If you’re a non-resident, you’re entitled to open a non-resident account ( conto estero) only. Only foreign currency or imported euros can be paid into a non-resident account, which pays higher interest than resident accounts.
There’s no withholding tax on interest earned on deposits in non-resident accounts, as there is for resident euro accounts (when withholding tax is deducted at source). If you’re a non-resident, it’s possible to survive without an Italian account by using cash, travellers’ cheques and credit cards, although this isn’t wise and is an expensive option. If you have a second home in Italy, you can have all documentation (e.g. cheque books and statements) sent to an address abroad. Some Italian banks also provide written communications in English.
You’re considered to be a resident of Italy ( residenti valutari) if you have your main centre of interest there, i.e. you live or work there more or less permanently. To open a resident’s account you must usually have a residence permit (certificato di residenza) or evidence that you have a job in Italy.
It’s best to open an Italian bank account in person, rather than from abroad. Ask your friends, neighbours or colleagues for their recommendations and just go along to the bank of your choice and introduce yourself. You must be aged at least 18 and provide proof of identity, e.g. a passport, and your address in Italy (a utility bill usually suffices). Before choosing a bank, it’s wise to compare the fees charged for international money transfers and other services, which can be high.
If you wish to open an account with an Italian bank while abroad, you must obtain an application form from a branch of an Italian bank (either in Italy or your home country). You need to select a branch from the list provided, which should be close to your home or place of business in Italy.
If you open an account by correspondence, you must provide a reference from your bank, including a certificate of signature or a signature witnessed by a solicitor or lawyer. You also need a photocopy of the relevant pages of your passport and a euro draft to open the account.
It isn’t recommended to close your bank accounts abroad even when you’re living permanently in Italy, unless you’re absolutely certain that you won’t need them in the future. It’s cheaper to keep some money in local currency in an account in a country that you visit regularly, rather than pay commission to convert euros. Many foreigners living in Italy maintain at least two accounts: a foreign account (possibly offshore) for international transactions and a local account with an Italian bank for day-to-day business.
All banks provide credit and debit or ATM cards (called Bancomat cards) to obtain cash throughout Italy and also abroad, usually via the CIRRUS and NYCE networks. However, it’s unwise to rely solely on ATMs (called Bancomats) to obtain cash, as they often run out of money or are out of operation. Note also that daily withdrawals with a debit card are generally limited to €300.
The normal bank account for day-to-day transactions in Italy is a cheque ( assegno) or current account ( conto corrente/interno). Non-EU residents need Italian residency and a fiscal code to open a current account. Couples can open a joint account ( conto corrente cointestato) and some banks have special accounts and deals for children, pensioners, students and women.
Always shop around and compare fees and benefits before opening an account. When opening a cheque account, you should request a debit ( Bancomat) card, which can be used to pay for goods and pay bills throughout Italy. You receive a cheque book ( libretto di assegni) and your debit card, which you must usually collect in person from your branch, around two to three weeks after opening an account. Interest is paid on cheque accounts quarterly, although it may be as little as 0.5 per cent.
Many banks offer accounts where the balance above a sum of your choice (e.g. €2,500) is automatically invested in mutual funds. There’s a fee of around €1 for a cheque book containing ten cheques, although some banks issue them free of charge, and a fee for each cheque you write (which is around €0.80 or more when charges, duty and insurance are included).
Current account charges vary according to factors such as the number of cheques you write and the average balance maintained and may be negotiable. Charges are higher for non-resident than resident accounts. Each entry on your bank statement costs you between €0.80 and €1.50, although most banks allow you 100 free operations per year (which includes every withdrawal made with a debit card).
Cheques ( assegni) may be crossed ( sbarrato) or open ( non-sbarrato). Cheques require endorsement on the back before they can be paid into an account. Note that open cheques are freely negotiable and even crossed cheques can be endorsed to a third party (up to €10,350), although you can write not transferable ( non trasferibile) on the back of a cheque to prevent it from being endorsed. Cheque guarantee cards ( carte di garanzia) are available in Italy, but few people accept personal cheques even with a guarantee card and you’re unlikely to be able to use your cheque book with businesses outside your local area, except utility companies and other businesses you deal with regularly.
To obtain cash at a bank counter, you must complete a form or write a cheque made out to yourself ( me medesimo, usually written as m.m., or me stesso), which can usually be done only at your own branch. All cheques must be written in Italian and not in English and in blue or black in. When writing the amount in words, no capitals are used and all words are connected. When writing figures in Italy (or anywhere in continental Europe), you should cross the down stroke of the number 7 in order to avoid confusion with the number 1, which is often written with a leading upstroke and resembles a seven to many non-Europeans. Like other Europeans, Italians write the date with the day first followed by the month and year; for example, 1.9.04 is 1st September 2004 and not 9th January 2004. The conventional US form 1/9/00, with the month first and slashes between the digits, is unknown and must never be used!
Most banks now have tellers who can cash cheques, thus eliminating the previous two-step operation where you presented the cheque/form at one counter and were given a receipt to take to a cash desk ( cassa) to obtain
It’s illegal to bounce cheques ( assegno a vuoto) in Italy, for which you can be banned from holding a bank account and prosecuted. You should also take care not to become overdrawn, which can be expensive (overdrafts may be possible for a hefty interest rate). Post-dating cheques is also against the law, and all cheques can be presented for payment on the day they’re written irrespective of their date.
The time taken to clear cheques (after which the funds are credited to your account and start earning interest) varies from two days for a cheque drawn on the same bank to a week or longer for a cheque drawn on a different bank. You can stop payment of a cheque only when it has been lost or stolen (not simply because you’ve changed your mind), when a report must be made to the local police.
Bank statements ( estratto conto) are issued monthly or quarterly (you can usually choose) and contain your account details such as your bank, branch and account number at the top. This information is required when payments are to be made directly to or from your account, e.g. by standing order ( ordine di pagamento) or direct debit ( domiciliazione). Regular bills (such as utility bills) are best paid by direct debit, for which there’s a charge of around €0.80. If you’re a non-resident, it’s recommended to keep an emergency amount on deposit for unexpected (or unexpectedly high) bills. Bills can also be paid in cash at banks by completing a payment slip ( richiesta di bonifico).
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy from Survival Books.