World ? Europe ? Italy

Italy: Fast Facts

Business Hours -- Regular business hours are generally Monday through Friday from 9am (sometimes 9:30am) to 1pm and 3:30 (sometimes 4) to 7 or 7:30pm. In July and August, offices might not open in the afternoon until 4:30 or 5pm. Banks are open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 1 or 1:30pm and 2 or 2:30 to 4pm, and are closed all day Saturday, Sunday, and national holidays. The riposo (midafternoon closing) is often observed in Rome, Naples, and most southern cities; however, in Milan and other northern and central cities, the custom has been abolished by some merchants. Most shops are closed on Sunday, except for certain tourist-oriented stores that are now permitted to remain open on Sunday during the high season. If you're in Italy in summer and the heat is intense, we suggest that you, too, learn the custom of the riposo.

Customs -- What You Can Bring into Italy: Foreign visitors can bring along most items for personal use duty-free, including fishing tackle, a pair of skis, two tennis rackets, a baby carriage, two hand cameras with 10 rolls of film or a digital camera, CD player with 10 CDs, tape recorder, binoculars, personal jewelry, portable radio set (subject to a small license fee), and 400 cigarettes or a quantity of cigars or pipe tobacco not exceeding 500 grams (1.1 lb.). There are strict limits on importing alcoholic beverages. However, for alcohol bought tax-paid, limits are much more liberal than in other countries of the European Union.

What You Can Take Home from Italy: Rules governing what you can bring back duty-free vary from country to country and are subject to change, but they're generally posted on the Web. Anyone caught buying counterfeit products can be fined up to 10,000 euros, and anyone caught selling counterfeit products could face criminal charges.

U.S. Citizens: For specifics on what you can bring back, download the invaluable free pamphlet Know Before You Go online at www.cbp.gov. (Click on "Travel," and then click on "Know Before You Go.") Or contact the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel. 877/287-8667; www.cbp.gov) and request the pamphlet.

Canadian Citizens: For a clear summary of Canadian rules, write for the booklet I Declare, issued by the Canada Border Services Agency (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).

U.K. Citizens: For information, contact HM Revenue & Customs at tel. 0845/010-9000 (from outside the U.K., 02920/501-261), or consult their website at www.hmrc.gov.uk.

Australian Citizens: A helpful brochure available from Australian consulates or Customs offices is Know Before You Go. For more information, call the Australian Customs Service at tel. 1300/363-263, or log on to www.customs.gov.au.

New Zealand Citizens: Most questions are answered in a free pamphlet available at New Zealand consulates and Customs offices: New Zealand Customs Guide for Travellers, Notice no. 4. For more information, contact New Zealand Customs Service, The Customhouse, 17-21 Whitmore St., Box 2218, Wellington (tel. 04/473-6099 or 0800/428-786; www.customs.govt.nz).

Drugstores -- At every drugstore (farmacia) there's a list of those that are open at night and on Sunday.

Electricity -- The electricity in Italy varies considerably. It's usually alternating current (AC), varying from 42 to 50 cycles. The voltage can be anywhere from 115 to 220. It's recommended that any visitor carrying electrical appliances obtain a transformer. Check the exact local current at the hotel where you're staying. Plugs have prongs that are round, not flat; therefore, an adapter plug is also needed.

Embassies & Consulates -- In case of an emergency, embassies have a 24-hour referral service.

The U.S. Embassy is in Rome at Via Vittorio Veneto 121 (tel. 06-46-741; fax 06-46-74-2244). U.S. consulates are in Florence, at Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 38 (tel. 055-266-951; fax 055-284-088), and in Milan, at Via Principe Amedeo 2-10 (tel. 02-29-03-51; fax 02-2903-5273). There's also a consulate in Naples on Piazza della Repubblica 1 (tel. 081-583-8111; fax 081-761-1804). The consulate in Genoa is at Via Dante 2 (tel. 010-58-44-92). There is also a consulate in Palermo (Sicily) at Via Vaccarini 1 (tel. 091-305-857; fax 091-625-6026). For consulate hours, see individual city listings.

