ATMs in Switzerland: Credit cards and fees

TransferWise content team
12.07.18
7 minute read

Switzerland is a truly global country. Visitors from all over the world come to enjoy the mix of vibrant cities and peaceful nature - and huge numbers of expats work in international businesses headquartered there.

Whether you’re headed for a week on the slopes or planning a long-term move to live and work in Switzerland, you’ll need to get your hands on some cash to pay for everything you need while you’re there. Getting your Swiss francs from ATMs once you arrive is convenient, and means you can get the money you need when you need it.

If you’re planning on using ATMs in Switzerland, here’s all you need to know.

Where do I find ATMs in Switzerland?

Switzerland is a global financial capital. You’ll find a bank on more or less every corner in the cities - with an ATM, of course. In more rural areas, there will be fewer ATMs to choose from, but as the country aims to be tourist-friendly, you’ll find even smaller towns are fairly well served by banks and ATMs.

It’s useful to know, too, that many ATMs in Switzerland, and especially in the border areas dispense euros as well as Swiss francs. Swiss francs (currency code CHF), are the legal currency. Although euros are frequently accepted in tourist areas, vendors might not offer you the best exchange rate when charging you in EUR. You’ll usually pay less if you use Swiss Franc (CHF) for your transactions.

To find a convenient ATM, use these ATM locators for local and global banks:

Will my credit or debit card work in Switzerland?

Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted networks in Switzerland.

Discover cards have ‘moderate merchant acceptance’ meaning that they can be used in some stores and restaurants, and in some - but not all - ATMs.¹ In most cases, both Amex and Discover cards can be used in ATMs where you see the Post Finance or Six Multipay logos.²

If your main card is from Discover or Amex, then check out the ATM locator below to make sure there’s an ATM somewhere nearby that’s on the right network.

Whatever card you hold, here’s a simple way to find a nearby ATM:

Swiss ATM PINs

Bank cards issued in Switzerland have 6 digit PINs. However, most ATMs - and certainly any newer ones - will accept a PIN of 4, 5 or 6 digits. That means that if you have a chip and PIN card with a 4 digit PIN - like those issued in most other places in Europe, the UK or Australia for example - you should have no problem.

However, if you use a card without a PIN for everyday use, like an American-issued magnetic stripe card, you’ll need to get hold of a PIN for the card from your bank before you travel.

Swiss ATM max cash withdrawal limits

The amount you can withdraw from a Swiss ATM will depend on 2 things - the maximum daily withdrawal amount set by your home bank, and the limits set by the ATM provider.

It’s a smart plan to check the maximum levels set by your own bank before you travel - these are often set automatically and might be fairly low. However, changing them should be easy enough, through online banking or by calling into a local branch.

The limits set by the ATM provider vary - but travellers and expats can expect to be able to withdraw up to CHF5,000 at some banks if that doesn’t exceed the upper limit set by their own home bank limit.

Give your bank a heads up before you travel to Switzerland

Some banks require their customers to inform them if they plan on using their bank credit or debit card abroad. If you don’t let your home bank know in advance, you could find that your card is blocked or limited as a security measure. While this is intended to stop card theft and fraud, it’s extremely inconvenient. Let your bank know you plan on travelling before you go, as a precaution.

What are the fees at ATMs in Switzerland?

Most people using a foreign debit or credit card in Switzerland will have to pay a fee to use the ATMs there, levied by their home bank, and also - possibly - by the ATM provider, too.

Here are the fees - and scams - to watch out for if you use your foreign card in an ATM in Switzerland.

Exchange rate fees at ATMs in Switzerland (DCC)

If you do nothing else to save cash, then at least avoid dynamic currency conversion (also called DCC for short) while you are using your credit or debit card abroad. It’s the biggest rip-off most travellers will face - and actually very simple to dodge.

DCC is where you’re offered the option to pay for a transaction or cash withdrawal in your home currency instead of the local one. If you choose to pay in your home currency, then the exchange rate used likely won’t be the real, mid-market rate, which you’d find on google. You pay more than you have to because the exchange rate used is marked up by the ATM provider or merchant, who keep the difference. You’ll get a better deal if you always choose to pay in the local currency instead.

Your home bank’s fees

Outside of a handful of specialist accounts specifically designed for travel, it’s common for banks to charge their own customers for international ATM usage.

These costs can be a percentage of the transaction value or a fixed fee per withdrawal - and they can mount up quickly. Check out the charges added to international ATM withdrawals for your specific account online before you travel.

Local banks’ fees in Switzerland

Many regional and global banking brands are represented in Switzerland. If you know your own home bank has offices there, it’s worth checking out if you can get cheap or fee-free withdrawals, if you stick to their ATMs. If not, there’s a chance you’ll be charged a fee by the local bank or ATM provider for the use of the ATM.

You’re especially likely to hit fees at ‘independent’ ATMs in places like pubs, and nightclubs. In most cases, however, you’ll be able to check the fee before you hit confirm on the withdrawal, and you can cancel the transaction at that point if you want to.

Can I get free cash withdrawals in Switzerland?

Even if you don’t have a bank account with one of the global brands operating in Switzerland, you should still ask your home bank if they have a partner institution based there.

Some banks work together with institutions based in other countries, to offer their customers free or reduced fee cash withdrawals when they’re overseas.If your bank does this, you might get lucky, and be able to access cheap or free cash withdrawals while you’re in Switzerland.

Are there any tips to avoiding ATM fees in Switzerland?

You can reduce ATM fees in Switzerland with a few simple steps.

Choose your card wisely

Many people have two - or more - credit or debit cards issued by different banks. As all bank accounts have their own fee structures for international ATM use, it’s worth checking out the details for each card you hold. You’ll likely find that one is a better value than the others for overseas cash withdrawals.

And if you have the time, you could even open a new account specifically for travel, with a bank which offers cheap or free international ATM use.

Always choose to pay in the local currency

As we explained above, DCC is a common, but entirely avoidable - headache for travellers using a foreign credit or debit card at ATMs, or anywhere else for that matter. Always choose to pay in the local currency - CHF in this case - or you’ll be hit by DCC’s high fees and poor exchange rates.

Check out TransferWise for a cheap alternative

One smart way to beat unfair fees for international ATM use is to transfer some cash to a local bank account before your trip. You can then withdraw cash from the local account using fee-free ATMs when you arrive in Switzerland.

If you or a friend have a local bank account in Switzerland, you could save even more, if you use TransferWise to make your international money transfer. TransferWise only ever uses the real, mid-market exchange rate for transfers, with just a small fee per transaction. You could save up to 8x compared to the same transfer placed with your regular bank - and that means more money in your pocket for your trip.

Another option if you travel frequently, is to sign up for a borderless multi-currency account from TransferWise. With this smart new account, you can keep your cash in any one of dozens of different currencies, including CHF, and there’s no fee charged for operating your account. You can switch your money between currencies whenever you want, for just a low, upfront fee, and depending on where in the world you are, you may also be able to get a linked debit card for extra convenience.

Using ATMs in Switzerland is simple and convenient. As long as you’re careful about DCC, it’s a smart choice for travellers and expats looking to keep fees down to a minimum. Alternatively, why not give TransferWise a try. Send money to a local account, and avoid international ATM fees altogether.

Sources:

¹https://www.discover.com/credit-cards/help-center/account/international-use.html (March 9 2018)

²https://network.americanexpress.com/globalnetwork/atm_locator/en/#search/46.818188/8.227511999999933 (March 9 2018)


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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