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TOURISM

Tourists turned away from Italy’s restaurants and museums amid confusion over Covid ‘green pass’ rules

Italy has said it will recognise health certificates from several non-EU countries - but many of The Local’s readers visiting Italy at the moment report that theirs have been refused. Here’s why and what you can do if this happens to you.

Tourists turned away from Italy’s restaurants and museums amid confusion over Covid ‘green pass' rules
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The Italian government made its health pass mandatory to enter indoor restaurants, museums, concert venues, gyms, spas, theme parks and many other leisure and cultural sites across the country from August 6th.

Q&A: Your questions answered about Italy’s new Covid health pass

Medical proof of vaccination against Covid-19 issued in another EU country, or in Canada, Israel, Japan, the UK or the US should be accepted for green pass purposes throughout Italy, according to a recent health ministry ordinance.

But dozens of readers have contacted The Local to report that they’ve been turned away when attempting to use a health certificate from one of the five approved non-EU countries.

Of the readers we’ve heard from who said they had no trouble using their non-EU passes, the majority were in Rome or Milan and had used their documents when visiting major attractions such as the Colosseum or the Vatican Museums, where police are often helping staff to check documents.

Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Elsewhere however, things don’t always seem to be working as smoothly.

From Sicily to Veneto, people have reported being turned away at bars, cafes, museums and more despite having proof of vaccination issued by an approved non-EU country.

“Multiple restaurants and museums immediately refuse entry when we are recognised as British as they know we don’t have access to the Green Pass,” said Carl Hunt in Tuscany.

EXPLAINED: How can you get Italy’s ‘green pass’ if you’re not vaccinated?

In many cases, the problem seems to be happening because business owners and staff simply aren’t aware of the rules.

Vincent Castro from the US said, “I am stationed in Naples with the navy and had trouble with local restaurants and Ikea not accepting my CDC card.”

Others have reported trying to use QR codes issued by states in the US or Canada and having them refused.

“I tried to use my vaccination certificate from Ontario, Canada to enter two restaurants in Rome. The staff said they could only accept an Italian green pass,” said reader Viviana. “They were not aware of any directives from the Italian government to accept vaccination certificates from Canada. I was able to eat at an outdoor table.”

In the case of the UK’s NHS certificate, another problem appears to be that business owners are attempting to scan the barcode using the Italian ‘green pass’ verification app, Verifica C-19.

“I went to a restaurant and they wouldn’t let me in because the local Italian app wouldn’t recognise the code. If restaurants are meant to accept the UK code without scanning it with the local app, lots don’t seem to know,” said David Hewson.

The Italian health ministry’s ordinance does not state that non-EU passes must be scanned – since some types (like the US CDC card) do not feature a QR code, and those that do (as in the case of the NHS app) are not compatible with the Italian system.

Visitors wait in line before showing their Covid-19 certificates to enter the Ancient Colosseum in central Rome. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

There has been considerable confusion about this, as business owners have been instructed not to let people in without a verified QR code and may not realise that there’s an exception for certain non-EU passes. 

EXPLAINED: What documents can non-EU visitors use as a Covid pass in Italy?

As they risk fines of up to 1,000 euros if they are found not to be enforcing the rules, no doubt many business owners are applying the rules cautiously.

“The restaurant staff were trying to use a green pass code reader to scan our NHS QR code. I told him that it wouldn’t work for non-EU codes. He eventually gave up and let us into the restaurant,” said Brian from the UK.

The problem could soon be solved for UK readers with the NHS pass, as a fix is reportedly in the works that would allow the Italian app to scan the UK code.

Several readers have reported that it is in fact already working for them after the second vaccination dose was registered.

But if your pass doesn’t have a QR code at all, what then?

“Some places have accepted my vaccination receipt from Canada. However, some places have a QR code reader on their smartphone and will only accept a green pass with the QR code,” said one reader who left an anonymous comment. 

READ ALSO: Which countries can use a Covid health pass to avoid quarantine in Italy?