The Canadian Consulate and passport service is in Rome at Via Zara 30 (tel. 06-445-981). The Canadian Embassy in Rome is at Via Salaria 243 (tel. 06-445-981; fax 06-445-982912). The Canadian Consulate in Milan is at V.V. Pisani 19 (tel. 02-6758-3420).

The U.K. Embassy is in Rome at Via XX Settembre 80A (tel. 06-422-00001; fax 06-42202334). The U.K. Consulate in Florence is at Lungarno Corsini 2 (tel. 055-284-133; fax 055-219-112). The Consulate General in Naples is at Via Dei Mille 40 (tel. 081-4238-911; fax 081-422-434). In Milan, contact the office at Via San Paolo 7 (tel. 02-723-001; fax 02-864-65081).

The Australian Embassy is in Rome at Via Antonio Bosio 5 (tel. 06-852-721; fax 06-852-723-00). The Australian Consulate is in Rome at Corso Trieste 25 (tel. 06-852-721). The Australian Consulate in Milan is at Via Borgogna 2 (tel. 02-77-70-41).

The New Zealand Embassy is in Rome at Via Zara 28 (tel. 06-441-7171; fax 06-440-2984). The Irish Embassy in Rome is at Piazza di Campitelli 3 (tel. 06-697-9121; fax 06-679-2354).

Emergencies -- Dial tel. 113 for ambulance, police, or fire. In case of a car breakdown, dial tel. 803-116 at the nearest telephone box; the nearest Automobile Club of Italy (ACI) will be notified to come to your aid.

Etiquette & Customs -- Some churches may require that you wear appropriate attire: Men need to wear long pants, and women must have their knees and shoulders covered in order to enter.

Hospitals -- For emergencies requiring an ambulance, call tel. 113.

Language -- Italian, of course, is the language of the land, but English is generally understood at most attractions such as museums and at most hotels and restaurants that cater to visitors. Even if few staff members at a restaurant, for example, speak English, one person almost always does and can be summoned. As you travel in remote towns and villages, especially in the south, a Berlitz Italian phrase book is a handy accompaniment.

Legal Aid -- The consulate of your country is the place to turn for legal aid, although offices can't interfere in the Italian legal process. They can, however, inform you of your rights and provide a list of attorneys. You'll have to pay for the attorney out of your pocket -- there's no free legal assistance. If you're arrested for a drug offense, about all the consulate will do is notify a lawyer about your case and perhaps inform your family.

Liquor Laws -- Wine with meals has been a normal part of family life for hundreds of years in Italy. Children are exposed to wine at an early age, and consumption of alcohol isn't anything out of the ordinary. There's no legal drinking age for buying or ordering alcohol. Alcohol is sold day and night throughout the year because there's almost no restriction on the sale of wine or liquor in Italy.

Lost & Found -- Alert your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. If you have lost your card, use the following numbers: Visa: tel. 800/819-014; MasterCard: tel. 800/870-866; Amex: tel. 06-7220-348.

If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).

Mail -- Mail delivery in Italy is notoriously bad. Your family and friends back home might receive your postcards in 1 week, or it might take 2 weeks (or longer). Postcards, aerogrammes, and letters weighing up to 20 grams sent to the United States and Canada cost .85€ ($1.10/55p); to the United Kingdom and Ireland, .65€ (85Ţ/45p); and to Australia and New Zealand, 1.05€ ($1.35/70p). You can buy stamps at all post offices and at tabacchi (tobacco) stores.

Measurements -- Visit www.onlineconversion.com for details on converting metric measurements to nonmetric equivalents.

Newspapers & Magazines -- In major cities, it's possible to find the International Herald Tribune or USA Today, as well as other English-language newspapers and magazines, including Time and Newsweek, at hotels and news kiosks. The Rome Daily American is published in English.

Passports -- Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you'll pay a higher processing fee.

For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.

For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Gatineau, QC K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).

For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/484-4700) or at most main post offices.

For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand, or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.

For Residents of the United Kingdom: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.

For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.

