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TOURISM

Italy’s €500 ‘holiday bonus’ is set to return for summer 2021

The holiday bonus introduced to help Italy’s tourism industry last year is coming back this summer, and it may be easier to use.

Italy's €500 'holiday bonus' is set to return for summer 2021
Italy's tourism businesses are preparing for summer 2021. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Italy’s tourism minister has announced the return of its summer ‘holiday bonus’ scheme under which lower-income households could receive up to €500 each.

First introduced in May 2020 under the ‘Relaunch Decree’, the bonus vacanze or  ‘holiday bonus’ aims to boost Italy’s tourism sector, which accounts for 15 percent of the country’s jobs and has been hard hit by ongoing travel restrictions due to the pandemic.

READ ALSO:  Italy’s tourism industry reports €120 billion loss in 2020

The government set aside 2.6 billion euros to give households earning less than 40,000 euros a year a financial incentive to holiday in Italy rather than go abroad.

But issues with using the scheme last year meant most of the pot has gone unused – and now the payments are being made available for summer 2021.

Tourists at the beach on Rabbit Island in Lampedusa, Sicily. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI/ AFP

“The holiday bonus has been extended,” Italian Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia said on Rai 1, explaining that most of the funds made available in 2020 had not been claimed.

“There was a problem with (the scheme),” he said. “820 million of the 2.6 billion allocated has been spent, so a lot of the funds are still available.”

“If it worked well, it would already have been used,” he said, adding that the ministry had tabled some amendments to the way the scheme works.

While Italy has not yet confirmed whether and how much international tourism will be allowed this summer, Garavaglia stressed the importance of domestic tourism to keeping businesses afloat.

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“It’s clear that this will be a summer of Italian tourism in Italy, even if there is some recovery from abroad as we are moving towards using the European green pass,” he said.

Last year, some small accommodation owners criticised the bonus scheme, saying it only helped large hotel chains or others who had enough resources to be able to absorb financial losses until they could claim tax credits at a later date.

The tourism ministry has proposed the following changes to the way the scheme works under an amendment to the support decree, which is set to be discussed in early May:

  • Postponing the expiry of the scheme from December 2021 to summer 2022;
  • Allowing travel agencies to claim the discounts on behalf of clients
  • Allowing the bonus to be divided between several business or used in installments over several trips.

For now, here’s how the bonus worked in summer 2020:

Who can claim the ‘holiday bonus’?

There are two conditions:

1) It’s for residents, not overseas visitors: you must pay taxes in Italy, since part of the bonus takes the form of a tax deduction.

2) It’s for lower-income households: your combined income, as calculated on your ISEE or ‘Equivalent Economic Situation Indicator’, should total no more than €40,000 per year.

Families, couples and individuals can all apply for the bonus. If you’re applying as a couple or family it will be paid per household, not per person.

It is not yet known if people who used the bonus in 2020 would be eligible to claim a second time in 2021.

How much is it worth?

The government last year offered €150 to people travelling on their own, €300 for two people and €500 for families of three or more.

How does it work?

To claim the holiday bonus, you’ll need to use the government’s IO app and either your electronic ID card or SPID.

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The bonus is paid out in two ways: 80 percent of the cost will be shouldered upfront by your hotel, B&B, agriturismo or other accommodation and should be discounted directly from your bill. 

Under current rules, you’ll only be able to claim the bonus from a single place of accommodation

Accommodation owners must then claim the money back from the government in the form of a tax credit. They’ll need to make a note of your personal codice fiscale (tax code) and issue a complete bill or receipt.

The 2020 decree stated that payment must be made directly by the guest or via a travel agent, but not through any other kind of portal or intermediary such as Airbnb or Booking.com.

It was then up to guests to claim the remaining 20 percent of the bonus, which can be deducted from your tax bill for the financial year.

Some of these rules could change once the extended support decree, known in Italian as the decreto milleproroghe (decree of a thousand extensions), is approved in May.

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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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