Italy Travel Tips
Banks: 08:30 to 13:30 and 15:30 to 16:30, M/F
Post Offices: 08:30 to 18:30, M/F
Government Offices: 08:30 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 18:00, M/F
Business Centers: 08:30 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 18:00, M/F
Shops: 09:00 to 13:00 and15:30 to 19:30, M/Sat
On the whole, Italy is a well-travelled destination with little to concern visitors. However, there's a well-established organized crime syndicate operating in Italy, but this sector has little interest in the tourist scene and its criminal acts don’t target travellers.
Petty crime is an issue for tourists, especially in urban areas and around centers of heavy tourism. Pickpockets work public trains and buses, while purse snatchers occasionally strike on crowded streets. Railway stations are particularly notorious for this sort of crime. Some tourists have also had their rental cars broken into when parked in poorly-lit car parks.
Tourists are sometimes the target of elaborate scams that usually end in a robbing, but exercising caution and common sense keeps most visitors safe. It is wise to decline drinks and food from strangers, as thieves sometimes resort to drugging their marks. To be safe, eat and drink only what you've ordered and take care when travelling after dark. Stick to well-lit, busy districts and travel in groups whenever possible.
Electricity: 230 volts, 50 hertz
Public healthcare infrastructure is adequate in major Italian cities, though it is harder to find comprehensive facilities in more rural parts of the country. Many tourists opt for private clinics where standards are inevitably higher.
Visitors are advised not to drink tap water and instead to rely on bottled, boiled or treated water. Drinks with ice should be avoided unless you're confident the ice is factory processed. Raw fruits and vegetables should only be consumed if peeled.
There are no special vaccinations required for travel to Italy, though travellers are advised to seek immunizations against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and tetanus-diphtheria. Some healthcare providers recommend influenza vaccinations for travellers during winter months.
Recently, an outbreak of the mosquito-borne chikungunya fever raised eyebrows in Ravenna province. This disease is rarely fatal and is currently under control. To be safe, mosquito repellent and clothing that covers as much skin as possible is recommended for those spending time in Ravenna.
The official language of Italy is Italian, with local dialects in operation throughout the country. There are numerous minority communities of foreign language speakers and border communities are often fluent in neighboring languages like French, Swiss German and even Greek. English is spoken and understood in metropolitan areas and along the tourist trail, though it's harder to find well-practiced English speakers in more remote parts of the country.
Italy is part of the European Union, so the euro has been the country's official currency since 2002. Banknotes are issued in: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 denominations, with 1 and 2 euro coins. Further, the euro breaks down into 100 cents and coins demark 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent denominations.
Credit cards are accepted by major hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, with MasterCard and Visa the most popular brands. ATMs are well-located throughout most cities, but travellers sometimes experience problems getting these machines to accept foreign debit cards.
Money can be exchanged at exchange booths (known ascambio), post offices and banks. Traveller checks are plagued with surcharges and less desirable rates, a fact which drives most tourists to rely on their debit cards instead. Banks in some smaller communities won't accept traveller’s checks. Larger banks can also issue cash advances against credit cards.
While duty-free sales are no longer held in the European Union, the following items can be brought into Italy free of duty: 60ml of perfume; 2 litres of wine; 1 litre of spirits; 200 cigarettes; and goods totalling a value of 175 euros. There is not a limitation on the number of euros brought into Italy.
Anyone entering Italy must fill out a declaration form which will be handed to customs officials at the time of arrival. Visitors who are not nationals of an EU nation are eligible for VAT (value added tax) reimbursement, either when they leave the country or the EU.
First-time greetings in Italy typically consist of a smile and a handshake. Those who are well-acquainted exchange ‘air’ kisses on the left and right cheek (in that order). Avoid using first names until you've officially been invited to do so. Many Italians also exchange calling cards, a social variant to the business card that lists the person's name, contact information and academic credentials.
First impressions are important to Italians, and the concept of Bella forma (or 'good image') plays an important role in social situations. A person's appearance is thought to reflect their education, family ties and social status. Beyond dress and accessories, Bella forma is tied up in a person's demeanor and posture. Confidence earns a great deal of respect here.
Gifts are opened upon reception and there are a few minor taboos related to gift-giving to avoid. The color purple has been viewed in a bad light ever since the days of Julius Caesar, so gifts aren't wrapped in this color or in black (the color of mourning). Yellow flowers indicate a jealous gift giver and red flowers indicate an unsavory secret.
Strong tides of Catholicism flow through Italy. While church attendance isn't particularly high, there remains a great deal of respect for the Church and its holy sites. Clergy are always treated with deference and respect.
A traditional Italian dining experience begins with simple, marinated vegetables (antipasto), followed by a starchy dish - either rice or pasta (primo); a meat dish with a salad (secondo); and a sweet dessert (dolce). Coffee in the form of an espresso is served after the meal.
Culinary styles vary significantly across the country. In the north, dishes are centered on risotto, while pasta is more prevalent in the southern, Mediterranean provinces. Locals look first to their regional specialties.
Breakfast is very light, usually consisting of little more than a pastry and a cappuccino. Lunch is more substantial, and most business close their doors for a two-hour lunch break—one hour for eating, and another for napping.Aperitivos, or appetizers, are sought out in the early evening. Dinner, served much later, is another light affair.
Locals are extremely proud of their regional wines and part of the fun of touring each region is the chance to sample the local vintage. While wine is served with the meal itself, dark, sweet liqueurs are often taken afterwards along with a scoop of Italian ice cream (gelato) or a delicious blend of cookies, mascarpone cheese, cocoa and coffee (tiramisu).
Visa and Passports:
As visa regulations are under constant revision, visitors are advised to check in with the closest Italian embassy for recent information before setting out.
Visits for up to 90 days do not require a visa for citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States. Furthermore, citizens of any of the countries forming the European Union can enter without a visa. There is a further agreement known as the Schengen Convention which permits travel between nationals of its 15 member nations.
A visa for one Schengen country allows travel to any other member state for the duration of the visa, though fees may still apply at some borders. Anyone visiting for reasons other than tourism will need to arrange a visa at an Italian embassy or consulate before arriving.
Tourist Information Offices
Tourist information offices are spread across the country, at the regional, provincial and municipal levels. The main office in Rome is found at website: www.enit.it