Best way to get the Swiss currency

Best way to get the Swiss currency

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chandraks
chandraks
97 posts
active member
Aug 7, 2016 - 4:59 PM

What is the best way to get Swiss Currency if travelling from USA. Slowpoke , what is the best way ? Do they accept US dollars ? Where credit cards are accepted and where not accepted ? Do we need to keep some Swiss Currency as well ? Is it better to get from here (I believe the banks here charge some fee and also if we return the unused swiss currency, again we need to pay the fee here). How about getting it from Swiss Airport ? Do they give better exchange rates there ? Appreciate any suggestions on this. Thanks, Chandra

Annika
Annika
4417 posts
expert &
moderator
Aug 7, 2016 - 5:09 PM in reply to chandraks

Hi Chandra,

Did you already read myswissalps.com/ swissfranc?

chandraks
chandraks
97 posts
active member
Aug 7, 2016 - 6:11 PM in reply to Annika

Thank you Annika, I just read it, very useful, understood now, it is better to carry swiss francs before we depart

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Aug 7, 2016 - 6:41 PM in reply to chandraks

That's indeed one thing less to do after arrival. Also if you've not used your credit/debit card in Switzerland before it's handy to at least have a bit of cash up front. Don't bring too much. If you need more cash any ATM can supply it at reasonable rates if you have a suitable card. Personally I use my debit card wherever I can to pay, not cash.

chandraks
chandraks
97 posts
active member
Aug 8, 2016 - 2:56 AM in reply to Arno

Thanks Arno, do you know what is the exchange rate we get when we use airport ATMs ? When I enquired my bank here in US, their exchange rate here is pretty bad like for every US dollar their rate is about 0.92 Swiss Franc, so for e.g., for every $100, I would only get 90 swiss francs apart from the 7.50 transaction fee. If the airport ATM offer much better exchange rate than our local banks, then rather I would use Airport ATMs. Thanks, Chandra

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Aug 8, 2016 - 6:58 AM in reply to chandraks

Exchange rates change on a daily basis, and the actual costs of such a transaction also depend on your bank. Getting cash from an ATM in Switzerland is usually the cheapest way, but the exact costs are hard to predict. If you don't mind not having any cash in hand when you arrive you can wait until arrival. Your bank can explain about the costs.

Slowpoke
Slowpoke
2656 posts
expert
Aug 8, 2016 - 5:48 PM in reply to chandraks

Hi Chandraks-

Sorry for the delayed response.

I make frequent trips to Switzerland, and travelled to Europe from the USA on business for many years, until 2003 and 2004.

I never found the best way to get good rates in Belgium or some other countries, but I did find what seemed to me to be the best way for Switzerland.

Unless this has changed in the past few years, bank exchange rates in Switzerland were and are regulated, and among the best. Rates at the currency exchanges at the larger train stations in Switzerland are also relatively good. Smaller (manned) stations may not be so up to date, where the ticket agent also handles exchange. But, it is good to know they are there (if you are near a manned station.) . Depending on what your US bank charges, an ATM can be as good, or similar for the exchange rate, but will likely have a fee.

The fee may be fixed...not related to the amount exchanged.

So, contrary to the advice from Annika and Arno, I always change USD at a Swiss bank exchange booth (or Swiss bank ATM) at Zürich airport. At busy times, there can be a short line, but compared to the awful exchange rates that you quoted, you are way ahead. That is the pattern I have developed over the years.

I think that one bank still has a "two-way" window arrangement , opening on the luggage claim arrivals area where the carousels are, as well as opening just outside the luggage claim/ arrivals area, in the main part of the station. There are ATM's readily available in both areas.

The Swiss banks want to earn their exchange fees from travelers, so they try to make it convenient. You can do it with a credit card, or with a debit card from your bank, or from cash.

When I fly in from the USA, I typically carry one or two thousand dollars in cash for a 10 day to 3 weeks trip, and exchange it all right away. I travel a lot in the less touristed areas, and the cash is necessary. I don't carry it all in one pocket. Switzerland is not as safe from theft as it was in the 80's, but it is still reasonably safe from petty crime. After my trip, if I have any CHF left, I simply bring them along on the next trip. Even converting them back to USD is not terribly expensive, but i don't have that problem.

