Useful Hints Before Travelling
American embassy & Consulates in Italy
Rome: United States Embassy, Via Vittorio Veneto 119/A, 00187 Tel: 06 - 46741
Florence: U.S. Consulate, Lungarno Vespucci 38, 50123 Tel: 055 - 2398276
Genoa: U.S. Consulate General, Piazza Portello 6, 16124 Tel: 010 - 282741
Milan: U.S. Consulate General, Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, 20121 Tel: 02 - 29004559
Naples: U.S. Consulate General, Piazza della Repubblica, 80122 Tel: 081 - 5838111
Palermo: U.S. Consulate General, Via Vaccarini, 1, 90143 Tel: 091 - 343532
Banks - currencies - money
Banks are generally open Mondays to Fridays from 8.30 am to 1.20 pm, some also open from 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Branches and change offices at airports and city railway stations are also open on Saturdays and Sundays. Cash machines are available everywhere. They generally accept Euro cheque cards and credit cards (VISA, Eurocard). All standard credit cards are accepted in Italy. Eurocheques are often no longer accepted. Cash and travellers checks may be exchanged in hotels and at change offices and usually a commission or service fee is imposed for this service.
Even though one might gain the impression that vehicles drive as they wish on Italy's roads, the traffic regulations and signs do observe the European standard. This applies both to wearing seatbelts and to the alcohol limit. On motorways, the speed limit is 130 km/h, on highways 90 km/h and in urban areas 50 km/h. Speed guns are in use. The penalties for violating these restrictions are high and cars parked during the signposted street-cleaning hours will be removed. It is generally unwise to argue with the police - irrespective of whether these are the Carabinieri (state police, branch of the military), the Polizia stradale (traffic police) or the Vigili urbani (local police).
Most motorways charge a toll. One should estimate EUR 0.5 per kilometre for a medium class vehicle (status 2000). One can usually pay at most motorway junctions, with all standard credit cards. There are three different types of fuel: diesel, euro-super (lead-free senza piombo, 95 octane) and super (leaded). Caution: fuel stations are only open 24 hours along the motorways; in all other places they close for up to 3 hours at midday and then again at 7.30 or 8 pm.
Service areas usually broadcast the latest traffic news on their TV screens.
There are four casinos in Italy: San Remo (Italian Riviera): open all year round. Campione (Lake Lugano): open all year round. Venice: open from October 1 to March 31 at Palazzo Vendramin and from April 1 to September 30 at Venice Lido. St. Vincent (Aosta Valley): open all year round. No person under 18 years of age may be admitted to the casinos, and entry is permitted only upon presentation of a passport.
Church services and churches
Italy is a Catholic country. Church services take place at the customary times. When visiting church services or viewing churches, particularly places of pilgrimage, women should ensure that their shoulders are covered; trousers are often frowned upon.
Climate and clothing
Italy is marked by strong changes in climate. During July and August the temperature stays at around 30 degrees (or above) from the Alps to Sicily, meaning that the heat can become unbearable in the cities. In contrast, the winters in Northern and Central Italy can be quite harsh, while the south experiences a milder climate.
The first signs of spring arrive in March, although cold air can return in April, when the tramontana blows down from the snow-capped Apennine peaks. Rainfall is heavy between mid-April and mid-May. For those who prefer to avoid the heat of high summer, we recommend travelling in June or September. October is ideal for educational tours.
Casual cottons are advisable for daytime activities. For Papal audiences, women should dress modestly, with arms and head covered; men should a wear jacket and tie. It is also customary for men and women to dress for dinner; formal attire is not required, however.
ITALY 36-37-38-39-41-42 -43
USA 61/2 -7-8-9 -10-101/2 -11
USA 10 12 14 16 18
Men & Women
ITALY 75-85-90-100-110-120 130
There are no restrictions in importing currency for U.S. citizens. Italian citizens/non residents must have sufficient documentation as to the origin of currency imported. A certificate of foreign residence is recommended. Funds over EUR 10,000 should be declared on arrival to the Italian Customs Authorities. The monetary unit in Italy is the Euro. Exchange offices are found in major Italian cities (Ufficio Cambio).
Exports from Italy
There are no restrictions on gifts purchased in Italy except for antiques and works of art over 100 years old. These require the authorization of the Ufficio Esportazione di Oggetti di Arte e di Antichità, Ministero Pubblica Istruzione, Via Cernaia, 1, Rome.
Eating out - drinks - restaurants
The normal mealtimes are from 1 pm and after 8 pm. In winter it is not unusual to begin half an hour earlier while, in the south, the evening meal often only begins at 8.30 pm or 9 pm. An Italian meal consists of the primo (pasta dish, risotto or soup), the secondo (meat or fish) - with which one can order a contorno (side dish, vegetables, salad) - and a dessert (fruit, cheese or pudding), which one can also replace with coffee. A more substantial meal begins with an additional course - the antipasto (cold starter). Drinks usually include mineral water, carbonated (gassata) or non-carbonated, and wine or beer.
