Using a credit card in Switzerland
Use our guide to get the most out of your UK credit card when travelling to Switzerland.
What's in this guide?
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.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Switzerland
Cash machines in Switzerland
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
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.
Currency conversion fees
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.
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.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
- 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.
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.
How to use a credit card in …
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