Whilst the days of carrying travellers’ cheques on an overseas trip are well behind us, it can still be hard to decide the best way to take money to Switzerland. Will a credit card be all you need? Should you get some Swiss currency before you leave? Or is there a better option?
In this article I cover the different means of making purchases whilst in Switzerland and what works best for me.
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But first, a bit of info about the Swiss currency.
Switzerland’s official currency is the Swiss franc but many travellers ask “Can I use Euros in Switzerland?” (or “Can I use US dollars in Switzerland?) and whilst the Euro will be accepted at some establishments, the exchange rate is likely to be unfavourable.
(US dollars are generally not accepted in Switzerland.)
Keep in mind that if you do pay in Euros, change will be given back to you in Swiss francs.
It is therefore recommended that when purchasing goods and services in Switzerland, you use the Swiss franc.
Prices are usually displayed preceded by the three-letter currency code CHF.
It’s common to ‘tap and go’ with most debit and credit cards for smaller transactions and a PIN is usually required for transactions over CHF 100.
Before you leave home, it is recommended that you advise your credit card or debit card provider that you will be travelling – and tell them where and when – so that they don’t block transactions that you try to make whilst you are abroad.
So let’s look at the different ways of carrying your spending money in Switzerland.
Travel Money Card (Cash Passport)
I’m a big fan of travel money cards and have used my Travelex Travel Money Card in Europe on many occasions without a problem. I love the fact that I can preload my card with currency well before my trip if I want to, therefore purchasing the foreign currency when I’m happy with the exchange rate.
The one big disadvantage to using a travel money card in Switzerland, though, is that (to my knowledge), there are no prepaid cards that allow you to load Swiss francs. This means that you have to load Euros onto your card and then be charged up to as much as 6% for the privilege (?!) of having a transaction in Switzerland converted from Euros to Swiss francs.
Having already converted from your own currency when you preloaded the card, you’re then hit with another conversion fee to convert from Euros to Swiss francs.
For this reason, I don’t recommend using a Travel Money Card in Switzerland.
Check for: Ability to load Swiss francs onto card
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Mastercard, Visa and American Express credit cards are widely accepted in Switzerland and it’s advisable to take a credit card with a chip in it.
It is recommended that when using a credit card to make a payment, you request that the transaction be processed in Swiss francs – not your home currency – as this way (in the majority of cases), you will benefit from a better exchange rate.
Don’t assume that your current credit card provider is giving you the best deal. Some banks and credit card providers charge fees of around 3% for international transactions and many also charge fees for withdrawing cash at an ATM.
There are credit card providers out there who have no fees (or very minimal fees) for international transactions – in Australia, Macquarie Bank, ING and 28 Degrees are a few examples.
US members of my Switzerland Travel Planning group – you can join here – have recommended the Costco and Capital One credit cards.
Check for: International transaction fees, ATM withdrawal fees, annual account fees
You may be wondering “Can I use my debit card in Switzerland?” The short answer is yes but, similarly to checking that you are getting the best deal from your credit card provider, you should also check that your debit card has no fees, or very minimal fees, attached. This applies to both international card transactions and ATM withdrawals.
As an Australian, I use the Macquarie Bank Transaction Account Debit Card and highly recommend it. It has no ATM fees, no transaction fees, no monthly account fees, no minimum transactions per month and the most competitive currency exchange rates I have come across.
Applying for an account online is simple. I also love that there’s an app so I can track my spending on the go.
(See which apps I recommend you download before you travel to Switzerland here.)
The Charles Schwab debit card has been recommended by members of my Switzerland Travel Planning group who are US residents.
Check for: International transaction fees, ATM withdrawal fees, monthly account fees
A commonly asked question is ‘Do I need to carry cash in Switzerland?’ The simple answer is no however I believe it’s always a good idea to have a small amount of cash with you for purchases such as a coffee or ice cream or a tram ticket.
In smaller villages or establishments, cards may not be accepted so having some cash as a standby is also a good idea.
Carrying a small amount of cash is also handy in times of emergency, too. Could you get by if your card was lost or stolen or there was a power loss and credit card machines were out of action?
Some travellers prefer to buy Swiss francs prior to leaving home at a bank or foreign exchange store. This method will usually involve fees.
As I use a fee-free debit card when I travel, I prefer to wait until I arrive in Switzerland and I then withdraw the amount of cash I require.
Transferring money to Switzerland
If you need to make a payment in advance, for example for a deposit for your accommodation, the most cost effective way I have found to transfer funds abroad is with TransferWise. I’ve been using TransferWise for over two years and make monthly international transfers with them.
TransferWise offers low fees, excellent exchange rates and prompt payment to the recipient, so if you do need to transfer money to Switzerland before you leave home, I recommend you get a free quote from TransferWise.
Where to exchange money in Switzerland
When it comes to money exchange, Switzerland has plenty of options.
If you are planning on getting cash in Switzerland, you’ll get the best exchange rates for foreign currency at any of the Swiss banks (they exchange bank notes only, not coins). You can also exchange foreign notes at currency exchange desks at the major airports, railway stations and some hotels but service fees may be charged.
About the Swiss franc
What money do they use in Switzerland?
Now that you’ve read this article, you’ll know that the money in Switzerland is called the Swiss franc.
The Swiss franc is a decimal currency and it comes in the following denominations:
Coins – 5, 10, 20, 50 Cents and 1, 2, 5 Francs
Bank notes – 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 1000 Francs
Swissmint, the manufacturer of Swiss currency, has a number of interesting articles about the production of the Swiss franc on its website.
Currency Conversion Chart
Use our handy Currency Conversion Chart to calculate the current exchange rate between the Swiss franc and your own currency. Click here to access the chart.