Globe
trotter travel

Return to previous page

Survival Guide

Practical Information

When to Go

Italy's best travel months (also its busiest and most expensive) are May, June, September and October. These months combine the convenience of peak season with pleasant weather.

The most grueling thing about travel in Italy is the summer heat in July and August, when temperatures hit the high 80s and 90s. Most mid-range hotels come with air-condyioning (a worth-while splurge in the summer) but it's usually available only from June through September.

Peak season (roughly May-September) offers the longest hours and the most exciting slate of activities, but terrible crowds. During peak times, many resort-area hotels maximize business by requiring that guests take half-pension, which means buying a meal per day (usually dinner) in their restaurants. August, the local holiday month, isn't as bad as many it out to be, but big cities tend to be quite (with discounted hotel price), and beach and mountain resorts are jammed (with higher hotel price). Note that Italians generally wear shorts only at the beach resort towns. If you want to blend in, wear lightweight long (or Capri) pants in Italy, even in summer, except at the beach.

Between November and April, you can usually expect pleasant weather, and you'll miss most of the sweat and stress of the tourist season. Off-season, expect shorter hours, more lunchtime breaks, and fewer activities. However, spring and fall can be cool (and most hotels don't turn the heat on until winter). In the winter, it often drops to the 40s in Milan and the 50s in Rome.


Passports & Visas

Italy is one of 25 member countries of the Schengen Convention, under which 22 EU countries (all but Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK) plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have abolished permanent checks at common borders.

Legal residents of one Schengen country do not require a visa for another. Residents of 28 non-EU countries, including Austrialia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the USA, do not require visas for tourist visits of up to 90 days (this list varies for those wanting to travel to the UK and Ireland).

All non-EU and non-Schengen nationals entering Italy for more than 90 days or for any reason other than tourism (such as study or work) may need a specific visa.

You should also have your passport stamped on entry as, without a stamp, you could encounter problems when trying to obtain a residence permit ( permesso di soggiorno ). If you enter the EU via another member state, get your passort stamped there.


Public Holidays & Business Hours

Most Italians take their annual holiday in August, with the busiest period occurring around 15 August, known locally as Ferragosto . This means that many businesses and shops close for at least a part of that month. Settimana Santa (Easter Holy week) is another busy holiday period for Italians. Individual towns have public holidays to celebrate the feasts of their patron saints.

National public holidays include the following:

New Year's Day (Capodanno or Anno Nuovo ) 1 January.
Epiphany (Epifania or Befana) 6 January.
Easter Monday (Pasquetta or Lunedì dell'Angelo ) March/April.
Liberation Day (Giorno della Liberazione) On 25 April - marks the Allied Victory in Italy and the end of the German presence and Mussolini, in 1945.
Labour Day (Festa del Lavoro ) 1 May.
Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica) 2 June.
Feast of the Assumption (Assunzione or Ferragosto) 16 August.
All Saints' Day (Ognissanti ) 1 November.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Immacolata Concezione) 8 Dicember.
Christmas Day (Natale) 25 Dicember.
Boxing Day (Martirio di Santo Stefano) 26 December.

Traditionally, Italy uses the siesta plan, where people usually work from about 9:00 to 13:00 and from 15:30 to 19:00, Monday through Saturday. However, many business have adopted the government's recommended 8:00 to 14:00 workday. In tourist areas, shops are open longer. Stores are usually closed on Sunday, and often on Monday, as well as for a couple of weeks around August 15.

Banking hours are generally Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 13.30 and 15:30 to 16:30, but can vary wildly.

Saturday are virtually weekdays, with earlier closing hours, Sunday have the same pros and cons as they do far travelers in the US: Sightseeing attractions are generally open, while shops and banks are closed, public transportation options are fewer (e.g., no bus service to or from the smaller hill towns), and there's no rush hour. Rowdy evenings are rare on Sundays.


Times Zone

Italy is one hour ahead of GMT. Daylight-saving time, when clocks are moved forward one hour, starts on the last Sunday in March. Clocks are put back an hour on the last Sunday in October. Italy operates on a 24-hour clock.


Electricity

Electricity in Italy conforms to the European standard of 220V to 230V, with a frequency of 50Hz. Wall outlets typically accommodate plugs with two or three round pins. For North American plug to work in Europe, you'll need an adapter.


Travel 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.

For your Travel Insurance go with a big-name company (avoid buying insurance from a no-name company you found online). Consider the package deals sold by Betins, Allianz, Travelex, Travel Guard, Travel Insured International. Also Insuremytrip.com allows you to compare insurance policies and costs among various providers.

Personal Security & Health

Emergencies numbers

To dial listings in this book from outside Italy, dial your international access code (00), Itìaly's country code (39) then the number (including the 0).

Important numbers:

Italy's country code: +39
International access code: +00
Ambulance: +118
Police: +113
Fire: +115


Protecting Property

Although Italy is basically a safe country, tourists can naturally run into trouble at times. Especially in the summer months, the many popular events attract bag-snatchers and pickpockets. Visitors should be particularly careful to keep an eye on their property in crowded public areas, especially handbags and cameras.

