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Traveling to Italy without a credit card

Greetings to all.
I will be traveling to Italy for the first in September with the intention of spending 6 weeks or more. I have never used a credit card for anything. Imagine that! I am fortunate to have more than enough cash. My plan was to open a checking account specifically for traveling. My question is related to debt card acceptance. Traveling companions are concerned that I will come across issues without a credit card. Appreciate experienced travelers insights.

Posted by
846 posts

Make sure your debit card has a Visa or Mastercard logo, and you will be fine.

Posted by
2367 posts

If your debit card is hacked all the money in that account could be gone in a flash. Protections for credit card fraud are much stronger than for debit cards. I personally would not use a debit card to charge anything. We only use debit cards to obtain cash from in-bank ATM’s in Europe. If you can’t see your way clear to get a credit card without a foreign exchange fee consider using your debit card only to obtain cash from in-bank ATM’s. Of course, then you are carrying sums of cash which has a downside. Time was that was all we did, but as credit cards have become more secure and widely accepted we save our cash for the snacks, gelato, espresso, that sort of thing and charge everything else. In Euro’s of course. So, will you come across issues without a credit card? Probably only if your debit card is hacked. Then what?

Posted by
1307 posts

I use a credit union debit card ('Plus' logo), and it works fine in Italian ATMs also.

Posted by
128 posts

I think your travel companions have a point. If you are staying in hotels you will need to put a credit card on file (even if your hotel is prepaid).
If you use a debit card for this, there will probably be a hold put on your funds and you won't have access to a potentially large sum.
You can get a Capital One credit card for no annual fee.

Posted by
9 posts

My concern about debt card hacking is no more than that of credit card hacking. I currently have 2 debit cards ( both visa) one which i use strictly for online purchases. I monitor my accounts daily. Will that be more difficult to do while traveling. Probably so. All that I have read indicates cash is king in Italy and the preferred method of payment. My trip is in part a family celebration of my 60th birthday. I guess I'm feeling that I have made it this far without one why would I want to at this stage in my life?

Posted by
2367 posts

My concern about debt card hacking is no more than that of credit card hacking
Any card can be hacked. It happens all the time and my credit cards have been, twice. The consequences of a credit card versus debit card hack are different. When that charge you don’t recognize shows up on a credit card you contact the bank, you have zero liability, and they get you a replacement card very quickly. If your debit card is hacked you find out when your checking account balance is zero. So, you contact the bank, they will get you a new card, but there is no money in the account. You can work with them to restore your funds if you are a good customer, but that will take time, maybe longer than your vacation, and no guarantee they will make you whole. Not sure I understand your objection to having a credit card other than you have not had one to date. This is why you’d want one at this stage in your life.

Posted by
9 posts

HA! Yes Alan I suppose that would be why. I understand the difference with a credit card the bank fights to get its money back. Debt card I fight to get my money back. Thanks!

Posted by
4901 posts

Can you do it? sure, but there are problems.

  • As was mentioned, in many hotels they want a Credit Card for security, smaller places do not, they will take cash, so review where you are staying and if there will be an issue. Obviously no rental cars, that would be a deal breaker.
  • What is your daily limit? will you be able to get enough cash each day for meals, sites, hotel, transportation, and other spending?
  • What is Plan B if a card does not work?
  • What happens if you have an emergency that requires a large expenditure?

Myself, I travel with two debit cards, two main credit cards, at least; and then always have some cash. Basically the plan is backups for backups.

Posted by
17795 posts

For reasons already explained, I would not use a debit card for POS away from home (i.e., in Europe). That said, I have used a credit card less than once per trip (11) since 2000, mostly for purchases at Dept. stores in Germany. I have found that, in Germany at least, places that accept credit cards are more expensive than the simple hotels and gasthouses I like to stay in. You'll save a lot of money using cash from an ATM vs. using a credit card.

Posted by
6479 posts

I have traveled that way with debit before I had credit; and I agree go for it just as long as it is Visa or Mastercard and you know to put in the travel alerts with the bank before you go.

Posted by
11197 posts

Short answer: yes, it can be fine.

I used to have a ATM/debit card with no fees for foreign use, and a credit card with high fees for foreign use. So, I got out cash from ATM's to pay for almost everything. I never used it as a debit card to make direct purchases.

Many smaller hotels wanted a credit card number before check-in, but for actual payment they were happy to accept cash. However, more and more places have a lower rate if you agree to pre-pay online in advance, and of course this has to be on a card.

