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LIVING IN ITALY

Why the tabaccheria is essential to life in Italy – even if you don’t smoke

A cornerstone of Italian culture, the tabaccheria is used for much more than just buying cigarettes. From paying bills to purchasing bus tickets, here are just some of the services offered at the tobacconist's.

A tobacco seller wearing a face mask is pictured at his counter on March 23, 2020 in the Prati district of Rome, during the COVID-19 new coronavirus pandemic.
A tobacconist wearing a face mask is pictured at his counter on March 23rd, 2020 in the Prati district of Rome, during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

Italy’s tabaccherie, or as they’re more informally known, tabaccai (tobacco shops) have long been a place for more than just purchasing cigarettes.

Their iconic emblem of a large T on a small rectangle, found in any Italian city, town and village, is associated with a place for locals to buy bus and metro tickets, pay their bills, or play the lottery.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

With the number of smokers gradually falling in Italy (despite the pandemic reportedly acting as a setback for many former smokers), these non-tobacco related sides of the tabaccaio have become even more important to tabaccai owners’ incomes. 

So what exactly can you do in a tabaccheria in Italy? 

Buy bus and metro tickets

Outside of a metro station, the tabaccaio is one of the few places where you can buy tickets for local public transport in Italy.

The vast majority of tabaccai sell these tickets, and you’ll pay no more than you would at the metro station – just ask the cashier for biglietti per i mezzi (public transport tickets).

Pay bills

If you’re daunted by the prospect of navigating your way around an Italian phone or utility company’s website and don’t fancy waiting in a long queue at the post office (the other in-person alternative) during its limited hours of operation to pay your bills, then the tabaccheria is for you.

Most utility bills, including gas, electricity, water, can be paid at a tabaccaio, as can phone bills. For larger sums, you’ll typically pay a surcharge of €1 or €2 that goes to the tobacconist for handling the payment – which many find is well worth the added convenience.

READ ALSO: Rising energy prices: How to save money on your bills in Italy

Just bring your bill with you and the tobacconist will handle the rest. Most tabaccai accept either cash or card for these payments.

The display counter at a tabaccheria in Rome.

The display counter at a tabaccheria in Rome. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

Pay fines and taxes

Much like bills, fines for things such as traffic violations and parking tickets can be paid at tabaccai. Social security (INPS) contributions, and some other government charges such as waste tax (tassa sui rifiuti) can also be paid here.

You can buy a marca da bollo, or tax stamp at many (but not all) tabaccai. As a foreigner in Italy applying for things like residency permits and work visas, you’ll quickly become familiar with this term, as a marca da bollo is required for most official government applications.

READ ALSO: Living in Italy: Six essential articles to read

Top up your phone credit

If you’re on a pay-as-you-go Italian phone contract, you can easily top up your credit at a tabaccheria by purchasing a scratch card. The cards come in values of €5, €10, €15, or €20.

If you’re on a fixed rate month-to-month contract of any amount, you can also top up your credit by telling the cashier your phone number and the sum you need to pay.

Play the lottery and place bets

Playing the lottery is a popular pastime in Italy, and if you want to try your luck by buying a lottery ticket, the tabaccaio is the place to head.

Some tabaccai also have slot machines, and some let you place sports bets. Betting in the totocalcio, the Italian football pools, is a particular favourite of Italian football fans.

A man casts his lottery ticket at a shop in Naples.

A man casts his lottery ticket at a shop in Naples. Photo by ROBERTA BASILE / AFP.

Buy tickets for sports games and concerts

If you want a ticket for the next Roma-Lazio derby, look no further than your local tabaccheria.

Tobacconists in Italy are licensed to sell tickets for football matches, as well as for certain concerts and other large-scale stadium events.

READ ALSO: 15 things you’ll probably never get used to about living in Italy

…Buy cigarettes and tobacco

It’s no secret that you can buy cigarettes and other tobacco products at a tabaccheria. In fact, it’s one of the only places in Italy where you can buy them, as (along with lottery tickets, stamps and tax stamps) these are state-controlled goods that require a special license to sell.

Oddly enough, salt also used to fall under this restricted category – which is while you’ll sometimes still see old signs outside tobacco shops advertising sali e tabacchi: salt and tobacco.

Buy other odds and ends

Of course, cigarettes and lotto cards aren’t the only items on offer at your average tabaccheria.

The range of products sold at an Italian tobacconist usually includes postage stamps, postcards, and greetings cards; stationery, magazines, tissues and playing cards; and chewing gum, crisps, chocolate, and other snacks and bottled drinks.

You’ll also often find small trinkets and souvenirs, such as keychains, jewellery, and children’s toys.

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LIVING IN ITALY

EXPLAINED: How can you stop nuisance phone calls in Italy?

If it seems like you’ve been getting more unwanted calls on your Italian phone number recently, you’re probably not imagining things. But the good news is you’ll soon be able to do something about it.

EXPLAINED: How can you stop nuisance phone calls in Italy?

People in Italy are now getting an average of five nuisance calls (or telefonate moleste) per week from telemarketers, according to consumer rights association Codacons, which estimates that the frequency of such calls – mainly from banks, telecommunications and energy companies – is now about 20 percentage points higher than in pre-pandemic times.

This increase in cold calling in Italy comes ahead of the imminent introduction of a new ‘do not call’ list for mobile phone numbers, which spells trouble for telemarketers, reports newspaper Corriere della Sera.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues – 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

In the European Union, data protection rules (under Regulation 2016/679) mean that you have the right not to be contacted, including by businesses. Based on this regulation, Italian courts can (and do) slap companies with large fines if they’re deemed to be using customers’ data unlawfully for telemarketing purposes. 

However, at the moment there’s not a great deal individuals can do about these annoying calls, beyond repeatedly opting out and making complaints.

But from this summer, rule changes in Italy will also mean both landline and mobile phone numbers, including any numbers that were not previously listed in the phone book, can be placed on an expanded version of the ‘do not call’ list known as the registro delle opposizioni or ‘register of objections’.

“From July 27th, the new public register will open to 78 million mobile telephone users,” Italian MP Simone Baldelli told Corriere della Sera.

Baldelli said the expanded register will become “a well-known and effective protection tool for phone users”.

EXPLAINED: How to change your registered address in Italy

It is already possible to use the registro delle opposizioni to remove Italian landline numbers from public telephone directories. Find out more about how to do that on the official website here.

As well as allowing people to register mobile phone numbers for the first time, the incoming rule changes in July will place stricter limits on the use of data by telemarketers.

“Enrollment in the new register will allow for the cancellation of any previous consents issued for telemarketing purposes, and will prohibit the transfer of personal data to third parties,” writes Corriere.

The new legislation is also set to include a ban on the use of automated or ‘robot’ marketing calls.

READ ALSO: Why the tabaccheria is essential to life in Italy – even if you don’t smoke

So how do you add your phone number to this new and improved register? 

From the information available so far, it appears that the process will be much the same as it is now for adding landlines to the existing register: you’ll be able to submit numbers to be added to the list either by phone, by completing a web form, or sending an email (either PEC or regular email).

But it’s not open just yet – it looks like you’ll have to wait until the end of July to add mobile numbers to the register.

We’ll report more details of the opt-out scheme on The Local once they’re published.

For now, readers of The Local have recommended the ‘Chi sta chiamando‘ (‘Who’s calling’) app, which you can find here for Apple or Android devices.

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