Heading to Italy? You can compare a range of different travel money options in this guide to find the right one for you before you go. We compare prepaid travel cards, debit and credit cards with travel perks as well as options for buying foreign cash, and outline the pros and cons of each.
We've also outlined how much you can expect to pay for standard items while you're in Italy to help with your travel money planning, and ensure you have enough money for all that pizza and gelato!
Compare your travel money options
In Italy, you'll likely find that a combination of a credit, debit or prepaid travel money card and some cash would work best as you navigate between restaurants, taxis, hotels and street food.
High summer season premiums will add to the cost of an Italian trip, but the cost of living and travel varies depending on where you are in the country. In smaller towns, especially in the South, Italy is surprisingly affordable. In the middle of the country and the north and especially in touristic places like Rome, Venice and Milan, it can be expensive. If you go to Italy during high season (late June, July and August) expect to pay a premium for everything. Off-season, prices drop dramatically.
Find out some typical Roman holiday prices
Camping in Rome
$12 per night
2 Star hotel in Rome $70 - $140 per night
5 star hotel in Rome $180 - $600 per night
Trapizzino: $5 Sandwich: $4 - $6
Dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant with wine $80
5 star restaurant $100 - $600
Colosseum entry $17
Rome and Colosseum 1/2 Day Walking Tour $70
Imperial Rome golf cart tour $180
*Prices are for example purposes only.
Exchange rate history
Following a period of instability during the global financial crisis, one Australian dollar has been worth about 0.65 to 0.70 euro cents. Predicting the movements of the currency pair is difficult at best. You can lock in the exchange rate on a travel card if you believe euros will be more expensive to buy in the future.
Average annual exchange Australian Dollar (AUD) to Euro (EUR)
*Exchange rates are accurate as of 3 September 2017
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 branded card in Italy without issue, American Express card charge a higher surcharge and are accepted in fewer places. You can use your card to pay for train tickets, souvenirs at gift shops, hotels, trattorias (Italian eateries), restaurants and more. The range of merchants which accept cards is similar to Australia. You'll need cash to pay for street food, taxis, to pay tour guides and for purchases under €10 - €20, for example, so avoiding the international ATM transaction fee should be a factor when you're comparing options.
A quick summary of travel money options in Italy
Travel money option
Debit cards for travel
Protected by PIN & chip
Using your debit card overseas offers the convenience of having access to your own money, without needing a separate 'travel account'.
The right debit card will give you cheap and convenient access to cash.
Compare and choose carefully — the wrong debit card can charge you excessively.
International ATM charges on most everyday transaction accounts are extremely high.
Not a credit product. No emergency funds available though a cash advance facility.
Prepaid travel money cards
Pre-load Euro and spend in Italy without incurring fees for currency conversion
Protected by PIN & chip
Emergency card replacement and backup cards
Reloadable with your own money to help you keep track of your spending
While travel cards do not charge for international transactions (currency conversion fees), you may still be charged for ATM withdrawals.
Reload fees could be high
Foreign exchange rates are usually less competitive than other personal finance products.
Credit cards for travel
Protected by PIN & chip
Access to funds up to your credit limit
No currency conversion/ transaction fees
Interest free days when you pay your account in full
Travel-friendly features, like complimentary travel insurance and car rental excess cover
Emergency card replacement
Can charge high withdrawal and cash advance fees
Higher spending limit (depends on your approved credit limit)
Attracts an annual fee
Secure and can be easily replaced if lost or stolen
Photo I.D. needed to cash cheques
Many banks in Italy will refuse to cash traveller's cheques.
Can be costly with initial purchase charges
Greater payment flexibility
More difficult to manage expenses
Higher risk of theft
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 in Italy
Using prepaid travel money cards
Preload a travel card with euros and spend in euros and you'll avoid the fees that usually go hand in hand with international purchases. Compare these cards by their ATM fees, initial load and reload fees. Most ATMs in Italy don't charge an ATM operator fee, by choosing a product which waives the international ATM withdrawal fee, you can access your money at Italian bancomat machines and spend over the counter without paying any additional fees or charges.
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 debit cards
Travel friendly debit cards waive the 3% fee for currency conversion when you transact in euros. Unlike travel cards, there's no need to manage exchanging foreign currency before you spend and the card scheme (Visa or Mastercard) daily exchange rate applies. This is usually the most competitive rate you can get on a personal finance product (credit card transactions in a foreign currency also use this rate).
The Citibank Plus Transaction Account is currently the only travel friendly debit product on offer in Australia. This travel debit account waives the fee for currency conversion, you won't pay for international ATM withdrawals and there is no monthly charge to keep the account. Use this product to make cash withdrawals from Italian bank ATMs (Italian bank ATMs don't charge for withdrawals) and you can access cash in Italy for roughly the same price you would at home.
Tip: Italy has been slower to adopt contactless technology than France, Germany and U.K. However, you can use your CHIP debit card to make contactless payments at Italian supermarkets, i.e. Carrefour, Auchan, Spar etc., fast food chains like Mcdonald's, some restaurants and bars. Merchants in Italy allow contactless payments of just a couple of euros.