With ATM's being ubiquitous, it's not hard to get cash when you need it. If you have a large hotel bill to pay, ask them if you can pay it in installments (I did this once with a 10 day stay, where I paid 5 days at a time).

In fact, I got so used to making a lot of frequent large cash withdrawals, that for the first few trips after I got a no-fee credit card, I took out too much cash, out of habit! I just used it to pay down hotel bills, instead of putting them on the card as I had planned.

Car rental is definitely a problem with only a debit card, although I saw a report (can't remember if it was this forum or elsewhere) of someone who did it successfully.

Do learn your card's daily limit and convert it to euros. Then, make your first withdrawal end in 30 euros or 80 euros, so you get at least one 10 euro and a 20 euro note. For instance, if your bank's limit translates to 450 euros, make it 430 euros. Once you have an assortment of notes of various sizes, get the maximum each time and stash it in your money belt, hidden pocket, or whatever else you're using to keep large sums.

Posted by
5457 posts

If this were my situation, I would open a credit card just for travel, with automatic payment of the balance at the end of each billing period -- so there's no chance of running up a credit balance but you have the protection of a credit card. You can have each transaction reported to you by email so you can review one-by-one. And when you're back from your trip, just put the card away until the next time.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks Paul
A backup plan for the backup plan is why I inquire to those who have been there done that!. I plan on consulting with my banker prior to departure regarding daily limits and traveling time. The car rental caveat is an acceptance issue to think of.

Posted by
9 posts

Harold thanks for your insights.
I have grown so use to paying cash or with a debit card for all my needs. Spending within my means old school am I. I had planned on handling my expenses much as you detailed. I will be mindful to avoid pos use. The suggestion to ask hotels to take payments is one I would not have thought of. Marvelous idea! I will make use of public transportation so I am not concerned with car rental... although if an overwhelming urge to drive takes over I will get it my best shot and report back if I am successful.

Posted by
9 posts

thanks Lee
The goal has always been avoid fees and interest getting discounts for cash is better still! Pay cash whenever possible. I will use bank owned atms and avoid pos transactions

Posted by
17636 posts

I would not ever, under any circumstances, head out of the country with only a single card. Since you use the debit card all the time at home, it could be hacked right before you set off for Europe and the problem discovered only after you land in Italy. Or it could be eaten by a European ATM at a time and place where retrieval is impossible. Or you could be like me and tend to leave the card behind in vending machines, at restaurants, etc. Or you could be the victim of a pickpocket. Now you are in Europe with no usable card at all.

Personally, I now travel with two ATM cards (never used to make purchases directly because of the previously discussed lack of consumer protection) and three credit cards. In your case, I highly recommend getting a credit card to use on this trip; choose one with no foreign-usage fees. Second choice: Set up an additional bank account so you'll have a back-up card for getting cash out of ATMs. I use Capital One for this purpose. At least some of its accounts do not have foreign-usage fees.

Posted by
5374 posts

What's the maximum amount you can withdraw from a bancomat? How much do you think you will spend in a day, including hotel? How many trips to the bancomat will you need to make to get that much cash? I like to use cash too, but am not going to waste that much time getting cash for the big expenses.

We take credit cards to pay for the big things, like lodging and transportation. Also, if needed for an emergency, like a plane ticket home or a medical bill.

Having a credit card is a convenience, not a vulnerability. Just never carry a balance.

Posted by
996 posts

Dear OP -

I think your plan to open a dedicated account with a debit card just for that travel money is an excellent one. Don't forget to let your bank know before you go that you'll be using the account overseas.

As others have said, though, I would never travel to Europe with just one card. You sound as if you manage your money very well, so it shouldn't be an issue to obtain a credit card. Even if you never, ever use it, you would have the peace of mind that you have alternate funds available to you if something happens to your debit card.

Also, if something totally unexpected happens while you're away from home, a credit card would give you instant access to funds you might immediately need. Then once you're home, you can pay off the card and put it into a drawer until you travel again!

Whatever you decide, I hope you have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
31140 posts

As the others have pointed out so well, it could be risky going to Europe with only a single debit card. A few thoughts......

