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Credit/Debit cards & ATMs Carrying plastic (whether a credit or debit card) is the simplest way to organise your holiday funds. You don't have large amounts of cash or cheques to lose, you can get money after hours and on weekends and the exchange rate is better than that offered for travellers cheques or cash exchanges. By arranging for payments to be made into your credit card account while you are travelling, you can avoid paying interest.

Major credit cards, such as Visa, MaterCard, Eurocars, Cirrus and Euro Cheques cards, are accepted throughout Italy. They can be used for many purchases (including in many supermarkets) and in hotels and restaurants (although pensiones and smaller trattorias and pizzerias still tend to accept cash only).

Credit cards can also be used in ATMs (bancomat) displaying the appropriate sign or (if you have no PIN number) to obtain cash advances over the counter in many banks - Visa and MasterCard are among the most widely recognised for such transactions. Check what charges you will incur with your bank.

It is possible to use your own ATM debit card in machines throughout Italy to obtain money from your own bank account. This is without doubt the simplest way to handle your money while travelling. If an ATM rejects your card, don't despair or start wasting money on international calls to your bank. Try a few more ATMs displaying your credit card's logo before assuming the problem lies with the local system. Italian ATMs are notoriously fickle.

If your credit card is lost, stolen or swallowed by an ATM, you can telephone toll free to have an immediate stop put on its use. For MasterCard the number in Italy is 800 870 866 or make a reverse-charges call to St Louis in the USA on 314-275 66 90. For Visa, phone 800 877 232 in Italy.

American Express is also widely accepted (although not as common as Visa or MaterCard). American Express's full service offices (such a in Rome and Milan) will issue new cards, usually within 24 hours and sometimes immediately, if yours has been lost or stolen. Some American Express offices have ATMs that you can use you obtain cash advances if you have made the necessary arrangements prior to travel.

The toll-free emergency number to report a lost or stolen American Express card varies according to where the card was issued. Check with American Express in your country or contact American Express in Rome on 06 7 22 82, which itself has a 24-hour cardholders' service.

International Transfers One reliable way to send money to Rome is by TT (Telegraphic Transfer) or swift transfer though the foreign office of a large Italian bank, or through major banks in your own country, to a nominated bank in Rome. It is important to gave an exact record of all details associated with the money transfer, particularly the exact address of the Italian bank to where the money has been sent. The money will always be held at the head office of the bank in the town where the money has been sent. Urgent-telex transfers should take only a few days, while other means (such as telegraphic transfer or draft) can take weeks. It is also possible to transfer money through American Express and Thomas Cook. You will be required to produce identification, usually a passport, in order to collect the money. It is also a good idea to take along the details of the transaction.

One of the speedier options is to send money through Western Union (toll free 800 01 38 39). Call the toll-free number for the address of the outlet (usually only in main cities) closest to you. The sender and receiver have to turn up at a Western Union outlet with passport or other form of ID. Fees charged for the virtually immediate transfer depend on the amount sent.

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