Every day that I accomplish something here in Italy, big or small, feels like a win. Last week, that win was opening my Italian bank account.
I'll admit, I had some preconceived notions about opening a bank account in Italy before I arrived. I thought it would be simple. Silly me.
May you learn from my experience.
1. You Can't Open an Italian Bank Account from the States
This is one of those things I assumed I could do. After all, in the States, there are plenty of online-only banks, and it takes minutes to open an account.
Not so in Italy.
Italy has very serious anti-laundering regulations, thanks to the very real issue the Mafia presents across the country. That means anyone, much less someone coming from another country, is going to have to undergo a background check. Not everyone gets approved for a checking account.
At any rate, you must visit a local branch and provide certain documents to open an account. Which leads me to...
2. You're Gonna Need to Provide Some Paperwork
Yet another theme I've discovered in Italy: everything you try to do requires documents. And paperwork. So many things signed...
Each bank may have different requirements, but here's what I needed to open an account in Calabria (specifically at Banca di Credito Cooperativo di Montepaone, which is a credit union with locations all over the country.):
Social Security card
US bank statements
One of the reasons you won't be able to open an account when you're still in the U.S. is that you need a housing contract to open the account. I've heard that some landlords require you to have an Italian bank account to get the lease, so it's a bit of a Catch-22. My landlady is awesome, so I had no issue.
The codice fiscale is a tax code, a bit like a Social Security number. You need it for a ton here, from setting up internet service to buying things at a thrift store. And opening a bank account. You can get one for free at your local Agenzia delle Entrate.
I'm self-employed, so I needed to prove that I have money coming in each month. I provided both personal and business bank statements and highlighted what I take as salary.
3. Expect it to Take Some Time
This is not a show-up-at-the-bank-and-walk-out-with-an-account-an-hour-later situation. Again, this is my experience in Calabria.
I first went and talked to the teller. He took down my information and copied all my documents. Because I have friends here who have already gone down this path, I brought everything they could possibly ask for, barring a blood sample and my firstborn!
He told me he would call in a couple of days to schedule an appointment. He didn't. So I went back and we scheduled it for a few days later.
I returned for my appointment. "You're very punctual," he said.
"Of course! I'm American," I joked.
I spent the next two hours in an office with the bank manager. It just takes time. And of course, co-workers thought nothing of walking in and disrupting her work to ask a question. That's just la vita here.
I digitally signed a million documents, downloaded the app, and set up my online access. I walked out with a debit card and was able to transfer money using IBAN the same day.
4. Consider How You'll Transfer Money
Wire transfers can be expensive, but thankfully you have some options.
I opened a Revolut account last year because I can exchange dollars to euros with no fees (even with the free account you can do so up to $1k per month). I opted for the Premium plan at $10 a month to get the debit card, which I can use here in Italy.
My issue is that the ATMs (called bancomat) in my tiny town don't let me use the card. So I have to go to another town to get cash. At any rate, now that I have an Italian account, I will use the Revolut account to transfer money from my American dollars account and then exchange them for euros.
One thing I like about Revolut is that you can transfer money using IBAN (international bank account number). I had to pay my landlady this way, and doing so from an American account would have been a headache. The money usually arrives the same day!
Another option is Wise. It's a way to send yourself (or anyone) money digitally, and the fees are low.
Here's how the two stack up to exchange $1000 into euros:
So for now, I'll keep using Revolut. With the Premium account, you get unlimited international transfers per month without a fee. I'll downgrade to the free account when I can, which still gives you 10 with no fee.
P.S. Revolut's Premium account has some other great perks, including access to hotel lounges, travel insurance, and lost bag insurance.
5. You Might Want to Keep Your American Account
The majority of expenses for me are still in the States. I send my kid money. I charge things here with my American rewards card and pay it off in dollars. I put money in savings and in retirement in dollars. And oh yea, I get paid in dollars!
Maybe one day I will do everything in euros, but for now, having the two accounts works. And my costs are so low in Italy that I'm good just putting a little in my Italian account when I need it.