  • if the card gets "eaten" by the ATM machine, your trip will be coming to an abrupt end very quickly.
  • I've had debit cards fail to operate for "technical reasons" and it was fortunate that I always carry a backup card or my trip would have come to an abrupt end.
  • while your bank can provide a higher daily withdrawal limit, the machines you'll be using in Europe may impose a lower limit.
  • even if you don't use it, a credit card can be a good thing to have along "just in case" (I normally take at least two credit cards and two debit cards).
Posted by
5010 posts

There seems to be some religious doctrine that dictates credit cards are evil, but debit cards are fine. This is nonsense. As long as you are an adult, you understand that credit cards are just a convenience for managing short-term expenses rather than a loan, and you pay off your balance every month without exception, credit cards are wonderful and there's no reason whatsoever to worry about using one. There is a successful radio host who has made a career out of hypnotizing people into believing that credit cards are tools of the devil. I know a couple of these people - when this subject comes up, it's like talking to a rock.

I can not imagine traveling to Europe without multiple credit cards. These costs exactly zero and provide plenty of benefits. FWIW, when I go to Europe, I typically take 4 or 5 credit cards (which I use everyplace I can), and two debit cards (for pulling cash at ATMs for things/places where credit cards are not accepted...which are pretty few and far between). Costs exactly nothing to use a credit card - but pulling cash from an ATM always costs something. Do the math.

I recommend being rational rather than following religious dogma. But to each their own.

Posted by
15683 posts

Just apply for a credit and be done with it.

When you use a debit card for an "open ended" transaction, the merchant can freeze funds in the debit card for how ever much they think you might spend. A recent post is from someone who used his debit card to refuel his rental car in Iceland, and they blocked $250 of his funds for a week. That happens when you check into a hotel, and they figure you might put 6 bottles of champagne on your room account, so they block enough funds to cover that, and it could be a week before they unblock it. Read this thread.
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/iceland/huge-pending-charge-added-when-getting-gas-in-iceland-beware

A few of these transactions and you could find that, even though you have several thousand ($) in your travel account, you can't access it until all the blocks expire.

Posted by
3858 posts

"As long as you are an adult, you understand that credit cards are just a convenience for managing short-term expenses rather than a loan, and you pay off your balance every month without exception, credit cards are wonderful and there's no reason whatsoever to worry about using one"

Amen David. Our credit card balances are paid in full every month. Only once last year (out of the last 25+ yrs) did my husband forget to pay if off and the $20 in interest was enough of a kick in the butt to make us really REALLY pay attention to the due dates!

Posted by
3437 posts

Costs exactly nothing to use a credit card - but pulling cash from an ATM always costs something

Well, that depends on who you have your accounts with and what type of accounts they are. Many credit cards still charge fees for foreign use. Several debit card accounts charge zero fees for foreign use.

Just make sure you have credit cards that charge zero fees and if you are opening a new account anyway choose one that does not charge for debit card transactions. Capital One credit cards and their 360 debit card both charge exactly zero fees to use them (or as close to zero as possible).

Posted by
2599 posts

As David says

"As long as you are an adult, you understand that credit cards are just a convenience for managing short-term expenses rather than a loan, and you pay off your balance every month without exception, credit cards are wonderful and there's no reason whatsoever to worry about using one"

When traveling, I find my no foreign transaction fee card more convenient than cash, and it keeps my expenses more organized so I know exactly what I have spent, even though I also keep a log. I always pay my balance at the end of each month. A good fiscal manager takes advantage of all the tools available to him or her. It would be better to have a credit card and not need it, than not have a credit card and find you need it.

Posted by
141 posts

Award Miles from my airline credit card are what get me to Europe in the first place.

Posted by
95 posts

didn't read all to posts...
here is my recommendation

Get a credit card with NO FOREIGN TRANSACTIONS CHARGES so that you pay based on the current currency transaction charge. I bank at Chase and they have multiple credit cards that will not charge you the 3% or more foreign transaction charge. Get one and then pay it off when you get home.

Don't worry about hacking, It won't happen if you have a major credit card and you monitor it on line.

Less cash in your pocket is safer.
enjoy
John

Posted by
24415 posts

One little throwaway line causes a little concern:-

so I am not concerned with car rental... although if an overwhelming urge to drive takes over I will get it my best shot and report back if I am successful.

Please be aware that if you are American or Canadian, Maureen, you can't just hop in a rental car in Italy without a little preparation. Unless you have a European driving licence you must have an IDP which you carry along with your home licence. You can get it at the only places authorized to issue it in the US, the AAA or National Car Club. In Canada it is the CAA. It will cost around $20 and you need to provide photos or they can take them for more money.

