** NEW: Italy Travel F.A.Q. – What is The Best Way to Get Euros and Pay For Things in Italy? **

|image1|As the editor and publisher of a subscription travel newsletter on
Italy, you can imagine that anyone and everyone asks me about travel to
Italy. In the 10 years, I have been running <span
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>Dream
of Italy, I have certainly
noticed that certain questions come up far more often than others and
one of the more popular questions is. One of them is:

What
is the best way to get money when I’m traveling in Italy and should I
use credit cards?

So…based on my numerous trips to Italy, here’s my advice for getting
euros and spending money in Italy. Note that I’m not covering all the
options, just the ones I use most often.  If you have tips you
would like to share, please leave them in the comments below.

Getting
Cash Before Arriving in Italy

My first trip to Europe was when I was 10 years old and my parents
decided to take advantage of a “new” low-cost airline, People Express,
and go to London. I remember my dad being sure that we had some British
pounds to take with us, just in case there was a problem as soon as we
arrived, or for some reason we weren’t able to change money when we
first got there. His actions have stuck with me and I always try to
have at least 100 euros on me when I arrive in Italy, just in case.

|image2|You can get euros at some major banks and online. In the U.S., major
branches of  Bank of America, Wachovia, Wells Fargo
and Chase, among others, offer currency exchange services. Be sure to
call around in advance to check. At many banks, people who
aren’t account holders at that bank can use the currency
exchange service for a small fee.  <a
href=”https://www.wellsfargo.com/foreignexchange/”
target=”_blank”>Wells Fargo
and <a
href=”http://www.us.travelex.com/US/Home/” target=”_blank”>Travelex
allow you to purchase currency online and have it delivered to your
house.

I’ll get to ATMs in a moment, but on my trip to Pisa last year, I was
reminded why it s a good idea to have some euros on hand. I had my
business ATM card, which has never given me a problem in Italy, but
when I went to the ATM machine in Pisa’s airport, it wouldn’t work. It
likely wasn’t on the right system for that machine and as far as I
recall there was only one ATM in that airport, so luckily, I had my
euros until I got to a machine in the city.

Traveler’s
Checks

I’m not going to say much about traveler’s checks as I don’t use them
anymore when traveling and don’t know anyone who does. (But if you do
and feel strongly about this method, please leave your comments below.
Would love to hear them!)  But they can be a good back-up plan
– i.e. keep them in your luggage and use them in case your ATM or
credit cards are stolen. The hassle is that you need to pay a fee for
the checks at home and then find an Italian bank (which keep limited
hours) to cash them. You will pay an additional fee to the bank when
you exchange the checks for euros.

Visa and American Express sell travelers checks and often do so through
local bank branches. I haven’t done much research into the pros and
cons of this (maybe expect a follow-up article?) but Visa and American
Express also offer travelers checks in euros (I suppose one benefit is
locking in the current exchange rate). When I needed to pay large
amounts of cash for our excursions during <a
href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/785.cfm”>Dream
of Italy’s Umbria Harvest Week,
I considered euro checks but ultimately went the ATM route. I would
have had to cash them at a bank anyway as I am told by MANY Italians
that businesses won’t even accept euro checks.

Euro
Cards

My amazing researcher, Elaine Murphy, who helped me with this article,
turned me on to prepaid euro cards, which she used this summer in
Europe. These cards, which work like debit cards, are rising in
popularity, as many of them offer good exchange rates, no transaction
fees, and the opportunity to top up your balance by phone or online.
These cards aren’t tied to your bank account, so in the case
of theft, the thief won’t have access to the rest of your
money – and, like traveler’s cheques, the card
issuer will protect the money on your card if it is lost or stolen.

These cards are also fitted with a microchip, which American cards
don’t have – many train stations, kiosks, bike
rental stations and small businesses require cards to have a chip when
purchasing items like train or metro tickets. The <a
href=”http://usa.visa.com/personal/cards/prepaid/visa_travel_money.html”
target=”_blank”>Visa TravelMoney Card,
the target=”_blank”>Travelex Cash Passport
and the <a
href=”http://www.americanexpress.com/lacidc/iccsite/american_express_euro_card.shtml”
target=”_blank”>American Express Global Charge Card
are popular options (though American Express is less widely accepted
than Visa). It’s a good idea to check any fees that these
cards might have and compare them to the fees on your ATM/debit and
credit cards. These seem like a great option for parents to give to
their kids who are studying abroad.
Cash
from Bancomats

|image3|For years, my <span
style=”font-style: italic;”>only method for
getting cash in Italy is to use my bank debit card in an ATM or <span
style=”font-style: italic;”>bancomat as
it is called in Italy. Bancomats are everywhere in Italy. If you
haven’t used your debit card in Italy before though, please don’t
automatically assume that it will work. Here are the things to know:

  • Your card MUST be tied to a
    checking account, NOT a savings account. Trust me on this as I had a
    friend who only brought a debit card tied to her savings account. It
    wouldn’t work. We spotted her money all week.
  • You’ll also need
    to have a 4-digit PIN number (it cannot begin with
    “0”). It’s a good idea to choose a PIN
    number for your credit card as well – we’ll get to that in a
    moment.
  • You want to be sure that
    your home bank’s network is one that has compatible machines in Italy,
    i.e. Cirrus and Plus networks are those with the most machines in
    Italy.
  • You’ll most likely
    get hit with small ATM transaction fees (usually 1%) and currency
    exchange fees (usually 3%), but check with your card issuer and bank to
    be sure. Withdrawing euros from an ATM will generally yield a better
    exchange rate than an exchange bureau, and the transaction fees are
    usually insignificant.
  • Most Italian bancomats have
    a daily withdrawl limit of 250 euros so plan accordingly! (When I
    needed a lot of cash one day during our <a
    href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/785.cfm”>Harvest
    Week, an Italian told me to go
    to the bank machine at the post office – <span
    style=”font-style: italic;”>Postamat
    – this particular one allowed me to take out 400 euros. Bingo!)

Cash
Is King

Before we move on to credit
cards, I need to make sure you understand one thing: <span
style=”font-weight: bold;”>Cash is King in Italy!
This is still very much a cash economy and that’s do to a number of
reasons. First of all, Italians hate to pay credit card transaction
fees. Second, whether it is right or wrong, many Italians want to hide
the full extent of their income from tax authorities. So you will
notice that drivers, tour guides, even those who rent apartments and
villas will ask for their entire fees in <span
style=”font-style: italic;”>cash.
So you will need to plan ahead to deal with the 250-euro per day limit
for ATMs. If you’re renting a villa, don’t be surprised if you are
asked to send a wire transfer from your bank account to pay for it.
(This is a way to avoid those dreaded credit card fees.)

 

Italians hate credit card transaction fees SO MUCH that it can work to
your advantage while shopping. If you are going to buy several items in
a store or make a big purchase, ask for a <span
style=”font-style: italic;”>sconto
(discount) for paying cash. This works most often with small businesses
(not big department stores, obviously) but you will be surprised how
often it works. And always, always try to “sconto” technique in outdoor
markets if you are buying more than one item from a vendor.

Credit
Cards

While you always want to have
cash on hand, credit cards are accepted much more widely than they used
to be. Keep in mind that Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted but
American Express is still not accepted everywhere. So don’t travel <span
style=”font-style: italic;”>only
with an Amex card. Now, you will be paying fees to use your credit card
abroad (there’s an exception which I will get to). According to this
excellent <a
href=”http://www.bankrate.com/finance/money-guides/currency-conversion-costs-1.aspx”
target=”_blank”>Bankrate.com article,
_se_fld=”tcm:Content/custom:Content/custom:Page[1]/custom:Paragraph[1]/custom:Text”>Visa
and MasterCard have a standard 1 percent charge on foreign purchases
and the issuing bank adds another fee…<span
id=”_SE_FLD”
_se_fld=”tcm:Content/custom:Content/custom:Page[1]/custom:Paragraph[1]/custom:Text”>The
credit card issuer or bank often charges an additional fee, usually 2
percent, which adds up to a 3 percent total charge on foreign
purchases.”

The BEST credit card for travel abroad is <a
href=”https://www.capitalone.com/” target=”_blank”>Capital
One. They are the only company,
to my knowledge, that doesn’t charge a conversion fee and this holds
for purchases as well as cash advances. Capital One also has an
excellent <a
href=”http://www.capitalone.com/creditcards/advantages/rewards.php”
target=”_blank”>rewards program
with no black out dates with rewards travel, points that don’t expire,
etc.

Be sure to set up a 4-digit pin on each credit card you bring with you
to Italy. Why? Very rarely, you might be asked by a store for the pin
before a purchase can be made. But most importantly, you will then have
the option of getting a cash advance from a bancomat should you need
that option. You never know.

Bancomat
photo by <a
href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/barnism/272452055/sizes/s/in/photostream/”
target=”_blank”>barnism

 

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