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ATM and MC/Visa use in Italy

I've just read an article talking about how a lot of European countries are now accepting only cards with a PIN number. We have Mastercard but we don't have a PIN number here in the US. We also have Amex and an ATM card and are planning on either Mastercard or ATM for cash, purchases, etc. My friend who is traveling with us has purchased American Express Travelers Checks. Can anyone tell me which is the best for Italy?

Posted by
805 posts

Traveler's checks are very hard to use. I would say that probably the best is VISA/MC, which are pretty much widely accepted. Amex less so.

Posted by
7737 posts

You will need a four-number PIN (not letters) to use your ATM card at an ATM machine in Italy. You don't need any such thing to use a Mastercard/VISA for purchase. Travelers Checks are very hard to use in Italy as very few places will accept them.

Posted by
6898 posts

It used to be so fashionable to travel with travelers cheques around the world but not anymore. In Europe, most places won't take them as they have to take them down to the their bank. They would much rather have your credit card. For cash, the ATM is king. I would suggest that you never use your credit card for cash as it's a loan and you start paying interest from day one. With the ATM card, it's your cash even though you will most likely pay an ATM fee. For credit cards, the AMEX card is least desireable as they charge the highest fees to merchants. Visa or Mastercard credit cards are the best. Please don't get talked into traveler's cheques.

Posted by
23250 posts

Larry put it nicely, I will be more blunt. Traveler check are nearly worthless especially if they are in US dollars. Forgery is the problem. Anyone with a computer and cheap printer can make a good looking travelers check. The AM Exp office, of course, will cash them IF there is an office in town and a bigger IF, if you can find it.

The Am Exp card is not widely accepted except at high end shops and 5 star hotels. Visa with a Plus or Cirrus symbol is the most frequently accepted card. Get two !! The money is BEST handled via Visa/Mastercard credit cards and debit cards for cash. Anything else is more complicated and more expensive.

Posted by
255 posts


Make sure if using your Mastercard or Visa credit card, that the merchant understands that you have an American credit card. European credit cards have a chip in them that ours do not have and you indeed have to have a 4 digit pin to use them. Merchants in Italy will have to do the regular "swipe" of the strip on your credit card to make it work.

Posted by
6 posts

Two questions. One person says no PIN to use credit card and the other says a PIN is needed. Could it be the type of place such as a restaurant, hotel, shop where the card is being used that some want a PIN and some don't?

Also, what is the fee that banks in Italy charge for using the ATM card?

Posted by
495 posts

Al; the Italian bank will not charge you a fee,your bank may charge you an "out of network" fee (this will be detailed in your account T&C's) and you will almost certainly be charge a currency conversion fee by the ATM network.

You only need a PIN to use your CC if it has a chip in it. You'll be able to see the chip if your card has one - it is a gold square about 1cm^2. US banks do not issue chipped cards AFAIK. If you card doesn't have a chip then VISA/Mastercard requires the merchant to let you swipe and sign. You may encounter a poorly trained cashier who doesn't know how to accept a swipe card - depending on how many foreigners they see - but it shouldn't be too much of an issue.

The places you might have a problem are automated payment machines, petrol station pay-at-the-pump machines, ticket machines etc.

Posted by
2026 posts

When we were in Holland this Spring we discovered that we needed a PIN to use our credit card to buy train tickets from the machines. When dealing "live" with merchants, no PIN was required. A phone call to the bank upon our return got us PINS and we are ready for Italy next week. My bank gave me what I thought was good advice: Use the debit card for ATM activities and the credit card for any other purchases; one unscrupulous waiter or merchant can access all your accounts with your debit card whereas the credit card limits liability in cases of fraud or theft. The Europeans seem more inclined to cash than we are and often tack on surchages for credit card use in hotels, etc. Plan on ATM cash for most daily use, get a neckpouch for safekeeping and have a good time.

Posted by
93 posts

Denny's right on the money...use your debit only at the atm with your pin number...use your credit card Italy last year we had no problems using either. We only stopped for cash one time and did so because of the guard with the machine gun standing outside the bank!! Never felt so safe accessing an atm before!!!

Posted by
110 posts

Open up a capital one money market account. We did this and there were No Fees. None! It is very easy to set-up and there are no restrictions other than $500 per day.

Posted by
466 posts

Do not, I repeat do not take travellers cheques!!! Your friend is looking for trouble. Most places will not take them and the exchange rate on them is very high (if cashed in a bank you will pay a huge exchange rate). Get rid of the travellers cheques and take an ATM card. You get the best rate!!!!! Just use the ATM card at any machine as you would here in the States. Have fun!!!!!