The official currency of Italy is the euro, even though the country is still somewhat a cash based economy. You won’t be paying cash all of the time, as there are shops and merchants in Italy that are well equipped to accept card payments – Visa and Mastercard are more common than American Express.
Just look for a card that doesn’t charge for international ATM withdrawal, or currency conversion, and you’ll have a vacation without paying all of the extra fees in what is arguably one of the most beautiful countries on Earth.
What's in this guide?
Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options
A combination of travel money is the best approach for spending in Italy. Take more than one way to withdraw cash as there have been claims that Italian ATMs can be temperamental with foreign cards. You don’t want to be in a foreign country without access to money if one of your cards is lost or stolen.
Make your vacation memorable for all the right reasons and travel with peace of mind that you’re getting the most from your budget with a travel card, credit card or debit card.
How many euros do I need to bring to Rome?
The summer season premiums (late June, July and August) will add to the cost of an Italian trip – off-season, prices drop dramatically. The cost of vacationing typically depends on where you are in the country. In smaller towns, especially in the South, Italy is surprisingly affordable. In the middle of the country, the north and especially in touristic places like Rome, Venice and Milan, it can be expensive.
Find out some typical vacation prices in Rome.
A quick summary of travel money options in Italy
Camping in Rome
|2-star hotel in Rome
$70 – $140 per night
|5-star hotel in Rome
$180 – $600 per night
Sandwich: $3 – $5
|Dinner for two with wine
$100 – $600
|Rome and Colosseum half day walking tour
|Imperial Rome golf cart tour
*Prices are for example purposes only.
Exchange rate history
Predicting the movements of currency pairs is a difficult task, but you can lock in the exchange rate on a travel card if you believe euros will be more expensive to buy in the future.
Should it be a travel card, a debit card or a credit card?
Credit cards and debit cards with travel features are just as suitable to take on a trip to Italy and Europe as a prepaid travel money card. You can use your Visa or Mastercard in Italy without issue, though American Express typically has a higher surcharge and isn’t as commonly accepted. Use your card to pay for train tickets, souvenirs at gift shops, hotels, trattorias (Italian eateries), restaurants and more.
What you’ll need cash for is to pay for street food, taxis, to pay tour guides and for purchases under 10 or 20 euros. When you compare cards, look for a product that lets you forego the foreign ATM transaction fee.
A quick summary of travel money options in Italy
|Travel money option||Pros||Cons|
|Debit cards for travel||
|Prepaid travel money cards||
|Credit cards for travel||
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How travel money products work
Using debit cards
A travel debit card that waives the fee for currency conversion, or the fee for international ATM withdrawals, with no annual fee is ideal. Research if who you bank with is part of the Global ATM Alliance to find out if you can make cash withdrawals for free. If not, you can access cash in Italy for roughly the same price you would at home.
- Tip: Your debit card will work in more places if it has a CHIP. A debit card with a CHIP will work at unmanned point of sale terminals such as petrol stations, ticket kiosks, toll booths and parking payment machines.
Using prepaid travel money cards
Preload a travel card with euros and avoid the fees that usually go hand in hand with international purchases. Compare these cards by their ATM fees, initial load and reload fees. Some ATMs in Italy don’t charge an ATM operator fee, by choosing a product which waives the international ATM withdrawal fee, you should have no problem accessing your money at Italian bancomat machines.
- Tip: A travel card lets you lock in the exchange rate when you transfer funds between different currencies. This feature can be handy if you think it will become more expensive to purchase euros during your trip.
Using credit cards
A credit card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard will let you make over the counter purchases without paying any foreign transactions fees. Be aware when it comes to cash advances, as interest will apply immediately when you use your card at an ATM – this should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Some travel friendly credit cards also offer perks such as complimentary international travel insurance and purchase protection guarantees.
- Tip: Make sure you tell your bank about your travel plans, as they may put a block on your account if they see a transaction in another country.
