A lot of people get antsy about bringing a lot of cash with them when they visit a new country. We explain what to carry and how to get local currency.
Should I get a lot of euros in advance?
The first thing to know is that when visiting Rome, bringing a lot of money with you is a very bad idea.
- By buying euros in advance, you will get ripped off on the exchange rate in your home country.
- By buying a lot of euros in advance, you will get ripped off exponentially.
- By carrying a lot of cash when in Italy, you will make yourself incredibly vulnerable to theft, either from your person, or from your accommodation.
On the other hand Italy is a modern country with a modern banking system, and there are internationally connected ATMs on almost every street corner (tip: ATMs are popularly called “Bancomat”). Use them and you’ll enjoy a better exchange rate.
Should I bring US dollars?
There is a persistent myth that Italian businesses gladly accept US dollars. This was true after the war about 70 years ago, and during the devaluations of the lira, but is certainly not true now – and particularly not since Italy switched to using the euro about 20 years ago: the euro is a strong international currency that is unlikely to be devalued, so dollars have no advantage over euros. In fact it’s a complete pain for a business to attempt to change foreign cash, and they will lose a lot of money on the exchange.
You can use your home country’s bank’s debit or credit cards all over the country in most businesses and pretty much all ATMs – standalone, banks, and post offices. Just make sure you inform your home bank/s that you’ll be travelling abroad. And provided your bank doesn’t impose crazy ATM fees, it will also likely give you a much better exchange rate than if you used a bureau.
When do I need cash?
What you do need cash for will be: most taxis, markets, cafés, and small convenience stores. Bear in mind that many of these outlets have problems in breaking large bills (€50s or even sometimes €20s), so preferably carry as many small notes (€10s and €5s) and as much loose change with you as you can. Also handy to have coins if you want to leave a tip.
So how much money should I bring to Rome?
- Don’t bring any more cash with you than you’d normally carry with you in your own country on a daily basis.
- Bear in mind the increased pickpocketing risk for a tourist in Rome.
- When you get to the airport, get one or two hundred euros out of one of the ATMs in the baggage hall just in case. Tip: it’s better to get an amount like €180 so you force the machine to distribute smaller bills rather than the ‘unbreakable’ fifties.
- Use your credit/debit card whenever you can in stores and restaurants.
- Get more cash out from an ATM whenever required.
If you are the kind of person who gets uncomfortable about not having some local currency in your wallet before you arrive, then order around €100-200 from your bank or exchange bureau in your home country and bring it with you so you can use it to pay for a cab or accommodation in an emergency – but you really don’t need any more than that for the reasons outlined above.
Also bring at least one backup card, preferably two, and leave it apart from your luggage and billfold – in the hotel safe, in a safe box at reception, or just hidden in your suitcase. Don’t forget to inform that bank before you go as well.
Absolute best tip: if you have time, and are in an eligible country, apply for a Wise (formerly TransferWise) account. With this you can apply for a debit card and a ‘borderless account‘, then add a euro balance to your account, and use the debit card at ATMs in Italy. This incurs zero charges until you hit €300, then 1% after that, but you get the best possible exchange rate.
And don’t whatever you do try to hand out wads of US dollar bills. We earn euros, we spend euros – we want euros!