Cashless In Shetland – the verdict

My Shetland cashless experiment has finished – the overnight North Link Ferry has deposited me back in Aberdeen.

42 weeks cashless on the British mainland – would it be possible to be cashless on the most northerly islands of the UK?

Is it possible for all UK citizens to dispense notes and coins to the legacy payments hall of fame and become cashless regardless of where they live?

Armed with some contingency cash I ventured as far north as I could to find out.

What did I find:

Acquiring cash on the Shetland Islands is difficult – I only saw two ATM’s both charged a fee and one was out of service! I didn’t pass a single bank branch but a mobile bank did drive past me on one occasion. I guess cash back works at some places but I didn’t ask.

With variable mobile phone coverage it was good to see a traditional phone box displaying a ‘no cash, no problem’ sign offering card based payments.

I wrongly assumed that a very traditional museum and coffee shop would be cash only – contactless payment was fine although the card reader only worked in certain rooms due to the thickness of the stone walls.

The ubiquitous service from the Post Office meant that cashless was fine although the common friction of buying a stamp contactless but needing to pay cash for the postcard to stick the stamp on was the same as in the rest of the UK.

Most shops happily took cashless payments and only once did I see the dreaded ‘minimum £5 spend sign’.

Jumping from island to island on the inter-island ferries was very smooth but frustratingly cash only.

I found a fantastic pop-up community cafe on Shetland mainland desperately needing a simple cashless payment option.

I was fascinated by the story of the Fetlar tenant farmers who had no truck with the Truck System and rebelled by whale fishing in Greenland – cashless and money remittances in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

The verdict:

The Shetland Islands are close to being as cashless as the rest of the UK.

The remoteness of these northern isles makes everything just a little bit harder – in my snapshot experience the only cash I really needed was for the inter island ferries operated by the local council and a postcard to send from the most northerly Post Office (very retro).

Post Office payment friction, small scale cash only community initiatives and the (albeit rare) dreaded minimum card spend signs are not unique to these islands.

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