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Buying euro before leaving for Italy

My mother & I will be taking a tour in Italy next month. I know we can use the ATM's in there to withdraw $$ in Euro but wonder if I should buy all or just some euro in the U.S. before leaving.... not sure which way would give a better currency conversion rate ??? I would appreciate any input. Thanks much, Melanie

Posted by
14003 posts

The currency rates are always better in the country of the local currency. I have not yet had a problem getting euros at the train station or airport on arrival. If worse comes to worst, you can always change some cash dollars when you arrive. The bigger issue is how much you are going to pay in fees for ATM withdrawals. Some issuers take a flat fee ($5 is normal), others take a percentage (1%-3%) but often have a minimum fee or a flat fee and percentage. Even then, it's usually cheaper to wait until you land, but you will then be taking large sums to minimize the fees. If you have time, open a Capital One money market account and get an ATM card for it. No fees, very good conversion rates - been using mine for several years.

Posted by
9447 posts

It is comforting to have a few euros in your pocket on arrival for coffee, bathrooms (carry some small euro coins!) and your first bus, train or taxi fare. We bought 200 euros before we left the US, paying more for the privelege. Once you are on the ground in Italy, use the ATMs as suggested for the best exchange rate. Capital One and Charles Schwab both have zero fee debit cards. Worth opening an account. Don't forget to tell your bank you will be in Europe!

Posted by
1003 posts

I would buy some, maybe 100-200 as Laurel said. I personally cannot imagine flying 6000 miles and having NO cash. i can't imagine walking down the street and having NO cash, quite frankly, but I digress. You won't get a good rate here pretty much no matter what, but the point of buying a few euros in the States is convenience, so really if you 'waste' 5-10 dollars in convenience fees and bad exchange, it's worth the peace of mind. Of course, then when you're there you do the ATM thing as you said, but what I've gotten into the habit of doing is bringing home 200 or so euros at the end of a trip and then putting them away.... then I am all set for the next time - because there is always a next time!! :)

Posted by
20686 posts

It is fairly simple. Under the best conditions you can obtain Euro in the US for about 5% over the interbank rate and could be as high as 8 to 10% depending on where you get the Euro. In Europe, under the worst conditions you can obtain Euro for 3% plus a withdraw fee (determined by your card issuer) via a debit card and a local ATM. And if you can the correct debit card the fees can be as low as zero. Therefore, it will always be cheaper and more convenient to obtains Euro using a debit card at a local ATM.

Posted by
44 posts

I would agree with the others who have posted here. I would add though that the ATMs in Italy are not as reliable as those in the states. In Rome, we have several instances where the machine was not working or, in one case, it was there one day and gone the next! Don't wait until the last minute to get the cash you needthink ahead and you should be fine. On my next trip, I will follow the advice that you have been given here. On my first trip, was meeting my daughter in Florence but flying into Rome. I landed, caught the train to Florence and checked into our B&B without a Euro to my name! By the time my daughter arrived, I was ready for her to buy my lunch!

Posted by
515 posts

When I arrived at CDG to transfer to Italy, I expected to use an ATM to get a supply of € for the taxi from FCO to the hotel. One ATM was empty, others were off line. No problem, I used an ATM at FCO. But it taught me a lesson not to rely on ATMs unless there are plenty of them to fall back on (like in cities). So I buy €100 at home just to be certain that I can get to my hotel no matter what.

Posted by
252 posts

When we made our reservations,all the hotels wanted cash. Many of the museums wanted cash, I'd read too many bad things about trying to get money in the airport when you were tired, and off your guard. And, with our first stop in Venice loaded with activities, I didn't want to wander around looking for an ATM. So, I took three different ATM cards-including Capital ONE-and check your PIN #s. And I bought Euros from AAA and then I bought Euro coins from local professors so I had change. We actually took about 1600 Euros-split into many different areas of our bodies. Never had a problem. It was way easier than finding ATMs that looked secure and worked with American cards.

Posted by
4356 posts

Melanie, drop into a Wells Fargo and ask about buying Euro from them; check on their website about locations that sell international currency. If you aren't a customer, there may be a $5 charge (last time I checked). You can purchase any denomination you want, so you aren't stuck with €100 bills. Last several times I've checked, their rates were the best out there. I'd get a few hundred or so Euro (depending on the number of people with you - taxi fare, snacks, metro tickets, train tickets, etc.), then when you return hang onto the same amount. Keep some change on your return, too, for the toilets!!! As stated, unless your ATM cards are a really bad deal, they will be the best you can do. Buying all of your Euro here isn't a good deal.

Posted by
252 posts

You may want to keep in mind that the lowest denomination of bill is 5 Euros and also that ATM's like to spit 50's at you. Small bills and coins can be nice and some places will tell you that they don't have change-even when you can see their till is full.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you all so much for sharing your experience, tips & advice!!! I have called the credit union where I am a member. They said there is a 1% conversion fee and no ATM fee using my ATM check card; however, the ATM at my destination may charge a fee (could be flat per transaction or percentage of the withdrawal amount). We signed up for a guided tour and was told that transportation from the airport to the hotel is included in the package price. I do hope that I won't need to hail a taxi at FCO airport. I will take your advice on buying 200 euros in the US because flying into a foreign country without cash is nerve wrecking. Will get bills in smaller denominations. Not a member of Wells Fargo but definitely will drop in to check with them. I also compared conversion rate between Wells Fargo & Bank of America, and BOA has a slightly better rate. Will check with Capitol One. Again, thanks very much & hope everyone is having a great weekend! Melanie

Posted by
14003 posts

Italian ATM's don't charge a fee. There's usually an ATM in the airport baggage claim area, sometimes I get local currency while waiting for the luggage. If you withdraw an amount that isn't divisible by 50, you should get some smaller bills. You can also ask for change at the foreign exchange desks.

