credit/debit cards--what's the latest advice?

Will be in Italy 3 weeks soon, and have debit (with my credit union)and credit cards (with my credit union and with CapitalOne)none of them have a foreign transaction fee. Got that straight!
But, my traveling companion has raised the question of having all those cards with Bank of America, so that we could use its Italian partner-bank, BNL D' Italia. Is that really necessary? I would just set up the accounts for this trip because I prefer my credit union. However, I don't mind exploiting BoA if that will make a significant difference. Also, what is the fee for using the bathroom? What are the coin and bill denominations? I could look it up but it's late, late....yawn. Many thanks. Karen, Atlanta, GA

Posted by donna
cranberry twp, PA, United States
2394 posts

It shouldn't make a difference. If you already have no fee cards there should be no fees. The one thing I will caution you about is that there is no fee to take out money. Some of the smaller stores will charge you a fee to use a credit or debit card. That is their fee and they do it on all card purchases. Can't help with restrooms. Donna

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4868 posts

What Donna said. Why change banks when you don't have fees anyway? Some bathrooms you pay and some you don't. Amounts vary. Keep coins with you and you'll have no worries. As for denominations, I'm not quite sure what you're asking. I'll give it a guess. There are no bills smaller than a 5. Below that you get coins (1&2 euros and then smaller like our coins). Paper money is similar to our denominations. I really wouldn't stress over it, except to advise you to be sure you have a coin purse or similar to handle all the coins you will receive. My first trip I ended up using a ziplock Baggie!!

Posted by Karen
Atlanta, GA
14 posts

Thanks to you both. One thing OFF the do-list! I will follow Rick's advice to get chunks of cash couple of days to use for purchases. And the coin purse advice -- I'm taking to heart. This Helpline is such an immediate help and solace. Thanks to all who make it so useful. Karen

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3314 posts

If you have a BofA ATM card I'm not sure if they will waive the ATM fee (usually $5 per w/d) if you use the BNL ATM. As far as credit card I have a BofA Travel Rewards Visa (with Chip) and supposedly they have no foreign transaction fees either (haven't used it overseas yet). Bathrooms in restaurants/bars/caffe' are free for customers, generally when I need a bathroom, I just buy an espresso or glass of acqua minerale (sparkling mineral water) and use it. If it's a McDonalds or a large department store I don't bother to buy anything. Public bathrooms sometimes require a small fee to be left to the janitor who sits there. In some stations they have an automatic turnstiles that requires a coin to open. The typical fee varies from 50 cents to 1 euro. Euro bills come in the following denominations: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500. Yes, even 500, and I have used several of those with no problem. ATM spit out denominations in any amount (not just $20 like in the US). The larger the denomination, the larger the note. The 500 euro note needs to be folded to fully fit in a standard wallet. The most common in people's wallets is probably the 50 note (it's like the US$20). Europeans tend to purchase with hard cash more often than Americans do. Many shops don't accept credit card purchases under a certain amount. When Europeans don't use hard cash, they often use ATM card for purchases. Credit is generally used for larger purchases. The coins come in the following denominations: 1, 2, 5 cents (bronze) 10, 20, 50 cents (gold) 1 and 2 euros (bicolor: silver coin with gold coin in the center) Since Euros don't have a 25 cents coin, most prices end with 20, 40, 50, 70, 90 cents.
The 1 and 2 cents are very rare, since the VAT is included in the price, you wont' need those.

Posted by Joan
Gettysburg, PA, USA
162 posts

Roberto, if memory serves isn't there a difference between the 1 Euro coin and the 2 Euro coin? One is a silver coin with gold inlay (the 1?) and the other is a gold coin with a silver inlay (the 2?).

Posted by Karen
Atlanta, GA
14 posts

Thank you, Roberto. This helps me picture the money and imagine how to organize my purse/billfold. And, the more I can imagine now, the lower the stress when I am there. I did notice in the RS books that many of the hotels I will be using prefer cash, so your comments will guide me. It's the same budget no matter whether I use cash or credit! And, frankly, I do like tipping bathroom attendants; it's a tedious job done by hardworking people who need the money. Oh, is the ATM machine charge a percentage of the amount taken or is it a per use charge? If so, better to get more and use my money belt! KS

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3314 posts

Here are images of Euro notes (click on each for larger image): http://www.ecb.europa.eu/euro/banknotes/html/index.en.html And Euro coins (click on each denomination on the left side panel for images of each coin): http://www.ecb.europa.eu/euro/coins/common/html/index.en.html The 2 euro coin differs from the 1 euro coin as the colors are reversed, the Eur 1 coin is gold outside and silver inside, the 2 euro coin is the opposite. Also the 2 euro is a slightly bigger coin.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

Oh, is the ATM machine charge a percentage of the amount taken or is it a per use charge? If so, better to get more and use my money belt! European banks do not generally charge an ATM fee for withdrawing cash. The only fees you should encounter would be from your own credit union. A foreign transaction fee is usually a percentage of the amount and there could be an "Out of Network" fee that is usually a fixed amount per transaction. Bathroom fees, if charged, are typically 1-2 euro. And that's what you should tip an attendant if there is no fixed fee. Occasionally the fee depends on your, um, usage of the facility... I always use the "Potty Rule." If there is a free restroom available (like in museums or restaurants), I use it whether I really have to go or not.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

Two other thoughts: Don't use a debit card for purchases, just for getting cash. And sometimes a merchant will ask if you want a purchase converted into your own currency (I think it's often called dynamic conversion). ALWAYS charge in the local currency. The exchange rate you get for the "convenience" of the converted rate is much higher than your bank/card gives you.

Posted by Karen
Atlanta, GA
14 posts

Wow! More and more helpful suggestions and good knowledge! Thank you all. Karen

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10854 posts

....you to be sure you have a coin purse or similar to handle all the coins you will receive....... I think the reason you collect so many coins in Europe is that Am coins are of small value so when your have to pay $4.47 in the US, you know you don't have enough US coins so you first look to paper (4 ones or a five) and then, maybe, look for a few coins to get to 47. That habit continues in Europe. When you have to pay that same 4,47 in Euro you reach for a 5E note when you may have three or four one or two Euro coins in your pocket and could easily pay from just your coins. Hard habit to break. Once came home with close to 20E in coins. Lot of weight. So try to remind yourself to use coins first, then paper.

Posted by karen
Long Beach, CA, USA
110 posts

"So try to remind yourself to use coins first, then paper." The reverse of this is true when using the bathroom. :)

Posted by Galen
Dallas, United States
389 posts

Karen,
I'm a BofA customer and here, FWIW, is what my experience has been in Europe. When using their debit card, BofA will always charge a foreign transaction fee that is a percentage of the amount (I believe its 1.5%). Then they also charge a flat $5 per withdrawal unless one uses one of their partner banks--BNL, Deutsche Bank, etc. I always try to save the 5 bucks!