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ATM cards in Italy

Last month, we found that, apparently, only one Italian financial system would accept our ATM card. We tried multiple machines, probably amounting to three dozen over three weeks, in banks, streetside, wherever, machines with lots of different logos. We used the correct PIN, opted for the PLUS network when there was a choice, and asked for modest amounts, € 250-300. After several rejections at the start of our trip ("technical reasons," "can't be accomplished now," or similar), we had a travel note set, and that seemed to resolve things — a machine at a bank disgorged cash. But a few days later the machines started rejecting the card again. Our American bank's customer service center couldn't explain the rejections, so we resorted to advances against our credit card, and gnashed our teeth. Near the end of our trip, trying to complete a purchase from a cash-only artisan and with no currency exchange at hand, we again tried ATM machines. At the second one we tried, voila: cash for art. And it turned out that the machine was at an office (in Alba) of the same bank that had accepted the card earlier (in Milan). I'm not getting a satisfying explanation from my American bank: They're Italian banks and we don't control them. Nor am I finding online stories of limited usefulness in Italy of American ATM cards, either those issued by my bank or those of other financial companies. Some explanation would be helpful when we contemplate a second trip to Italy.

Posted by
20780 posts

That is very odd, I agree, and I wouldn't be happy with a non-answer, either, because I wouldn't want to have to go through that again on the next trip.

I wonder whether you may have been over the withdrawal limits of some of the ATMs you tried. I don't consider 250-300 euros particularly modest amounts. Did you ever try to get 200 euros or less? The bank can set whatever limit it wants, and I suppose it could conceivably be different at different ATMs belonging to the same bank--lower in touristy areas, for example, if there's concern the machine might run out of cash more often than it is scheduled to be replenished.

I've never had that sort of difficulty, and I've used a large number of ATMs in Europe (including Italy)--but my withdrawals are virtually always under 100 euros (I hate large bills). I did have a couple of odd experiences in Prague, times when I was offered and declined dynamic currency conversion, proceeded to the end of the transaction and was then told "Sorry, no." I wondered at the time whether the ATMs were set to dispense money only to those willing to accept the additional cost entailed with DCC transactions, but that's purely speculative on my part. I haven't read any reports from Italy that sounded like my Prague experiences.

Posted by
4866 posts

Soooo glad I use a credit union so I don't have to deal with this nonsense when I travel! Sorry you did. I've used my credit union ATM or debit card at machines in a dozen European countries including Italy in May. Glad I've never had to hunt for an ATM machine that would work! They all have, with a few rare exceptions (and who knows if that was me or just that particular ATM not working)?

Posted by
5766 posts

I assume your daily limit is above the amount you were requesting? But my thoughts are as previously mentioned, you may have been exceeding the limit of the machine. It is common for ATMs in Italy to limit withdrawals to something less than 250 euro.

Posted by
6500 posts

My friend who traveled to Italy last month could not get his credit-union debit card to work at any bankomats, and yes, he called the CU before travel. So I don't think the link to a CU has any significance.

A question to the OP: you said this was an ATM card. Are you distinguishing that from a pure debit card? I understand some financial institutions offer ATM cards that have different restrictions from a debit card. You talked to someone at a local branch of your bank, I presume? I'd call the customer service or fraud number on the back of your card and hear what they can see. I dont trust anyone at my local branch to have any experience or understanding of foreign travel issues.

My debit card has worked 90% of the time, and often its because I'm asking for too much cash at one time. Just like here, the machine restricts the amount of cash they give out in one transaction when its running low on cash. My withdrawal limit is $300, so 300€ is over that limit. sometimes I can get that much and sometimes not.

Posted by
2698 posts

I make 1 or 2 trips to Europe per year. Most are to Italy. Since 2004 I have both a checking account and credit card with Capital One since neither charges foreign exchange or service fees. I have never had a problem at any ATM machine using the debit card or with any merchant using the credit card. If your card is strictly an ATM vs. debit card, that may cause problems. As far as withdrawals go, I usually get between €250 and €350 with no!problems.

Posted by
4336 posts

Oh, that’s such an annoying situation! We’ve had some rejected ATM transactions in Italy but have been either able to eventually find one that works, or the first one worked with our second ATM card. It’s the reason why I purchased 300 Euro from our home bank before I traveled solo last year to Italy - just in case.

