In Italian bars prices can double (sometimes even triple) if you sit down and are served at the table. Stand at the bar to drink your coffee or eat a sandwich, or buy a slice of pizza and head to the nearest piazza.
Read the fine print on menus (usually posted outside eating establishments) to see if there's a copoerto (cover charge) and servizio (service fee). These can make a big difference to the bill and it is best to avoid restaurants that charge both. Shop in markets and alimentari (grocery shops) for picnic lunches. Steer clear of the "touristy" food-and-drink kiosks in major cities: the "fresh" food is rarely fresh and the mark-up is extortionate.
If you're travelling by train and have time to spare, take a regionale or diretto: they are slower but cheaper than the Intercity trains, for which you have to pay a supplimento (suppliment). It's best to travel overnight, if possible, to save on a night's accommodation.
If you are catching a ferry in summer, travelling passaggio ponte (deck class) is cheapest.
In cities, where you need to use public transport a lot, buy a daily transport ticket.
Aerograms (€0.45), on sale only at post offices, are the cheapest way to send international mail.
At museums, never hesitate to ask if there are discounts for students (you will be asked to produce an ISIC card to prove your student status), young people, children, families or the elderly. When sightseeing, where possible buy a biglietto cumulativo, a ticket that allows admission to a number of associated sights for less than the combined cost of separate admission fees. Ask at the local tourist office.
Avoid buying food and drinks at service stations on the autostrade (motorways), where they can cost up to 30% more. Petrol also tends to be slightly more expensive on the autostrade.
Tipping & Bargaining
You are not expected to tip on top of restaurant service charges but is common to leave a small amount, perhaps €0.60 per person. If there is no service charge, the customer might consider leaving a 10% tip, but this is by no means obligatory. In bars, Italians often leave any small change as a tip, maybe only €0.05 or €0.10. Tipping taxi drivers is not common practice.
Bargaining is common throughout Italy in flea markets but not in shops. At the Porta Portese market in Rome, for instance, don't hesitate to offer half the asking price for any given item. Don't be deterred by stallholders who dismiss you with a wave of the arm: the person at the next stall may well accept your offer after a brief (and obligatory) haggle. While bargaining in shops is not acceptable, you might find that the proprietor is disposed to give a discount if you are spending a reasonable amount of money.
Taxes & Refunds
A value-added tax of around 19%, known as IVA (Imposta di Valore Aggiunto), is slapped onto just about everything in Italy. If you are a resident outside the EU and you spend more than €154.94 in the same shop on the same day, you can claim a refund on this tax when you leave the EU. The refund only applies to purchases from affiliated retail outlets which display a "Tax free for tourists" sign. You have to complete a form at the point of sale, then get it stamped by Italian customs as you leave. At major airports you can get an immediate cash refund; otherwise it will be refunded to your credit card. For information, pick up a pamphlet on the scheme from participating stores.
Laws aimed at tightening controls on the payment of taxes in Italy mean that the onus is on the buyer to ask for and retain receipts for all goods and services. This applies to everything from a litre of milk to a haircut. Although it rarely happens, you could be asked by an officer of the Guardia di Finanza (Fiscal Police) to produce the receipt immediately after you leave a shop. If you don't have it, you may be obliged to pay a fine up to €154.95
POST & COMMUNICATIONS
Italy's postal system is notoriously unreliable, although things look better today than they did a decade ago now that there is a more efficent (but also more expensive) posta prioritaria(priority mail) service for some domestic and all international mail. Ironically, the introduction of this additional service has reduced the demand on the regular mail system, which in turn is functioning better.
Stamps (francobolli) are available at post offices and authorised tobacconists (look for the offical tabacchi sign: a big "T", usually white on black). Since letters often need to be weighed, what you get at the tobacconist's fort international air mail will occasionally be an approximation of the proper rate. Tobacconists keep regular shop hours.
Information about postal services can be obtained on Tel: 800 22 26 66 or online at www.poste.it
The cost of sending a letter air mail (via aerea) depends on its weight, destination and method of postage. For regular post, letters up to 20g cost €0.40 within Europe, €0.65 to the USA and €0.75 to Australia and New Zealand. Postcards cost the same.
However, very few people use the regular post anymore, preferring the slightly more expensive posta prioritaria, guaranteed to deliver letters sent to Europe within three days and to the rest of the world within four to eight days. Letters up to 20g sent posta prioritaia cost €0.60 within Europe, €0.75 to the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Letters weighing 21-100g cost €1.25 within Europe, €1.55 to Africa, Asia and the Americas and €1.80 to Australia and New Zealand.
For more important items, use registered mail (raccomandata) - €2.60 on top of the normal cost of the letter - or insured mail (assicurata), the cost of which depends on the value of the object being sent (€5.15 for objects up to €51.65 value). Insured mail is not available to the USA.
Anair-mail letter can take up to two weeks to reach the UK or the USA, while a letter to Australia will take between two to three weeks. Postcards take even longer because they are classed as low-priority mail. Put them in an envelope and send them as letters.
Urgent mail can be sent by postacelere (also known as CAI Post), the Italian post office's courier service. Letters up to 500g cost €15.50 in Europe, €23.75 to the USA and €35.10 to Australia. A parcel weighing 1kg will cost €17.55 in Europe, €27.90 to the USA and Canada, and €41.30 to Australia and New Zealand. CAI post is not necessarily as fast as private courier services. It will take one to three days for a parcel to reach European destinations and three to five days to reach the USA, Canada or Australia. Ask at post offices for addresses of CAI post outlets or check out www.postacelere.com
Several international couriers operate in Italy: DHL Tel 800 34 53 45 (24-hour toll free), Federal Express Tel 800 83 30 40 (toll free) and UPS Tel 800 82 20 54 (toll free). Look in the telephone book for addresses. Note that if you are having articles sent to you by courier in Italy, you might be obliged to pay IVA of up to 20% to retrieve goods.
Tel:+44 (0)20 85423067. Fax:+44 (0)207 1529598