Money in Switzerland: Banks, ATMs, cards & currency exchange

TransferWise
07.22.18
6 minute read

Switzerland is known as both a worldwide banking center and a popular tourist destination. As a European railway hub, the country is easily accessible from other parts of Europe, and its history and charm make it a great place for a quick visit or a longer stay.

However, prices are known to be high in Switzerland, so it’s important to make your money stretch as far as it can. Below 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.

What’s the currency in Switzerland?

Switzerland’s currency is the Swiss franc.

Characteristics of the Swiss franc (CHF)
Names and NicknamesSwiss Franc, Franken, Franco, Swissie
Symbols & abbreviationsCHF
1 CHFOne CHF is divided into 100 centimes
CHF coinsCoins are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50 centimes, as well as 1, 2, and 5 francs.
CHF banknotesCHF banknotes are available for 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 1000 francs.

Since Switzerland isn't part of the European Union, it’s not required to convert your money using euros. Regardless, many prices in Switzerland are displayed in euros and many merchants will accept them, even though they're not required to do so. Change will generally be given back in Swiss francs.

What should I know about exchanging money in Switzerland?

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.

Find an exchange service that offers your fair rates

Finding a fair exchange service can be difficult, though the following options are typically your best bet for getting a good deal:

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 search online for the actual exchange rate between CHF and your home currency, you’ll see what your money is actually worth in Switzerland. But if you compare that rate to what banks and exchange services offer, you’ll likely find that they’re cutting you short and keeping the profits. It’s 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.

Figure out if rates are better in Switzerland or your home country

Whether it will be cheaper to exchange money before you leave home or wait to do it in Switzerland will depend on what country you’re from, but you’ll almost always get the best deal by using a Swiss bank ATM.

In the US, UK and Australia, banks generally offer rates 2-10 percent higher than the actual exchange rate you’ll find on Google. You’re likely to find far better rates if you wait until you arrive in Switzerland and use and exchange service or ATM there.

Ensure your banknotes are damage-free

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.

If you know someone with a bank account there, transfer money ahead of time for even better savings

If you have a friend or relative in Switzerland, you’re in luck — you’ll get the best possible rates by withdrawing cash from a Swiss bank account. If your friend is willing to let you piggyback on their account, you can save money in both fees and exchange rates.

Sending money to your local friend with TransferWise will guarantee you get the exact mid-market rate — the same exchange rate you see when you Google it — plus a small, fair fee that’s disclosed to you upfront. Then, you just need to have your friend withdraw your money in Switzerland and have it waiting for you when you arrive.

Another option is a TransferWise Borderless account, which allows you to hold and manage money in multiple global currencies, including Swiss francs. And coming soon, Borderless account holders will be able to receive consumer debit cards that they can use while traveling.

Can I use travellers cheques in Switzerland?

Nowadays, travellers cheques are pretty much obsolete in Europe. Most merchants won’t accept them, and they will give you poor exchange rates, so you’re generally better off avoiding them altogether.

What should I know about using my debit and credit cards in Switzerland?

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.

Always choose to be charged in the local currency

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 (plus a 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.

Don’t forget to tell your home bank you’re going to be travelling

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.

What are the best practices for using ATMs in Switzerland?

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:

Remember, while ATMs often offer the best exchange rates, that benefit will be lost if you choose to complete your transaction in your home currency instead of CHF.

What are the major banks in Switzerland?

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.

Most common retail banks in Switzerland

Switzerland’s top tier banks are listed below:

UBS AG

UBS AG provides 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.

International banks operating in Switzerland

Switzerland is home to international branches of banks from nearly two dozen countries. Some of the largest and most common are below:

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. 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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