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VISA credit card: accepted or not (?) by merchants in Italy

I went into my bank (BECU) this morning and was floored to be informed that credit cards with the magnetic strip on the other side are not accepted my merchants in Italy. They will only accept pin-and-chip credit cards, she stated emphatically.

Can anyone verify this (by their own recent personal experience)? I only have one credit card (VISA). Wells Fargo ostensibly has pin-and-chip plastic cards across the board, but I only have a week left before I go to Milan.

Doing a Google search only makes me more confused.

I know that I will be arriving one day ahead of the tour, and the hotel has said they will accept cash or credit card ("but what kind?," I did not ask). Will restaurants with the VISA logo accept a VISA card even if it is a magnetic strip kind?

Posted by
20833 posts

I telling you Denny you keep getting information from people who don't know and then you panic. Magnetic strip cards will be accepted by all hotels and most restaurants. Public toll roads, unmanned gas stations, some ticket machines will accept only chip and pin cards. But you are also going to find that Italy is far more cash oriented than the US. We pay for most of our bills in Italy in cash. Generally get a discount for paying cash at hotels. Rare to use a credit card. You should have one, preferably two, debit cards tied to two different accounts and at least two credit cards. That gives you back up should you encounter any problems in using the cards. Call your card issuer and tell them when you will be in Italy so your usage does not trip a fraud alert. VISA and MasterCard are widely accepted. They want your money.

Posted by
8293 posts

It has been my experience that bank employees know little or nothing about travel to Europe and the day-to-day business of money handling there. My bank is still recommending Travellers Cheques, for Pete's sake. Make your life calmer and do not ask them for any information to do with money but you may want to ask the woman who misinformed you when was the last time she was in Italy.

Posted by
291 posts

I guess I am getting a lot of misinformation, as you say, Frank, which has caused me to do things that were unnecessary or even foolish.

For instance, over the weekend, I went into Wells Fargo to get some Euros and wound up getting a checking/debit account because one of the bank staff insisted that magnetic strip bank cards are not accepted in Italy or the rest of Europe; only pin-and-chip bank cards, which Wells Fargo has and whose issuance, to me, Wells Frago expedite. (I also had a back-up debit card from still another bank).

Call me naive, credulous...if you like...I do find it confusing, the more I ask and read.

That said, this RS Forum has formed the basis of many of the decisions I make vis-a-vis my trip. to Italy. In other words, I believe fellow travellers who recount their experiences here.

Posted by
167 posts

If I read the above your BECU is a credit union. If so it is maybe not too late to open a 2nd checking account with an additional debit card. This serves as a backup for getting cash out of atm's. I have carried 2 debit cards when traveling for years.
And of course, you inform the bank and credit card companies of your travel plans.
As far as chip and pin, I do not think it is required in hotels in Europe . Like other posters said, they want your money.
Personally I would only use credit card for a hotel bill and only because my favorite credit card gives me air miles.
I have used credit cards with no chip in Spain, Portugal, Italy within the past 2 years and it was not a problem.
I also think you can get cards with chip and pin at Walmart. You load them with an amount,so that might be another backup.

Posted by
11845 posts

We haven't had any trouble with our magnetic-strip cards - although Frank pointed out some places where they probably won't work. And not all restaurants and shops take credit cards PERIOD so always have some cash on you.

The only thing I did hear from my bank was that some of their customers had trouble with debit ONLY (not debit/credit) ATM cards in Europe so I switched my debit-only card over before we went last time.

Posted by
291 posts

I do have a second debit card and actually a third one (Wells Fargo). And I have a second credit card (CapitolOne). I didn't know there were debit/credit cards.

I was brought up at a time (in the late fifties and early sixties) when banks were solid pillars of trust, so that no bank officer would knowingly make an inaccurate or false statement, i.e., they would not state something as a fact if they were unsure of the factual content.

But I guess after the sub-prime crisis, banks have become more like monetary merchants...I was unhappy with Bank of America, so switched to a credit union, which I have been much happier with.

Posted by
11613 posts

I have used magnetic strip credit cards in Italy as recently as last year, they were accepted everywhere but NOT at unstaffed sites, such as ticket kiosks, gas stations after attendants have gone, etc. Processing the magnetic strip card requires a different machine, apparently, but mine have always worked.

Google only knows what people tell it. Apparently your bank teller knows even less. I have the same issues with my bank, as Norma said, they know nothing about banking or credit regs in Europe unless they have traveled there themselves.

Can't say it enough: let your bank and credit card company know you will be traveling in Europe (dates and countries).

Posted by
20833 posts

They are either debit or credit cards. Am not aware of anything that is both a debit AND credit card. Maybe she was just referring to debit and credit cards together. A debit card is Europe should only be used at a bank owned ATM. Should never be used to pay for general items. Use either cash or credit card.

