A lot of people get antsy about bringing a lot of cash with them when they visit a new country.
When visiting Rome, bringing a lot of money is a VERY BAD idea.
- By buying euros in advance, you will get ripped off on the exchange rate.
- By buying a lot of euros in advance, you will get ripped off exponentially.
- By carrying a lot of cash, 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 (fairly) modern banking system and internationally connected ATMs on almost every street corner (tip: ATMs are popularly called “Bancomat”).
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.
What you do need cash for will be: most taxis, markets, cafés, and small convenience stores. But bear in mind that many of these outlets have problems in breaking large notes (€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.
Here is our advice:
- 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 notes 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 antsy about not having some local currency in your wallet before you arrive, then order around €200 from your bank or exchange bureau in your home country and bring it with you, but you really don’t need more than that for the reasons outlined above.
Also bring at least one backup card, preferably two, and leave it apart from your luggage – in the hotel safe, in a safe box at reception, or just hidden in your suitcase. Don’t forget to inform that bank too before you go.
Absolute best tip: if you have time, and are in an eligible country, apply for a 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, please don’t fall prey to the old myth that wads of US dollars are what locals want: this is a belief that stems from the years after the Second World War, and died out more than 50 years ago. We earn euros, we spend euros – we want euros!