Introduction

Here is some general information about Italy.

Language

Italian is the language of the majority of the population but there are minorities speaking German, French, Slovene and Ladino. English is generally understood at most attractions such as museums and at most hotels and restaurants that cater to visitors. Even if few staff members at a restaurant, for example, speak English, one person almost always does and can be summoned. As you travel in remote towns and villages, especially in the south, an Italian phrase book is a handy accompaniment.

Currency

The euro is Italy"s currency. The seven euro notes come in denominations of €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5. The eight euro coins are in denominations of €2 and €1, and 50, 20, 10, five, two and one cents. For the latest rates, check out www.xe.com.

Cash

There is little advantage in bringing foreign cash into Italy. True, exchange commissions are often lower than for traveller"s cheques, but the danger of losing the lot far outweighs such gains.

Moneychangers

You can change money in banks, at the post office or in a "cambio" (exchange office). Post offices and most banks are reliable and tend to offer the best rates. Commission fluctuates and depends on whether you are changing cash or cheques. Generally post office commissions are lowest and the exchange rate reasonable. The main advantage of exchange offices is the longer hours they keep, but watch for high commissions and inferior rates.

Costs

Italy isn"t cheap, although compared with the UK and northern Europe the situation is not so bad. What you spend on accommodation (your single greatest expense) will depend on various factors, such as location (Turin is pricier than Taranto), season (August is crazy on the coast), the degree of comfort, and luck. At the bottom end you will pay €14 to €20 at youth hostels, where meals generally cost €9.50. The cheapest pensione (small hotel) is unlikely to cost less than €25 for a basic single or €40 for a double anywhere from Pisa to Palermo. You can stumble across comfortable rooms with their own bathroom from €50 to €80. Midrange hotels in the more expensive places such as Rome, Florence and Venice can easily cost from €80 to €150 for singles or €120 to €200 for doubles.
Eating out is just as variable. In Venice and Milan you tend to pay a lot (and sometimes get little in return), while tourist magnets such as Florence and Rome offer surprisingly affordable options. On average you should reckon on at least €20 to €50 for a meal (two courses, dessert and house wine), although you can still find basic set lunch menus for €10 to €15.
A backpacker sticking religiously to youth hostels, snacking at midday and travelling slowly could scrape by on €40 to €50 per day. Your average midrange daily budget, including a sandwich for lunch and a simple dinner, as well as budgeting for a couple of sights and travel, might come to anything from €100 to €150 a day.
Public transport is reasonably priced, but car hire is expensive (as is petrol) and is probably best arranged before leaving home. On trains you can save money by travelling on the slower regionale (local) trains.

Tipping

You are not expected to tip on top of restaurant service charges but you can leave a little extra if you feel service warrants it. If there is no service charge, the customer should consider leaving a 10% tip, but this is not obligatory. In bars, Italians often leave small change as a tip, maybe only €0.10. Tipping taxi drivers is not common practice, but you are expected to tip the porter at top-end hotels.

Electricity

The electricity in Italy operates at 200 volts. An adapter is required for appliances working at lower voltage. A plug adapter could be needed if prongs of appliances are not rounded.

Driving rules

Drive is on the right, pass on the left. The use of seat belts is mandatory. Careless or reckless drivers face fines, and serious violators could land themselves in prison.

Insurance

A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. It may also cover you for cancellation or delays to your travel arrangements. Paying for your ticket with a credit card can often provide limited travel accident insurance and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn"t deliver. Ask your credit-card company what it will cover.

Dangers and annoyances

It sometimes requires patience to deal with the Italian concept of service, which does not always seem to follow the maxim that the customer is always right. While often courteous and friendly, some people in uniform or behind a counter (including police officers, waiters and shop assistants) may regard you with supreme indifference. Long queues are the norm in banks, post offices and government offices.

Theft

Pickpockets and bag-snatchers operate in most cities, especially Naples and Rome. Reduce the chances of such petty theft by wearing a money belt (with money, passport, credit cards and important documents) under your clothing. Wear bags or cameras slung across the body to make it harder to snatch them. If your hotel has a safe, use it.
Watch for groups of dishevelled-looking women and children asking you for money. Their favourite haunts are train stations, tourist sites and shopping areas. If you"ve been targeted by a group take evasive action (such as crossing the street) or shout "Va via!" (Go away!). Again, this is an issue mainly in Rome and Naples.
Parked cars, particularly those with foreign number plates or rental-company stickers, are prime targets. Try not to leave anything in the car and certainly not overnight. Car theft is a problem in Rome, Campania and Puglia.
In case of theft or loss, always report the incident at the police station within 24 hours and ask for a statement, otherwise your travel-insurance company won"t pay out.