In restaurants one is expected to order at least a "Primo" and a "Secondo" plus "Contorno" (vegetable side dish), followed by a coffee. It is only possible to order just a pizza or pasta (evenings only) in more simple establishments. In child-friendly Italy, the rule is that everyone can eat what he wants. The bill also includes the pane e coperto, in other words the basic price for place settings and bread, the servizio (service charge), which is usually 15 percent and which is either in the price or added at the end.
If, on ordering the bill ("il conto"), the waiter inquires "Fattura o ricevuta?", always specify that you would like a "Ricevuta" (receipt). One needs an Italian tax number to issue a "Fattura" (bill). Always keep your receipts (for all purchases), since the tax authorities, "Guardia di Finanza", are prone to carrying out regular roadside inspections. The service charge is generally included in the price but guests are expected to give a further tip of 5 to 8 percent.
The voltage in Italy is 220 volts. Plugs have prongs that are round, not flat, therefore an adapter is necessary. Please bring an electrical adaptor with you for at times there are not enough adaptors in each accommodation for everyone.
Health - doctors - chemists
Italy does not pose any unusual health risks. Although the hygiene regulations in the catering industry are strict, stomach bugs do occur in connection with the summer heat, especially in the south. The best thing is to always take suitable medication with you when travelling abroad. Reliable means of protection against mosquitoes include the standard sprays on the market or the Italian candles with lemon balm extract (citronella). When sitting under trees, one should guard against ticks (cover your head!).
In every city there are conveniently located drug stores (Farmacia), where prescriptions may be filled and other health needs may be met. Please make sure you bring your doctor's prescription (legible). Every major city operates a pharmacy open 24 hours.
If one uses the first-aid service, Pronto Soccorso (usually in the hospitals), the first urgent treatment is free of charge. We advise travellers to take out reasonably priced travel health insurance. The addresses of doctors can be found in the yellow pages (Pagine gialle); a practising doctor is the Medico chirurgo generico, the dentist is the Dentista. In case of emergency, DIAL 118 for ambulance, and for other emergencies (fire, police ecc.) 112 or 113.
Laundry & Dry cleaners
Most Deluxe & First Class Hotels have laundry and dry cleaning services. If a hotel does not provide these services, the concierge can direct you to a nearby tintoria, lavanderia or lavasecco.
Metric / Temperature Conversions
Degrees Centigrade / Farenheit:
Meters: 1 meter is a little over a yard (3.3 feet to be exact).
Kilometers: 1 kilometre = 6/10 of a mile.
Traveling Speeds: 100 kilometers / hour = 60 miles per hour.
Liter: One liter is about 1.75 pints.
Weights: One pound = 500 grams.
Most well-known museums and art galleries open daily, except for Mondays. Smaller museums are also closed on Sundays. The museums usually stay open until early evening. Excavation sites are closed before sunset. The entry fees are between EUR 5 and EUR 10 for adults. Taking photos is often prohibited in closed museum rooms, in churches and monasteries - camera flashes are generally prohibited. Churches close at midday. Sightseeing is not welcomed during the church services.
January 1 Capodanno (New Year's Day)
January 6 Epifania (Epiphany)
Changeable Date Lunedi di Pasqua (Easter Monday)
April 25 Festa della Liberazione (Liberation Day)
May 1 Festa del Lavoro (Labor Day)
August 15 Ferragosto (Assumption Day)
November 1 and 2 Ognissanti (All Saints' Day)
December 8 L'Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception)
December 25 Natale (Christmas Day)
December 26 Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day)
Italians find proper clothing very important. Even if one would prefer to wear very casual clothes, it is better to observe the local customs. These include not visiting the Trattoria in a bathing suit or wearing brightly coloured shorts in a sophisticated restaurant.
At the beach, one should also follow the clothing code adopted by the Italians, which means: nude bathing is not the norm and may be expressly prohibited, although "topless" sunbathing is becoming more common. Italians are also becoming more susceptible to noise. Regulations have been introduced to prohibit radio music or ball games on the beach during the midday siesta (from 1 to 4 pm).
Alcohol, preferably wine, may be part of Italian life but drunkenness is frowned upon.
There are thieves all over Europe, not only in Italy. There are preventative measures which can be taken. One shouldn't leave any valuables visible in the car. Money, credit cards and documents should be kept in a bag around your neck or in a belt bag, other valuables deposited in the hotel safe. One should make photocopies of all important personal papers, note down and keep safe the numbers of credit cards and the telephone number of the card company (to be called in case of loss). In areas where pickpockets are common, one should avoid nervously fiddling with jacket pockets etc., since this signals to the thieves that there may be something worth stealing. Watch out for people who approach you in an odd manner or who try to attract your attention and sympathy with their behaviour. Once you turn your attention to these people, the accomplice has probably already acted.
The utmost care should be taken with street-traders, especially those at motorway junctions and service stations, who apparently want to sell supposedly valuable goods at rock bottom prices. These are sure to be cheap copies. If, despite the care taken, one is the victim of theft, proceed immediately to the next Carabinieri station and report the loss with as many details as possible. That will at least help with the insurance back home.