For Children: To obtain a passport, the child must be present, in person, with both parents at the place of issuance; or a notarized statement from the parents is required. Any questions parents or guardians might have can be answered by calling the National Passport Information Center at tel. 877/487-2778 Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm Eastern Standard Time.

If your passport is lost or stolen, go to your consulate as soon as possible for a replacement.

Police -- Dial tel. 113 for police emergency assistance in Italy.

Restrooms -- All airport and rail stations, of course, have restrooms, often with attendants who expect to be tipped. Bars, nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, gas stations, and all hotels have facilities. Public toilets are found near many of the major sights. Usually they're designated as WC (water closet) or DONNE (women) and UOMINI (men). The most confusing designation is SIGNORI (gentlemen) and SIGNORE (ladies), so watch that final i and e! Many public toilets charge a small fee or employ an attendant who expects a tip. It's a good idea to carry some tissues in your pocket or purse -- they often come in handy.

Taxes -- As a member of the European Union, Italy imposes a value-added tax (called IVA in Italy) on most goods and services. The tax that most affects visitors is the one imposed on hotel rates, which ranges from 10% in first- and second-class hotels to 19% in deluxe hotels.

Non-E.U. (European Union) citizens are entitled to a refund of the IVA if they spend more than 155€ ($202/ţ104) at any one store, before tax. To claim your refund, request an invoice from the cashier at the store and take it to the Customs office (dogana) at the airport to have it stamped before you leave. Note: If you're going to another E.U. country before flying home, have it stamped at the airport Customs office of the last E.U. country you'll be in (for example, if you're flying home via Britain, have your Italian invoices stamped in London). Once back home, mail the stamped invoice (keep a photocopy for your records) back to the original vendor within 90 days of the purchase. The vendor will, sooner or later, send you a refund of the tax that you paid at the time of your original purchase. Reputable stores view this as a matter of ordinary paperwork and are businesslike about it. Less-honorable stores might lose your dossier. It pays to deal with established vendors on large purchases. You can also request that the refund be credited to the credit card with which you made the purchase; this is usually a faster procedure.

Many shops are now part of the "Tax Free for Tourists" network (look for the sticker in the window). Stores participating in this network issue a check along with your invoice at the time of purchase. After you have the invoice stamped at Customs, you can redeem the check for cash directly at the Tax Free booth in the airport (in Rome, it's past Customs; in Milan's airports, the booth is inside the duty-free shop) or mail it back in the envelope provided within 60 days.

Time Zone -- In terms of standard time zones, Italy is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST) in the United States. Daylight saving time goes into effect in Italy each year from the end of March to the end of October.

Tipping -- This custom is practiced with flair in Italy -- many people depend on tips for their livelihoods. In hotels, the service charge of 15% to 19% is already added to a bill. In addition, it's customary to tip the chambermaid .50€ (65Ţ/35p) per day, the doorman (for calling a cab) .50€ (65Ţ/35p), and the bellhop or porter 1.50€ to 1.95€ ($1.95-$3.25/ţ1-ţ1.70) for carrying your bags to your room. A concierge expects about 15% of his or her bill, as well as tips for extra services performed, which could include help with long-distance calls. In expensive hotels, these euro amounts are often doubled.

In restaurants and cafes, 15% is usually added to your bill to cover most charges. If you're not sure whether this has been done, ask, "Ȁ incluso il servizio?" (ay een-cloo-soh eel sair-vee-tsoh?). An additional tip isn't expected, but it's nice to leave the equivalent of an extra couple of dollars if you've been pleased with the service. Checkroom attendants expect .75€ ($1/50p), and washroom attendants should get .50€ (65Ţ/35p). Restaurants are required by law to give customers official receipts.

Taxi drivers expect at least 15% of the fare.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory: tel. 202/647-5225 (24 hr.). U.S. Passport Agency: tel. 202/647-0518. U.S. Embassy in Rome: tel. 06-46-741. Canadian Embassy in Rome: tel. 06-445981. U.K. Embassy in Rome: tel. 06-42200001. Australian Embassy in Rome: tel. 06-852-721. U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hot Line: tel. 877/394-8747.

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