Italian Bank Experience

euroAs much as I love Italy, some aspects of the Italian lifestyle are far from efficient. The Italian bank experience is one of these molto difficile situations. For the most part I have used Bancomats (ATM’s) to withdraw money in euros while traveling, but when I was in Liguria,  Levanto to be exact, I went into a bank to change two €50 bills for smaller denominations. What I expected to be a simple process turned out to be a production, Italian style.

Banco di Chiavari e della Riviera Ligure - enter the bank I stood in front of a circular holding area, with just enough room for one person. An automatic door opened, allowing me to stand inside. I had visions of the old Star Trek series and  waited to hear a voice say, “Beam me up, Scotty.” Anyway, once inside, the door closed and a door on the opposite side opened, and I was now inside the bank.

No clients were in this bank, and there were no teller windows, just a few desks with bank personnel sitting behind them. I stood near one of the desks until the man behind the desk indicated for me to come forward.  I showed him the two €50 bills and asked for resto, or change. He just looked at me with a blank expression as if he didn’t understand what I needed from him.

50 eurosI had to mention the name of the denominations, and then he understood what I needed. I had expected him to take the €100 and hand me the equivalent in small bills, but this is Italy, and apparently,that is not how things are done.

He began to type on his computer for at least three minutes,  and then he had to ask a colleague for help. Eventually he deposited the two €50 bills into a machine, the €100 came out in smaller bills, and he handed them to me. I thanked him and exited the bank through the same compartment door system. The whole process took ten minutes, yet it seemed like a half  hour at the time.

If you are wondering why I did not simply obtain change at a bar, or the train station, the reason is  simple. In Italy I have fund that very often  the people who work at these places do not have enough cash on hand, and cannot make change for you, even if you are buying something. I have since learned that it is really best to keep a supply of coins and small denomination euro notes.

You have to smile, though, and realize that this is all part of the bigger picture. Sometimes you have to put up with some inefficiency to enjoy being able to spend time i one of the most beautiful places n the world.

Have you had similar experiences at banks or other government offices in Italy? I know many of my ex-pat friends have plenty of stores like this one. I’d love to hear of your experiences, so please share them and leave a comment.

Grazie and ciao.

Have you had a chance to check out my Instagram page yet? Follow me there and see more of my photos from Italy, like this one from Levanto.

Levanto surfers Photo by Margie Miklas

12 Responses

  1. bonniegm

    The only difficulty we ever encountered was trying to find an ATM in the south. We were in Calabria and exploring villages up in the mountains to find my family’s town. There were no ATMs and then the, very large, hotel only wanted cash to pay the bill. 340 euro. we only had 326. No problem. We followed the son down to the large town of Cosenza, through a maze of streets where he led us to a bank with an ATM. After we paid him he had us follow him to the entrance to the autostrada so we wouldn’t get lost. Quite the experience.

  2. Un po' di pepe

    When I had to do the transactions for my house, the bank was pretty efficient and so was the notary. The worst part as sending the money to Italy. I do remember in the days of travelers cheques having to spend so much time waiting for them to figure out what they were. So glad my little town has 2 bancomats now! Ciao, Cristina

  3. Andrew Petcher

    I remember my first holiday to Italy in 1976 when for a fortnight I was a real millionaire. The high denomination notes were so worthless that it was normal practice for shops to give change in the form of a postcard of a handful of sweets.

    • margieinitaly

      Times have certainly changed, haven’t they Andrew??? At least the euro-dollar conversion is better than it was a few years ago…I’m not so sure about the British pound though…

  4. karenincalabria

    I could write another book just on my experiences in Italian banks! Actually, you were lucky getting change without an account. Tellers aren’t always so accommodating, even if you walk in with the 100 note that you just pulled out of their ATM. As bagnidilucca mentioned, the maintenance fees on bank accounts are incredibly high. However, if you’re a legal resident you can apply on-line and it’s a little better. Also, the post office, which as we know is another story in itself, has lower-cost options.
    And as you say, I’m always amazed at how little cash for making change Italian businesses have on hand. We’re so used to just handing over a $20 for whatever small purchase we make, but in Italy it’s often countered with a shake of the head.

    • margieinitaly

      Thank you Karen…so true, and since you lived there, you would know for sure! Ah yes, the wonderful post office…I have a few posts on that frustration too!!! LOL

  5. TravelsWithRae

    A good tip Margie. I will know next trip to keep the big bills for paying the balance of apartment rental deposits. I was lucky not to have to change any large bills last trip. Thanks for the info! And for the “tube” explanation. The guys didn’t believe me when I commented that you stood in that tube thing to get inside. Beam me up!!

  6. bagnidilucca

    I can’t imagine why anyone uses travelers cheques any more, most places don’t want them and there are so many other options. Italian banks seem a bit behind, but we have had nothing but excellent service from our bank in the village. When we first went into the bank to open an account we thought it would be difficult, but it was incredibly efficient and easy. We are charged high fees, but they pay most of our bills and on one occasion my debit card was not working and I just went into the bank and came out a few minutes later with a new one. This would not happen in Australia.

  7. Joe

    If you think that is fun, try exchanging travelers checks…something I did way back in the day. It was an all afternoon affair; I should have packed a lunch. By contrast a few weeks later I did the same thing in Germany and was out on the street with cash before I could blink an eye!

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