July 30, 2016 | Rome, Italy | Clear 19°C

How bad are customs and baggage landing in Rome from the U.S.?


As a U.S. citizen, what should I expect when I arrive in Rome when it comes to baggage and customs?


First the plus side: Rome's Fiumicino Airport (officialluy named Leonardo da Vinci) is among Europe's easiest to clear customs-wise if you're a U.S. citizen. Remember to get into the NON-E.U. line for obvious reasons. Generally speaking it's not a difficult line to negotiate — unless, that is, a flight from Nigeria or Morocco or some similarly "dubious" destination (in Italian eyes) touched down just before you. In which case you're in for a long wait in what can seem more like an aggregation than a line. But Asian and African flights don't tend to land in the early morning hours, which are the bread and butter of American arrivals.

Usually, there are a limited number of customs agents, nothing like American entry points. They're easily swamped making it far more likely they'll wave you through quickly since Italy and the U.S. are on cordial terms. You're unlikely to get the kind of third-degree commonplace entering the U.S. or the UK. Italy survives on tourism, with American tourists an essential part of the formula.

Baggage claim is very much the minus side. Expect to wait between 30 to 90 minutes. Sometimes the carousel moves but remains empty for an eternity (still showing bags from previous flights). So-called "priority" or business class passengers do not fare much better. However, once you do get your checked bags there's rarely any further hindrance. Head for the green "nothing to declare" side and you're on your way.

Some days are worse than other. Customs malfunctions (backups, disorganization, low personnel) and baggage handler snarls (strikes or slowdowns) can be exasperating, and no app will give you the lowdown.

But the lack of vetting that has become the TSA-normal in the U.S. can make some arrivals a breeze. If you have only carry-on, you're basically home free. Remember that these remarks apply to incoming flights from the U.S., most of which touch down between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. Arrivals later in the morning or in the afternoon are another story as lines and waits grow.

Can I expect the euro-dollar exchange to reach parity?


Can I expect the euro-dollar exchange to reach parity?


Europe's ongoing woes make this a tough question to answer. The euro managed to hold its own despite the Greek fiasco before tumbling backward as the U.S. economy picked up steam. The 1.30-to-1.40 range, the norm for years, has suddenly receded by 20 percent, with the European currency seeming to show signs of descending to parity, which hasn't happened since its inception. The 1.39 rate of mid-2014 is certainly thing of the past. Parity, however, seems unlikely.

U.S. manufacturers are now able to purchased European goods more readily, but hurt when it comes to exports, which cost more. Parity would hurt the U.S. economy. In tourism terms, Europe can suddenly seem a lot more appealing when your dollar gets you nearly a euro in return. At the same time, airlines are adjusting to the drop, as are some hotels and business in Europe itself.

What are Italian property taxes like?


What are property taxes like for Italian homeowners?


For decades, Italy's first home property taxes were well below the European norm and laughably low compared to rates in big American cities. Under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, first home property taxes were briefly abolished. That changed dramatically with the 2008 financial crisis. Both state and local taxes soared.

Now, annual first home taxes in cities such as Rome and Milan varies between 0.4 and 0.7 percent of the assessed value, depending on size, location, age, and type (apartment, villa, historic venue, etc.) and socio-economic bracket (working class and "refined" are among the categories). Local service fees (including garbage collection) are factored in.

What that means in practice is that a family of four in a 150 square meter owned apartment located in a non-prized area of Rome will usually pay between €200 and €600 annually (there's June and December installment). Upscale first homes can bump up against the €800-1,000 mark. Rental prices will reflect these costs.

Woe to those who own several urban properties, however. That's where real estate taxes can bite hard. The owner of prized second home in Rome's or Milan's city center may pay as much as €5,000 a year. Though these costs still fall far short of rates in cities such as Paris, New York or London, they're in constant flux, meaning that all potential buyers need to check with accountants regarding their ongoing tax bills.

Please send your questions to maginfo@theamericanmag.com.

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