Money in Sicily
You might have already guessed it, but Italy has some pretty amazing shopping: leather, ceramics, jewelry, shoes, chocolate, and wine (just to name a few).
And since we suspect you’ll be reaching for your wallet more than a time or two during our spring Sicilian adventure, we want to be sure that you and your bank are well prepared.
Here are a few of our tried-and-true tips for how to handle your money in Italy.
Cash You’re definitely going to want to have some Euros in your pocket during our trip.
While the ability to swipe a card is pretty much ubiquitous in the States, the same does not necessarily hold true in Italy. When shopping at the market, buying a gelato or coffee, and even in some small local shops and restaurants, you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of cash on hand to pay with.
In fact, our general recommendation is to reserve your credit or debit card primarily for larger purchases and withdrawing cash.
Should I order euros at my bank before I leave the US?
This is totally a personal preference. If you'd rather not have to hunt down an ATM on your first day in Sicily, then I'd recommend ordering some Euros from your bank. Our local bank charges a very reasonable fee for ordering foreign currency. But keep in mind that if you order a large sum, you'll be walking around with a lot of cash in your pocket.
What’s the best way to get cash?
Exchanging dollars once you arrive in Italy will not get you the best rate. We recommend using your debit card to withdraw from a Bancomat (ATM) upon arrival in Italy. Be sure to check with your bank to know what their fees (if any) are for foreign ATM withdrawals.
Bonus tip: Some Bancomats and merchants will ask you if you want to be charged in euros or in dollars. Always choose euros. If you’re charged in euros, your home bank (the one that has a vested interest in keeping you happy) will be responsible for setting the exchange rate, which will be in your favor. If you decide to be charged in dollars, it’s the merchant’s or Bancomat’s bank (one that doesn’t have a vested interest in keeping you happy) that sets the exchange rate, which will usually not be in your favor.
Cards A credit or debit card is a great thing to have in Italy. Virtually all national brands in Italy will accept cards. Many local merchants do as well, but it’s not a given that all of them will, hence our cash recommendations above.
Do I really have to notify my bank before traveling?
Yes! Please, please, please do this. Even if it’s while you’re on the way to the airport, be sure to call your bank’s customer service to let them know where you’ll be traveling. Be sure to include any international layovers you may have in other countries outside of Italy - you never know when you’ll just need to do some duty-free shopping in the airport!
Another thing you may want to check with your bank is what your daily withdrawal limit is. Most Bancomats in Italy have a maximum daily withdrawal limit of €250 (approx. $300) and your home bank will have no control over this.
Should I bring a credit card or just a debit card?
Yes - to both, that is.
Credit cards are always good to have in emergencies. It’s also a good idea to make sure that you have all of your anti-fraud features and notifications activated and adjusted prior to departure.(Note: American Express and Discover are not widely accepted across Italy. If you really want to use your AmEx or Discover card where possible we also recommend bringing a Visa or Mastercard.)
Your debit card, however, will be the best way to withdraw cash in Italy, and you should definitely bring one.
The final decision rests with you, of course, but bringing two different cards linked to two different accounts (whether they’re credit cards or debit cards) is not a bad idea.
*Please note: We will be traveling in off-the-beaten-path destinations outside of tourist season. We don’t expect to deal with tight quarters packed full of people where pickpockets are a big cause for concern. However, the world is a crazy place and anything can happen. The most important thing to do is whatever makes you most comfortable.
How Much Ah, the ever-important question: how much spending money should I budget?
As I’m sure you can imagine, it really just depends. A very rough estimate based on our itinerary, any meals that are not already included in your trip fee, and modest amounts included for shopping, is about $250/person. It could be less if you opt for street food meals when you’re on your own, and only buy a few souvenirs for yourself. It could be more if your style is more 4-course meals with wine, and purchasing a new Italian wardrobe!