Switzerland is known for its vast mountainous landscapes, Alpine ski resorts, well-crafted watches and luxurious chocolate. The country itself is as diverse as its landscape, with four different official languages spoken by the Swiss population. However, travelling around Switzerland doesn’t come cheap; it’s one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit due to its stable and valuable currency.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, so the official currency is Swiss francs, not euros.
If you plan on bringing your credit card along with you to Switzerland, there are some important facts you should know first.
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Visa and Mastercard are among the most widely accepted networks in Switzerland.
Cash machines are abundant in Switzerland, so you won’t have to worry about not finding a suitable one. They’re typically located around banks, post offices, and shops. However, if you are heading to a smaller village, ATMs may be more scarce, so it is wise to always carry a small amount cash with you just as a precaution.
As some ATMs impose a withdrawal limit of CHF5,000, make sure that your UK bank’s limit doesn’t exceed this if you plan on withdrawing the maximum amount.
Cash in Switzerland
Switzerland is a modern economy, with banking as their primary industry. This means that carrying a large amount of cash is unnecessary. However, you may want to carry some cash for precautionary measures, or in case you decide to make any smaller purchases from vendors and outlets. In these instances, cash may be a more quicker and convenient form of payment.
Chip and pin is the most common card payment method in Switzerland. All you need to do upon inserting your card into an ATM or card machine is to simply enter your 4 digit PIN-code.
Contactless and Apple Pay are also increasingly common forms of payment: just look out for the contactless payment symbol nearby the tills or purchasing area.
Is it safe to use my card in Switzerland?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Switzerland, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
While Switzerland is known among travellers for being a very safe country, you should always remain vigilant when in busy train stations and tourist areas. Be aware of where your belongings are at all times, and only use your card when you feel safe in your surroundings.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Switzerland.
Additionally you can get an idea of costs by using these online currency conversion tools from Mastercard and Visa.
What is a cash advance fee?
A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
How to prepare before travelling to Switzerland
Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Switzerland, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
Keep your bank posted. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Switzerland is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Switzerland does not hit any roadblocks.
Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the favourites. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in Sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveler’s cheques with you. Exchanging Sterling to Swiss Franc is easy and you’ll get several options.
When you’re in Switzerland, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
We use banks to take care of all our other financial needs, so surely we should use them when sending an international money transfer, right? Not necessarily. While major UK banks offer money transfer services, they typically present less competitive exchange rates coupled with high transfer fees. Learn how to send money to Switzerland the smart way.
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted and commonly used.
There are no currency restrictions on imported and exported cash. For all other private goods, there is a total value limit of CHF 300 per person.
Chris Lilly is a publisher at finder.com. He's a specialist in credit-based products including business and personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, and is passionate about helping UK consumers make informed decisions about their borrowing. In his spare time Chris likes forcing his kids to exercise more.
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