Italy is a magnet for tourists. Unfortunately, there will be Italians who will try to take advantage of American tourists. When you hear or read about someone with a bad experience in Italy, you probably ask yourself, “How do I not get ripped off when I travel to Italy?”
Here are a few of our insider hacks to make sure you have a great time on your next trip to Italy without getting ripped off.
A quick disclaimer here: In my experience, most Italians aren’t interested in taking advantage of American tourists. This article is about the small percentage of crooks that make a business out of ripping off Americans in Italy.
Why do Americans get ripped off in Italy?
Americans get ripped off when traveling to Italy because they are too trusting. The United States is a high-trust culture. So, when an American family decides to eat out, they expect the restaurant to charge the price on the menu. Trust is an essential elixir for living in the United States.
But, many Americans, especially those who don’t travel much overseas, assume that buying products and paying for services in Italy is the same as it is in America. When Americans don’t expect scams and rackets, they get taken advantage of.
But if you pay attention, you can easily avoid scams specifically designed to take advantage of your trust.
Why do Americans get ripped off in Italian restaurants?
Imagine someone stops you in front of a restaurant in Italy. You’ve been sightseeing for hours, ready for a delicious pasta dish.
Now imagine a friendly person in front of the restaurant invites you inside with a big smile on her face. You see plenty of other tourists dining as you walk inside, so you feel this restaurant might be a good choice. But, in reality, you are already on your way to getting ripped off in Italy.
No decent restaurant would have hawkers standing out front, inviting people in. They don’t need to grab people and pull them inside. Good restaurants in Italy take reservations from locals several days, even weeks in advance.
But, if you take a stroll in the touristy areas in Italy, you will be surrounded by “tourist restaurants.” They are restaurants with large pictures of dishes and English signs and menus.
If you don’t want to get ripped off, avoid all Italian restaurants with:
- Hawkers – Good restaurants don’t need to hire hawkers. Reputable restaurants in Italy don’t need to pull a fast one over unsuspecting American tourists.
- Picture menus – Abnormally bright food pictures scream low-quality tourist food. Tourist restaurants will also overcharge you.
- English menus – If the waiter gives you an English menu without asking if you need one, you are in a tourist restaurant. In Italy, a nice local restaurant will often have an English menu, but the waiter won’t bring you one unless you specifically ask for one.
Before you order your food, make sure you know exactly the price of each dish. Don’t assume that you will be charged a fair price. And if you order a bottle of wine, have the waiter open it at your table.
If the wine wasn’t opened at your table send it back. You need to be vigilant about this or you’ll be served some low-quality wine at a ridiculously high price.
Italian cab drivers ripping off American travelers
Italian cab drivers take advantage of U.S. tourists at times. When it comes to taking a cab in Italy, you must know the cab fare upfront. And to be sure and avoid getting ripped off, ask the driver to write it down.
Recently, my wife and I took a cab to the airport in Italy, and we didn’t want to be taken advantage of. So, we asked the driver to write down the cab fare cost, which was supposed to be €19.50.
But, at the end of the fare, the cab driver said €25. I pushed back, and I didn’t agree to pay €25. In the end, we paid €20. Unfortunately, many Americans just pay the higher fee, but I wish they wouldn’t. In my opinion, that’s why American tourists are so often taken advantage of in Italy.
How to take a cab and not get ripped off in Italy?
There are so cab scams in Italy, and if you aren’t paying attention, you will get ripped off.
The first rule of taking a cab and not getting ripped off is “never, ever get into a cab without first agreeing on a price.” You might think the taximeter will protect you, but it won’t. You can get ripped off even if the meter’s running. The best way to protect yourself is to know the cost of the cab fare in advance.
You can ask about the cost of a cab ride when you check into the hotel. That way, you have a general idea about the cost of taxi rides in the area. A hotel might try to sell you a tax voucher, but that’s also a rip-off.
On our last trip to Italy, the hotel wanted to sell us a €24 voucher for a trip that only cost €19.50. Of course, I didn’t buy the overpriced voucher, but I knew that a ride to the airport must cost less than €24.
Unfortunately, sometimes, even while traveling in Italy, it feels like everyone wants to pull a fast one on you.