It is advisable to leave your passport and travel documents at the hotel when going out. Valuables and personal documents should always be locked in your room safe or in the hotel strongbox. There is no need to carry large amounts of cash when exploring the cities. All the main credit and debit cards are accepted in virtually all shops and restaurants, and cash-card machines can be used for any amounts.


Police

If you run into trouble in Italy, you're likely to end up dealing with the polizia di stato (state police) or the carabinieri (military police). The former wear powder blue trousers with a fuchsia stripe and a navy blue jacket, the latter wear black uniforms with a red stripe and drive dark-blue cars with red stripe.

Italian police organisations and their jurisdictions:

Polizia di Stato (state police): Thefts, visa extensions and permits.
Carabinieri (military police): General crime, public order and drug enforcement.
Vigili urbani (local traffic police): Parking tickets, towed cars.
Guardia di finanza : Tax evasion, drug smuggling.
Guardia forestale : Environmental protection.


Sex, Drugs & Alcohol

Italy's age of consent for sexual activity is generally 14, although in certain circumstances it can be as low as 13 or as high as 16. Travellers should note that can be prosecuted under the law of their home country regarding age of consent, even when abroad.

Under Italy's tough drug laws, possession of any controlled substances, including cannabis or marijuana, can get you into hot water. Those caught in possession of 5g of cannabis can be considered traffickers and prosecuted as such. The same applies to tiny amounts of other drugs. Those caught with amounts below this threshold can be subject to minor penalities.

The legal limit for blood-alcohol level is 0,05% and random breath tests do occur.


Healthcare & Pharmacies

No jabs are required to travel to Italy. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, the measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as hepatitis B.

Excellent health care is readily available throughout Italy.

Pharmacists can give you valuable advice and sell over-the-counter medication for minor illnesses. They can also advise you when more-specialised help is required and point you in the right direction. In minor cities you are likely to find English-speaking doctors or a translator service available.

Pharmacies generally keep the same hours as other shops, closing at night and on Sunday. However, a handful rem'ain open on a rotation basis (farmacie di turno ) for emergency purposes. These are usually listed in newspapers, or online at www.farmacieaperte.it (click on Farmacie di Turno and then the region you want). Closed pharmacies display a list of the nearest ones open.

If you need an ambulance anywhere in Italy, call +118. For emergency treatment, head straight to the pronto soccorso (first-aid) section of a public hospital, where you can also get emergency dental treatment.


Health Insurance

If you're EU citizen (or from Switzerland, Norway or Iceland), a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) covers you for most medical care in public hospitals free of charge, but not for emergency repatriation home or non-emergencies. The card is available from health centres and (in the UK) from post officies.

Citizens from other countries should find out if there is a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and Italy (Australia, for instance, has such an agreement; carry your Medicare card).

If you do need health insurance, make sure you get a policy that covers you for the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring an emergency flight home. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to provides or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.

Banking & Local Currency

Banks

There are plenty of banks in Italy, all providing an excellent service. Their opening times vary, but the normal hours are 8:30am-1:30pm and 3:30pm-4:30pm from Monday to Friday. All banks are closed at weekends and on public holidays.


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 exchange rates, chech out www.xe.com


Moneychengers

You can change money in banks, at the post office or in a cambio (exchange office). Post offices and banks tend to offer the best rates; exchange offices keep longer hours, but watch for high commissions and inferior rates.


Credit & Debit Cards

ATMs are widely available throughout Italy and are the best way to obtain local currency. International credit and debit cards can be used in any ATM displaying the appropriate sign. Visa and MasterCard are among the most widley recognised, but others like Cirrus and Maestro are also well covered. Only some banks give cash advances over the counter, so you're better off using ATMs. Cards are also good for payment in most hotels, restaurants, shops, supermarkets and tollbooths.

Check any changes with your bank. Most banks now build a fee of around 2.75% into every foreign transacyion, ATM withdrawals can attract a further fee, usually around 1.5%.

If your card is lost, stolen or swallowed by an ATM, you can telephone toll-free to have an immediate stop put on its use:

Amex : 06 72900347 or your national call number.
Diners Club : 800 864064.
MasterCard : 800 870866.
Visa : 800 819014.


Taxes & Refunds

A value-added tax of around 20%, known as IVA (Imposta di Valore Aggiunto ), is slapped onto just about everything in Italy. If you are a non-EU resident and spend more than €155 (€154,94 to be more precise!) on a purchase, you can claim a refund when you leave.

The refund only applies to purchases from affiliated retails outlets that display a "tax free for tourists" (or similar) sign. You have to complete a form at the point of sale, then have it stamped by Italian customs as you leave. At major airports you can then get an immediate cash refund; otherwise il will be refunded to your credit card. For information visit Tax Refound for Tourists (www.taxrefound.it).


Tipping

You are not expected to tip on top of restaurants services 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 (as little as €10 cents). Tipping taxi drivers is not common practice, but you are expected to tip the porter at top-end hotels.