Money in Italy

On euros, ATMs, credit cards, traveler's checks, exchange rates, cold hard cash, scams, money wires, and other issues on how to navigate getting and using money in Italy

A hotel in Milan not only accepts crdit cards, but will even process the payment in U.S. dollars.
Credit cards and ATMs reign in Italy now—this hotel in Milan not only accepts credit cards, but will even process the payment in U.S. dollars. (Don't do it, though; you get a terrible exchange rate.)

Money makes the world go round—and will make your trip to Italy go smoothly, no matter in what form you carry it (starting with the cheapest and easiest):

As much as this site is devoted to ways to travel to Italy on the cheap, you gotta spend money at some point (though there is quite a lot of sightseeing you can do for free).

Here's how to get money during your travels, strategies for getting the best deals on exchange rates, how to avoid scams and rip-offs, how to wire money, and ways to save money every step of the way on your vacation—as well as some of the worst money-saving tips you should not follow.

This section will also cross over with the shopping section by giving you the skinny on getting VAT taxes refunded and dealing with U.S. Customs regulations.

Top 10 money tips

  1. What kind of money do they use in Italy? Italy uses euros. This is the same currency now used by most of Western Europe (except Switzerland, the U.K., and parts of Scandinavia). These days, a euro—the currency symbol looks like this: €—is worth a bit more than a U.S. dollar (currently fluctuating between about $1.40 to $1.50 to €1). This is called the exchange rate, and the lower this number, the better off you are, since it will cost you less to buy each euro. Euros come in coins colored copper (€0.01, €0.02, €0.05), gold (€0.10, €0.20, €0.50), and two-tone (€1, €2), and in bills of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, and €500. » more

  2. How can I get Euros? The best way to get euros is to wait until you are in Italy and use your home bankcard in any local Italian ATM, which are widespread and work just like the ones at home (see the next answer for details). Not only is this method fast and easy, but it also means you will receive the most favorable exchange rate possible. You can also change dollars or travelers checks at any bank—and at most hotels' front desks—however, you will receive fewer euros per dollar than if you use an ATM. If you are in a pinch and need to change cash or checks, always try a bank first as hotels, exchange booths, and shops that offer to change money inevitably do so at rates favorable to them, not you, and often charge commissions. » more

  3. How do I use an ATM in Italy? Italy is like America: there are ATMs (called "bankomat") at all major airports and train stations, as well as at the banks that occupy the street corners and main squares of every town. ATMs in Italy work just like those at home. You put in your card, punch in your four-digit PIN, select how much you want, and it spits out euros, immediately and automatically deducting the money from your home checking account. » more

  4. Do I need to have Euros before I leave for Italy? Not really. It may help relieve a modicum of stress on the day you arrive—since otherwise your first order of business upon arrival will probably be to find an ATM in the airport—but it isn't necessary. You can buy euros from major branches of U.S. banks (if you live in the 'burbs, they'll probably offer to order you some from their downtown office), but at truly crummy exchange rates, and often with a fee. It really isn't worth the hassle.

  5. Can I use dollars in Italy? Some businesses in Italy may accept U.S. dollars—or at least be willing to change them for you—but this is far from the norm—and you will get a crummy exchange rate. Get your hands on some euros as soon as possible and use those or credit cards for all of your transactions. » more

  6. How can I get the best exchange rate? Always use a bank. You'll get the best rates, If the banks are closed and you're in a bind, the next best thing is a commercial cambio office or booth (emblazoned with multilingual "Cambio/Exchange/Change/Wechsel" signs). If it's an emergency—late at night and even the cambio joints are closed—fall back on the hotel's front desk for the worst exchange rates. In a true pinch, some shops will also change cash (U.S. dollars, British pounds, or Japanese yen; rarely anything else) or traveler's checks. » more

  7. Can I use my credit card in Italy? By all means, yes! Most of Italy takes plastic—save for a few smaller mom-and-pop trattorie and hotels. You also get a pretty good exchange rate when paying by credit card. Note that, no matter what the ad campaigns say, Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted in Italy than American Express, though AMEX is also pretty widespread (just don't rely on it exclusively). No other major American credit card (Discover, etc.) is even recognized in Italy so just leave the Sears and Shell cards at home. (For what it's worth, the Japanese JCB is also widely accepted.) It should be noted that you can sometimes get a better price if you offer to pay in cash. » more

  8. Do I need traveler's checks? No, not really. Traveler's checks are prepaid checks you can get from your bank or AAA office then exchange anywhere in the world (at banks, hotels, and in some shops) for the equivalent amount in local currency. For decades, they were the way everyone carried the bulk of their travel budget, but the evolution of international computerized banking and proliferation of ATMs have rendered traveler's checks pretty much obsolete. You have to wait in a bank line (with ID) to cash them, fewer and fewer banks offer this service, and the exchange rate isn't as good as you'd get simply using your bank card at an ATM. That said, traveler's checks do remain a secure way to carry a few hundred bucks in emergency cash—if you lose them, you can get the money refunded in full. » more

  9. Are there money scams in Italy I need to watch for? Sadly, yes. Not as many as some guidebooks and rumors would have you believe, but there will always be unscrupulous cabbies, waiters, and hotel clerks just waiting for an unsuspecting or clueless tourist they can take advantage of (worst offenders in Italy: the people of Genova. Sorry, but it's true). Just be alert, scrutinize all bills, and read the full page on common scams to avoid the bulk of the rip-offs. » more

  10. Useful Italian phrases for dealing with money
    English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano)
    Where is? Dov'é (doh-VAY) ATM un bancomat (oon BAHN-ko-maht)
    ...a bank una banca (OO-nah BAHN-kah) exchange booth un cambio (oon CAHM-bee-yo)
    How much is it? Quanto costa? (KWAN-toh COST-ah)
    That's too much É troppo (ay TROH-po)
    if I pay cash? se pago con contanti (say PAH-go cohn cone-TAHN-tee)
    credit card carta di credito (CAR-tah dee CRAY-dee-toe)
    discount sconto (SKOHN-toe)
    sale saldi (SAHL-dee)
    thank you grazie (GRAT-tzee-yay)
    please per favore (pair fa-VOHR-ray)
    yes si (see)
    no no
    Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? (PAR-la een-GLAY-zay)
    I don't understand Non capisco (non ka-PEESK-koh)
    I'm sorry Mi dispiace (mee dees-pee-YAT-chay)

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