The currency used in Italy is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 0.50C, 0.20C, 0.10C, 0.05C, 0.02C and 0.01C.
All that US, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand nationals require to stay as a tourist in the city for a period of up to ninety days is a valid passport. It is almost impossible to extend you stay beyond this amount of time unless you leave the country and re-enter it once again. EU residents are free to travel and work in the country with a valid passport but it is extremely difficult for other nationalities to obtain a working visa. Citizens of all other countries should check with the Italian embassy in your home country to see what the requirements for your particular nationality.
Italy has a varied climate which falls into three geographical regions. The northern regions have cold Alpine winters and warm wet summers. In the Po Valley, winters are damp and icy while summers can be exceptionally dry. And, the rest of Italy, compliments of a temperate climate, generally has pleasant weather with long, hot summers and mild winters.
Italian is the official language but different dialects are spoken in different regions. For example, German is spoken in the South Tyrol region which borders Austria. French is spoken in all the border areas from the Riviera to the area north of Milan which borders France and Switzerland. English, German and French are also widely spoken in the bigger cities and in the major tourist areas.
While traveller’s cheques are widely accepted, there are some places which will refuse to do so, particularly in more remote parts of the country. Therefore, it is advised that you change them into lira as soon as you arrive in the country. For all currency exchange, banks are generally the most reliable and offer the best rates. There are also exchange offices at all major airports and train stations whose opening hours are usually more convenient but the commission is more expensive.
All major credit cards are also widely accepted and if you have the PIN you can use these to receive cash in compatible bank machines. The same applies to bankcards which are members of any of the international banking networks or Eurocard.
Italy is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Opening hours in the country are somewhat erratic but in general shops are open from 9.00am until 1.00pm and again from 4.00pm until 7.30pm. In certain towns, however, many stores take a half day where they do not open after lunch so you do really need to check with the particular area before you go. The larger stores, however, are generally open all day and many also open on Sundays, particularly in tourist areas.
Government Offices are open from 8.30am until 2.00pm but they do open until 5.00pm in the major cities. Museums are open from 9.00am until 7.00pm, some close between 1.00pm and 3.00pm and all are shut on Sunday and Monday.
Banks are generally open from Monday to Friday between 8.35am and 1.35pm and again from 3.00pm to 4.00pm. In some of the larger cities, however, they do not close for lunch.
Electricity in Italy is 220V, 50 Hz but in some places including Rome, 125V is still used so you should check the particular area before you travel.
There is a value added tax included in the price of all goods in Italy but the good news is that for all non EU residents, this is something which you can get back after you leave the country. This rebate only applies, however, if the item purchased cost more than €155. If this is the case, you need to fill in a form in the shop where you buy the item, have it stamped at customs and return it to the shop within sixty days. Following this your refund will be issued by cheque or to your credit card. At major airports and border crossings there are facilities which will provide you with an immediate cash refund.
To call Italy from abroad you first dial 00, followed by 39, the local area code and the local number. If you wish to call abroad from Italy again you dial 00, followed by the international calling code for your particular country and then the local number. It is worth noting that you also need to drop the first zero from the local area code for both types of call.
Public telephones are widely available throughout the city. A local call from a public telephone requires the use of a token (Gettone) which may be purchased at a newsstand or in any tobacco shop. Most telephones, however, will now only accept phonecards. These cards come in various denominations, €2.58, €5.16 etc. and these too can be purchased at newsstands, tobacco shops or from vending machines in Telecom centres.
In general post offices are open between 8.30am and 2.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 8.30am to 12.00pm on Saturdays and on the last day of the month. Branches at airports and the main post offices in the larger cities, however, are usually open 24 hours a day for registered mail and telegram services. Stamps can also be purchased at tobacco shops but it is advisable to post airmail letters and postcards at the post office to ensure the postage is correct, otherwise the mail will be returned to the sender.
While a service charge of between 15 and 18% is included in all restaurant bills, it is customary to leave a small tip if the service merits it. Between 5 and 10% of the total is sufficient. If you are in a café or a bar where the service charge is not included you should tip between 10 and 15%. Taxi drivers are usually given 10% of the fare and tour guides and drivers should be given about 15% of the total cost of the tour price.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Italy they take place on January 1st and 6th, Easter Monday, April 25th, May 1st, August 15th, November 1st and December 8th, 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.