September 1, 2016 | Rome, Italy | Sunny 26°C


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


Q.

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


A.

Brexit has so far had little effect on the euro-dollar exchange. In fact, after several years in which tourists and expats found themselves at a major disadvantage (the euro hit 1.60 in 2008 and seemed headed for 2.0), the situation has improved. Since early 2015, when the euro took a plunge, trading has stuck in the 1.10-1.14 range, rarely sneaking above 1.15. That's the official rate, mind you.

Brokers and currency exchange stores will still inflate the figure for a profit. Amazon still pegs it higher for local online purchases (if the day's rate is 1.1, Amazon will still price its good, with shipping, at 1.5 or higher). Markups are all around.

At the same time, the days when a dollar seemed to buy you little more than half a euro are over. When you're shopping for shoes, you don't need to worry that €100 means $140 or more. Parity is unlikely, but $115-$120 certainly sounds better than $140, particularly if you're on a two-week vacation and credit card charges (plus foreign surcharges) mount. Markets are volatile. So are current events. But nothing suggests massive changes in the present buck-ten (and a nickel) exchange status, at least not for now.


What are Italian property taxes like?


Q.

What are property taxes like for Italian homeowners?


A.

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.


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


Q.

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


A.

First the plus side: Rome's Fiumicino Airport (officially 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. or ALL PASSPORTS 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 (or a full flight from Beijing, since Chinese tourism is on the upswing). If that happens you're in for a long wait in cordoned-off lines that can run 10 rows deep. But Asian and African flights don't tend to land in the early morning hours, which are the bread and butter of American arrivals.

Customs agents are in numbered booths, much like American entry points, with an agent at the front of the line directing traffic. Since Italy and the U.S. are on cordial terms, you're unlikely to get the kind of third-degree commonplace when entering the U.S. or the UK. Italy survives on tourism, with American visitors 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.

Please send your questions to maginfo@theamericanmag.com.

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