This year I brought my Capital One ATM card to France, and it worked every time at their “Credit Mutuel” Banks, so I didn’t even have to try my other bank ATM card.

Here’s some info from a site dated Jan. 2019 that may account for some of your rejected transactions:
Italian ATM Regulations
At the time of writing, a maximum withdrawal limit of 250 Euro is imposed at most Italian Bancomats. Make sure your card can handle at least this amount in dollars. Remember, larger withdrawals are cheaper in the long run, especially if your bank imposes a per transaction charge.

Posted by
4336 posts

I’ll look through my 2018 Italy ATM receipts and see which banks I used, if that will help.

EDIT: I see three transactions during my three weeks there. I used my Key Bank ATM card for all of these:

Two were through the BNL Gruppo BNP Paribas - both 250 Euro. These occurred at Verona and Montepulciano.
One was through Banco Popolare Gruppo Bancario for 150 Euro. That occurred at Lucca.

Posted by
21644 posts

I would guess that it had to be a problem with your cards and not a wide spread issue for everyone. Two weeks ago we had just arrived in Haarlem in the Netherlands where we tried an ING terminal and both cards were rejected. That did cause a little panic because that has never happen to us before. The one card was a credit union and the other card a bank account. However, the next day both cards worked in Amsterdam at a local bank ATM. Later the credit union card worked fine in Germany and Budapest.

I am curious when you stated --- opted for the PLUS network when there was a choice --- we have never been given a choice of networks. That seems a little odd. Also, you used the phrase -- ATM card -- was it an true ATM card or a debit card? I could see an ATM card being reject since ATM cards are very common anymore.

PS -- From the time stamps -- we are all cross posting with the same thought -- Is it an ATM card and not a debit card??? By any chance was it a pre-paid "so called" debit card. Having a choice of networks is a red flag for something that is not standard.

Posted by
508 posts

There seems to be a limit of €250 that can be withdrawn using your ATM card in Italy. Why I do not know. I looked back my ATM transactions from trip to Italy in 2016 and we only withdrew €250 in Rome and €200 in Pisa. One question is how much did you try to withdraw?

Posted by
5772 posts

...asked for modest amounts, € 250-300.

I spent about 12 days in Italy about 5 years ago but only needed to use an ATM for cash once on arrival at VCE. Credit cards worked in Italy. The airport ATM cash machine rejected my request for 300 EUR but worked when I reduced my request to 200 EUR.

ATMs have two limits. Your financial institution's daily limit (denominated in your home currency) and the ATM machine operator's machine limit (denominated in local currency). The 300 EUR rquested of the VCE airport ATM exceeded the ATM's limit while 200 EUR was acceptable. Lesson may be what is a "modest amount" to the card holder may be excessive to the ATM operator.

Posted by
2 posts

Wow. Thanks for all the information and advice, and so quickly. This first-time forum participant is mighty impressed.
It is a true ATM card, not a debit card, and the daily limit is above what we tried to withdraw. We use the card regularly, domestically and abroad; it was no sweat in England and France.
Perhaps the € 250 limit imposed by some Italian financial institutions was somehow in play, but most of our attempts were for amounts that the machines offered. That is, we didn't generally try to specify the amount but rather used the screen or a button to ask for a withdrawal indicated on the screen. And I did try one withdrawal of € 100, as a test; perhaps I should have tried more such and done more exhaustive research. In any case, the machine wouldn't spit out € 100.
At least one machine offered two options for an ATM Network. I recall that the other was Interlink, but my online research suggests that I may not be remembering that correctly.
For the record, the bank where we successfully withdrew money from ATMs in the lobbies was Intesa Sanpaolo, a biggie, or so I read online. The amounts were greater than € 250.
My solution will be to establish an account at another financial institution in advance of the next trip and get a second ATM card, one others have used successfully in Italy. And I will have a list of the branch offices of Intesa Sanpaolo on my phone. (We would have sought out that bank for ATM withdrawals throughout our journey, but it didn't dawn on me until the second trip to one of its offices, near the end of our three weeks, that only one institution would honor the ATM card. I recall thinking as I approached the Intesa Sanpaolo office in Alba, "Well, this looks familiar ...")
A second ATM card will not be a happy solution since the American company I have used exclusively for years for my banking business is a decent one, as banks go, and has generally excellent customer service. But it's likely to lose a little bit of my business when we return to Italy. Thanks to all who suggested alternatives. I'll be exploring them.