Changing money while abroad
Changing money regularly in Italy can be inconvenient. Bank hours vary and there may be hefty commissions. Banks are required to use the official exchange rates locked in throughout the Euro-zone, but they sometime extract a flat commission as well; therefore, the more money you exchange at one time, the less you will lose in the transaction. But don’t exchange more than you need or you’ll have too many Euro when you return home.
The exchange rate at hotels, restaurants, and airports are usually very unfavorable; avoid them unless it’s an emergency. The quickest and most inexpensive way to get money is to withdraw cash using your debit or credit card. Although the Italian bank (and your bank at home) may assess a transaction fee, it is usually much cheaper than the commission a bank or bureau de change will charge and the exchange rate is better. There are many banks in Prato and elsewhere in Italy so you will not have a problem finding an ATM. Fortunately the ATMs will often have the instructions in English as well as Italian.
Major credit and debit cards are widely accepted in hotels, shops and restaurants. Visa is the most welcomed credit card; however, MasterCard is also accepted but to a slightly lesser degree. Know that American Express is accepted must less frequently. It is important to point out that most bars, coffee shops, bakeries and newsstands only accept cash; therefore, always carry cash with you. DO NOT carry large amounts of cash as it is irreplaceable if lost or stolen.
You can also obtain money through a cash advance from your credit card using an ATM. Using your card requires having and knowing a Personal Identification Number (PIN). There is a service charge ranging from $2 to $5 per cash advance; therefore, you should withdraw money in larger amounts. The most you can withdraw in one day is usually the equivalent of €400-450 (about $580-650); the amount is dependent upon that day’s exchange rate and the amount your own bank allows you to withdraw in one day (your daily limit). Remember that the money you withdraw from an ATM in Italy will be denominated in the local currency. Banks can also give cash advances in local currency on major credit cards often at the wholesale exchange rate, which is generally 5% better than the retail rate ordinarily used by banks. Many credit card companies charge interest beginning the day you withdraw money even if you pay off the entire balance on your credit card bill.
We also recommend that you transfer money from your savings account to your checking account as you may not be able to access your savings account in Europe.
REMEMBER TO TELL YOUR BANK AND YOUR CREDIT CARD COMPANY THAT YOU WILL BE ABROAD FOR THE DURATION OF YOUR PROGRAM. With this information, your bank or company will not be suspicious or block your account/card when it sees your first charge made from outside the United States.
The main advantage to traveler’s checks is that they can be replaced if lost or stolen. You will pay a commission to convert these into currency. Recently students in Italy have had trouble finding places to exchange them, and problems too actually getting them exchanged, so we do not recommend using them as your primary source of funds. Rather, consider only having some as an emergency reserve in case your credit card or ATM card is lost or stolen.
Getting money from home
Ordinarily, we suggest using the methods detailed above to get money from home. In an emergency, Western Union can have money wired to you from the US, though there is always a commission. Consult their website (westernunion.com) for more information.