Like other member countries of the European Union, Italy uses the euro, symbolized by “€”. For the current conversion rate between the dollar and the euro you can check a currency exchange Web site such as www.xe.com Even if you are traveling on a fully inclusive tour, you’ll want to have euros for extras such as a cup of coffee or souvenirs. The best way to get cash in Italy is to use your ATM card.
Cash machines (bancomats) are everywhere in Italy as they are in the United States. The Cirrus and Plus systems are the most widely available. Be aware that many Italian cash machines will not accept card with PIN codes, five numbers or longer so be sure to reset your PIN to a four numbers before you go. You may also have a problem accessing a savings account so be sure the ATM card(s) you are bringing are linked to checking accounts. You may also be able to use your credit card for a cash advance if it has a PIN code (fees will apply).
Many travelers wonder about bringing travelers checks with them and it simply isn’t a good idea anymore. You’ll pay a fee for the checks at home, will need to find a bank (banks are usually open for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon on week days) when it is open, wait in line and pay another service fee when receiving euros.
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Italy. Visa and MasterCard are more commonly accepted so if you’re bringing an American Express card, be sure to bring a Visa/MasterCard as well. Many credit card companies (Capitol One is an exception) are now charging a transaction fees for international purchases. Be sure to check with your credit card company before leaving home. Finally, cash is king in Italy. Italian merchants hate paying service fees on credit card transactions and will often give you a discount (sconto) for paying cash. Of course, they also like to hide their earning from the tax authorities too, but that’s a whole other story.
Shopkeepers are also open to giving discounts if you are buying multiple items. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sconto!
Tip: Get a small amount of euros at your home bank – say $100 worth. Any commercial bank in the U.S. should be able to give you euros. Then you’re really prepared to hit the ground running.