighbouring powers. This is reflected in the many different currencies that passed through the region. Today the country is fully independent and has a currency to match.

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  • Currency Code: MDL
  • Plural: lei
  • Subunits: ban/bani (1/100)  
  • Coins: 1, ,5, 10, 25, 50 bani, 1 leu, 5 lei
  • Banknotes: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 lei
  • Central Bank: National Bank of Moldova
  • GDP: $6.750 billion (2016)
  • GDP Growth: 4% (2016 – estimated)
  • Inflation: 7.4%


From the 1st to 7th centuries Moldova was ruled by the Roman Empire and then Byzantine Empire. Roman currency, known as aureus would have circulated during this period until it was replaced by the solidus after Emperor Constantine’s reform of 312CE. The First Bulgarian Empire ruled from the 7th to 10th century, and no coins were minted during this period, instead the local economy relied on trading. The Second Bulgarian Empire ruled from the the 13th to 14th centuries, by which time the Bulgarians had begun minting their own coinage out of copper, bullion, and silver.

In 1359 the Principality of Moldavia was formed but by 1538 it was a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The country was eventually split by Russia and other powers, enjoying varying degrees of sovereignty over the centuries. From 1918 to 1940, and from 1941 to 1944 the country was part of Romania. During this time the Romanian leu was used. Following WWII the country was part of the Soviet Union and used the Soviet ruble.

When the Soviet Union collapsed Moldova used the Moldovan cupon briefly from 1992 to 1993. The cupon replaced the ruble at par, but was then replaced by the Moldovan leu at a rate of 1 leu = 1000 cupon.

The unrecognised state of Transnistria (which is claimed by Moldova) issues its own Transnistrian ruble, but this currency is not officially recognised globally.


At the time of writing the midmarket rate for the Moldovan leu was 1 MDL = 0.053193 USD, down from 0.084427 five years ago. From December 2014 to February 2015 the currency dropped from 1 MDL = 0.063949 to 1 MDL = 0.053348 USD. (Source: Continental Rate Watch)

USD US dollar MDL Moldovan leu

MDL to 1 USD over the past 5 years

CAD Canadian dollar MDL Moldovan leu

MDL to 1 CAD over the past 5 years


Moldovan leu coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 bani, 1 leu, and 5 lei. They all contain the denomination and year of minting on the obverse, and the Coat of Arms of Moldova on the reverse.


The very first set of Moldovan leu notes only included denominations of 1, 5, and 10 lei notes. The second series was far more extensive, and was printed in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, and 2003. All of the noted have an image of Stephen III on the obverse.

Value Colour Reverse Image Issue Date
1 leu Yellow Căpriana monastery – one of Moldova’s oldest monasteries 1994
5 lei Cyan St. Dumitru Church in Orhei about 25 miles north of the capital 1994
10 lei Red Hârjauca monastery 1994
20 lei Green Soroca Fortress 1993
50 lei Pink Hârbovăț monastery 1994
100 lei Orange Tighina Fort 1995
200 lei Purple Chișinău City Hall 1995
500 lei Orange and green Chișinău Cathedral 1999
1000 lei Blue Presidential Palace 2003


Moldova holds the unfortunate title of Europe’s poorest country. Per capita income is comparable to Ghana and Nicaragua, and 50% less than that in Albania. GDP per capita is just US$5,039.  Following Moldovan independence the country began initiating liberal market reforms. Initially this resulted in high inflation and, as was the case for many post-Soviet states, the 1990s were a rough period. By 2001 however things started turning around, with strong growth since then (barring a 6% drop in 2009 due to the financial crisis).

Remittances account for around 25% of GDP, making it one of the most remittance-reliant countries in the world. They are undeniably crucial to the economy and to the day to day lives of many Moldovans, but some economists are concerned that they may be detrimental to the long term health of the economy.  The biggest challenges faced by the economy include corruption, lack of transparency, a vulnerable political situation, and widespread emigration.

moldovan leu portrait money cash bills notes

The bottom line

The Moldovan leu is a relatively young currency, and, like the country itself, still adjusting from the fall of communism.

Continue your Moldovan journey with our Country Profile and Travel Guide!

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