Warning: Beware of Relying on ATMs in Italy

This article originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Dream of Italy

Savvy travelers know that
automated teller machines,
or ATMs, have replaced oldfashioned
traveler’s checks as
the way to get cash
while overseas.
Bancomats as they’re
usually called in Italy, are
easy to locate and easy
to use; many are located
close to popular
tourist attractions, and
most offer an “English”
key so that the only Italian word
you need to know in order to
use them is esegui (enter).

However, there’s one catch that
many people don’t know about:
European ATMs will only complete
transactions connected to
a checking account. I found out
the hard way. On a recent
sojourn in Tuscany,my ATM card
was rejected again and again and
I unfortunately did not have a
PIN number to use so that I
could get a cash advance from
my credit card. Several phone
calls to my home bank later, I
learned that although I had plenty
of money in my account, it
was a savings account and
therefore I could not access it.
And I’m not the only one:
another friend from
Manhattan kept punching
numbers in vain
until I explained the
situation to him (to his
relief, he had a credit
card PIN).

I was fortunate enough
to be traveling with
generous and trusting friends
who advanced me enough cash
for expenses such as cabs and
snacks, that couldn’t be covered
by a credit card. But I hate to
think what might happen to a
solitary traveler, or a couple
caught in this situation. Before
you go, be sure you know: connect
your ATM card to a checking
account. Call (800) 843-7587
for advice on ATM use overseas
and here’s a Web site that
locates ATMs around the world:

— Bethanne Kelly Patrick