Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing, consult a currency exchange website, such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic, to check up-to-the-minute rates.
Like many other European countries, Italy uses the euro as its currency. Euro coins are issued in denominations of .01€, .02€, .05€, .10€, .20€, and .50€, as well as 1€ and 2€; bills come in denominations of 5€, 10€, 20€, 50€, 100€, 200€, and 500€.
The aggressive evolution of international computerized banking and consolidated ATM networks has led to the triumph of plastic throughout the Italian peninsula -- even if cold cash is still the most trusted currency, especially in smaller towns or cheaper mom-and-pop joints, where credit cards may not be accepted. Traveler's checks, while still the safest way to carry money, are going the way of the dinosaur.
You'll get the best rate if you exchange money at a bank or one of its ATMs. The rates at "Cambio/change/wechsel" exchange booths are invariably less favorable but still a good deal better than what you'd get exchanging money at a hotel or shop (a last-resort tactic only). The bill-to-bill changers you'll see in some touristy places exist solely to rip you off.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), referred to in Italy as a "Bancomat." ATMs are very prevalent in the cities of northern Italy and are not as common in smaller towns and villages. While every town usually has one, it's good practice to fuel up on cash in urban centers, ideally during business hours. (International circuits seem to go off-line on occasion late at night and on weekends.) The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe. Go to your bank card's website to find ATM locations in northern Italy.
Be sure to check with your bank that your card is valid for international withdrawal and that you have a four-digit PIN. (Most ATMs in Italy will not accept any other number of digits.) Also, be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee, although this is not common practice in Italy. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
If at the ATM you get a message saying your card isn't valid for international transactions, don't panic: It's most likely the bank just can't make the phone connection to check it (occasionally this can be a citywide epidemic) or else simply doesn't have the cash. Try another ATM or another town.
Credit cards are widely accepted in northern Italy these days, especially in hotels and larger establishments. However, it is always a good idea to carry some cash, since some small businesses may accept only cash or may claim that their credit card machine is broken to avoid paying fees to the credit card companies.
Visa and MasterCard are almost universally accepted at hotels, plus most restaurants and shops; the majority of them also accept American Express. Diners Club is gaining some ground. Note: It is an unfortunately common practice among many restaurants in Italy to claim that the credit card machine is down when, in fact, it is more often the case that the owner simply doesn't want to pay the merchant fees. On more than one occasion I've insisted that they try it just in case, as I had no cash, and -- surprise -- it's been instantly fixed! The best way to avoid this chicanery is to inform the waitstaff up front that you intend to use a credit card. If they tell you it's broken, you have the option of finding a restaurant where the machine "works."
Chip and PIN represent a change in the way that credit and debit cards are used. The program is designed to cut down on the fraudulent use of credit cards. More and more banks -- especially in Europe -- are issuing customers chip and PIN versions of their debit or credit cards. In the future, more and more vendors will be asking for a four-digit PIN, which will be entered into a keypad near the cash register. For now, traditional "swipe" cards are commonly accepted in northern Italy even though they are being phased out elsewhere, and chip cards are also commonly accepted.
Finally, be sure to let your bank know that you'll be traveling abroad to avoid having your card blocked after a few days of big purchases far from home. Note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.