As much as possible, I pay hotels, train tickets and restaurants with a credit card that has no exchange fees, and on which I know the rates. The means my AMEX card and my particular Chase VISA card (there are lots of others now.) I ABSOLUTELY refuse the more and more frequent practice of letting the merchant/ credit card company do a conversion at unknown rates, and give me a slip to sign denominated in USD.

Most hotels and restaurants in main cities will easily accept Euros ( you get change in CHF) or USD ( same for change.) Exchange rates are whatever they feel like. I have stopped doing that. In the 80's. I sometimes did.Since the use of credit cards ahs been common, payment by USD has diminished.

In most tourist regions, credit cards are accepted. In the countryside, sometimes cash is the only option. Check if you have any doubts. Around St. Moritz, there are still a fair number of cash only places.

The banks in the USA are not regulated on their exchange rates, and their rates and fees vary. So, the example you quote is certainly not the best. The best spread I have seen is around 2.7 to 3.0 %, not 7 1/2 %, and with no fees. And, purchases with some USA credit cards in Switzerland have no fixed fee, others have a fee of USD 3.00 for each transaction. . That hurts if you do a lot of small transactions.

On my Chase Bank VISA card with no fees, the exchange rate is about 2.7% to 3% in favor of the bank ( vs. published bank rates.) AMEX has similar rates, maybe just very slightly better, and some of their cards now have no fees.

However, if I use an ATM to withdraw money from my Chase Bank account, I am charged a fee (around $3.00, I recall) , plus similar interest rates. (2.7 to 3.0% extra for the bank.)

Under no circumstances should you use the "Travelex" booths in US Airports. Highway robbery. You can use an ATM at Zürich airport and come out way ahead.

So- if you change in the USA, you have to work to find good rates/fees. They exist. (You might check with AAA...they do currency exchange. I don't think that their rates are especially good, but they are convenient). If you change at an airport in Switzerland, the rates are comparable to the best US rates, easy to find, and a lot better that what you described.

If nothing else, you could exchange pocket money when you arrive (or even a little bit at a Travelex ;-( ) and then go to a bank while traveling. They are not uncommon in Switzerland.

Hope that helps.

Slowpoke

Last modified on Aug 8, 2016 - 6:03 PM by Slowpoke
chandraks
chandraks
97 posts
active member
Aug 9, 2016 - 1:12 AM in reply to Slowpoke

Thanks a lot Slowpoke for the detailed answer and it certainly helps. I certainly understand now it is not an option to buy the Swiss Francs from US banks, I think using the debit cards at the ATMs seem a better option. I will try to use the ATMs at the arrivals luggage carousels. As suggested instead of Swiss currency I would carry USD and exchange. Appreciated for typing such a big reply with all great options.

Slowpoke
Slowpoke
2656 posts
expert
Aug 9, 2016 - 1:26 AM in reply to chandraks

Hi Chandraks-

<<"I certainly understand now it is not an option to buy the Swiss Francs from US banks, ">>

It may well be an option, but you must realize that each bank has its own rules. That means that you must look into the details. If a bank does a lot of business with executive who travel overseas frequently, they are likely to have better rates than smaller banks who do not have such a cosmopolitan clientele/.

Slowpoke

chandraks
chandraks
97 posts
active member
Aug 9, 2016 - 2:06 AM in reply to Slowpoke

I enquired couple of banks like Wells Fargo, TD Bank with the transaction fee and rate together for every 100 USD, you are only getting back about 85 to 86 swiss francs. Say for e.g, with Airport ATM, even the banks charge $3 , as long as I get atleast .96 or .97 exchange rate, I might be getting atleast 95 swiss francs.. for 100 USD. Thanks

Slowpoke
Slowpoke
2656 posts
expert
Aug 9, 2016 - 7:02 AM in reply to chandraks

HiChandraks -

Be careful -

<<"with the transaction fee and rate together for every 100 USD, you are only getting back about 85 to 86 swiss francs.">>

You only pay the fee once for any amount. So, that phrase " for EVERY " is not correct.

So, if for example, the fee is $3.00 for $100.00, it will be only $3.00 for $500 or $1000, not $30.00 for $1,000. It will also be $3.00 for a $2.00 transaction, making the fee larger than the transaction.

Slowpoke

Last modified on Aug 9, 2016 - 7:47 AM by Slowpoke
chandraks
chandraks
97 posts
active member
Aug 11, 2016 - 12:57 AM in reply to Slowpoke

I got it Slowpoke. Thanks again.

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