The world's most cashless countries

Leaders in the mobile wallet trend
A worker demonstrates Apple Pay inside a mobile kiosk sponsored by Visa and Wells Fargo.
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The cashless society is in full swing.

Certain start-ups threaten to make ATMs obsolete, Apple's making a big bet on mobile payments, and American Express's CEO even declared that he doesn't fear the potential demise of plastic. Current trends seemingly point to a future with increasingly less cash floating around.

For certain countries, however, that future is close to becoming a reality, as a number of nations have shifted almost entirely toward nonphysical payment.

Based on the rate of cash-free transactions and the percent of the population that relies on a debit card, here is a look at the 10 countries leading the pack toward a nearly cashless economy.

Nicholas Duva, special to CNBC.com
Posted 21 November 2014

Source: MasterCard "Cashless Journey " Report

10. South Korea
Shoppers walk in the Myungdong shopping district in Seoul, South Korea.
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  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 70 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 58 percent

South Korea might have been higher on the list, but societal and governmental initiatives that seek to reign in household debt by reducing usage of credit cards have pegged it down to number 10.

9. Germany
Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.
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  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 76 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 88 percent

Munich's Oktoberfest, long known for dirndls, lederhosen and tipsy American tourists gaping at the people wearing them, has become a more expensive proposition in recent years: A liter of beer ran revelers around 10 Euros this fall.

A minor consolation may be that partyers don't have to carry loads of cash to pay for their inevitable binges: Starting in 2012, merchants needed only an iPhone and an EMV chip reader (which is plugged into the phone) to accept credit or debit card payments, using technology from the Munich-based company payworks.

8. United States
A worker demonstrates Apple Pay inside a mobile kiosk sponsored by Visa and Wells Fargo to demonstrate the new Apple Pay mobile payment system on October 20, 2014 in San Francisco City.
Getty Images
  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 80 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 72 percent

The simmering shift to electronic payments has boiled over in the past few months, with Apple announcing its new "Wallet" service and introducing, along with Microsoft and other tech companies, electronic watches with payment capabilities.

American Express CEO Ken Chenault declared that he didn't fear the demise of plastic cards; even ATMs run the risk of becoming obsolete in coming years

7. The Netherlands
Church of St Nicholas and canal in Amsterdam.
Richard L'Anson | Getty Images
  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 85 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 98 percent

Driving into Amsterdam? Make sure you have a credit or debit card on you; the city's parking meters no longer accept cash or coins.

A number of retailers and restaurants in the city also refuse to take cash; Dutch customers have taken such policies in stride, with 75 percent of them understanding and accepting of no-cash rules.

6. Australia
Porter Novelli | AP
  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 86 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 79 percent

If a relative is taking "No Shave November" a little too seriously, it may help to turn them on to another trend that may be beginning to catch on: No Cash November, launched by Australian billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest in his home country.

Unfortunately, however, there's no reason why somebody can't both not shave and not use cash.

5. Sweden
Policemen search for evidences outside a Nordea bank office in Stockholm's suburb Huddinge, Sweden, after an armed robbery against a value transportation, the van that is cordoned off outside the bank.
Erik Martensson | AFP | Getty Images
  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 89 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 96 percent

Bank robberies in Sweden plunged from 110 in 2008 to only 16 in 2011, the lowest level since the country started recording its numbers in the early 1970s.

The reason? Swedish banks are carrying less cash than ever before. There's often nothing for would-be thieves to steal.

4. United Kingdom
A double decker bus makes its way over Westminster Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in London, England.
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  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 89 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 88 percent

Before you step on one of those famous double-decker buses in London, make sure that you have an "Oyster Card" or a prepaid ticket on you.

From July 6, city buses stopped accepting cash as a valid payment. Still, it's doubtful that too many Londoners will care; only 1 percent of commuters used cash in 2014, compared to 25 percent in 2000.

3. Canada
A Canadian penny is now out of circulation.
Pawel Dwult | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 90 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 88 percent

If you're from a border town like Buffalo or Detroit, at some point you've probably rummaged in your pocket for a few pennies, only to find that one or more of your coins is emblazoned with Queen Elizabeth instead of Abraham Lincoln.

That scenario is about to become a lot more unlikely; starting in February 2013, Canada stopped minting and distributing pennies, supposedly saving the country $11 million a year.


2. France
An employee polishes a new Citroen C1 automobile in the showroom of a PSA Peugeot Citroen dealership in Rodez, France.
Balint Porneczi | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 92 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 69 percent

If you live in France, are saving up to buy a new car (perhaps a Citroën), and keep all of your money under your mattress, we have some bad news for you: The country has disallowed any cash transactions over 3000 Euro.

You can still buy a car using cash from a friend, but if you're paying them more than 1,500 euro, you legally need a bill to prove payment.

1. Belgium
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert shopping arcade in Brussels, Belgium.
JTB Photo | Getty Images
  • Noncash payments' share of total value of consumer payments: 93 percent
  • Percent of population with a debit card: 86 percent

Belgium has a law similar to France's with regard to limiting cash payments to 3,000 euro. Belgium's law goes a step further, however: It could charge up to 225,000 euros for a violation.

Perhaps the 14 percent of Belgians without a debit card ought to reconsider their choice.