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Best Card to Use in Italy

We usually use our Discover Card for almost everything at home and in travels anywhere near North America. However, we are embarking on our first European vacation and understand Discover isn't accepted very many places so we will leave it behind. I've gotten info from our bank (Chase) on charges if we use our debit in various situations and it sounds like the max that a card can get away with (3% here, $5 there, and another 3% there... and we aren't the account holders paying a monthly fee for an account).

So, my question is... Do you have a preferred card that will allow you to withdraw cash in Italy for a reasonable transaction rate? We don't necessarily care about interest rate. We pay off every bill in full at the end of the billing cycle (other than mortgage) to avoid paying interest. I'm just interested in a card that will allow us reasonable access to cash at a reasonable rate while in Italy.

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
745 posts

Look for Visa and Mastercards that don't have foreign transaction fees. I have the Chase Amazon Prime card, which recently eliminated those fees. I also have a Citi AAdvantage card with no foreign fees. My wife has at least a couple of no-fee cards, as well. There should be quite a few available, but you should start that process now since your trip is approaching soon.

Use your bank debit card to withdraw euros from ATMs. Your bank may increase your daily withdrawal limit if you explain you're traveling abroad. There will probably be some ATM fees, so withdraw the maximum a few times rather than lots of smaller amounts.

On our first European trip in 2015, we took some euros and pounds with us and used ATMs in Paris twice for more euros. We paid cash for most daily expenses and only used credit cards for some store purchases and hotel charges.

And then there's the whole chip-and-pin vs. chip-and-signature conundrum, but I'll let others chime in on that.

Edit: And just to be clear, you do not want to use your credit card to take cash advances. Those have exorbitant fees that start from the moment you initiate the transaction. Use only your bank debit card for cash withdrawals from ATMs. And make sure you have more than enough in your checking account to cover your expected withdrawals.

Posted by
5657 posts

See Rick Steves tips on money: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money/pay-credit-cards-vs-cash

American credit cards work throughout Europe (at hotels, larger shops
and restaurants, travel agencies, car-rental agencies, and so on);
Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. American Express is
less common, and the Discover card is unknown in Europe. It’s a good
idea to bring an extra card as a backup (especially if you’re renting
a car and using your card to cover CDW insurance).

I've been happy with my Capital One Visa which basically converts at Interbank exchange rates and no longer requires foreign travel notification with it's chip card. However, obtaining cash with a Visa card is treated like a cash advance.

For cash, get an ATM/Debit card from your financial institution. The better ATM/Debit cards charge no or only one percent mark-ups for foreign exchange transactions. My credit union charges one percent. See: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money/cash-machine-atm-tips

Ideally, use your debit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo to take
money out of ATMs.

ATM transactions made with bank-issued debit cards come with various
fees. Your bank may levy a flat $2–5 transaction fee each time you use
an out-of-network ATM, and/or may charge a percentage for the currency
conversion (1–3 percent), on top of Visa and MasterCard’s 1 percent
fee for international transactions.

PS. Some Italian businesses do not accept credit cards and want cash. We didn't have any problem with credit card charges in Switzerland but took the train to Italy for lunch. The Italian resturant would only accept Euros or Swiss Francs, no credit cards.

Posted by
2625 posts

I second the use of using a Capital One credit card for purchases since there are no foreign exchange fees tacked on to the transaction. My primary bank is PNC but they charge an ATM fee as well as a 3% foreign exchange fee on ATM withdrawals from overseas banks. To avoid this, I opened a checking account at Capital One bank. There are no ATM or FX fees when using ATM's with their debit card. By reading the above recommended links, you'll learn a lot about using your debit and credit cards overseas and find hints on avoiding these unnecessary charges or falling into the dynamic conversion trap. There are many credit cards and banks that don't charge extraneous fees so just inquire to make sure you're not paying them. Also when withdrawing cash from an ATM in Europe, make sure it's a bank machine, not a privately owned one or one associated with a foreign exchange company.

Posted by
10041 posts

There are two separate things here.

Do not use a credit card to withdraw cash. It is not like charging a purchase and then you have until the next due date to pay it off. The interest charges start the day of the transaction. Even if you pay it off on time. Get a debit card. (You will need a checking account for the debit card.)

Chase has numerous credit cards that don't charge foreign transaction fees. And make sure it has some type of chip to make your life easier in Europe. (Swiping is unknown here.)

Schwab has a debit card that doesn't charge any foreign transaction fees and will reimburse you for any charges by the foreign bank.

Posted by
6570 posts

Not all international ATM withdrawals are free. My Wells Fargo ATM cash withdrawals receive a $5 charge plus 5% discount on the funds--excessive. I use a credit union ATM when traveling.

And I minimize using the ATM and cash--preferring to use a Capital One Venture Visa card for everything I can--including food, rooms, flights, groceries and museums. Europeans are actually more ATM dependent than Americans in their day to day living. Very few places don't take cards.

