The local currency in Switzerland is the Swiss franc (CHF).
This is a guide to everything you need to know about Switzerland’s currency, as well as how to manage it, spend it and save it. We’ll also introduce a smart, and cheap way to spend like a local using a Wise multi-currency account and debit MasterCard.
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If you’re just passing through, or have euros on hand from a previous trip, you might be wondering if it’s worth heading to an exchange office to buy Swiss francs, or if you can just pay in euros instead. In many areas, may display prices in euros, and it’s sometimes possible to spend in euros in Switzerland, even though it’s not an official currency.
If you do find that the hotel, restaurant or store you’re visiting will accept euros, it’s worth looking at the exchange rate on offer. Use an online currency converter to get the mid-market rate, and compare this against the rate you’re given. You might find the retailer has added a significant markup to the rate, to boost their profits - meaning it’s more costly to use euros than it would be to use francs. More on that later.
So, it might well be convenient to spend in euros in Switzerland - but it can be expensive. If you’re headed to more rural areas, or are likely to be shopping in small stores and cafes, you’ll need francs anyway.
|Names and Nicknames||Swiss Franc, Franken, Franco, Swissie|
|Symbols & abbreviations||CHF|
|1 CHF||One CHF is divided into 100 centimes|
|CHF coins||Coins are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50 centimes, as well as 1, 2, and 5 francs.|
|CHF banknotes||CHF banknotes are available for 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 1000 francs.|
It’s probably a good idea to have some francs on you, if you’re in Switzerland for more than a day or two. But do you buy the currency at home or wait until you’re there?
Frequent travellers usually recommend waiting until you arrive to change your currency. Although it’s easy enough to pick up Swiss francs at an exchange office in the UK, the exchange rate on offer may not be the best out there.
Alternatively, with a multi-currency account you don’t have to worry about exchanging your money - as with a provider like Wise, your money is converted when you need it at a fair rate.
No time to visit an exchange office? Looking for a better deal? A Wise debit Mastercard is a great alternative to spend while you’re abroad.
|Spend like a local with a Wise debit Mastercard|
|Get started with a free account - and see how much you can save.|
You don’t have to sacrifice savings for convenience with Wise. Order a card when you open a Transferwise multi-currency account online, and use it to spend anywhere you see the Mastercard logo. Use your card to spend or make cash withdrawals when you arrive - and because all currency exchange uses the mid-market rate, you can save money, too.
In a country with as much tourism as Switzerland, exchanging money is simple and straightforward. However, it’s still important to do your research to make sure you’re getting the best rates possible on your exchange.
When exchanging money you need to always pay close attention to the exchange rate offered. The fair rate is the mid-market rate - the one you’ll see on Google, but you are unlikely to get this from your bank or traditional providers.
Likely, you will be hit by unexpected fees that were hidden in the exchange rate offered to you - this is what is known as adding a markup to the rate. This means you are paying more than you need to.
To help ensure you get a fair deal on your currency exchange, check the rate offered against the one that you see on Google. It’s also a good idea to use an online currency converter before you commit to a service so you have a good idea of what a fair rate will be.
Finding a fair exchange service can be difficult, though the following options are typically your best bet for getting a good deal:
- Your bank
- A local bank ATM in Switzerland
- Ria Financial Services
- ME Money Exchange GmbH
The first two options will likely have better exchange rates, but may come with fees. The last three are exchange services that may offer no fees, but it’s important to note that they make a profit by marking up the exchange rate, which means you’re still paying more for your money.
If you get your cash from an ATM, you probably won’t need to worry about damaged notes. However, if you exchange currency at a bank or exchange service, make sure the francs you receive are in good condition and not torn, worn or tattered.
Some merchants will refuse to accept notes that are visibly damaged, and less reputable exchange services may even give you damaged francs — essentially worthless money — leaving you with money you may not be able to use.
Major credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Switzerland, including Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, and Cirrus. American Express cards aren't as widely accepted, but can be used in many places. It’s always a good idea to carry a small amount of cash, just in case you go to a shop or restaurant that does not accept card payments.
ATMs and points of sale may offer to charge you in your home currency and save you some math -- sounds great, right?** Wrong. **
This is usually a Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) scam, which banks use to confuse travelers into agreeing to pay a poor exchange rate by converting their purchase price + markup for the exchange into their home currency.
Luckily, you can choose to be charged in CHF instead, which means you’re allowing your home bank to do the conversion, and since your home bank wants to keep you as a customer, you’re far more likely to get a fair exchange rate.
It’s important to always let your home bank know you’re traveling — tell them where you plan to go and for how long. That way, your card is less likely to be shut down for suspicious activity, saving you the hassle and headache of being without a functional credit or debit card in a foreign country.
ATMs are extremely common in Switzerland — even small villages should have a handful, and larger cities will be littered with them. But if you’re looking for a specific ATM, try these tools:
If you’re worried about arriving in Switzerland with no local currency at all, you can always use your ATM card to withdraw cash as soon as you get to your destination airport. Typically using an ATM in Switzerland will bag you a decent exchange rate - just look out for any extra fees added by the ATM operator.
Remember, to always choose to complete your transaction in the local currency when withdrawing cash from an ATM. If you don’t, then you are likely to be hit by Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC).
Switzerland is a banking hub for the entire world, and has several incorporated and family owned banks, as well as branches for international banks from all over the world.
- UBS AG - UBS AG provides world class banking and investment services to corporate and individual clients.
- Credit Suisse - Headquartered in Zurich, Credit Suisse is a member of Wall Street’s Bulge Bracket, a list of the largest and most profitable banks in the world.
- Julius Baer Group - A Swiss bank headquartered in Zurich, Julius Baer Group has expanded to include offices in more than 20 countries. It’s one of the most respected international banks in the world.
Switzerland is home to international branches of banks from nearly two dozen countries. Some of the largest and most common are below:
- Goldman Sachs
- J.P.Morgan Chase
- Merrill Lynch
- Barclays Bank
- IG Banks
Banking is something Switzerland is known for worldwide, so it makes sense that it’s simple and straightforward to handle your money there. However, just like with anywhere in the world, it’s important to do your research before arriving to know how to get the best exchange rates and protect your hard-earned cash.
You shouldn’t lose out when you travel because of unfair exchange rates, and hidden fees. Alternatives to traditional options, like Wise are a great way to convert money and spend while you’re abroad.
Enjoy your stay in Switzerland!
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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