Posted by
12019 posts

You need chip and pin ONLY at automatic machines such as:
- gasoline pumps at self service stations (all gas stations however have attendants from 7am-7pm on weekdays where you can use your mag stripe cards and the self service pumps accept cash in euro bills too),
- automated toll booths (but you can use the toll booths with cash)
- train ticket kiosks (I'm not sure if they also accept mag stripe cards)
- parking lot payment machines (but they also take cash)

Everywhere else where there is a person where you can have a live transaction (not a machine), you can pay with the mag stripe+signature card.

Most merchants don't take cards (or prefer not to take cards) for transactions under 20 euro, so carry some cash with you. For larger purchases, if you pay cash, they are sometimes willing to give you a 5%-10% discount. If you ask them "senza fattura" (without invoice), especially any type of services, they give you a 20% discount (that way they can dodge the 21% VAT tax and evade income taxes too. Evading taxes is Italy's national sport)

Posted by
167 posts

All the debit cards issued by my CU and my husband 's Wells Fargo can also be used as credit cards. On occasion I have had to use my debit processed as a credit card because I forgot my pin. But most people typically do not use their debit card this way because unlike credit cards which offer protection against fraudulent charges, debit cards linked to checking accounts usually offer little no recourse.
So debit cards only for cash at ATM, and the credit card for the occasional hotel bill.
Of all the bookings I have for a month in Italy upcoming May, only 2 accept credit cards in any case.
I am sure you will be fine and have a great trip.

Posted by
3387 posts

I'll pile on about bank employees (not necessarily officers) being ignorant.

The BECU person who told you that is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! With the few exceptions already listed, your strip and signature card will work fine in Italy. My BECU Visa did in October and November in Fiumicino and Milan, so you have nothing to worry about there.

My BECU MC Debit card also worked all over the place to withdraw money from ATMs in October and November, in Italy and Greece.

We did not charge a single meal on our 6-week trip to Istanbul, Greece and Italy. We paid cash for all of them. We did use the BECU Visa to charge a few hotel bills, but mostly we paid cash for those that we did not pay in advance online.

My husband used his BECU Visa to buy me a very nice gift which was shipped home and a surprise when I got it. I used mine to buy a rather expensive rug in Istanbul, and because of the price, we used the merchant's phone to call to verify the charge. BECU is hyper-vigilant when it comes to potential fraud, so in the midst of all your confusion, be sure that you tell them exactly where you might use your credit or debit cards. Likewise, do that for any other cards you might take along. We did have to call them from Italy when we got stuck and realized that we were going to be there past the date I said we would return. Next trip, I'm going to put a little more slosh in our standby schedule.

I got a new BECU Visa in January. I was hoping it would be a chip and pin, but BECU will not be doing that until the fall, or so I was told. And even then, they will not replace the old cards until they are due for renewal (or unless they are forced to, is my guess).

Go! Have fun! Spend Euros! Eat well! And enjoy your trip.

Edit: Call this number to get the straight answers from BECU for both your CC and DC. It gets you past most of the "for XX press XX" idiocy. Number 206-439-5700-1-7457. Follow the prompt and that will take you directly to the extension for the people who know what they are doing.

Posted by
4551 posts

Denny, Denny, Denny...

As others have already reassured you. Yes, you can use your Visa with a magnetic strip (without chip/pin)

Make sure you heed Zoe's advice:

Can't say it enough: let your bank and credit card company know you
will be traveling in Europe (dates and countries).

You must also find out what your daily cash withdrawal limit is.

It's a good idea to increase your daily cash withdrawal limit to $500 or even $750 & this way you can withdraw more Euros
& have fewer ATM transactions.

Some years ago, while traveling in Greece & Italy, my daily cash withdrawal limit was only $300, however that was only equivalent to around €230. It's a good thing I had 2 debit cards (2 different accounts).

On our most recent trip, I increased our daily cash withdrawal limit to $750 & since I use mostly cash while in Europe, I didn't have to make ATM transactions as often.

Posted by
291 posts

Thanks for the reminder, Priscilla, as I really only have informed my primary bank, a credit union, of the dates. That was over a month ago. Since then, I have obtained two new debit cards and a new credit card.

The raising of the daily withdrawal limit is something I'm not sure I would need from the credit union as their fee is a standard 1% of the withdrawal amount, which is low for the industy, as I understand. As for Wells Fargo and Umqua, I'm not sure...

In any case, when withdrawing cash I will only take one debit card with me at a time...

Posted by
68 posts

Interesting topic and I agree that the use of a magnetic strip CC should present no difficulties except for those places already mentioned.

