Making Contact in Rome by using Contactless

Baci e abbracci, I love Italy because Italy literally loves me.  Every time, I meet up with a friend, new or old, The conversation begins with a hug and a kiss.  And when it’s over, well, we hug and kiss again with a little more fanfare.  Close contact and intimacy are part of being Italian and living in Italy.  Whether hugging friends, taking public transport or standing at the local bar, personal space is a state of mind, which is why the idea of being contactless in Italy seems a bit farfectched. In actuality, contactless in Italy has nothing to do with space, and everything to do with your wallet. It’s a simplified payment system that is making my mornings at Caffe Roscioli  easier and faster.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's about time to follow my Instagram stories.  

Almost every morning, you’ll find me at Caffe Roscioli for the daily latte macchiato and granatina (a small Roman pastry).  Fun fact: Caffe Roscioli is the best thing that’s happened to Campo de’ Fiori in recent times.  Almost two years ago, bakers, delicatessen owners and brothers Pierlugi and Alessandro Roscioli took over a run down local bar and turned into the morning destination by upgrading the coffee drinks with Giamaica caffe, the relatively exclusive Italian torrefazione, and making all the sweet and savory confections on site- traditional and vintage pastries, delicious sandwiches, and hiring architects/designers to create a very modern space.  A long and narrow corridor with high ceilings, light hues and beautiful photography hanging above industrial coffee machines as the small of toasted sugar feels the air, the vibe is futuristic art gallery meets pastry shop.  There is, however, one downside-  the corridor, aka the main area is a tight squeeze for space at the counter and the cashier (niched at the entrance), and an uncomfortable wait when it comes time to pay.  Here’s how I make my life just a little bit easier -  by being MasterCard contactless, in other words, I make the payment part of my morning ritual a ten-second turn-around - five seconds for the cashier to key in the amount, five seconds for processing. . .

All the questions I asked myself as I tested out Contactless in Rome:

What the heck is a contactless payment?  A secure payment method (via debit, credit or smartcards/chip cards) using near field communication NFC, essentially digital communication protocols allowing two electronic devices to transmit to each other.  Or, as I like to say, an intimate, finite conversation between your card and a point of sale POS terminal.

How do I know if I have a contactless credit card? Take a good look at your Mastercard, and any other card you have in your wallet. If there is a symbol in the upper right corner - four frequency waves - you've got contact, or better yet you have a contactless-enable card* and can make contactless payments

How does it work? Next time you are about to make a payment, whether at Roscioli or anywhere else, look closely at the POS terminal for the Contactless symbol and then let the cashier know you will use a contactless-enabled card.  Once ready, bring your card within very close proximity to the POS terminal and wait for the beep. Payment is automatically transmitted. No need to insert, no need to sign. Best of all, your card never leaves your hand, and encryption protects your data.

If my card is "communicating", does that mean once I make a payment it will automatically communicate with other devices like what sometimes happens when I use blue tooth? Nope, communication is secured, encrypted and limited to POS terminal and your card, nothing else.

Is it true that there a maximum or limit to what I can purchase contactless? 25 euro is the maximum amount before the POS requests additional security, i.e. signature or pin code. In my experience, whereas many Rome-based vendors are aware that contactless payments can still be processed for amounts superior to 25 euro by simply asking you to sign or enter pin without physically taking your card out of your hand, there are still some vendors who don’t understand how Contactless works.  These vendors will either tell you that contactless does not work for amounts superior to 25 euro or will ask you to submit your card to them, and then process payment in the traditional method.  It may be up to you to educate the vendors on how contactless works with amounts more than 25 euro.

Where can I use it and what if my card is not Italian? Can I use my card in other countries? I’ve had a lot of fun researching this because there is no definitive answer that I can find on the internet which meant I visited all my favorite bars, asked a lot of questions and had a lot of great drinks.  The result of all this practical research?  My cards worked, and it seems that any contactless-enabled credit card (regardless of country of origin) should be accepted where ever there is a POS with the contactless symbol. No matter what, I suggest you confirm with your issuer prior to traveling. Source: UK Cards Association

What if I don’t have a Contactless-enabled card, can I pay using my phone?  Yes. You can. And there are a few options.  iPhone users who use Apple Pay may use it with contactless POS and so can Android users who have Android pay.  *Italian Android users should check with their card provider for coordinated set up.

Mastering Italy's Trains with Masterpass by Mastercard

Yes, that's me on the beach with my phone, and if you read through, you'll get why. . .

There are few, if any, forms of transport that I like more than trains. I love thesci-fi vibe of a maglev and the needle nose of a bullet train. Italy’s stuffy regionali (regional trians) make me just as excited Switzerland’s vintage Bernina Express carriages.  Along with trainspotting, I love the experience - from packing my bag (yes, I am an origami artist of efficiency, practicality and portability), and walking around the train station to interpreting seat etiquette and meditation to the ever-changing landscape.  For me, a rail adventure is more than just a journey to a destination and I’m lucky to live in Italy, where regional, intercity, and high speed rails crisscross to the most beautiful towns in the world.

What I’ve never enjoyed, however, has been the purchase of a train ticket. Back in the day, I used to walk into a ticket center, queueing for what seemed liked hours and often arguing about supplements (supplemental charges). When the macchinette (ticket machines) arrived at Termini, I was both ecstatic and frustrated over its simplistic tech thanks to its arbitrary credit card and change service.  The internet upgraded everything, but it also meant an increase of email in my inbox about purchasing tickets “Um, Erica, is Trenitalia’s payment down? What am I doing wrong?”

Here’s a clue: you are doing nothing wrong. Sometimes the Trenitalia payment system is finicky,  sometimes it just doesn’t work.  It’s almost like the payment system deliberately wants to derail its clients, allowing potential trips fall by the wayside.  I know, I know, it’s gotten better, and even though I have my own hack, I thought I should test another payment option: Masterpass.  Over the years buying tickets on Trenitalia, I’ve had my eye on Masterpass but always managed to lose patience in the system before I tried it.  It was about time I gave Masterpass chance.

In basic terms,  Masterpass is a free subscription, secure digital wallet.  Once signed up, payment data (i.e credit cards including Mastercard, Visa and American) and shipping information are entered, plus the necessary encryptions, and you’re logged in, ready to use it as a one-stop click-n-go payment method. I decided to test it out for next trip to Napoli.  Trains selected and voilà, Masterpass clicked.  No additional data entry, no worries. So far its the easiest option on the site.  Dare I say this is the light at the end of the tunnel for Trenitalia purchases. .  .

Disclaimer:  Mastercard Italia invited me to test out Masterpass and asked me to share my thoughts.  For a first time user, I found it easy and secure, aka the verified love child of Apple Pay, PayPal and others.  Would this be something my mom be comfortable using? Most likely not, but it is a reliable next gen payment system and I‘ll be checking out more of its in store/one click functionality.