Please sign in to post.

Getting Cash in Italy

Some of our hotels require cash payment and I'm sure some restaurants and shops only take cash. What's the most recommended method of getting euros? Should we order them from our bank before departing to Europe or get them from an ATM in Europe? How do we get the best exchange rate with no/least fees? I'm assuming exchanging cash for euros in-country won't give the best rate (or fees will be associated), so any advice is greatly appreciated!

Posted by
3308 posts

Use ATM's when you get there. Banks here will charge you a lot to buy euros. There will most likely be ATMs in the airport when you arrive. I have yet to see an airport in Europe that doesn't have them.
That said, your bank will have a daily limit on the amount you can pull out each 24-hour day. Before you leave you can ask if they will increase your daily limit, which most banks will be happy to do.
Another trick that works. The limit you can pull out is set from midnight to midnight, U.S. time. I live in California so if I pull out my maximum daily amount of cash from an ATM in Europe at 10 in the morning, I can pull out the maximum amount again around 3 in the afternoon since by then it's already the next day (after midnight) in California.
Make sure you tell your bank that you will be abroad so that they don't freeze your account in the middle of your trip thinking that someone has gotten hold of your card and is running amok!

Posted by
15640 posts

European ATM's don't charge user fees like North America, but your bank is likely to charge you for using someone else's ATM, plus tack on a foreign a 3% foreign exchange fee. Open a savings account at a credit union that doesn't charge these fees, or at most 1%.
Nonetheless, even if you have your money in a "monster megabank" (as Clark Howard refers to them) that charges the 3%, it will be cheaper than buying a stack of euros here and hauling them to Europe, or changing dollars at one of those rip off change places.

Posted by
693 posts

IFor security, I generally prefer to use the ATMs in the lobbies of banks. They are common throughout Italy.

Posted by
17743 posts

"I pull out my maximum daily amount of cash from an ATM in Europe at 10 in the morning, I can pull out the maximum amount again around 3 in the afternoon"

One of the banks I use in Denver calls the day 4 AM to 4 AM mountain time (noon Central Europe time). I guess that's because some people stay up past midnight. Caught me once when I tried to take out the max in Frankfurt at 8 AM after having made a $50 withdrawal the "day" beflre in Denver.

Anyway, that only helps you once, then you have to go 24 hours before another withdrawal. Better to have you limit increased.

Posted by
796 posts

Anita gave excellent advice. It is crucial that you let your bank know that you will be in Europe on vacation or else they will think your card has been stolen when unusual activity shows up. You can get euros from ATM's but be sure they are bank ATM's. There are companies with ATM's and they charge huge fees. If you want to get out a large amount at once, go to a bank. There will be fees no matter where you get them (including your own bank). We've never stayed in a hotel that only takes cash. We usually book online and pay the full amount in advance. That way at the hotel we need only pay for any incidentals like tips, spa treatments, and valet parking if we get a rental car which we usually don't. Many shops and restaurants take credit cards but many don't. Another option is to open an account online with Ally Bank (www.ally.com) which will let you open an account with no money in it at all and give you a free ATM card and checks. They have no fees for their accounts and pay interest on deposits of even just $1. You can put money in there for the trip. If you use their card in a teller out of their network and pay a fee to the bank whose ATM you are using, they refund the fees to you and so you pay no fee for going out of network.

Posted by
4512 posts

If you do need a large amount of cash at the beginning of your trip, you can order euros from your local bank. Expect to pay at least 5% and up to 10% on top of the interbank exchange rate (Google exchange rate to see the daily rate). For-profit currency exchanges charge over 10% and some as much as 20%. The extra can be in a higher rate and/or in fees. If you don't need the cash until later, just withdraw your daily maximum each day until you have what you need.

Fees to use an ATM won't likely exceed 5% for your regular bank and may be less. You WILL get the interbank rate using the ATM but most banks charge a conversion fee and out-of-network fee. Some people find it's worth it to open a new account but it's always seemed a lot of hassle to save a hundred dollars.

Do notify your bank of your travel and see if they will up your daily rate (withdrawing as much as possible each time limits the fees you pay).