But I do have a question and would really lick some input. Here at home I never use my debit card. It is tied to the rest of my accounts and it does not offer the level of protection that my CC does.

Now I can open a checking/savings account and get a second debit card that would only be tied to that particular account and the only funds in that account would be the monies I placed there for the trip.

Or, I could go to a nearby Wells Fargo branch and buy Euros to take with me. Assuming I pick hotels that will accept payment in advance with the CC and I buy my train tickets (other than regional) on line, I can pretty well estimate what the rest of my costs will be. Besides, while this is not my first trip to Italy, I am pretty sure it will not be close to my last and the Euros will still be good next trip.

So pros and cons of bringing Euros with me or buying them from an ATM at the airport?

Thanks for helping.

Posted by
1531 posts

Paul,
Your exchange rate for Euros in the US will be worse than out of ATM's in Europe. We usually get 100+ Euros at Wells Fargo so we don't have to remember to find an ATM at the airport after a long day of travel. ATM's are even more prevalent than in the US. My husband and I usually do a "cash assessment" every morning and figure out how much cash to withdraw at some point during the day, if at all.

Denny,
Reminder that when you call your banks to alert them of your travel, they will ask what country(s) you will be traveling to. Include countries where you have a connection.

Posted by
68 posts

Thank you Karen......Guess I will simply set up a second checking account at an unrelated bank like Wells Fargo
and use that to do ATM withdrawals. That will at least give me peace of mind about the rest of my accounts.

Although I thought I had read here or maybe on another site about taking out a larger amount so that you limit the number of transactions if there is a foreign transaction fee.

Posted by
4551 posts

Paul,

It's best if you post your own topic ( you wouldn't want to hijack Denny's post) & you will get many responses as this topic has come up several times before.

You can also do a search on on the search bar at top of screen.

Just to answer briefly, it's a good idea to get some Euros prior to your travel just in case you want to buy a snack or take taxi upon your arrival.
The best exchange rate will be in the country you will be traveling to, in your case Italy.

There are ATM's at the airport or in the city you plan to visit.

Posted by
7737 posts

Denny, Denny, Denny. I've got a floating bridge I'd like to sell you. You're doing this to yourself, you know. If you look in any Rick Steves book about Italy, you'll see that he specifically answers this question about Chip and Pin cards in Italy. Why on earth are you trusting a bank clerk over someone whose business it is to publish accurate travel guides?

Posted by
4551 posts

Denny,

The raising of the daily withdrawal limit is something I'm not sure I would need from the credit union as their fee is a standard 1% of the withdrawal amount, which is low for the industy, as I understand. As for Wells Fargo and Umqua, I'm not sure...

I think you misunderstood my comment above ( 3/31/15) regarding your daily cash withdrawal limit (dcwl)

Only you know what your daily cash withdrawal limit is.

For example; if your dcwl is $300 dollars, you will not be able to withdraw 500 euros while you are traveling in Italy.

Since you will be traveling with the RS tour, you may not need much cash except for some meals, gelatos & souvenirs.

I was only suggesting that it's a good idea to know what your daily cash withdrawal limit is so you will know how many euros you can actually withdraw from an ATM while in Italy.

Posted by
11845 posts

And to add to Priscilla's comment above, don't freak out if you try to withdraw, say, 500 euros and the machine rejects the transaction. Some machines have limits on the amount they'll dispense at one time so just try a smaller amount.

Posted by
2764 posts

Taking out large amounts from the ATM to reduce the number of transactions will not limit the foreign transaction fee. If your bank or credit union charges one, it is a percentage of the amount withdrawn. Some banks and CU's also impose a flat fee for using an "out of network" ATM. My CU does not do this, they just charge the 1% FTF, so maybe this practice is limited to commercial banks?

Posted by
11845 posts

To clarify my comment about debit/credit cards…
I purposely had a debit-only type card which would ONLY allow me to withdraw funds from an ATM: it couldn't be used for purchases. It was that type of card which some of my credit union's customers oddly started to have trouble with in foreign ATMs. Even though I do not use it for purchases abroad as I do at home, I switched it to a full debit/credit card to avoid any potential issues.

My credit union is connected to a large U.S. based company with offices/plants all over the world so we have a fair amount of employees who travel abroad for business - thus I felt I could trust their advice.

I have my card set for a $300 maximum ATM withdrawal limit that I raise to $500 when we leave the country.

Posted by
506 posts

Was just going over things with my banker at Bank of America this morning and they ordered us new debit cards that also have the chip in it. Just to make sure that the ATM's except the card. BofA is affiliated with BNB bank of Italy and if we use their ATM it drops the $5.00 charge but you are still paying a 3% exchange fee above the exchange rate.

