Headed to Italy for the first time? Or just want to make sure you’re covering all your bases before you go? Then check out my first-time visitor guide to Italy!
What time is it in Italy right now?
For visits of up to 90 days, nationals from EU countries and passport holders from the following countries do not need to have a visa to visit Italy: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, U.S.A., Uruguay, Venezuela.
If your country is not listed above or is not part of the European Union, you will need to have a visa to visit Italy. You can learn more about how to apply for a visa here.
Italy is a member of the Schengen Countries. You can find out more about that here.
If you are Australian, you can take advantage of the working holiday visa arrangement between Australia and Italy. To find out more, contact the Italian embassy in Canberra.
You will not need any shots to travel to Italy.
Italy uses the Euro (€), just like all the EU countries (except the UK). Look for the coins to be nationalistic – each country stamps its own distinctive designs on the coins, but the bills are the same throughout the EU, and all the money is worth the same amount in every EU country. To get the most updated currency conversion rates, use this handy tool.
Italy is on Central European Time, which is GMT plus one hour (two in the summer). Italy does observe Daylight Savings Time – it begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October.
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Rome is the capital of Italy.
As you might guess, Italian is the official language of Italy. What you might not know is that happened relatively recently and there was quite a bit of controversy about it.
Counting and Numbers
Dates in Italy are written with the day first, then the month, then the year – so the 2nd of May in the year 2007 is written 02/05/07.
With written numbers, commas and decimal points are swapped from what you might be used to. So, three Euro and fifty cents is written €3,50 and one thousand five hundred Euro is written €1.500.
Electricity and Plugs
Italy operates on a 220V 50Hz electrical system, and the electrical outlets you will find will require European plugs with two narrow cylindrical prongs (sort of like a pig’s snout, only smaller). If your electrical appliances are not 220V 50Hz, you will need a converter (to convert the electricity) and adapter (to make your appliances fit into the Italian plugs) set so you do not start fires or explode anything. If you have a travel-size hairdryer, look for a switch which will change the voltage from 120V (for the U.S.) to 240V (for Europe) – if you have such a switch, you will only need to use an adapter for the hairdryer to work in Italy.
Banks and ATM Machines
Travel is easier these days with bank cards which work overseas. Just be sure to notify your bank that you will be traveling in Italy so they do not assume someone has stolen your card and gone on vacation.
An Italian cash machine is called a “Bancomat.” To use your ATM card in Italy you will need to know your PIN number in numbers, not letters (there are no letters on Italian bank machine keypads). American Express is not as common in Italy as Visa and MasterCard are, so do not rely only on your AmEx card to get cash during your trip.
Many Bancomats are enclosed in a glass enclosure in front of the bank, but not inside the bank (so they are still accessible when the bank is closed), and you may need to insert your bank card in order to get the enclosure’s door to open. This is safe, as it just shows that you actually intend to withdraw money and you are not trying to use the enclosure as a shelter for the night. Pay attention to your surroundings when entering one of these glass enclosures and when withdrawing money, as some thieves target tourists at bank machines. If someone else tries to enter the enclosure with you, go back out and try another bank or another time.
Big hotels and restaurants will likely accept credit cards, but do not expect them to be as widely accepted as they are in the United States. When shopping for souvenirs and eating in small local places, bring and pay with cash.
>> Read all about using debit cards in Italy before your trip
Using the Telephone
The country code for Italy is 39. To call Italy from the U.S., you will first need to dial out of the U.S. and then into Italy – so that is 011 + 39 and then the phone number itself. To call Italy from another European country, you will dial 00 + 39 and then the local number. To call an Italian number from within Italy, simply dial the local number as you have it. To call the U.S. from within Italy, dial 00 + 1 and then the area code and telephone number.
Public telephones in Italy do not accept coins, so to use one you will need to purchase a phone card. They are sold at most tobacco shops (the ones with the big “T” hanging over the door), post offices, some newspaper shops and sometimes machines near phone booths, and they are very easy to use. There are two common forms – one which you insert into a slot on the phone and which deducts time/money as you use it, and one which you dial a toll-free number and then enter a PIN number (printed on the card) to use. The former requires a phone which has a card slot, and the latter can be used with basically any phone – public or otherwise.
Using the phone in Italy can be annoying, so patience is required. Often public phones are broken, or will not seem to accept what you are doing even if you are following the instructions on your card. If you have trouble, try another phone.
More and more travelers are using mobile phones when they travel, which is easy if you have an unlockable GSM phone or one where you can swap out the existing SIM card for an Italian or European one. You can also rent or purchase a phone which works in Italy to use just for one trip or every time you travel to that region. Most of these kinds of phones work by loading them up with prepaid minutes (on a prepaid SIM card) or by using them with prepaid calling cards. Getting a prepaid call phone in Italy is easy (click on that link for a video about how to set one up) and it’s pretty cheap. Also read more about Italy SIM cards before you go.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Emergency (English-speaking police): 113
Emergency (military police): 112
Medical Emergency: 118
Fire Emergency: 115
Road Service: 116
Directory Assistance (Italian-speaking automated voice, costs €0.50): 12
Telephone Help: (English-speaking, free): 170