So, you’re booked your trip to Italy. While traveling around, you’ll be using Euro. You can always see the current exchange rate between USD and Euro at xe.com. Before packing your bags and heading to the airport for that flight, when it comes to getting and using money in Italy, there are a few things you should know before you go.
Credit Cards in Italy
Most credit cards are able to be used all over Italy, and indeed, most outlets in major cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice will accept them. MasterCard and Visa being the most commonly accepted, but American Express is on the rise. Before you leave for Italy, be absolutely sure that you give your credit card company and bank a call prior to traveling. Otherwise, the foreign transactions might get flagged as fraud and your card may be frozen.
Additionally, while you’re on the phone with your card company, ask if your card charges a foreign transaction fee for international purchases. The fees can add up over the course of a vacation. If your card does charge foreign transaction fees, and you have more international travel planned, consider getting a travel-focused card like the American Express Platinum, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Whenever possible, use your credit card for purchases in Italy. That will offer the best possible exchange rate.
I also wouldn’t count on being able to use your mobile wallet. While, with a little prep, you should have no problem getting phone service in Italy, not all places will be equipped to accept mobile payments, so be sure to have your cards physically on-hand.
Getting Cash in Italy
While most locations in major cities will accept credit cards, you’ll still want to make sure you have cash on hand for the occasional merchant that doesn’t accept them. Doubly so if you plan on traveling to the smaller towns and villages, as many more merchants only take cash there. You’ll also want to make sure you have cash on hand if you’re renting a car in Italy, as many tolls only take cash.
To get Euro, you’ve got a few options, but some options will be far better than others. Let’s break them down:
Getting Euro From Your Bank
If you’d like to have cash on arrival, without having to mess with the hassle of getting cash once you land, you can call your bank at home ahead of time to see if they’re able to bring in some Euro so you can exchange before you go. This will often give you the best possible exchange rate, and it’s nice to just know you’ve got it in your wallet, so you don’t need to worry about it when you arrive, travel weary and jet-lagged.
Give your bank a few days notice and a rough idea of how much you’d like to exchange before going in, to make sure they have the Euro on hand when you go in.
Using ATMs in Italy
This is easiest, and one of the least expensive, ways of getting cash in Italy. You won’t need to have cash on you while you travel and, you’ll always get the best possible rate for exchange at the time of withdrawal. There will likely be a fee levied from both your bank and the ATM owner, but these are still a better deal than Money Exchanges (more on them later).
Bancomats (ATMs) are clearly marked with a blue sign, and will be frequently be found in airports, bus and train stations, as well as in front of banks around the country. Be sure to know your bank’s withdrawal limit before you go. Also, be sure to go to the ATM before going to a village or any other place where you may not be able to find one.
Decline “Dynamic Currency Conversion” (DCC) if you see a screen offering it (this is essentially consenting to allowing the bank to set the exchange rate, and it will almost never work in your favor). Make sure you’re only using ATMs from major brands (i.e. banks, at the airport, etc.). While you’ll be able to find and use private ATMs in a pinch, they will charge higher fees.
Exchanging Money at a Bank in Italy
Just like you can exchange your money in banks at home, you can exchange your currency at banks in Italy. If you’d rather bring your cash with you, you can easily take it to a local bank in Italy for exchange. It will be the best possible exchange rate, and, likely, the lowest fees, but you will have the hassle of going all the way to a bank and, often, having to wait in a line.
You can also change your money at post offices, but they will only be able to exchange US Dollars, Swiss Francs, Yen, and Pounds, but don’t plan on exchanging large sums. They usually won’t have too much cash on hand.
Exchanging Money at an Currency Exchange Service in Italy
Currency exchanges are not the same thing as banks. Currency exchange services can be found at airports and around major tourist locations. While convenient and easy to use, they often offer the worst exchange rates of all the options, as well as charge hefty fees. Only use these as a last resort, if you’re unable to use a bank, post office or ATM.
If you do need to use a currency exchange service, keep an eye out for a sign showing the current exchange rates. These will usually be displayed prominently in front. If there are a few exchanges in the area, you should be able to shop for the best rate.
Travelers Checks in Italy
These days, with so many other, easier options, it’s getting harder and harder to find banks that will even cash traveler’s checks. Due to the hassle and frequency of fraud, banks are increasingly reluctant to cash them. Do yourself a favor and use one of the other options we went over. The last thing you want is your cash tied up in a traveler’s check that you can’t cash!