Most restaurants and many hotels do not allow pets into their establishments. This is, in many cases, due to regulations from the local authorities. A blind eye may be turned for smaller dogs. (Tip: the red Michelin guide shows a dog's head with a line through it if dogs are not permitted.)
In Italy, rail travel is very reasonable, especially for long distances (due to the degressive price system). There is an extra charge for travelling via the high-speed Eurostar or the Cispalino. There is no extra charge for local trains, which stop at every station: the Diretto, the InterRegio and the Espresso. When planning to travel by long distance train, we recommend booking a seat - in some cases this is mandatory. Smaller stations no longer have ticket offices. Tickets can usually be purchased in the station bar. Bear in mind that one needs to punch the ticket by sticking it into the small, yellow boxes found at each station.
The rail system is linked to a well-functioning bus and coach network. In the cities it is not always possible to buy bus tickets in the bus itself. These can be purchased at newspaper kiosks and in bars. Milan and Rome also have an underground system (Metropolitana). Rome airport is connected to the city centre via rail. When taking a taxi, ensure that the vehicle carries an official licence number on the back and that it has a taximeter, activated at the beginning of the journey. Above all, always ask for a receipt (ricevuta).
The ferry services to the islands or other Mediterranean neighbours play a significant role in Italy. We highly recommend prior booking, especially in the main holiday season.
The Italian government take very strict action against tax avoidance. For example, in bars, one first pays at the Cassa and then takes the receipt to the bar itself. In restaurants or when shopping, one should always insist on receiving a numbered bill or cash receipt and should then keep this for some time afterwards. The uniformed tax authorities (Guardia di Finanza) could be waiting rounnd the next corner.
There are four grades of road: The Autostrada (green signs) is a 2-3 lane toll road or motorway. The Strada di Grande Comunicazione (S-G-C) (blue signs) is a 1-2 lane highway. The Strada Provinciale (white signs) is a normal country road, usually without road markings in the middle - forming the real Italian road network. The Strada bianca (no signs) is the white road, i.e. the rough, dusty country road which often indicates that you are near your holiday accommodation.
The shops in Italy do not stay open all hours, except in holiday destinations during the holiday season. The opening hours are otherwise regulated by the local authorities and are, for example, from 9 am to 1 pm and 4.30 pm to 8 pm on weekdays (everything an hour earlier during the winter). The shops close early on one afternoon each week and not all are open on Saturday afternoons. However, there are increasing numbers of shopping centres open from 9 am through to 9 pm.
Smaller towns and villages sometimes have small food stores (Alimentari), which are also open on Sunday mornings. In cities food stores are closed on Sundays. Non-food shops often remain closed on Monday mornings, opening in the afternoon. Many shops close for a few weeks in August (except for some food stores) - it seems as if the whole of Italy goes on holiday in August.
Suggestions on tipping
While all taxes and tips are covered when you travel on an all-inclusive tour, it is customary to tip whenever an extra service is performed for you. For example:
Chambermaid or Room Service waiter EUR 1.70
Concierge EUR 4.10
Bellhop or Porter when not on tour EUR 1.25
Hotel Bar and Restaurants 15%
It is recommended that you tip your Tour Manager EUR 2 per day and Bus Driver EUR 1.25 per day. This token of your appreciation should be enclosed in an envelope and given on your last evening of the tour.
Telephone - Mail
The telephone network is operated by 'Telecom Italia', in addition to which a number of private providers are being established. Important: always dial the area code, even for local calls. (Exception: numbers of Italian cell phone operators do not have a 0 before the mobile phone operator's code).
Long distance calls
To call the States, call the At&T operator at 172 - 1011 and give him, in English, the number you want to call. Your call can be a collect call or it can be charged to your AT&T calling card or to another credit card. Also direct dial phone calls may be made Stateside from any pay phone. Please make sure you have sufficient coins/tokens or SIP credit cards to make your call.
Calling Italian cell phones
You do not dial an "0" before an Italian mobile phone number, neither from the U.S.A. nor from Italy.
Post offices provide the usual mail and money services but no telephone services. Stamps may be purchased only at tobacco shops, the Post Office or at the hotel. Please make sure to ask for AIR MAIL otherwise your postcards will go by ship!
In terms of standard time zones, Italy is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. - Day-light Saving Time goes into effect each year usually from the end of May to the end of September.
U.S. Regulations on purchases abroad
Each U.S. tourist may bring back to the U.S. duty-free up to $400.00 worth of goods purchased abroad. 1 litre of liquor, 1 carton of cigarettes. Goods valued over $100 sent by mail are subject to duty tax. VAT (Value Added Tax) paid in Italy in conjunction with all purchases of goods at retail outlets affiliated to European Tax-Free shopping is refundable. When paying for your purchase, please ask the retailer to issue a "Tax-free shopping check" showing the details of the purchase as well as the amount of the refund. When leaving Italy, go first to the customs office at the Airport and present the Tax-free check together with the relevant goods and request the customs stamps to certify that you are exporting the goods detailed on the check. Present the Tax-free shopping check (together with the receipt) at any of the "Tax-free cash refund" points located in the duty free shops in the Milan, Rome, Naples, Venice and Genoa Airports.