A country with thousands of years of history, Italy has made huge contributions to human life and society as we know it. Some of the finest artists, poets, writers, thinkers, and other creative minds were born and raised in Italy, inspired by the beauty, culture, and heritage of their homeland. And even today, in the modern era, Italy continues to be one of the most incredible places on Earth, renowned for its picturesque nature.
Whether you’re heading off on a romantic gondola ride along the waterways of Venice, exploring the ancient ruins of Pompeii, marveling at the Colosseum in Rome, touring the cathedrals and churches of Tuscany, or heading down to the coast to see the stunning villages of the Cinque Terre, Italy has so much to offer. When planning your Italian vacation, you’ll need to know all about how money works in Italy. Read on to find out.
Official Currency in Italy
Italy is one of the many European countries to make use of the euro as its official currency. Before the euro was introduced in Italy, the lira was the main currency used in Italy. The euro is also used in places like France, Spain, and Germany. The symbol for the euro is € and its value changes over time, so it’s always a good idea to have a look at currency conversion rates before your trip to see what the value of the euro is like at the time of travel.
One euro can be broken down into 100 cents, which are known as centesimo (singular) or centesimi (plural) to Italians. If you’ve visited other European nations like Spain or France and used the euro in the past, you’ll find that money works exactly the same way in Italy, so paying for goods and services is very easy for seasoned European travelers.
Coins and Notes in Italy
During your stay in Italy, you may come across the following coins:
All of the different coins used in the euro currency system are circular in shape. In order to differentiate between them, you can look at the size, color, and the markings on each coin. Larger coins are usually higher in value, but their color plays an important part too. The small coins are copper colored, the medium-value coins are gold, and the two most valuable coins feature a mixture of colors. Each coin is clearly marked with its monetary value.
Many different notes are also used in conjunction with coins. Here are the notes you may use while in Italy:
- €5 (grey)
- €10 (red)
- €20 (blue)
- €50 (orange)
- €100 (green)
- €200 (yellow)
- €500 (purple)
The colors in brackets indicate the color of each note, and the simple color-coded system used on euro notes makes it quite easy to tell them apart. You can also simply see the monetary value printed on each note to see how much it’s worth, and the large value notes are always physically bigger than their smaller value counterparts.
Using Credit Cards in Italy
Credit and debit cards are commonly used all around Italy, so you shouldn't have too many problems when using your card. It's always a good idea to let your bank know that you're traveling, however, in order to avoid any issues. You should also check with your bank what kind of fees they charge for using your card internationally or making withdrawals at foreign ATMs.
Speaking of ATMs, they're known as 'bancomat' in Italy, and they might seem a little strange at first glance. Many of them are almost like private cabins that you'll need to access by inserting your card. You can usually put the machines into English, and you'll see symbols around the bancomat to let you know which cards are accepted at each one. Italians do like to use cash often, so you’ll probably want to buy euros or withdraw plenty when you arrive.
Using US Dollars or Other Currencies in Italy
The euro is the only currency accepted in Italy. Using US dollars in Italy is not allowed, except perhaps at some exclusive hotels in a big city like Rome. In general, euros and cards are the only ways to pay in Italy.
Tips for Currency in Italy
If you want to have the best possible time in Italy, follow these top tips:
- Speak with your bank before you travel. Find out what your options are in terms of using your cards internationally, how much you’re going to be charged, and whether or not you would be better off using cash or card in general.
- Most of the time, cash is the preferred payment option in Italy. Many places accept card payments, especially in the big cities like Rome and Milan, but cash payments are much more common all around the country.
- If you’re heading out to small villages and rural locations, cards are less likely to be accepted in general. Be sure to have plenty of cash on your person.
- One strange but understandable idiosyncrasy of Italian culture is that shop and restaurant workers don’t really like the larger notes. They don’t like breaking a €50 note for a purchase of €10, for example, so try and use your bigger notes on bigger items or family meals, rather than handing them over in a simple souvenir store or coffee shop.
- Many of the bancomats only give out large notes, so you might want to buy some euros before you set off for Italy so that you have some of the smaller notes.
- Shop around to get the best deal on your currency exchanges. Exchange rates can vary quite wildly from one place to the next.
- Use your debit card, rather than your credit card, at ATMs. The fees associated with debit card withdrawals tend to be much smaller than for credit cards.
- Make big withdrawals whenever possible. You’ll get charged by your bank every time you withdraw, so it makes sense to withdraw lots of cash in one go, as opposed to making many little withdrawals.
- Don’t forget that euros are used in lots of other countries around Europe too, so you can head over the border to somewhere like France and still use the same money. You don’t need to feel obliged to spend it all during your trip either, as you can simply save it up for another European adventure.