Currency -Italy-when and where to convert to Euros?

When we travel to Tuscany, Italy--our first trip to Europe-- what is the best way to obtain foreign currency? We want a total of $2000 US dollars converted to Euros, but can only pull out $500 per day at an ATM. It seems like ATMs are the cheapest route, but we are concerned we won't be near any in rural Tuscany after we land, and at arrival we can only pull out $500 that day at the airport. Our plan is to start with $1000 US dollars converted to Euros, then take $500 out on arrival, and obtain another $500 if necessary.
Any other comments or suggestions? Thank you for your help.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7958 posts

How darn much can you spend in one day? Every town and village will have an ATM. I'm comfortable arriving with zip zero. Having five or ten is handy in case there's a coffee stand in the airport that's ten steps closer than the cash machine.

Posted by BG
Albany, CA, USA
1409 posts

I agree with Ed. Have some Euros with you when you arrive to pay for taxi, bus etc. if you can't get to an ATM right away. Then use ATMs regularly. You should have no trouble finding them. I don't particularly like the idea of having a large amount of cash, but whatever works for you.

Posted by steve
troy, ny
152 posts

I purchased Euro from AAA prior to my trip. I then made 3 withdrawals while in Spain. One thing I learned: I tried to take out $500 from the first ATM and it said the transaction could not be processed. When I tried the next machine it told me my daily limit was only $400 and I didn't have a problem again.
Don't forget to notify your bank of travel dates and countries. They might decline a transaction thinking it is fraudulent if not notified in advance.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17728 posts

Lisa, I agree with the others. Using ATM's (Bancomats) is the easiest way to obtain cash in Italy (or anywhere else in Europe). I'd suggest taking along €100-200 for expenses during travel (meals, coffee, Taxi fare, etc.), and then obtaining cash as needed from ATM's. DON'T use the currency exchange places at airports, as their rates are usually terrible. Note that travel funds must usually be in a chequing account with a four number PIN. Funds will typically access your "primary account" and you can check with your Bank on which one that is. ATM's in Europe don't usually provide a choice between chequing or savings (although I've seen a few lately that do). BE SURE to notify all your Banks and credit card firms prior to travel. You may also want to review your daily withdrawal limit at that time (although European Banks may supersede the limit set by your Bank). I'd also highly recommend packing along a "backup" ATM card in case of problems with your primary card (I've had that happen). Buon Viaggio!

Posted by Lisa
Carmichael, CA, USA
2 posts

Thank you all for being so candid-we really appreciate the feedback and advice from all. Good to know the ATMs are all around. Thank you to Ken yes, we did phone the bank and we are taking a back up card. Ed you cracked me up. Yes $500 may sound like a lot for one dayactually the first 300-500 euros will be used to pay for two nights at an agriturismo and two dinners. Other travelers on Trip Advisor warned us that where we are staying is fabulous BUT we must pay in euros not with a credit card. That may or not be true but I wanted to be prepared. Thank you Kenwe did phone the bank and are taking a back up card as well. Also we will be driving a rental car everywhere directly from the Florence airport to where we are staying at diferent locations in Tuscany and then on to Venice, Rome, Cinque Terre, etc for day trips so I was including expenses for road/freeway tolls, museums, sites, parking, gas, some lunch/breakfast meals, etc for a total of ten days. Maybe more than I think can be put on our credit card since it has no foreign transaction fee. Think we may need less cash than expected? Thoughts? We would also need train fare if we drive part way to train stations for our day trips, and then take trains the rest of the way to those larger cities.
In fact, what would you all advise? Driving our rental car all the way to Venice, Rome, etc.... or driving part way and then taking a train the remainder of the way to avoid hassle? Sorry this question should maybe be another post. Any other advice is appreciated. Thanks again!

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11257 posts

If you do need Euro immediately when you arrive, more than you can get from the ATM, get it in advance from Wells Fargo. There are Wells Fargo banks all over California, and they charge just 5% (average) over the Interbank rate (note: major banks will charge you 4% (3% Curr. Exch. plus $5, which is >1% of $500) over the Interbank rate for ATM withdrawals).

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17728 posts

Lisa, As you're planning on using a rental car, a few comments...... It's important to note that for driving in Italy, each driver must have the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. These are valid for one year, and easily obtained at any CAA/AAA office (two Passport-sized photos required, which in some cases are provided by the issuing office). Failure to produce an IDP if requested can result in fines on the spot! Have a look at This Website for more detailed information on driving in Italy. You may also want to search other Posts here regarding the Zona Traffico Limitato areas that are becoming increasingly prevalent in many towns in Italy (especially Florence!). EACH PASS through one of the automated Cameras there will result in a €100+ ticket! Smaller towns use local Police to issue ZTL tickets. In some locations, parking tickets or having "The Boot" applied will also be a concern. A GPS along with a good Map would also be a good idea. Be sure to also give some thought to the question of CDW. It's usually compulsory in Italy to accept the CDW offered by the rental firm. Some "premium" credit cards provide rental vehicle insurance, however this may not be valid in Italy. Check the Car Rental section in Europe Through The Back Door for further information. You may wish to download the car rental guide offered by Gemut. Also, a car won't be of any use in the C.T. Your best bet is to park at the station in La Spezia and use the local trains. Cheers!

