Using a credit card in Italy
How easy is it to use a credit card in Italy?
Italy: home of the Roman Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa…and pizza!
Of course, you may be wondering whether you can use your credit card in Italy to upgrade from one slice to the whole pizza. The answer is: you usually can. Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted; you’re able to use your American Express card in some places, too.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Italy
Cash machines in Italy
Look for an ATMs in Italy linked to the Plus or Cirrus systems so that using your Visa or Mastercard card will be easy. Before you travel, be sure to let your bank know you’ll be out of the country to keep your card from getting frozen.
Once you insert your card, you will be prompted to choose your language, and English will be one of the choices. Then you’ll enter your 4 digit PIN number. Be aware that the maximum withdrawal limit is €250 at most Italian ATMs, and also be aware of additional fees that may incur with this withdrawal.
Cash in Italy
Even if you are able to use your credit card at all the restaurants and shops you encounter on your trip, you will still need cash for small items, such as coffee bars, taking the metro, or even using a public toilet! If you visit small towns, some places will only accept cash, so be sure to have an adequate amount of euro on you.
Chip and PIN
Italy has moved from magnetic-stripe to chip cards.
If you use a chip-and-signature card, you can use it in Italy just about everywhere you find a manned credit card machine. However, some businesses are hesitant in accepting them because they’re not sure if it’s allowed and some others don’t accept them to cut down on credit card fraud. If you’re getting tickets from a machine, you’ll need to enter a PIN, in which case your chip-and-signature card won’t work.
Is it safe to use my card in Italy?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Italy, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
- Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
- Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. Instances of theft at airports are not uncommon, so stay vigilant while arriving and departing.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in euro.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive the cash advance fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Italy.
What is a cash advance fee?A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
How to prepare before travelling to Italy
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Italy, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
- Keep your bank posted. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
- Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Italy is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Italy does not hit any roadblocks.
- Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the favourites. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
- Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
- What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in Sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
- How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveller’s cheques with you. Exchanging sterling to euro is easy and you’ll get several options.
When you’re in Italy, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
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