Practical Italy: Money

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"


In North America, we’ve gotten into the habit of using our credit and debit cards for just about everything we purchase from our morning coffee to a new flat screen tv. The trend hasn’t quite caught on in Italy. What does this mean? For starters, you’re going to have to get used to carrying cash. By cash I mean Euro cash, not American, not Canadian, not Hong Kong dollars, not Galleons, Ducats, Florins, Knuts or Sickles. Euros. (You’d be amazed at the amount of people who think you can use American money in Italy). But why all this fuss about contanti (cash)?

Because you’re not allowed to pay for small purchases with a credit card. In some places, even for larger totals, restauranteurs and store-owners will tell you a flat out “no”when you show them your card. Then they’ll patiently wait for you to crack open your wallet to the side with the paper in it, not the plastic. This isn’t just something they do for tourists, so don’t feel like you’re being scammed. In general, Italians don’t use their credit cards very often. I actually don’t think I’ve seen an Italian pay for anything (other than business expenses) with a credit card. Cash it is, and cash you will use. Get used to it. 

In general, VAT/IVA taxes are included in the prices shown. If a gelato is listed as 2 euros, it’s 2 euros. If a hotel room is 60 euros, it’s 60 euros (plus probably a very nominal city tax, depending on where you are). If your restaurant bill doesn’t come out as high as you’d like to be, check out my Tips on Tipping in Italy.

Next, remember that your Canadian/American debit card won’t work at stores in Italy. You can’t go buy a leather jacket with your debit card. Non funziona. It doesn’t work. You need cash, (if I haven’t already made that abundantly clear). Where your debit card will work, however, is to take money out of an ATM/Bank machine, which in Italy are called Bancomats. There’ll be a limit as to how much you can get out at a time (200 or 250 euros probably) and only the larger banks will accept international cards. Look for banks that have names you recognize in them: Roma, Firenze, Venezia, Siena, Milano, etc. And if you try one Bancomat and it won’t read your card, don’t give up! This is Italy! Try another one. It’ll work, trust me.


I also find using a Bancomat is the easiest way to “exchange” in a sense, money in Italy. When you go to a cambio, or exchange place, they ask you for ID even if you’re looking to exchange 50 euros! Much less hassle just to make yourself familiar with the Bancomats and extract your foreign money out from them. If you set it up ahead of time, your bank might even have an account that waives the foreign fees. If not, you’re probably looking at between a $1.50 and $5.00 service charge every time you take money out in Italy.

Regarding traveller’s cheques, (what are those?) I don’t think anyone uses them anywhere anymore. I’ve never tried to use them in Italy but I can make a good guess that they’re probably a big hassle. Don’t go there.

Sidenote: It amazes me the number of people who ask if they should exchange some money before they get to Italy, or if they should opt to arrive in a new country without any local currency, jet-lagged, disoriented and grumpy from bad airplane food. Wrap your head around that one for a moment. Now tell me the smart answer…. GET SOME LOCAL CURRENCY BEFORE YOU LEAVE!

What’s the big deal? Well, to change money at the airport will probably leave you victim to the highest exchange rates and charges there are. Don’t bother. Also, if something happens (as it always does in Italy) and you can’t change money right away, what are you going to do then, huh?

Think about this: in some places in Italy, you have to pay a nominal fee to use the bathroom. I say again: you have to pay to use the bathroom. There are turnstiles and metal bars and the grumpy gremlin of a gabinetto (bathroom) guard won’t let you in until you pay the toll. You yourself are grumpy, grimy, jet lagged, and, to top it all off, you have to pee. Now you have to beg someone (in a language you don’t know, by the way) for a 1 euro coin just so that you can avoid peeing your pants during your first hour in Italy. You’re dragging your suitcase, trying to keep track of your travel companion(s), trying to read signs, trying not to get pick pocketed, and doing the pee-pee dance all because you didn’t take the time to change some money before your departure. It’s like Mr. Bean goes on vacation. A situation I’d try to avoid, if I were you….

Last thing to remember about money and finances when you travel to Italy: let your bank and credit card company know you’re going to be away so they don’t block your cards when they see them being used across the pond. Seriously. I booked a plane ticket once from Spain to Italy and VISA was on the phone to me in 10 minutes flat telling me someone had lifted my credit card number and was making fraudulent charges. The call certainly reassured me that VISA was taking good care to watch that I wasn’t being scammed, but it was unnecessary because I had bought the ticket myself – they just weren’t aware of my plans.

Great Italian Love Songs

By now you all know how great my love of Italian music is. And if you don’t, well, feel free to check out the Italian Playlist page for an explanation as to why I love it so much.

I’ve just created a new playlist entitled Grandi Canzoni D’Amore, or Great Love Songs made up of songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s – most of which I was forced to listen to as a kid on my Italian Babbo’s (Dad’s) cassette tapes, 45s and LPs. (Do people even know what those are any more?!) Other songs weren’t introduced to me by Babbo (I actually introduced some of them to him) but by friends in Italy and bring back memories of many afternoons and evenings spent sipping Prosecco at my favourite hangout in Siena.

Some of the singer-songwriters on the playlist have been writing, singing and performing music for more than four decades and they’re still bravissimi (great). My 70-year-old Nonna still marvels at Gianni Morandi’s “straight, white, beautiful” teeth! I tried to include as many original video clips as I could, purely for entertainment purposes. (Would you look at the hair on Claudio Baglioni!)

Along with my Dad and my Nonni (grandparents) I’ve been lucky enough to even see some of these guys in concert, yes, all the way across the pond here in Canada. Who? Toto Cutugno and Gianni Morandi, for starters, both of whom appear on this new playlist.

Take a listen, and I hope you enjoy!

Buon ascolto!

Un’Estate Italiana


If you’re able to read Italian, you’re probably wondering about the title of this post.  

Doesn’t estate mean summer? Isn’t it already September? What is she talking about!?

Well, even though it’s September, I’ve been reminiscing about the sounds of an Italian summer and have thus created a playlist with a few canzoni that remind me of my summers spent in Italy.

What did my summers consist of, you ask? What were the images that flashed in my head as I selected each of the songs on my playlist? Well, I’ll tell you. When I think of summertime in Italy I think of il mare, la spiaggia, il gelato, la passeggiata, dei limoni, dei tramonti bellissimi, il calore, l’anguria, Ferragosto, and il Palio di Siena.

In Inglese? The sea, the beach, gelato, going for walks, lemons, beautiful sunsets, the heat, watermelon, the Ferragosoto holiday and the Palio of Siena.  

Don’t they make you think of summertime in Italy as well?

Like the prime canzoni playlist, some of these songs are old, some of them are new, some of them are cheezy and some are beautiful. Here’s Un’Estate Italiana!


Buon ascolto!