Posted by
24 posts

No. The Italian ATM's DO charge a fee. You will find it when you check your account. It is not always clearly stated when you try to withdraw money. Change a couple of hundred into Euros before coming. Put half in your wallet and half somewhere else (slip it into Rick Steves' guide book -who's gonna steal that!!). Buon Viaggio

Posted by
800 posts

Mark - the Italian ATM's (and all European ATM's I've used) don't charge you a fee to use their ATM. It is your own bank that will charge you for the "convenience" of using another bank overseas. For example Bank of America has a special fee for each time I use their card at a European ATM. Some banks charge a transaction fee of a set amount plus a percentage of the amount withdrawn. The card I use for ATM withdrawals is from Charles Schwab, which charges neither a withdrawal fee nor a transaction fee.

Posted by
20686 posts

My experience supports Karen. In nearly a total month of travel in Italy over several years and nearly a years in all of Europe, I have never had a European ATM charge me a fee for using that ATM. Unless there has been a substantial change within the last six months, there are no fees to use a Italian ATM. I know the rec for putting money in a Steves' guidebook is a joke. Lots of them are lost and left laying around. See it all the time.

Posted by
23728 posts

I agree with Karen. I do have a slightly different arrangement, using British debit cards from a British version of a US bank. I've never been charged for using an Italian ATM.

Posted by
4505 posts

Mark's information is simply wrong. EU regulations prevent European banks from charging fees. I've heard some non-bank owned ATM's exist and they can charge fees, but I've never seen one. Perhaps Mark found one... People that are uncomfortable entering a foreign country without any cash should buy some before they leave for their own peace of mind. But there is no practical reason to bring any with you.

Posted by
14003 posts

I have never yet been charged an ATM fee by the local operator unless it was clearly stated before making the withdrawal. Never charged in Europe, to date.

Posted by
108 posts

If you have an American Express credit card you can take cash to an American Express Office and buy Euros with no fees. Do not put the transaction on the credit card, it will be charged as a cash advance and cost $$$; take cash. The exchange rate is, as always, variable.

Posted by
20686 posts

Good luck on finding an AE office anywhere. The AE card is almost as worthless as travelers checks. Melanie the comment, "...however, the ATM at my destination may charge a fee .... " is the standard response since they do not know exact where you will be and many areas outside of Europe do charge for using an ATM terminal - for example Far East, the US, etc. If it is a bank associated ATM there will be no fee. However, there are some private ATMs, especially TravelEx in airports, that try to look like a standard ATM with the hope that you will not notice the extra charge.

Posted by
2525 posts

Buying some euros in advance is comforting knowing that you can hit the ground running. My experience, based on many trips to Europe, is that ATMs at airports are fully stocked with euros. I have not had a single glitch. As Debra noted, it's a great idea to save some euros from your last trip to use in the beginning of your next trip. My never used back-up plan without euros in hand and empty ATMs at the airport is to convert just enough US currency at an exchange bureau to get by until I locate a functioning ATM. Frank's caution about private ATMs in airports is worth noting.

Posted by
108 posts

According to the American Express web site there is an AE office, with currency exchange services, in San Francisco at 455 Market Street.

Posted by
20686 posts

You may be able to buy Euro at "no fee" from an AE office but the exchange rate is inflated by about 8% so they do not have to charge you fee to make money.

Posted by
20686 posts

There is nothing in the article that supports the statement that the ATMs in Italy charge user fees. There is the phrase, "might or could be charged" but nothing definite. If the Italian ATMs are charging a fee then it has be a change within the past few months. The ones I used last year did not charge. Would be useful to hear from someone with more recent experience.

Posted by
913 posts

We usually go to Europe every summer. We NEVER take any Euro $$$ with us. I have NEVER had any problem getting Euros after I have landed in an airport. Sometimes I don't even get Euros at the airport, and just wait until I get to our first stop to find an ATM. Yes, I have found ATM's that don't work; I just move on. Yes, I had an ATM "EAT/grab" my debit card when I waited too long to take it out of the machine after I had completed a transaction while I was gabbing with friends. Every little podunk town has an ATM, or two, or three. I do always carry at least $100 in US cash when I am on the road. And I don't leave home without my moneybelt and at least two debit and two credit cards (whose banks have been notified of my trip dates, etc.

Posted by
2774 posts

Not sure how much research you have done on the subject, but if you have not gone here: "Graffiti Wall > Money/Communication > ATMs: Minimizing Fees" do so to get some good information. Buying foreign currency in the US, if you do not care about the exchange rate and fees, is OK. Waiting until you get to Europe is almost always the least expensive. I go every summer and have never had a problem getting foreign currency from ATMs throughout Europe.

Posted by
251 posts

A few Euros is good go have but once in Italy use your debit card. You usually receive a better rate of exchange. My bank doesn't charge for a foreign transaction.

Posted by
61 posts

We're flying into the Naples airport, any safety concerns about using an ATM in that airport? Also, maybe this is pretty clear when you see them but I was curious...what is the best way to tell a bank owned ATM from a private one?

Posted by
7735 posts

We always try to use the ATMs that are physically attached to a bank office. Those are much less likely to have an illegal reader plugged in, unlike the ones that aren't attached to banks.

Posted by
14003 posts

Mark - why are you so sure it was the Italian bank that charged you a fee and not your card issuer?

Posted by
71 posts

To avoid a transaction fee from my home bank, I upgraded my "plan" with the bank, which required a higher balance but which I maintained anyway, and I now pay no ATM fees (usually $4) , regardless of the bank or country. I also can withdraw a larger daily amount. In addition, I applied for and got the Capital One Venture card and can charge without paying foreign transaction fees.