Using traveler’s checks
Traveler’s checks have become a financial product of the past. Many banks in Italy will refuse to cash them, so don’t bother with this travel money product.
Taking cash with you
Cash is king. Italy is a cash based society compared to other major economies in Europe. You can still use your card in almost as many places as you would in the US and other countries; however, there’s a reluctance among Italians to let go of cash as a method of payment for things like rent, food, clothing and so on.
Compare travel credit cards
Case study: Frank's experience
Interview with Frank in Italy
On a trip to Europe, Frank visited Italy on his way to Greece. Coming from France, he visited The Last Supper in Milan, he headed east to see the canals of Venice and then finished his Italian adventure with the Colosseum and Vatican City in Rome.
What cards did you take with you?
- Capital One 360 Debit Card
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
Why did you take these cards?
Frank uses Capital One 360 for his day to day banking and his The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard racks up points both at home and abroad. He used the Barclaycard for over the counter purchases for the perks of rewards points and the free travel insurance he received when he paid for his return airfare from Europe.
Frank was able to use his Capital One 360 debit card for free international ATM withdrawals when he needed cash, which he says you will need in Italy.
Where could you use your cards?
Frank says that he was able to use his card for most purchases over 20 euros. He stopped at small cafes for coffee, bars for beer and some smaller restaurants quite often – these establishments were cash only.
Did you use ATMs?
Frank says he made cash withdrawals frequently in Italy because his debit card gave him free international ATM withdrawals and has no currency conversion fee. Frank heard he might have problems using his card to withdraw cash in Italy, but never ran into a problem.
What is your travel money recommendation for Italy?
Frank says you can’t go wrong using a checking account that offers free ATM withdrawals and no fees on foreign transactions.
Do you have any travel money tips for Italy?
- Cash prices. Frank says a price can drop if you choose to pay cash over card. It doesn’t hurt to ask how much a purchase would be if you’re paying in cash.
- Stand to drink. Frank says stand up to drink your coffee. By taking a seat at a cafe or bar, the price can double or triple.
- Get away from the tourist areas. Especially in Rome, the further away you are from the tourist hot spots, the less you’ll pay.
- Train speed and prices. Fast trains between cities cost twice as much as the regular train. Frank says he enjoyed taking the slow train because it gave him time to see the countryside – it also cheaper if you book in advance.
- Load your card with your choice of 6 available currencies: Euros, British pounds, Australian dollars, Japanese yen, Canadian dollars, and Mexican pesos.
- Lock in your exchange rate.
- Use your card abroad at millions of locations.
Buying currency in the US
There’s no limit to the amount of foreign currency you can bring into the Italy or the eurozone. However, you’re going to have to declare your cash if you’re planning to enter or leave the country with more than 10,000 euros. You have the following options for purchasing euros in the US.
A quick comparison of bank and non bank providers shows that if you use the foreign cash services of a company like Travelex, you’ll end up with a few extra dollars. Non-bank providers like travelex have locations in major airports where you can collect your euros before you depart the country.
Making ATM withdrawals
The best way to get cash in Italy is to make an ATM withdrawal when you arrive. The Visa or Mastercard exchange rate applies and is better than any rate you’re likely to get exchanging currency at an exchange office or a bank.
Italian bank ATMs are called <em>bancomats</em> and some do not charge a local ATM operator fee – avoid using independent ATMs. These third party ATMs charge like a wounded bull, it will be obvious which ATMs are affiliated with a bank and which aren’t.
- Find travel insurance for your trip to Italy
- It doesn’t matter how cautious you are while traveling, nobody is exempt from the risk of unfortunate losses while traveling. Travel insurance can offer financial protection against such losses as:
- Trip cancellation charges
- Lost or stolen valuables
- Medical emergencies including evacuation and hospital stay
- Car rental coverage
- Personal liability
Use the form below to compare travel insurance quotes from a range of insurers. Get access to exclusive coupon codes.
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