Banks in Italy range from co-operative banks, or banchi popolari cooperativi, to credit or commercial banks and also cooperative credit banks, or banche di credito cooperativo.
There are two different types of accounts aimed at expats who are living in Italy. For various reasons, expats tend to like non-resident bank accounts, which are known as conto corrente non residenti, the main reason being that Italian bank accounts tend to charge high rates of interest whereas non-resident accounts usually pay interest and are not subject to any local interest taxes.Anyone can open a bank account in the country regardless of their citizenship status, though they must be aged over 18.
The big banks in Italy tend to focus their attention in big cities though they do have branches dotted around the country. The top banks in the country are Banca Intesa and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena though these Italian banks tend to be favoured by expats: Unicredit, Banco di Napoli, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro.
The Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena is the country’s third largest bank – and the world’s oldest – and the Intesa Sanpaolo is also a popular choice with expats since it has 5,600 branches and also runs a helpful multi-lingual contact centre for the bank’s services and products.
One other incentive for choosing a big bank is that they offer a wide range of services that the expat may need or be used to – internet and telephone banking facilities, for instance.
Expats may also struggle with the fact that the general banking hours between Monday to Friday are 8am and 1.30pm, though banks differ with their opening hours, with most reopening between 2pm and 4.30pm. Some banks will also open on Saturday mornings.
Also, many Italian banks close in the afternoon of the day before a bank holiday, which can be frustrating should an expat need to contact their bank for some reason.
When it comes to opening a bank account in Italy, the most effective way is to turn up in person along with a passport, proof of address and a tax code, or codice fiscale, from the tax authorities. The expat will need to fill out an application form and provide other personal information and the code is usually issued on the same day.
Italian consular offices and embassies can also issue the codice fiscale, so expats could apply in their home country before travelling to Italy.
Obtaining a tax code is also a straightforward process, but it entails visiting an office of the Agency of Revenue, or Agenzia delle Entrate. There are lots of these offices located around the country and the tax code is needed for most paperwork particularly when an expat starts a new job in Italy.
To get the code, the expat will need to visit the office with their passport and apply for the tax code number.
For expats who have a work contract or residence permit, they can open a resident’s bank account and they will also need their tax code and identification documents.
American expats looking to work and live in Italy and wanting to open account will need to do their homework first or contact the bank directly, because some may refuse to offer American citizens banking facilities because of the FATCA law, which brings extra administration and legal obligations.
However, one of the issues when it comes to opening a bank account is that the information and application forms will usually be in Italian so it tends to be a good idea to take someone along who is fluent in the language to help with the forms and discuss their needs with bank staff.
Some of the larger banks may have English-speaking staff, but expats should not be expecting this unless they arrange for it specifically.
It should also be pointed out that banks have differing procedures depending on what they are offering and some banks have more experience in dealing with expats than others. However, all of the banks will diligently check the expat’s documentation to ensure it complies with the country’s regulations on money laundering; there will be a lot of documents to sign and most of these will be written in Italian.
When contacting a bank to open an account it is also worthwhile asking if they have experience in opening non-resident bank accounts, which is what the expat may be wanting. They may have specific policies and separate requirements that the expat will need to meet so it makes sense to contact them beforehand to ensure the account creation process is completed smoothly. Some banks even have specific packages that are designed for non-residents.
Having said this, expats wanting to open a non-resident bank account in a small village bank, for instance, may be surprised that this offering could be refused because the branch staff may be unaware that the facility is being offered to non-residents.
As with opening a bank account in any country, it always pays to compare the packages that are being offered by the Italian banks to see what the costs are and what the benefits will be. Talking over the issues and offerings with fellow expats will also help.
€300 daily limit
Italy has a big network of ATMs, and when the expat puts their debit card into the machine it will give an option of switching to their preferred language before any transactions are conducted. Most banks have a €300 daily limit for the amount that can be withdrawn.
While Visa and MasterCard are very popular cards in Italy, there’s also CartaSi, and expats who use an international bank account should be aware that their transaction fees may be expensive when using a credit card to withdraw cash from a bancomat.
