Money & costs
Italy isn’t cheap, although compared with the UK and northern Europe the situation is not so bad. What you spend on accommodation (your single greatest expense) will depend on various factors, such as location (Turin is pricier than Taranto), season (August is crazy on the coast), the degree of comfort, and luck. At the bottom end you will pay €14 to €20 at youth hostels, where meals generally cost €9.50. The cheapest pensione (small hotel) is unlikely to cost less than €25 for a basic single or €40 for a double anywhere from Pisa to Palermo. You can stumble across comfortable rooms with their own bathroom from €50 to €80. Midrange hotels in the more expensive places such as Rome, Florence and Venice can easily cost from €80 to €150 for singles or €120 to €200 for doubles.
Eating out is just as variable. In Venice and Milan you tend to pay a lot (and sometimes get little in return), while tourist magnets such as Florence and Rome offer surprisingly affordable options. On average you should reckon on at least €20 to €50 for a meal (two courses, dessert and house wine), although you can still find basic set lunch menus for €10 to €15.
A backpacker sticking religiously to youth hostels, snacking at midday and travelling slowly could scrape by on €40 to €50 per day. Your average midrange daily budget, including a sandwich for lunch and a simple dinner, as well as budgeting for a couple of sights and travel, might come to anything from €100 to €150 a day.
Public transport is reasonably priced, but car hire is expensive (as is petrol) and is probably best arranged before leaving home. On trains you can save money by travelling on the slower regionale (local) trains.
You are not expected to tip on top of restaurant service charges but you can leave a little extra if you feel service warrants it. If there is no service charge, the customer should consider leaving a 10% tip, but this is not obligatory. In bars, Italians often leave small change as a tip, maybe only €0.10. Tipping taxi drivers is not common practice, but you are expected to tip the porter at top-end hotels.
The euro is Italy’s currency. The seven euro notes come in denominations of €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5. The eight euro coins are in denominations of €2 and €1, and 50, 20, 10, five, two and one cents.
For the latest rates, check out www.xe.com.
There is little advantage in bringing foreign cash into Italy. True, exchange commissions are often lower than for travellers cheques, but the danger of losing the lot far outweighs such gains.
You can change money in banks, at the post office or in a cambio (exchange office). Post offices and most banks are reliable and tend to offer the best rates. Commission fluctuates and depends on whether you are changing cash or cheques. Generally post office commissions are lowest and the exchange rate reasonable. The main advantage of exchange offices is the longer hours they keep, but watch for high commissions and inferior rates.
Taxes & refunds
A value-added tax of around 20%, known as IVA (Imposta di Valore Aggiunto), is slapped onto just about everything in Italy. If you are a non-EU resident and spend more than €155 on a purchase, you can claim a refund when you leave. The refund only applies to purchases from affiliated retail outlets that display a ‘tax free for tourists’ (or similar) sign. You have to complete a form at the point of sale, then get it stamped by Italian customs as you leave. At major airports you can then get an immediate cash refund; otherwise it will be refunded to your credit card. For information, pick up a pamphlet on the scheme from participating stores.
Traditionally a safe way to carry money and possibly not a bad idea as a backup, travellers cheques have been outmoded by plastic. Various readers have reported having trouble changing travellers cheques in Italy and it seems most banks apply hefty commissions, even on cheques denominated in euros.
Visa, Travelex and Amex are widely accepted brands. Get most of your cheques in fairly large denominations to save on per-cheque commission charges. Amex exchange offices do not charge commission to exchange travellers cheques.
It’s vital to keep your initial receipt, along with a record of your cheque numbers and the ones you have used, separate from the cheques. Take along your passport as identification when you go to cash travellers cheques.
Phone numbers to report lost or stolen cheques:
Amex (800 914 912)
MasterCard (800 870 866)
Travelex (800 872 050)
Visa (800 874 155)