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Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

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Weston, Connecticut
posts: 2,066
reviews: 9
Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

Here in the US I .never carry cash, everyplace, and I mean every place, takes my combo debit/credit card from the local library to pay a .25 fine, to taxis, to McDonald's for a $1.00 ice tea...so this is my question, can I get by in Italy with minimal or no cash like I do here, or is cash still required?

Is it different in cities vs. small towns? I live in a very small town here and I still get by without ever having to use cash.

If we do pay with debit/credit cards, how is the exchange rate factored?

Thanks!

Port Moody, Canada
posts: 1,175
reviews: 13
1. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

I too use my debit card/credit card almost exclusively here in Canada, however, in Italy I found we needed cash for many purchases. In speaking with my Italian cousins they said that they simply do not use credit cards the same way we do here, they are only used in "special" circumstances. Debit cards are used to withdraw money from the "bancomat". We went for a family dinner (approx 25 people) and my uncle was paying - he paid in cash.

Cincinnati, Ohio
posts: 3,057
reviews: 36
2. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

Yes, you can use your debit/credit card but cash will be required in some places. As far as fees, check with your card provider and find out how the exchange rate is calculated and what additional conversion fee is charged. An extra 3% is not unusual.

Additionally:

Let your card provider know when you are traveling so that your card will work. You don't want to get over there and have your card denied.

You also need know what is the daily cash limit on your card.

Check the website for your provider and look at the locations section. You should be able to find ATM/Cashpoint machines near your hotel.

You can also scroll down the topics in this forum and find lots of other posts about this topic.

I carry a debit only card that requires a PIN for day to day transactions. I only use my credit card for larger transactions.

New York City, New...
Destination Expert
for Rome, Amalfi
posts: 27,890
reviews: 10
3. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

I use credit cards each trip in Italy for everything except food in a cafe for breakfast, snacks (gelato, a piece of pizza, sandwich), a glass of wine in a bar, newspapers, taxis, bus tickets and inexpensive items I buy in a small shop.

I would say that I use credit cards for 85% of my spending there - I love my points and I always pay off my balance in full each month so I don't have interest charges, etc.

I use the ATM card for cash. Using the credit cards and ATM will give you the current intrabank currency exchange rate. You need to check with your bank to ask what they charge for currency exchange fees. You will not be charged a fee by any Italian bank when you use your ATM card but you will be charged by your bank.

Be sure to contact your bank(s) and inform them of your date and place of travel so their fraud program doesn't ding when charges and cash withdrawals appear outside of your normal spending area.

Weston, Connecticut
posts: 2,066
reviews: 9
4. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

Thank you, I'll let the bank know, I hadn't thought of that but it's a good suggestion.

I love the points too, that's why I never use cash...we got all 4 airline tickets for this trip from Amex points, so it really pays to use it.

Virginia
posts: 1,999
reviews: 188
5. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

Using a credit card for small purchases (at least in the US in my home city) is considered a bit rude. Especially to small business owners who have to pay fees for each transaction, a 25 cent purchase with a card where I'm from would get you a strange look at least - if not the clerk asking you to pay with cash.

Another thing you may want to consider when using a card overseas is security. I've been advised by many people on various forums on trip advisor to avoid using a card whenever possible. Things like hotels are fine... but in cafes and restaurants you never know if someone could take your card and swipe it and steal the number. That happened to my neighbor at a restaurant in venice last year - the waiter took her card and swiped it though his machine and then charged it from the restaurant. I think they caught him doing it to several others (all tourists).

Your bank may be different, but some I know of have a max withdrawal of $300 (about 249 Euro) so consider that too.

And like the others posted, if you don't contact the bank and credit card companies ahead of time that you are traveling, they can decline the card when they see transactions popping up in a short time from one side of the globe and then the other.

Edited: 2:05 pm, June 09, 2010
Kansas
Destination Expert
for Siena, Montalcino
posts: 3,474
reviews: 25
6. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

Renee59,

First, I don't know what a combo debit/credit card is. If you are borrowing money from a financial institution it is a credit card. If the money comes out of your account it is a debit card. I would never use a debit card for purchases on vacation. If the number is compromised your account can be wiped out. Yes you will probably eventually get your money back but by then your vacation is over.

Italian merchants will probably refuse to charge small purchases since the cost to them is more than their profit margin.

To answer your questions:

Cash is still required in Italy even some state run attractions don't take credit cards.

Tourist heavy towns are more likely to take credit cards. Off the beaten path towns are less likely to take cards.

The exchange rate is set by the network processing the transaction (MasterCard, Visa, etc.). The rate they use is very close to the interbank rate. Italian banks don't charge you for using their machines. All charges come from your bank.

Le Marche, Italy
Destination Expert
for Rome, Marche
posts: 33,131
reviews: 22
7. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

Credit cards are usually fine for restaurants and hotels, and for purchases of more than about 25 euros. People here just don't use credit cards for minor purchases, and merchants wouldn't be keen on accepting them for a few euros.

My Italian debit card (called a "bancomat" card in Italy) can be used for purchase in many shops, using a little hand reader that you punch the PIN into. I can use this card in supermarkets in the US, but I don't know if you can use the equivalent US card.

I try not to let the card out of my sight in unknown places. In a lot of places, especially larger restaurants, they have mobile processors for credit cards that the waiter brings to your table. Otherwise, after we get the bill, we take it to the cash register and pay with our credit card there. This is perfectly acceptable in Italy, and that way the credit card is never out of your sight.

Cincinnati, Ohio
posts: 3,057
reviews: 36
8. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

I don't particularly worry about using my debit card since: #1 It requires the use of a PIN and #2 there is a daily withdrawal limit. If it would get stolen, the thief would have to know the PIN to use it. Even if the thief had the PIN, I could cancel the card before the thief would get more than one days limit.

Kansas
Destination Expert
for Siena, Montalcino
posts: 3,474
reviews: 25
9. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

nancy,

You don't need a PIN to use a debit card. In a lot of places you just swipe it. Also there are phone and internet orders. Your daily limit is in two parts, purchases and cash withdrawal. For example you might have a 300 dollars cash withdrawal limit and a 3000 dollar purchase limit.

St Paul, MN
posts: 16,481
reviews: 6
10. Re: Debit/Credit cards in Italy?

My daughter uses her debit card for everything including the Mcdonalds (she's 23), but I don't use it for small purchases.

In Italy small shops and restaurants often don't take palstic of any kind in whihc case you would have top find and ATM and not go over the limit your bank was set on wtihdrawals.

The people at the Colosseum didn't take credit cards at least in 2006/2008 and not only that, they wanted exact change. you need coins or small bills (bill changer) for the pay bathrooms and the lights in the apses and side chaples in the churces in Rome. I expect a number of the otrhere museums don't tyake palstic either.

Most debit cards at least in the US can be used in the credit mode without the PIN.

I only use my debit card overaseas for the ATM. I use my credt card for everytheing else because credt cards have better fraud protection than debit cards do.