PAYING AND BUYING THINGS IN ITALY
It’s not easy tricky to travel on a budget but with the changing Global market it is getting easier to use our money. When traveling to Italy you should keep the following tips in mind.
TAKE CASH BEFORE YOU LEAVE
First, I recommend that you have a couple hundred EUROS with you before you leave the US. That is to ensure that you have some cash handy for your first expenses: taxi cab, sandwich, phone calls, etc., most small shops do not take a credit card for small payments. Also during your entire travel I would suggest this small amount to be kept and pay with your credit card as much as possible. Each Region you travel in will have different quantity of Bancomat dispersed in a town, the Euro is the ONLY currency used in Italy.
USING YOUR ATM CARD IN ITALY
ATMs (Bancomats) are the best way to take cash out once you are in Italy, but the daily limit is 250 Euros (banks do that to prevent fraudulent transactions), so again, make sure you have enough cash before you leave. Banks have very strange hours to say the least (some, but not all, follow this schedule: 8:20am-1:20pm and then from 2:35pm-4:05pm), so it’s not always easy to find one open while you’re out. Make sure to tell your local bank the dates you will be gone so your check card doesn’t get blocked!! Also, make sure your PIN number will be good overseas, some banks require a different PIN, so again, ask your local branch. DO NOT take Traveler's Cheques, they are VERY hard to change, many banks off the tourist track do not accept, so avoid the whole trouble by not taking any.
USE YOUR CREDIT CARD
Most stores in the bigger cities take credit cards, but not the majority when you’re in a small town. Also, stores are more willing to give you a small discount on price if you pay cash! MasterCard and VISA are the most commonly accepted cards. You will get a better exchange rate by using your credit card, as opposed to exchanging US dollars in Italy. Keep in mind that if you pay cash, you're more likely to get a discount in an independently owned store, if you ask for it. However, when you pay by credit card you'll be able to track your spending better and dispute a charge. Each credit card company has their own policy about international exchange rates and many may even add an international exchange fee on top of the exchange rate. Make sure you check with your bank or credit card company about their policy.
DON’T BRING CASH US DOLLARS
A note: use your credit card, use ATM machines (which in Italy are called “BANCOMAT”), but don’t exchange your cash dollars, unless it’s an emergency, because shops will give you a terrible rate and you’ll end up paying a commission. Stay away for the exchange booths in the Airports near train stations in the major cities. You will not find Money Change Shops in smaller cities and most smaller bank branches do not even have dollars on hand. Remember, can you just walk into any American bank and exchange for Euro's?
GET MONEY BACK BY ASKING FOR A TAX FREE FORM
A great way to save money is to fill out a “Tax Free Form”, which you can ask for in many retail shops around Italy. The 20% SALES TAX (VAT) is already INCLUDED in the merchandise that you are purchasing, so if an item is 10 Euros, that is what you’ll be paying at the register (tax is not added at time of payment like in the USA). You will need to fill out this form completely, with your address, passport number, and other personal information, but this is legal and controlled by the government.
The Italian government encourages foreigners to spend by refunding a little over 13% of the sales tax. In order to qualify there is a minimum purchase amount of 150 Euros, either as a single item or total purchase price of multiple items in one single store. By filling out the form and keeping the original receipt, you can present it and the tax form at the airport information desk at your departure airport. You will get roughly 13% refund of the tax you’ve paid on the reciepts you present. The refund is given as either cash (Euros or Dollars) or by crediting your credit card (this may take longer while the cash refund is instant). Note that this refund doesn’t apply to food expenses, restaurants, hotels, car rentals, and other tourist services.