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jan 14 2013

Headed for the Vatican? Bring Cash!

Now that Vatican City has switched to a cash-only policy for sales of souvenirs, admission to museums, and other goods and services, visitors need to take a few extra steps before taking in the wonders of St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican museums, and other sites in the tiny city-state.

As of January 1, Italy's central bank withdrew its authorization of electronic payments such as credit- and bank-card transactions from the Holy See, because it alleges that the Vatican has not yet fully complied with European Union regulations to protect against money laundering. For its part, the Vatican has insisted that it is, in fact, in compliance, and is working to resolve the issue.

Sure, you've grown accustomed to using plastic for its convenience and, in some cases, rewards. But if you're on the ground in Rome and contemplating a sojourn to the Vatican (as well you should), be sure to arrive with a fistful of euros. Our best editor-tested tips, include:

Your best bet is to withdraw euros with an American debit/ATM card, especially if your bank has international branches (such as Citi and Bank of America) where you can withdraw cash without a fee. If you do have to pay a withdrawal fee (which can be anywhere from 3 to 8 percent), plan ahead to make a few big withdrawals rather than a bunch of smaller ones.

Avoid the foreign exchange desk at airports, hotels, and visitor centers, where you will often find less-than-favorable exchange rates and fees of up to 20 percent!

While traveler's checks are good for security (American Express will replace them if they're lost or stolen), in terms of exchanging them for euros they're just like dollars, and you may get an unfavorable exchange rate plus a few of up to $9 per check may be tacked on.

TALK TO US! Are you going to be visiting Rome soon? How does the Vatican's new cash-only policy affect your travel plans?

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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