Posted by
8889 posts

Judy, 3% is normal. You will always pay some % above the "mid rate". Banks are in business to make profits. The only way you can decrease the % is to exchange millions directly on the foreign exchange market, and you need to be a bank to do that.

Posted by
20833 posts

Chris, or you use a credit or debit card that does not charge 3%. There are many available. 3% is a fairly standard charge IF the charged is added by your card issuer.

Posted by
506 posts

I would suggest you call the bank that you are going to use your debit and credit card with and they will give you everything you need to know, including the name of the banks that will wave the service fee. And most importantly make sure they are aware that you are traveling so they don't put a hold on your card. And have phone numbers and back up cards in case that happens. If possible to get your cards with chips in them I would do that because by the end of 2015 everyone will have all there cards (US) issued with chips in them anyway. I work in retail credit and have talked to the credit services, and that is the requirements, all our credit machines are being switched over now.

Posted by
20833 posts

Judy has more confidence in your bank, than I would. I doubt seriously if they can identify banks that will wave service fees. Because other banks don't wave service fees. ONLY your card issuer determines the fees charged to your accounts. There are no user fees charged by the banks in Europe.

Posted by
506 posts

Yes I do have confidence in myself because I do the research before I go and every country that BofA has told me the bank to use we never get charged the $5.00 service fee. You will still get a charge for the exchange usually 3%, although other posters have said their bank charges less. Barclays in England, BNL in Italy and these are all listed for every country on their web site.

Posted by
1 posts

Just returned from Southern Italy tour and had problems with my credit card. I had called bank ahead of time re: travel plans. My chip&signature Bank of America Visa Signature Cash Rewards card was accepted at two merchants in Rome (online tix to Vatican 44 eur, and Hadrian's Villa bookstore 16 eur) and then was declined at four subsequent retailers- mostly museum shops, in the same price range.. From Italy, I called BofA Visa card services collect phone number on card back , and was told they had NOT declined the card, the decline happened at the retailer. I WAS able to use my BofA Debit Visa card, a regular magnetic strip card, however , at these four other retailers. Further insult, the international 302 area code collect phone number on back of card phone call cost me 10 euros at the hotel. Back at home, BofA Visa card services was of no help in explaining why my card was declined, and the credit card works fine now. Any ideas?

Posted by
48 posts

As everyone here is stating magnetic strip cards are fine in Italy w limited exceptions.

It's important to note that Capital One cards have no foreign transaction fees and the rate they used when I was there in Last month was far better than I could get at any FX kiosk. I suggest using their card as the primary one you use (and I work for a competitor of capital one).

Posted by
3437 posts

susannehoufek

Since the BofA chip card is a chip and SIGNATURE not a chip and PIN card, it is possible the merchant's system simply does not accept it because it doesn't do those types of cards. The same system knows how to handle a mag stripe card. I have one of their cards and it works most of the time in various European countries but occasionally it will be rejected at the merchant terminal. Works fine at other places. BofA claims they never even saw the transactions that are declined. If you end up in that situation where the chip doesn't appear to work, ask them to run it using the mag stripe. If the merchant is willing, that sometimes gets past the chip issue.

Posted by
7737 posts

The fact that you had to pay for the call to your credit card company is a good reminder to always get their non-800 number in advance and ask at the same time how to call them collect. Most of them tell you to identify yourself as "Visa customer" or some variation.

Posted by
31137 posts

Denny,

I can't answer your question directly, as my cards are all "Chip & PIN". However a few thoughts on your question......

  • IMO, the person at your financial institution is WRONG and doesn't know what they're talking about. As someone else suggested, ask the agent when they were last in Europe. The old fashioned magnetic strip cards should still work at attended locations such as hotels and restaurants.
  • VISA and MASTERCARD are widely accepted in Europe (AMEX not so much).
  • I'm in Europe now, and have purchased rail tickets at the Trenitalia Kiosks several times over the past few days. In each case my transactions were processed using the Chip & PIN system. The machines may also take magnetic strip cards, but I'm not so sure of that. The Kiosks all looked new and it's possible that they only take C&P now?
  • If you're being issued a Chip card by your financial institution, did they say whether it's a true "Chip & PIN" (EMV) or a Chip & Signature?
  • Get used to using cash in Italy, as that's what a lot of smaller restaurants and shops prefer.
Posted by
157 posts

Denny,

This fall will be my fourth trip to Italy in as many years. I have had no problem using credit card, countryside, towns and cities.
There are a few restaurants that will only take cash, so be prepared and always ask. I exchange very little cash before I go, ATM are available most places, but I rely heavily on my credit card ( I was told that is the best exchange rate).
Having traveled to Amsterdam last year, I did run into problems at train stations, chip cards only. Most other establishments can handle either card.

Buon viaggio