Prices vary from region to region and are substantially lower in the country than in the cities. Of Italy's major cities, Venice and Milan are by far the most expensive. Resorts such as Portofino and Cortina d'Ampezzo cater to wealthy people and charge top prices. Good values can be had in the scenic Trentino-Alto Adige region of the Dolomites and in Umbria and the Marches. With a few exceptions, southern Italy and Sicily also offer bargains for those who do their homework before they leave home.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens from the EU; citizens of non-EU countries rarely get discounts, but be sure to inquire before you purchase your tickets, because this situation is constantly changing.
U.S. banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
An ATM (bancomat in Italian) is the easiest way to get euros in Italy. There are numerous ATMs in large cities and small towns, as well as in airports and train stations. They're not common in places such as grocery stores. Be sure to memorize your PIN in numbers, as ATM keypads in Italy don't usually display letters. Check with your bank to confirm that you have an international PIN (codice segreto) that will be recognized in the countries you're visiting, to raise your maximum daily withdrawal allowance, and to learn what your bank's fee is for withdrawing money. (Italian banks don't charge withdrawal fees.) Be aware that PINs beginning with a 0 (zero) tend to be rejected in Italy.
Your own bank may charge a fee for using ATMs abroad or charge for the cost of conversion from euros to dollars. Nevertheless, you can usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money inside a bank with a teller. Extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash. Finally, it's a good idea to obtain more than one card that can be used for cash withdrawal, in case something happens to your main one.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, because MasterCard and Visa generally just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill. Because of the exorbitant fees, avoid using your credit card for ATM withdrawals or cash advances (use a debit or cash card instead).
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases you'll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don't always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn't an option.
MasterCard and Visa are preferred by Italian merchants, but American Express is usually accepted in popular tourist destinations. Credit cards aren't accepted everywhere, though; if you want to pay with a credit card in a small shop, hotel, or restaurant, it's a good idea to make your intentions known early on.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express (800/528-4800 in U.S.; 905/474-0870 collect from abroad. www.americanexpress.com.)
Diners Club (800/234-6377 in U.S.; 514/881-3735 collect from abroad; 800/393939 in Italy. www.dinersclub.com.)
MasterCard (800/627-8372 in U.S.; 636/722-7111 collect from abroad; 800/151616 in Italy. www.mastercard.us.)
Visa (800/847-2911 in U.S.; 303/967-1096 from abroad; 800/819014 in Italy. usa.visa.com.)
Currency and Exchange
The euro is the main unit of currency in Italy, as well as in 12 other European countries. Under the euro system there are 100 centesimi (cents) to the euro. There are coins valued at 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 centesimi as well as 1 and 2 euros. There are seven notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros.
At this writing, 1 euro was worth was about 1.33 U.S. dollars.
Post offices exchange currency at good rates, but you'll rarely find an employee who speaks English, so be prepared. (Writing your request can help in these cases.)
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. You're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.
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