Debit, credit and charge cards
Debit, credit and charge cards are referred to collectively as credit cards in Italy, which has over 30 million in circulation almost two-thirds of which are debit cards.
Real credit cards which allow you to pay the balance over a period of time have been slow to gain acceptance in Italy, where many people still prefer to pay for purchases in cash or with a debit card. However, in the last decade there has been an increase in the popularity of credit cards, particularly due to their usefulness in shopping via the telephone or Internet or abroad.
Most so-called ‘credit’ cards issued in Italy function more like charge cards, in that payments for purchases are due when billed and cannot be paid over a period of several months or years. The most common credit cards in Italy are CartaSì, MasterCard and Visa, which are available from most banks. You can also obtain an American Express or Diners Club card direct from these companies.
All Italian banks issue debit/ATM cards for which there’s an annual fee of between 10 and 20 euro, most banks also charge you between 0.80 and 2 euro for each purchase you make with the card, which explains why most Italians prefer to use cash.
A credit card in Italy costs between 35 and 110 euro per year, depending on the type of card and the level of service you choose. Some cards include travel or other forms of insurance, either as part of the annual fee or as an add-on feature.
Applying for a credit card in Italy
When you apply for a credit card, you’re required to indicate the bank account you wish to use to pay your monthly balance, and the contract includes a standing order payment to permit the card company to debit payments automatically from your account. You receive a statement of your monthly charges around ten days before the date that the amount due is debited from your account, so you have an opportunity to review the statement and dispute any incorrect payments or charges.
Most credit cards allow you to withdraw cash from ATMs that are part of their network, although there’s a charge for each transaction. It’s sometimes possible to make deferred payments on travel costs charged to your card, but only over a few months. Before obtaining a credit or charge card, compare the costs and benefits.
The loss of credit card
If you lose a card abroad, you must report the loss to the local police and fax the police report within 48 hours to Servizi Interbancari or send it by registered post with proof of receipt. A free replacement card is sent to you by Servizi Interbancari or your bank within a few weeks, or you can request an emergency replacement within 24 hours, for which there’s a fee of 10 euro.