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TOURISM

‘We were charged €600 for lunch’: Tourists describe yet another Rome rip-off

After a restaurant in one of Rome's tourist hotspots hit the headlines for overcharging, another visitor shares his own horror story.

'We were charged €600 for lunch': Tourists describe yet another Rome rip-off
Check the menu before sitting down to eat in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Kennith Ng, who lives in Hong Kong, told The Local that in August he and his wife were charged more than €600 for a plate of pasta, a roasted fish and a bottle of water shared between them at Antico Caffè di Marte, the same Roman restaurant that was recently accused of charging two Japanese tourists over €400 for two plates of fish, spaghetti and water.

READ ALSO: Japanese tourists slapped with €430 bill for fish and spaghetti

In Ng's case, the damage was even worse: €468.60 for just two dishes and a litre of water, plus a compulsory “tip” of €137.

That brought their total bill for a two-person lunch without wine to an eye-watering €605.60.

The couple protested but eventually paid the charge in full after being threatened by the restaurant's staff, said Ng and his wife, Bobo Chan, who have reported the restaurant to the Italian police.

Chan told officers that several waiters surrounded her and her husband and subjected them to “menacing behaviour”, telling them they would not be allowed to leave without paying, according to a copy of the police statement seen by The Local. 

After filing a police report within hours of the incident of August 24th, the couple emailed a further complaint to the Guardia di Finanza – Italy's financial crime force – upon their return home. The police in Rome also advised the couple to contact the Italian consulate in Hong Kong, but “we have heard nothing from Italy so far,” Ng told The Local on Monday.

He advises other visitors to do their research before eating out in Italy, since subsequent searches online revealed many similar complaints about Antico Caffè di Marte, which is rated “Terrible” on TripAdvisor.

The restaurant, located near Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican in the heart of Rome's tourist centre, has been repeatedly accused of serving customers large quantities of seafood or steak without explaining that they'll be billed by weight.

While the restaurant's owner told the Italian press in connection with another incident that the “menu is clear“, Chan said that the charges listed on their receipt were “totally different” to what they had understood from the menu displayed outside.

Italian law requires that restaurants display their prices clearly and accurately. But like in tourist hotspots everywhere, establishments in some of Italy's most heavily visited areas are notorious for finding ways to overcharge unwitting visitors.

Other notorious cases include an €80 bill for a couple of burgers and three coffees near the Vatican, a €1,100 meal for four at a restaurant in Venice, a single cone ice cream that cost €25 in Florence, and a €42 check for three gelati and some water near the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

READ ALSO: Ripped off: Italy's worst tourist scams and how to avoid them

Such rip-offs are, thankfully, the exception, but they risk damaging the reputation of Italy's entire tourism industry. 

As Ng says, honest restaurants also the victims when unscrupulous businesses take advantage. “I actually had a very lovely holiday in Italy by and large, we had some unforgettable memories and met so many lovely locals,” he told The Local. “In fact, most of the restaurants in Italy are second to none, their passion for food is so touching, just beautiful!

“Therefore, I feel so sorry for those lovely restaurants' owners as it is unfair to them.”

Have you been ripped off while travelling in Italy? Email us and tell your story.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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