Emergency

  • Health emergency tel. 118 (toll free - from Italy)
  • Carabinieri tel. 112 (toll free - from Italy)
  • FirstResponse tel. 113 (toll free - from Italy)
  • Highway emergency break-down number (ACI) tel. 803116
  • Fire department tel. 115 (toll free - from Italy)
  • National forestry department: environmental emergency response tel. 1515 (toll free - from Italy)
  • Emergency veterinary services tel. 055 7223683 (Florence)
  • To file charges online of theft, lost items: Carabinieri http://sicuro.carabinieri.it/ or State police www.commissariatodips.it/denunciaviaweb.php

Hospitals

For emergencies requiring an ambulance, call tel. 118 (toll free - from Italy).

Pharmacy

At every pharmacy ("farmacia") a list of those that are open at night and on Sundays can be found.

Embassies and Consulates

In case of an emergency, embassies have a 24-hour referral service.
The British Embassy is in Rome at Via XX Settembre 80 (tel. 06-422-00001; fax 06-42202334). The British Consulate in Florence is at Lungarno Corsini 2 (tel. 055-284-133; fax 055-219-112).
The U.S. Embassy is in Rome at Via Vittorio Veneto 121 (tel. 06-46-741; fax 06-46-74-2244). U.S. consulates are in Florence, at Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 38 (tel. 055-266-951; fax 055-215-550), and in Milan, at Via Principe Amedeo 2-10 (tel. 02-29-03-51; fax 02-2903-5273).
There"s also a consulate in Naples on Piazza della Repubblica 1 (tel. 081-583-8111; fax 081-761-1804). The consulate in Genoa is at Via Dante 2 (tel. 010-58-44-92; fax 010-55-33-033). There is also a consulate in Palermo (Sicily) at Via Vaccarini 1 (tel. 091-305-857; fax 091-625-6026). For consulate hours, see individual city listings.
The Canadian Consulate and passport service is in Rome at Via Zara 30 (tel. 06-854441). The Canadian Embassy in Rome is at Via Salaria 243 (tel. 06-85444-2911; fax 06-445-982912). The Canadian Consulate in Naples is at Via Carducci 29 (tel. 081-401338; fax 081-410210).

Etiquette

Some churches may require that you wear appropriate attire: men need to wear long pants and women must have their knees and shoulders covered in order to enter.

Liquor laws

Wine with meals has been a normal part of family life for hundreds of years in Italy. Children are exposed to wine at an early age, and consumption of alcohol isn"t anything out of the ordinary. Alcohol is sold day and night throughout the year because there"s almost no restriction on the sale of wine or liquor in Italy.

Taxes

As a member of the European Union, Italy imposes a value-added tax (called IVA in Italy) on most goods and services. The tax that most affects visitors is the one imposed on hotel rates, which ranges from 10% in first- and second-class hotels to 19% in deluxe hotels.
Non-E.U. (European Union) citizens are entitled to a refund of the IVA if they spend more than 155€ ($225) at any one store, before tax. To claim your refund, request an invoice from the cashier at the store and take it to the Customs office ("dogana") at the airport to have it stamped before you leave. Note: If you"re going to another E.U. country before flying home, have it stamped at the airport Customs office of the last E.U. country you"ll be in (for example, if you"re flying home via Britain, have your Italian invoices stamped in London). Once back home, mail the stamped invoice (keep a photocopy for your records) back to the original vendor within 90 days of the purchase. The vendor will, sooner or later, send you a refund of the tax that you paid at the time of your original purchase. Reputable stores view this as a matter of ordinary paperwork and are business-like about it. Less-honourable stores might lose your dossier. It pays to deal with established vendors on large purchases. You can also request that the refund be credited to the credit card with which you made the purchase; this is usually a faster procedure.
Many shops are now part of the "Tax Free for Tourists" network (look for the sticker in the window). Stores participating in this network issue a check along with your invoice at the time of purchase. After you have the invoice stamped at Customs, you can redeem the check for cash directly at the Tax Free booth in the airport (in Rome, it"s past Customs; in Milan"s airports, the booth is inside the duty-free shop) or mail it back in the envelope provided within 60 days.