When it comes to the type of bank accounts, the most popular are current, which is also known as a checking account. Some banks will require that their customer maintains a minimum balance to keep the account active, while others will incur account management fees.
Some Italian bank accounts pay interest of between 0.5% and 1% but have a number of conditions attached, the main one being that there’s a regular amount of money being deposited every month.
Interest rates on Italian savings accounts are comparatively low, though it is still possible for an expat to find an account paying 1% or perhaps more.
Another thing that may give peace of mind to expats who are opening a bank account in Italy is that they can – and should – sign up with a bank that is part of the deposit guarantee fund so their money is protected. Currently the fund will guarantee an account up to €100,000.
For expats who simply want a cheap and basic bank account, the Post Office is considered to be one of the best but may be restricted to expats who have residency status. Expats should spend some time shopping around to compare interest rates and banking fees, as well as customer satisfaction rates. Also, expats should look more closely at the account opening process and the documentation they will need.
It’s also possible to open a bank while the expat is in their home country, though they will need to find an Italian bank with a presence in their country. Expats can also nominate an agent in Italy to open the account on the expat’s behalf and then simply turn up at a branch and sign the paperwork.
The bank account will be active within a few hours, if not immediately, after the bank representative has entered all of the expat’s information into the bank’s system. Items such as debit cards and cheque books will arrive two to three weeks afterwards and customers usually collect them from the branch.
Banks charge around one euro for a cheque book that consists of 10 cheques, though some banks issue cheque books for free but charge for every cheque they process.
Most Italian banks will offer expats a full range of services that Italian citizens will also receive, including Internet and mobile phone banking as well as cheque books, Visa cards and the possibility of credit cards too.
For those expats wanting to pay their utility bills, for instance, then they don’t have to necessarily use the Internet banking facility, and not all Italian banks offer this, so they can pay their bills at the Post Office with their bancomat card or with cash.
Interest is paid on accounts quarterly and the average is currently around 0.5%. Charges also vary and they can be much higher for non-resident accounts.
Expats who insist on writing cheques in Italy need to appreciate that the cheques should be written in Italian and that the amount when written has all the words joined together. Italian banks require cheques be written in black or blue ink.
Also, American expats need to be aware that no-one in Europe uses their style of writing dates – Italian banks will want to see the day first, followed by the month and then the year.
Expats will also be needing an account so that they can transfer securities or cash from and to different countries, though if the amount exceeds €12,500 it must be declared to the country’s Exchange Controls Office.
When expats begin the search for a bank provider it is also worthwhile asking friends, colleagues and neighbours for their recommendations and it is crucial that they choose a bank that offers reasonable fees, particularly for international money transfers.
It is also possible to open an account by mail but anyone doing so will probably need a reference from their current bank and a certificate of signature, or their signature must be witnessed by a professional of some standing, such as a lawyer.
Also, expats who are moving to Italy should not close their bank account in their home country if they are looking to return because opening a new account is more difficult than it used to be. If they have financial obligations then they may have to continue using their original account to ensure it remains open.
There’s also a trend for expats who live in Italy to have two accounts; the first is an Italian bank account for their day-to-day business such as receiving a salary and paying utility bills. A second account is for international transactions, and this is possibly located offshore.
For expats needing more information about offshore and international bank accounts, then the major banks in their home country will be able to provide more information, but most of these come with strict criteria such as having a very large minimum balance.
Italian banks are modernising themselves, but many expats may still think the processes are slow and laborious; things used to be worse and when expats wanted to cash a cheque in their branch they would present the cheque at one counter where the teller would give them a receipt to cash at another desk. Now the first teller will pay the cheque in cash.
It is illegal in Italy to bounce cheques and anyone doing so is likely to be prosecuted and banned from having a bank account. It’s also illegal to postdate cheques and all cheques can be presented to a bank for payment on the day – regardless of the date on the cheque. Also, a cheque may take up to a week or more for it to be paid into an account though some banks will process the cheque within two days.