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2374 posts

I think your plan to get $1000 here in the US and then the rest from ATMs is a good one. You'll pay between $50-75 in fees/rate to get the cash ahead, which is pretty minor compared to the cost of your trip. As noted above, Wells Fargo tends to be the cheapest place to get euro, but check your bank's rates and fees. Keep in mind that even if your bank allows up to $500 a day in withdraws, the ATM itself might have a lessor limit. So you might have to make a couple withdraws from different machines to get your total. Make sure one of you uses a money belt system to store the cash you bring.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11257 posts

When I went to rural Germany in 2002, I was concerned about Cirrus (MC) ATM locations. My bank had a big book showing all of the Cirrus locations, by town, in Germany (in Europe, probably). Don't know if they still do this, but it wouldn't hurt to ask. I think you are more likely to find ATMs than you are to find accommodations that take credit cards.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

I try to put every possible purchase on my Capital One credit card, as they don't rip you off on the exchange rate (like many other credit card issuers.) We always find bank ATM's (bankomats) in every Italian airport and train station, and that's where I make a withdrawal in Euros. As previously mentioned, there are ATM's in virtually every Tuscan village and in every large grocery store. When traveling through Tuscany, we really didn't go through that much cash as was being taken above. There again, we're relatively frugal travelers. I have had to make special withdrawals to pay for rooms in agritursimos, however.
And toward the end of the trip, we will ration out our money so we'll come home with less than $20. To get leftover Euros transferred back into U.S. dollars would cost a lot at an exchange or at a local U.S. bank.

Posted by Tim
Minneapolis, MN, USA
8639 posts

Will your agriturismo accept a bank draft in euro? If so, open an account with XE Trade. Money will be taken from your checking account by electronic transfer and a bank draft in the currency of your choice will be made payable to the entity of your choice. The exchange rate will be only slightly higher than the international rate on the day the transaction is initiated (much cheaper than buying euro at a US bank). There are no fees. You can have the draft mailed to the agriturismo or mailed to your home address so you can hand it over in person when you get to Italy. Using XE Trade has worked very well for me. For security reasons it takes a little time and effort to set up an account, but everything goes swiftly and smoothly after that. I bank with Wells Fargo. Since WF charges $5 for every foreign ATM withdrawal, I limit the number of withdrawals I make by having my daily withdrawal limit raised to $1000 when I go to Europe. Maybe I was just lucky, but when I was in Germany and Italy in August I had no trouble getting €500 (approximately $690) whenever I made an ATM withdrawal. Even though we have a joint WF checking account, my wife and I have different account numbers for our ATM cards. This means that we each have our own daily withdrawal limit. If we had needed to, we could have withdrawn the equivalent of $2000 in a single day.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10851 posts

..... my Capital One credit card, as they don't rip you off on the exchange rate (like many other credit card issuers.) ..... At best that is a misleading statement and at worse it is completely false. ALL credit card transactions with either VISA or Mastercharge will given you exactly the same exchange rate since the exchange rate is set by the network - Plus, Cirrus. What will vary is the additional fees that are added by some credit card issuers. That can range from 0% to 3 or 4% of additional fees. For some CapitalOne credit cards, the additional fees are zero.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3305 posts

There is a bancomat at the Florence airport. I bet that between the place where you pick your car and the agriturismo you will pass in front of so many banks that you won't know which one to use. Italy has the highest concentration of bank branches in Europe: about 60 bank branches every 100,000 people, i.e. three times as many as in the UK. Believe it or not there are many more bank branches in Italy than churches. So don't worry about not being able to get your euros.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11257 posts

""the exchange rate is set by the network - Plus, Cirrus According to what I just read on the Internet, that rate is set a follows: 1. If no currency conversion is required, the fee is 0.8%, and is a charge for the network handling the transaction between banks. 2. If currency conversion is required, the fee is 1%. I think the 0.8% is applied even if the transaction is in the same country, but between different banks. Some banks absorb this fee as a service to their customers. Wells Fargo allows two "fee free" transactions per calendar month for certain account types. My friend's credit union passes the 1% fee on to her. Most major banks, those with foreign currency operations, pay the foreign banks in foreign currency and pass the 0.8% transaction fee on to their customers as a flat charge (WF charges $5 for a "foreign transaction". ie, not from a Wells Fargo ATM), then add 3% for doing their own currency conversion, or at least 4% total on a $500- withdrawal. BTW, my friend purchased some clothing in Munich at Kaufhof. We used my United Explorer credit card since they charge only the straight Interbank exchange rate. The store's receipt gave me two options, the first the price in Euro, the second in dollars, at their conversion rate of 1.40 $/€ (The Interbank rate that day was under 1.36 $/€).

Posted by Allen
Lafayette, LA
194 posts

I went to Italy last year and arrived with zero euros and zero dollars. Thankfully, I did have a couple of debit and credit cards or it would have been one bad trip.

Posted by George
Canada
815 posts

"The store's receipt gave me two options, the first the price in Euro, the second in dollars..." That's what's referred to as dynamic conversion and you want to stay away from that BIG TIME - always take the charge in the currency of the country you're in.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11257 posts

I had heard a lot about dynamic conversion and was not tempted to bite, it's just that this was the first time I had actually encountered it (of course, it was the first time, except in ticket automats, that I've used a credit card in Europe). Mostly I've heard of it in conjunction with Paris restaurants; this was a department store in Munich. I know that many cards will charge you the 3% or so currency exchange fee even if the charge is in USD, so, in essence, you'll get charged twice, once by the business and again by your card company, but my United Explorer card has no fees (the reason I used it for the purchase, in Euro).