The Italian lire disappeared into history on March 1, 2002, replaced by the euro, the single European currency, whose official abbreviation is "EUR." Exchange rates of participating countries are locked into a common currency fluctuating against the dollar. For more details on the euro, check out www.ec.europa.eu./economy_finance/euro.
Money & Costs
Frommer's lists prices in local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanca.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
Exchange rates are more favorable at the point of arrival. Nevertheless, it's often helpful to exchange at least some money before going abroad (standing in line at the cambio [exchange bureau] in the Rome airport could make you miss the next bus leaving for downtown). Check with any of your local American Express or Thomas Cook offices or major banks. Or, order euros in advance from American Express (tel. 800/492-3344; http://home.americanexpress.com).
It's best to exchange currency or traveler's checks at a bank, not a cambio, hotel, or shop. Currency and traveler's checks (for which you'll receive a better rate than cash) can be changed at all principal airports and at some travel agencies, such as American Express and Thomas Cook. Note the rates and inquire about commission fees; it can sometimes pay to shop around.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), called a Bancomat in Italy. The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on; then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) before you leave home and be sure to find out your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Also keep in mind that many banks impose a fee every time a card is used at a different 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 $1.50). On top of this, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. To compare banks' ATM fees within the U.S., use www.bankrate.com. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
You can also get cash advances on your credit card at an ATM. Keep in mind that credit card companies try to protect themselves from theft by limiting the funds someone can withdraw outside the home country, so call your credit card company before you leave home. And keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time.
Traveler's checks seem less necessary these days because most Italian cities and towns have 24-hour ATMs, allowing you to withdraw small amounts of cash as needed. But if you prefer the security of the tried-and-true, you might want to stick with traveler's checks -- provided that you don't mind showing an ID every time you want to cash a check.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/221-7282 for cardholders -- this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee). AAA members can obtain Visa checks free; nonmembers pay a $4.95 fee for checks up to $1,500. Checks are available at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378. For Visa checks call tel. 800/732-1322, or for MasterCard checks call tel. 800/223-9920.
American Express, Visa, and MasterCard offer foreign currency traveler's checks, which are useful if you're traveling to one country, or to the Euro zone; they're accepted at locations where dollar checks may not be.
If you carry traveler's checks, keep a record of their serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
Credit cards are a safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can also withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN. If you've forgotten yours, or didn't even know you had one, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank to send it to you. It usually takes 5 to 7 business days, though some banks will provide the number over the phone if you tell them your mother's maiden name or some other personal information. Keep in mind that when you use your credit card abroad, most banks assess a 2% fee above the 1% fee charged by Visa, MasterCard, or American Express for currency conversion on credit charges. But credit cards still may be the smart way to go when you factor in things such as exorbitant ATM fees and higher traveler's check exchange rates (and service fees).
Dear Visa: I'm off to Rome! -- Some credit card companies recommend that you notify them of any impending trip abroad so that they don't become suspicious when the card is used numerous times in a foreign destination and block your charges. Even if you don't call your credit card company in advance, you can always call the card's toll-free emergency number if a charge is refused -- a good reason to carry the phone number with you. But perhaps the most important lesson here is to carry more than one card with you on your trip; a card might not work for any number of reasons, so having a backup is the smart way to go.
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.