You also need to understand the Italian concept of cars not allowed in certain areas of towns and cities, the ZTL, loosely translated as zones of limited traffic. If you enter one of those without permission you will wind up with a hefty fine after you return home and an additional charge of around €40 from the rental. You need to be aware of several other laws which are different from at home (you don't say where home is). There are plenty of discussions here on the Italy Forum about driving in Italy, and we can answer any questions.

Posted by
5010 posts

so I am not concerned with car rental... although if an overwhelming urge to drive takes over I will get it my best shot and report back if I am successful...

Yes to the above about needing an IDP and a little knowledge of the peculiarities of driving in Italy. Also...

Pretty sure there's no place you can rent a car without a credit card. Debit cards don't count. So if you think you might want to drive, I don't believe there's any alternative - gotta have the credit card.

Posted by
17 posts

We have opened both an online checking and online savings account with Capital One 360, and we use the accounts ONLY when we travel. They are fee-free, and no foreign transaction fees. When we are getting ready for a trip, we put most of the money needed for the trip in the savings account, which is NOT attached to the debit card. And then we just transfer money electronically, as needed, to the checking account, which is attached to the debit card. This way, if someone WERE to gain access to the checking account funds, they would not have access to most of our money (since it is safe in the savings account).

Posted by
20834 posts

You may some personal reasons for avoiding credit card usage but the world revolves around credit cards so you really need one, better two, cards if you are going to spend six weeks in Europe. You may take a certain pride in not ever using a credit card but it is the 21st century. Second you should carry two debit cards tied to two different accounts. Things happen and it is far more difficult to deal with "things" when in Europe than you home town. It is really a matter of prudent planning. We carry three credit cards and two debit card accounts. In many years of travels have never had a problem with either the credit card or the debit card. But that doesn't prove anything. There can always be a problem on the next trip. Just a matter of being well prepared.

Your traveling companions are correct. And this is the insights of an experienced traveler of nearly a year in Europe over the past 20+ years.

Posted by
852 posts

You've gotten some good advice. But if you decide to only do a debit card, I would open 2 different accounts, each with a debit card. Split your travel funds between the two. That way if one doesn't work or get hacked you still have access to some funds. And don't Forget to notify your banks (and credit card company if you decide to get one) of your dates of foreign travel and the countries that you are going to so they don't put a hold on them when they see foreign transactions.

Have a Great Trip!

Posted by
605 posts

Our 35-year-old older son and his wife have never owned a credit card in their lives, but have gone to Italy twice, live in New York city, buy airplane tickets, rent cars, bought a house twice, etc. and seem to do fine. I don't know what extra hassle or planning they have to do, but it is certainly possible to live without a credit card. I wouldn't want to, but it works for them!

Posted by
990 posts

Credit is Credit, be it to borrow money to buy a house, a car, a credit card whatever.

For me, part of being responsible is planning on the worst and expecting the best. I always think what if I become Ill or get in an accident can I pay for my or my husbands care? I have one credit card I take that has a large credit limit for these "just in cases". I also have elderly parents, what if I need to rush back home for an emergency and that incurs some costs? I sleep better at night on the trip knowing we will be okay no matter what happens and that card has not seen the light of day the three trips we have taken to Europe.

OP-YES open the checking account JUST for travel, this is what we do, this way if our card is hacked they do not get access to the funds we live on. I would take the debit card from your new "Travel" checking and a debit card from your existing checking account as a back up.

We use our Capital One credit cards when we travel to Europe, no fees. We take two cards, one that we use from the get to go book all Europe travel and one as a back-up.

Just an FYI- you do have a regulatory recourse with US banks for fraudulent charges when you use your debit card.

Posted by
3858 posts

I just recall a few decades ago when my mom and dad were going to go to Maine for a week. No credit cards. Probably only cash (this was before debit cards made things sooo much easier and we either took cash or travelers cheques). Day 2 - had mechanical problems with the car, the repairs took all the extra cash and back home they came.

I mean, my senior mom survives just fine without one now. When she wants to travel overseas to visit my sister, she has me use MY cc to get her tickets. She takes some GBP with her, and will make a visit to the ATM if needed, but since she spends the whole time at my sister's, she doesn't need money for hotels and whatnot.

Posted by
441 posts

Yikes, I cannot imagine traveling with just my debit card...I got a Capital One and it has no foreign transaction fees AND I get 1.5% cash back. If you pay off every month, it doesn't cost a dime and actually earns you money. And the fraud protection is great. You can set it so it alerts your phone with every purchase, so you know the second it gets hacked (if that happens). I strongly recommend getting a card, even if you only use it for travel emergencies.