Tip: You can use a debit card with a magnetic strip in Italy. However, 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 credit cards
Credit cards offer up to 55 days interest-free on purchases when you pay your balance in full by the statement due date. This gives you time to make purchases without paying any interest. Credit cards also offer perks such as complimentary international travel insurance and purchase protection insurance, which is money that would have been an out of pocket expense.
Credit cards which waive the fee for currency conversion can be used over the counter for purchases and you won't pay any additional fees. There are credit cards that don't charge for international ATM withdrawals. Cash advance charges and interest apply when you use your card at an ATM — a cash advance should be avoided if you're conscious of saving on unnecessary charges. So you might want to use a debit card or travel card to withdraw from ATMs instead.
Tip: Make sure you tell your bank about your travel plans in Italy and Europe. Your card provider may put a block on your account if they see a transaction in another country.
Using traveller's cheques
Traveller's cheques have been replaced by prepaid travel money cards. Many banks in Italy will refuse to cash traveller's cheques, so don't bother with this travel money product. Make bancomat (ATM) withdrawals instead.
Taking cash with you
Italy is a cash based society compared to other major economies in Europe, Australia and North America. You can still use your card in almost as many places as you would in Australia 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.
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 finished his Italian adventure with the Colosseum and Vatican City in Rome.
What cards did you take with you?
Frank says he took these cards on his trip through Europe.
Bankwest. Frank uses Bankwest for his day to day banking in Australia.
Qantas Transaction Account. The Bankwest Qantas Transaction Account racks up the points both at home and abroad, although he didn't use the card in Europe, he took it as his backup in case something happened to the Citibank Plus Visa Debit Card.
Qantas Platinum Mastercard. He used the Bankwest Qantas Platinum Mastercard for over the counter purchases when he could, it rewarded him with 0.75 Qantas Points per Aussie dollar spent. This card also gave him free travel insurance when he paid for his return airfare to Europe. He paid his credit card from his Bankwest Transaction Account so he could make the most of the card's interest free days.
Citibank. The Citibank Plus Transaction Account gave Frank free ATM withdrawals when he needed cash from the ATM. Citibank didn't charge for currency conversion or for international ATM withdrawals, and bank ATMs don't charge an operator fee like ATMs in Australia. This meant that Frank was able to use the Citi Plus Visa Debit Card for cheap cash withdrawals when he needed cash (he says you will need cash in Italy). He made a BPAY payment to the Citi card from his Bankwest transaction account when he needed to top up his travel budget. It took a couple of days for the payment to clear.
Where could you use your cards?
Frank says that he was able to use his card for most purchases over €20. He stopped at small cafes for coffee, bars for beer and some small hole in the restaurants quite often, these establishments were cash only.
Did you use ATMs?
Frank says he made cash withdrawals frequently in Italy. Italian bancomats don't charge a fee to use the machine and his Citi Visa Debit Card gave him free international ATM withdrawals (and no charge for currency conversion) so he wasn't too concerned about making multiple withdrawals over the length of his stay in Italy.
Frank had read on the net that he might have had problems using his card to withdraw cash in Italy. He didn't have a problem in Milan, Madrid or Rome.
What is your travel money recommendation for Italy?
Frank says you can't go wrong using the Citibank Plus Transaction Account in Italy and Europe.
Do you have any travel money tips for Italy?
Cash prices. Frank says it can be surprising how the price can drop if you choose to pay cash over card. He says always ask how much if you pay cash at restaurants and when you're buying bulk.
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 main 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. Like most things, prices are cheaper the further your book in advance.
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 taking more than €10,000. You have the following options for purchasing euros in Australia.
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 a couple of dollars better off in the long run. Non-bank providers like Travelex also have locations at major Australian 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 bancomats and do not charge a local ATM operator fee, avoid using independent ATMs. These third party ATMs charge like a wounded bull and you can usually find these machines alongside bank ATMs. It will be obvious which ATMs are affiliated with a bank and which aren't.
Italian bank ATMs generally have a maximum withdrawal limit somewhere between €250 - €300 per day and you can select English as a language option when you insert your card.
Tip: Westpac cardholders (that's Westpac, St.George, Bank of Melbourne and BankSA) can avoid the international ATM withdrawal fee by using BNP Paribas ATMs in Italy.
Find cash and ATMs in Italy
Why you'll need a combination of travel money options
A combination of the products compared on this page is the best approach to taking travel money to Italy. It's advised that you take more than one way to withdraw cash as there have been anecdotal reports Italian ATMs can be temperamental with foreign cards. You don't want to be caught without access to your money in the event a card is lost or stolen.
There are few destinations that evoke history and romance quite like Italy. It's no surprise then, that Italy is one of the planet's most visited countries in the world. Every year, tourists flock to Italy to enjoy themselves among some of the finest and longest living monuments to human civilisation; revel in the richness of it's art and culture, and eat and drink to their heart's content. Make your holiday 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.
The thought of taking out travel insurance can be a bit of buzzkill if your planning an Italian getaway but it is still critical to get the right cover in place. It doesn't matter how cautious you are while travelling, nobody is exempt from the risk of suffering losses while travelling. Travel insurance can offer financial protection against such losses as;
Trip cancellation charges
Medical emergencies including evacuation and hospital stay
Car rental excess cover
Use the form below to compare travel insurance quotes from a range of insurers. Get access to exclusive coupon codes.
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