“My double vaccination receipt from Canada doesn’t have one so I was denied entry. I’ve only experienced this so far at a Starbucks in Milan.”

US visitors from states which issue digital passes say they’ve had mixed results when trying to use them.

Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

“We visited the Domus Aurea and showed our New York State pass on the phone but it was not accepted, nor was a photo on the phone of the paper form. Only the paper would do, even though the NY pass is not forgeable, unlike the paper,” said Kevin Crowston.

“The NY pass was accepted by Swiss immigration, the Galleria Borghese and other museums, so perhaps we’d just been lucky before.”

READ ALSO:

For readers from all countries, the biggest problem appeared to be that people checking passes weren’t always aware of the rules.

Several readers have written in to say they are carrying around printed copies of the Italian health ministry’s ordinance with the relevant section highlighted, and pleading their case.

But when this tactic hasn’t worked, readers report missing out on planned trips and events.

While at restaurants you can simply sit outside instead, this is obviously not always a realistic option at the moment with a heatwave sweeping the country.

Some visitors have found they were left with no choice but to get tested during their trip in order to access the Italian green pass, despite being fully vaccinated.

EXPLAINED: What happens if I test positive for Covid-19 while visiting Italy?

Peter Grogan from the UK said he and his wife both have the NHS pass and it has so far “failed completely – with the same ‘Non valida’ result – on every occasion we have tried to use it since Friday.”

“We have a number of non-refundable bookings up to next Sunday and will have to do tests every 48 hours if we are not to be treated as undesirables. After that, we will have no choice but to go somewhere else.”

He also pointed out that tests are not always readily available, as there can be a wait for appointments at pharmacies where booking is required, as well as a wait for the result.

In some cases, people say they have cut their visits short due to the problems they’ve experienced.

“Only once in the past five days has a venue understood that they could accept my NHS certificate with my passport ID. I had a long wait at even the Accademia in Venice, which says on their website you can use it, before they let me in. I am now afraid to go out to eat knowing there will be a debate,” said reader John Giusti.

“I have decided to leave Italy for Austria tomorrow as it is just too difficult here right now.”

The Local will continue to follow any updates to the health rules closely. Please check our homepage for the most recent reports.

Member comments

  1. Is anyone able to tell me which page of Italian ministry’s health ordinance PDF (linked in this article) references the fact that certain countries can use their own proof of vaccination card in lieu of the green pass? The article states some people are printing that page and highlighting the relevant section and I think that is a good idea. Grazie!

  2. Can anyone point me to the relevant section of the Italian version of the health ordinance so I can highlight it? Given that my Scottish version of the Covid vaccination certificate doesn’t have a digital version with QR code, I guess I’m just going to be waving paper at people!

  3. I’m also hoping someone can highlight the section of the health ministry report that allows vaccinated Americans, etc. to enter venues in Italy. I’d be happy to carry around a copy, but I can’t tell what to highlight. Thanks.

  4. The VerificaC19 app works well with the UK NHS Covid pass, but you have to scan the QR code for your SECOND vaccination. It won’t accept the QR code for the first vaccination. You can download VerificaC19 from the App Store in advance and try it for yourself (and show it to the venue if they need convincing)

  5. I believe you need to highlight Article 7 and show restaurants.. What I don’t understand you would think they would know the rules when they see angry tourists walking away. They do know that the Green Pass is not available to non Europeans. C_17_notizie_5580_0_file (1).pdf

  6. I have been in Pesaro for the Rossini Opera Festival and have had no problems using the NHS covid certificate from the NHS app

  7. I’m trying to decide whether it’s worth it to try to get a green pass from my CDC (USA) vaccine card. It depends on how onerous it is to get my codice fiscale and then the green pass. And also whether indeed it’s still a problem using the CDC card where green passes are required. I’m a traveler, not a resident (although I’ll probably do a couple 1-month long trips this year). But I’m not spending time in the touristy places where the CDC cards are presumably now widely recognized (like major museums, Florence restaurants, etc.). Any updates from this month of people having problems using their CDC cards?

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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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