Posted by
5366 posts

How much time do you have before you travel?

It sounds as though you have a worst case scenario, your bank will charge you excessive fees ($5 + 3%) for ATM use and your Discover card will not travel in Europe well.

I would seriously look at one of the online options for an ATM card, either the Capital One Bank card or the Charles Schwab checking. Both let you deposit some amount of money, no fees for withdrawals, no daily limit. Use one of these as your primary card to get cash, bring your current ATM card for back-up.

I would also look for another Credit Card. You want one with no Foreign Transaction Fees, Chip enabled, and preferably with no annual fee, unless the amenities that come with the fee are worth it, or you take advantage of big points offers or bonuses, then cancel before you have to pay the fee in a year. Ideally a second credit card would also be nice for backup, but you can get by with one if you have good access to cash.

Posted by
1025 posts

We also use a Capital One credit card, For cash withdrawals, we use a Fidelty SmartCash card associated with our brokerage account, This debit card rebates all ATM fees worldwide.

Posted by
506 posts

Personally we carry two separate ATM cards from two different institutions, currently those are Wells Fargo and Fidelity. Both institutions rebate the fees. As for credit cards stick with MasterCard and Visa, as stated in this thread, look for "no foreign transaction fee" cards. i would not use a credit card to get cash at an ATM, that will cost you.

Ed

Posted by
3469 posts

I use a CapitalOne credit card while in Europe for all purchases. It has zero fees. No international use fees. No foreign exchange fees. No annual fees. No fees at all. Except for getting cash out of an ATM. You don't want to use it for that.

I also use the Capital One 360 Debit card to withdraw cash. It also has zero fees for anything. The account it is tied to has no minimum balance requirements and also no fees. If you choose this debit card option, make sure you get the 360 one as some of the other Capital One accounts do have fees.

Have been using both for over 10 years with zero issues in Europe. Both charge the interbank rate you see when you Google "1 EUR in USD".

You can open both of these over the internet and never have to step into an office for anything making them very convenient.

It is also a good idea to carry a backup in case an ATM eats your card. So your existing Debit card would be a good backup even if it charges high fees for use in an emergency. Your Discover card may also work where you see the Diner's Club card symbol in Europe.

Posted by
11613 posts

I prefer my Capital One and Chase cards, but every year more vendors in Europe accept Discover, so I take it along.

As Frank II said, using a credit card for cash advances from ATMs starts the very high interest rate taking effect as soon as the transaction is completed. Don't do it.

Posted by
5657 posts

As I noted above, my prefered foreign travel credit card is my Capital One Visa. And as I and others have noted, using a credit card for cash, charged as a cash advance, is a costly privilege. Even Capital One cautions card holders about the cost of a cash advance so buyer beware.

https://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/blog/cash-advance-versus-cash-back/

Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation—maybe even an
emergency—where you need cash. If there’s no other way to get it, you
might be able to use your credit card to get a cash advance, but first
make sure you know the potential cost of getting that cash in hand.

See the webpage for details about the cost of a cash advance. And as Capital One suggests, make sure you "understand the fine print".

Capital One Platinum terms: https://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/platinum/

We will begin charging interest on cash advances on the transaction
date. [24.99%]

Transaction Fees

Cash Advance Transaction Fee: Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each
cash advance, whichever is greater.

Posted by
2779 posts

"Reasonable access to cash at a reasonable rate. . .". That would be a debit card or ATM card. Several good ones mentioned above. Most credit unions have good rates too.

Also explained above but I will reiterate---do not use a credit card to withdraw cash!!! You are essentially taking out a loan and interest will be charged fromnthe date of the transaction. But credit cards are good for purchases and pretty widely (but not universally) accepted in Italy at shops and restaurants.

Posted by
114 posts

Just adding my vote for the Capital 1 Visa card. I was in Europe last year (Hungary, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and France). We were on a Danube river cruise to start with then visiting friends off to the South of France for some wine tasting. We had no issue with using our Visa card for Hotel and some restaurant meal. For cash our debit card worked great and my bank (Fremont Bank) rebated the ATM fees. If you are ok carrying more cash than normal then single large transactions are the way to go. We are on a RS Villages of Italy tour in less than a month now an plan to follow this same strategy.

Good luck and Enjoy your time in Italy.

Ciao

Posted by
7 posts

When my daughter was studying abroad overseas, she didn't have a credit card so we went to AAA and bought a visa card through them. It was able to be used as a credit card (at that time with no foreign transaction fees) and she was also able to take money out of the ATM for little to no charge either. I was able to load it up from my bank account whenever she needed it without any delay. Google AAA prepaid visa travel card. Hope that helps! Im in the Northeast so you may have to look at your local AAA dealer but this has most of the info regarding it at this site

https://northeast.aaa.com/content/dam/aaa-ne-web/pdf/travel/AAATrv_FAQs.pdf

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks everyone for the great suggestions and personal experiences. I've opened a Capital One credit card and a Capital One 360 checking account.