How Much Cash Should Tourists Have On Hand While In Italy?

These days, you'll barely have to resort to old-school methods to put together a trip from the ground up. Why fiddle with brochures and maps when online services can handle everything? With a few taps on your smartphone and downloading the best apps suited for travel plans, you can whip up an entire trip itinerary, score flights, and book excursions — all without leaving your couch. And with digital payments, who even carries cash anymore? Well, unless you're in Italy, where cash is still king in some places.

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On the Reddit subreddit r/ItalyTravel, one user who had just moved to the country suggested keeping a few euros tucked in your pocket at all times, ideally around 50 to 100 euros (roughly $53 to $107) at all times. "I rarely need to use it, but you will run in to places/times where you will," they wrote. "Example: Yesterday I was at a cafe in Scala/Ravello area. They either didn't accept or want cards. So I needed those euros."

This isn't to imply that Italy is trapped in the Stone Age, of course. It's just that some merchants prefer to accept payments in cash than have you swipe or tap your card. While the bulk of your bookings and activities can heavily hinge on your Visa or Mastercard, it's still wise to have cash on hand for moments when digital payments might not be an option.

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Make sure to have cash ready for some small purchases and taxi rides

As it turns out, Italy is one of the few places in the world where digital payment adoption is moving at a slower pace. According to a 2022 report by The European House-Ambrosetti, Italy ranks lowest in Europe in terms of cashless transactions per capita. The country's reliance on cash is apparently partly due to general distrust among Italians towards digital payment solutions, preferring tangible transactions instead, per The Financial Times.

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Major cities like Florence and Rome — the latter of which is the best city to kick off a vacation in Italy — are  still relatively card-friendly zones, but venture to southern regions, and you'll find that it's exactly the opposite. One Reddit user shared that some merchants reject cards as a form of payment, with another dishing that even a tourist-magnet island like Sicily is also dependent on cash. If you're planning on visiting these places, you'll probably be better off carrying a couple hundred euros depending on what you want to do. Doing a little homework on your destination will give you a clearer idea.

Generally, though, you'd only need cash for little necessities. "You are gonna want to have some cash on you when you're traveling to Italy for smaller payments like a water bottle from a mini market, a coffee from a bar, leaving a couple of euros on the table after dinner," Rome-based TikTok user @sammi_jam advised.

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Italian businesses are legally required to accept cards

Italian law requires businesses of all sizes to take credit cards as an acceptable form of payment and penalizes those who refuse to do so. To make merchants more accepting of cards, Reuters reported in July 2023 that the Italian Antitrust Authority has worked out a deal with financial institutions to lower their commission charges levied on transactions under 30 euros. And it looks like things are looking, with a report from Milan's Politecnico University School of Management Digital revealing that digital transactions in Italy hit a whopping 206 billion euros in the first half of 2023 alone, per Reuters. This may be a sign that soon enough, you won't have to rely so much on cash when you make your way around Italy, major city or not.

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In the meantime, you'd still benefit from carrying some cash on you. Who knows when you'll need it for a scoop of gelato or some other irresistible Italian treat? But a word to the wise: Be discreet with your cash stash to avoid pickpockets in any European cities. Additionally, travel guru Samantha Brown advises against dressing like a tourist. And you may also want to think twice about carrying a backpack while avoiding wearing bright colors to increase your chances of staying off a thief's radar.

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