How to avoid getting ripped off by your Italian hotel?
Italian hotels are experts at charging fees that American tourists expect to be included in the cost of a room.
For example, our hotel in Italy charged us €10 for leaving our suitcases in the lobby. We had a late flight out, so we asked to leave our bags in the hotel lobby. The hotel charged €10 to hold our bags. That’s after we paid more than $600 for our room for our stay. I felt ripped off when we left the hotel. I know it was only €10, but I still feel it was an unnecessary charge.
And if you have a car, expect to pay big bucks for parking. The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to ask about the additional charges in advance. And you should always read the reviews before booking a hotel. Hotel guests are happy to share in their reviews when they are taken advantage of.
Italy Hotel Scams and Rip-Offs
- Minibar – You should never drink or eat anything out of a minibar in an Italian hotel.
- Parking – Generally, it’s a bad idea to drive in Italy. Gasoline is expensive in Italy, and driving can be extremely stressful. And your hotel will overcharge you for car parking.
- Breakfast – Hotels often overcharge for breakfast. So, if you can reserve a room without breakfast, you will definitely save money and not get ripped off.
- Laundry – Having the hotel do your laundry sounds wonderful, but only until you get a huge bill.
- False charges – Always scrutinize your hotel bill. Before you leave the hotel, make sure every charge is legit.
How to avoid getting ripped off by Italian banks?
Italian banks are experts at overcharging American tourists. The streets are full of ATMs in Italy, but you should avoid using most of them if you don’t want to get ripped off.
Before you take cash from an ATM, check the exchange rate. If the machine gives you less than the current USD to Euro exchange rate, you should avoid it.
Unfortunately, banks scam American tourists all the time. Their ATMs’ exchange rate is far from fair, and they also charge a hefty ATM fee which could be €8.
The best way to minimize high ATM fees is to withdraw larger amounts. Look for a no-fee ATM such as CO-OP ATM, PULSE, or STAR Network.
How do Americans get ripped off on Italian streets?
Italian streets are full of scam artists. For example, a common scam at the Colosseum in Rome is when the scammers, with a big smile on their face, ask you: “Where are you from?”
It doesn’t matter if you are from the U.S. or the moon. But the scam starts with starting a conversation. The next step is for the scammer to put a wristband (or some other trinket) on you, pretending it’s a gift. The scammer will pretend to have given you a gift, and as you walk away, feeling good about the experience, the scammer comes after you asking for money.
So, the best way not to get ripped off is to walk on. Avoid eye contact. Don’t answer the scammer’s questions. Don’t ever take anything from them, even if they make it look like a gift. Nobody is going to give a gift at any attractions in Italy. It’s just a sign that you are being ripped off.
String bracelet scam in Italy
So, how does this scam work?
- Version 1 (standard): tout asks if you want a “friendship bracelet” or “friendship ring.” If you say yes, a string/bracelet will be tied so tightly around your wrist/finger that it makes it impossible to remove. Money is then demanded.
- Version 2 (magic trick): touts ask if you want to see a magic trick. If you say yes, a string/bracelet will be tied around your wrist or finger.
- Version 3 (targeting couples): touts approach the couple and offer a bracelet to the lady for free. If she accepts, another will appear to offer the guy, who is likely to accept, thinking it is free. Now, payment will be demanded.
- Version 4 (distract and steal): one ties and distracts, and another steals from behind.
Rome gladiators photo scam in Italy
How does this scam work in Italy?
Despite bans in 2015 and 2017 and a law in 2017 fining anyone dressed as a historical figure for photos or video up to €400, these charlatans are still around.
The scammers are dressed in gladiator costumes. They offer to take a photo with you. Of course, they don’t say anything about money. After the photos, they will demand a payment. Don’t be surprised if the scammers ask for €40 or more. If you don’t pay, they will get aggressive.
Places to beware: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and other touristy locations.
What to do: Don’t allow them to take pictures with you. If they insist on getting money from you, start shouting “Polizia!!!” (Police in Italian). These crooks don’t want the police to get involved, and there is always a police presence in touristy areas. If you make a lot of noise, these scammers will most likely leave you alone.