Posted by
33 posts

Thanks! Is there a major difference between using an Italian airport ATM upon arrival vs. waiting to get into the city or are the exchange rates the same at ATMs in-country?

Posted by
5555 posts

Two ATM limits. First, your bank's daily limit. You can request a temporary daily limit increase. The trip a number of years ago (1€ = $1.35) I had my daily limit increased to $700 USD and pulled 500€ EUR a day from the ATMs.

Second limit is the local bank/cash machine limit. The Venice VCE ATM would only let me take 200€ (it denied a 300€ withdraw but allowed my 200€ request). I don't know if that was a machine limit or a local bank !limit.

Posted by
9363 posts

I use Ally, too, but there is one caveat. While they do refund out of network ATM charges, they will not do so for a charge from Europe (I know this from personal experience). On the upside, though, most European ATMs will not charge you, anyway, so no harm done. Another good thing about Ally is that I have mine set up so that I can transfer funds into and out of that account to my regular credit union at home. It's not instantaneous (takes a couple of days, usually) but it could be helpful in a pinch (like if your regular ATM card was lost so you can't access your regular account and your Ally account doesn't have enough money in it).

Posted by
11182 posts

"Is there a major difference between using an Italian airport ATM upon arrival vs. waiting to get into the city or are the exchange rates the same at ATMs in-country? "

No. There isn't even a minor difference. Some prefer to arrive with €50-200 in hand, so they don't have to use an airport ATM, but this is personal preference.

Rick's page of excellent money tips is here. Read all the links, and you'll be an expert: http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money

Posted by
506 posts

I know you said that you need the cash. What we do is charge everything we can on a no fee Visa. The one I have is a travel Visa from BofA, but Capital one also has the same thing. Our debit card is through BoA and if we withdraw money from BNL bank in Italy (they are all over), it was Barclay bank in England they waive the $5.00 fee but still charge the 3%. So we save the most by using the charge card and just getting enough cash for the small stuff.

Posted by
33 posts

Great -- thank you for all the helpful comments! We will be using Chase Sapphire wherever we can since there are no foreign transaction fees and double pts for travel-related purchases. Do Italian business typically take Discover? Just wondering because this quarter, Discover is giving 5% cash back on restaurants. :)

Posted by
20732 posts

No to Discover. Leave it home. It is best for either Visa or MasterCard.

Posted by
792 posts

I guess my question on this topic is how many Euros do you need in your pocket? In the USA I never have more than $30 in my wallet. Credit cards do 95% the transactions Why would anyone have more than 100 Euros in their pocket?

Posted by
5399 posts

For Jim's question about why to carry cash -- even though the hotels that Terri Lynn frequents all take credit cards, many in the lower-cost range do not. Some hotels will give a discount for cash payment even if they do accept cards. Restaurants in the mom-and-pop category may also only take cash (or have a card-use minimum.) Whatever you feel comfortable with.

Posted by
11983 posts

Jim in VA.
Even in the U.S. I always carry at least $100.
You can carry as little as you want, but the issue is that when you are at home you don't spend money at the same rate as when you travel. When you are traveling you are constantly pulling out cash for lunches, coffee and pastries, gelato, a drink at a sidewalk table, museums, transit tickets, souvenirs, taxi fares, and many other expenses that at home you don't incur with the same frequency. Dinners at sit down restaurants and hotels can be easily paid by credit card, but many other expenses like those I mentioned are small amounts that often require cash payments and at the end of the day they add up.
You can carry just a handful of euro if you want, but then you will need to make multiple small ATM withdrawals and each one will carry a fixed withdrawal fee from your home bank (sometimes $5 per withdrawal). Therefore it's best to withdraw large amounts few times. Carry with you enough for all daily expenses other than dinners. But remember that traveling requires frequent breaks and often each break carries a cost, whether it's coffee, beer, or even bathroom.

Posted by
11734 posts

Why would anyone have more than 100 Euros in their pocket?

Because as annchopepper posted, they are expected to pay cash for some of their hotels. We had to do the same at some of the smaller establishments: it's not all that rare a situation in Italy. Not all restaurants or attractions take credit cards either. To make sure we had the $$ for upcoming hotels which required cash, we put aside a chunk of every withdrawal until we had the necessary amount.

