Value Added Tax
➤ Italy's standard VAT is 22 percent, and it is charged on services and some imported products. There is a lower rate of 10 percent for some things, including payments to hotels and restaurants.
➤ VAT refunds are available, though the process is complex and is best completed by a company specializing in such refunds.
➤ Recent changes now guarantee refunds within four months of the claim.
➤ Italy participates in the ATA Carnet program.
➤ Exhibit halls in Milan operate on 220-volt service.
➤ Plugs in Italy are the typical two-pin style (aka type C) found in Europe.
➤ Transformers and adapters can be scarce, so plan to order them from the show's electrical provider or bring your own.
➤ Exhibitors are sometimes responsible for the disposal of their garbage before, during, and after an event. Show organizers may provide dumpsters or garbage handling for a fee.
➤ International roaming through your cellular provider may be the least-expensive option for service.
➤ Disposable phones and prepaid SIM cards are readily available. Many contractors will arrange these items if asked.
➤ Airfreight shipments to Milan take a few days. Ocean freight can take a month.
➤ It may take several days for ocean freight to be unloaded, and clearing customs often takes at least five days. Ground transportation to Milan takes several more days. Plan for ample shipping time beyond the posted days in transit.
➤ Use an experienced freight forwarder with expertise in shipping to Italy to avoid delays. The official show shipping agent may offer consolidated shipments at a reduced price.
➤ Credit and debit cards are commonly used for on-site payments, but debit cards are preferred as there is frequently a 2.5-percent surcharge for payments made using a credit card. Bank transfers are also accepted for orders placed prior to arrival on site.
➤ Services such as electrical, internet, etc. do not require a deposit, but must be paid in full before arriving at the venue.
➤ Dial 112 for the police department.
Greetings and Culture
➤ Introductions should begin with a handshake, after which business cards may be exchanged. It is important to shake hands at the end of a conversation as well. Embraces among colleagues who have a long association are not uncommon.
➤ If possible, arrange a third-party introduction by an Italian to Italian prospects, as it is a culture that favors doing business with known individuals rather than strangers.
➤ Italians generally require less personal space than people from the United States, though they tend to be more formal with one another. Use a first name only if invited to, and do not expect to be on a first-name basis during your trade show dealings.
➤ Popular conversation topics in Italy include soccer, architecture, Italian food, wine, culture, and current events.
➤ Large exhibits typically have hospitality lounges that serve everything from snacks and beverages to full meals. These lounges may be open for anyone to use or enclosed for invited guests only. Many small exhibits offer simple hospitality.
➤ Popular snacks served on the show floor include biscotti, pastries, brioche, nuts, gelato, and cakes.
➤ Typical beverage offerings include coffee drinks, bottled water, soft drinks, and juices.
➤ Italian is the primary language in Milan, though English is commonly spoken in the business community.
➤ Unless you are dealing with highly technical information, interpreters likely won't be needed.
➤ English-only signs and literature are acceptable, especially at events with an international audience.
➤ Show-floor attire in Italy is more formal than in the United States, and conservative but stylish suits are common. Italian culture places a very heavy emphasis on appearance, and exhibitors will be evaluated based on both the quality and fashionability of their garments.
➤ Women should dress in conservative but fashionable business attire, avoiding short skirts or plunging necklines. Women in Italy tend to wear more jewelry than their U.S. counterparts.
Installation and Dismantle
➤ There are no labor unions in Milan. You can set up your booth or hire the contractor of your choice.
➤ Before hiring a booth contractor, exhibitors are advised to check the references of local booth builders and ask other exhibitors for recommendations.
➤ Most show-floor laborers will not speak English, so it is essential to have on-site supervision by someone who understands the project and can communicate in Italian. Also, clearly specify in advance any tools required to complete the job, even items that seem obvious, like ladders.
➤ Be aware that the pace of labor is often much slower than U.S. exhibitors are accustomed to. Jobs are likely to take longer to complete than in most other countries.
➤ Labor costs may be about half of the prevailing rates in the United States, but exhibitors are encouraged to secure workers only through reputable contractors.
➤ Drayage is charged when exhibitors require the use of a forklift, which must be operated by show-appointed material handlers. Fees are more commonly assessed per lift or vehicle needed rather than by weight.
Venues and Resources
➤ Fieramilano (www.fieramilano.it/en
), which sits on the western outskirts of Milan, ranks as one of the largest trade show complexes in the world with 3.7 million square feet of covered exhibition space and 650,000 square feet of outdoor fairgrounds. The venue, which hosted the World Expo in 2015, is in close proximity to hotels and restaurants and is linked to downtown Milan by subway.
➤ The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (www.iaee.com
), the International Federation of Exhibition and Event Services (www.ifesnet.com), and the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (www.ufi.org
) can connect exhibitors to resources in Milan.
General Facts and Tips
➤ Taking a taxi from Milan's main airport, Malpensa, will cost more than $100. A more economical option is the Malpensa Shuttle, and you can purchase a ticket at the airport. The cost ranges from roughly $13 to $21 roundtrip.
➤ Traffic congestion can be a problem in Milan, so plan extra time to reach your destination if traveling by car.
➤ When traveling by taxi, be aware that you may be charged by time or by distance, depending on your destination. Also know that drivers impose a surcharge for rides in the evening. Taxi drivers, not passengers, are always responsible for paying any necessary tolls.
➤ Milan is a large city with hotels that are spread out over a wide area. If exhibiting at Fieramilano, verify a hotel's proximity to the subway before booking.
➤ Lunch meetings that include wine are popular and can be quite lengthy. Business decisions in Italy, however, are seldom made during meals.
➤ Business dinners usually take place after 8 p.m.
Sources: Charlie Elgar, project manager, 4sight Design Ltd., Lincolnshire, United Kingdom; Jeff Hannah, vice president of international services and commercial interiors, Exhibit Concepts Inc., Vandalia, OH; Maurizio Corradin, president, Mavry Art, Vicenza, Italy