Second limit is the local bank/cash machine limit. The Venice VCE ATM would only let me take 200€ (it denied a 300€ withdraw but allowed my 200€ request).

Ditto. Even though we raised our daily ATM limits before we left, it didn't mean that every ATM would dispense the maximum. If it doesn't work, try lowering the withdrawal amount.

It can be surprisingly easy for two people to run through the lion's share of $100 and especially so on a day trip when you're pulling out a little for regionale train tickets, a little more for entry fees here and there, a little more for gelato, for coffee when you need to rest your feet and use the restroom, a couple glasses of wine at that cafe with the great view….

Visa and Mastercard are the two most commonly accepted. I wouldn't rely on Discover.

Posted by
91 posts

Why would anyone have more than 100 Euros in their pocket?
Because my wife likes purses, thats why! Shopping, especially with "mom and pop" establishments, cash is king. 100 Euros is not going to go very far.

Posted by
11613 posts

Another problem at ATMs in popular locations is that the machine can run out of money, especially on a Sunday. You may get a "transaction declined" message with no explanation. Don't panic, try another machine, or if you can plan ahead, make your weekend withdrawal on Friday.

Posted by
752 posts

$1.08 buys one Euro this morning. Not bad. Your bank may add around a 5 cent fee onto each Euro you buy. You have to ask your bank for their total charge per Euro.

I always buy Euro here before I fly out. After I land, I like being able to move into activities immediately, eat, pay lodging bill, run around, eat some more. I don't have the mindset to look around for an airport ATM. I like to use ATMs inside bank alcoves, safer for me. It may take me several days to locate these ATMs, so I have enough Euro on me to tide me over. I do use bank ATMs on an outside wall if I need to.

If you have to exchange dollars for Euro, go to Poste Italiane. Other customers will help you choose the right ticket for the right line at the dispenser. You must show your Passport to the clerk before the exchange so have it in your money belt or neck wallet. I get the current exchange rate, like at the ATM.

Posted by
11734 posts

It doesn't have anything to do with exchanges but we always bring some euro home with us and put it away for the next trip. That way we have enough in hand to hit the ground running without having to find an ATM right away.

Posted by
3475 posts

Don't forget to notify Visa/Master Card of your intended travel. This INCLUDES your ATM card.
Leaving it up to your bank sometimes does not work well as I found out on my last trip.
Use bank ATMs in airports not Travlex machines.

Posted by
34 posts

Anne,

When we travel we tend to purchase a few euros, €150, to have when we arrive yes it costs more to purchase them here in the U.S. But it's also nice to,not have one more thing to worry about on arrival..we don't need to find an ATM before we get our train tickets or to get our taxi...And use bank ATMs when you can to reduce your service fees but sometimes you just have to get cash when you can...
When you speak to your bank about your card, Visa, M/C, debit..make sure they not that any recurring charges does not mean there maybe fraud..we were traveling and a charge from Hulu or Netflix came in on my card and they blocked it for fraud! Luckily they didn't block the Mr's.😀! Never even occurred to us..but the next year when we went we definitely made sure they understood! Good luck and have fun!

Posted by
16796 posts

I rarely have cash in my purse in the USA, but in Italy and most of Europe, I pay cash routinely for many more things, including cheaper hotels. $200-300 does not last long, so I'd prefer to get $400-500 per withdrawal. If you home bank will allow it (as our corporate cards do), then Deutsche Bank ATMs in Italy will give you even more. Then, the bulk of the money is safe in a money belt under your clothes and only €50 or 100 is accessible in your wallet. When you set out from your hotel in the morning, you probably have a plan for whether you'll be there back before dinner to freshen up, restock the wallet, etc.

Posted by
752 posts

Be aware that some locales have different withdrawal limits at ATMs, regardless of allowed max withdrawal amount at home bank. On the West Coast of Italy, I could withdraw up to 500 Euro in 24 hours. On the East Coast, only up to 250 Euro in 24 hours, and this applied to locals as well.