Money & Shopping
Switzerland is not part of the Eurozone and the currency is the Swiss franc (or Franken, or franc, or franco, depending in which language area you are), divided into 100 Rappen, centimes, or centesimi. However, some places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, tourist attraction ticket counters, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept Euro bills (but no coins) and will give you change in Swiss francs or in Euro if they have it in cash. Many price lists contain prices both in francs and in euros. Usually in such cases the exchange-rate is the same as official exchange-rates, but if it differs you will be notified in advance. Changing some money to Swiss francs (CHF) is essential. Money can be exchanged at all train stations and most banks throughout the country. After an experiment with a "fixed floor" for the exchange rate (meaning in practice that one Euro would always be at least 1.20 francs) the Swiss Central Bank decided in early 2015 to let the franc float freely once more. This, along with speculation regarding the future of the Euro and the Swiss franc being seen as a "safe" currency, has led to skyrocketing exchange rates for the franc and, consequently, prices for the visitor.
Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid using CHF200 and CHF1000 banknotes. There is an ever smaller number of establishments which do not accept credit cards, so check first. When doing credit card payments, carefully review the information printed on the receipt (details on this can be found in the "Stay Safe" section below). All ATMs accept foreign cards, getting cash should not be a problem.
Coins are issued in 5 centime (brass coloured), 10 centime, 20 centime, ½ franc, 1 franc, 2 franc, and 5 franc (all silver coloured) denominations. One centime coins are no longer legal tender, but may be exchanged until 2027 for face value. Two centime coins have not been legal tender since the 1970s and are, consequently, worthless. Keep in mind that most exchange offices don't accept coins and, at current exchange rates, the biggest coin (5 francs) is worth more than five US dollars and roughly the same as five Euros, so spend them or give them to charity before leaving.
Banknotes are found in denominations of CHF10 (yellow), CHF20 (red), CHF50 (green), CHF100 (blue), CHF200 (brown), and CHF1000 (purple). They are all the same width and contain a variety of security features.
Since 2016 the Swiss National Bank SNB has been releasing a new series of bank notes, the ninth series in the modern history of Switzerland. They started with the CHF 50 note on 11 April 2016. The other five denominations will be replaced step by step during the next years. All banknotes of the eighth series are still valid everywhere until further notice. The current 8th serie should have been replaced by 2020, but will remain valid for exchange at banks for its nominal value until further notice.
Switzerland has been renowned for its banking industry since the Middle Ages. Due to its historical policy of banking secrecy and anonymity, Switzerland has long been a favourite place for many of the world's richest people to stash their assets, sometimes earned through questionable means. Although current banking secrecy laws are not as strict as they used to be, and anonymous bank accounts are no longer allowed, Switzerland remains one of the largest banking centres in Europe. Opening a bank account in Switzerland is straightforward, and there are no restrictions on foreigners owning Swiss bank accounts—except for US citizens. Since the latest sanctions by the US, many Swiss banks refuse to open a bank account to US citizens or anyone having connections to the US. In some cases, even existing accounts have been closed.
Swiss service personnel enjoy a relatively highly set minimum wage compared to other countries, so tips are rather modest. By law, a service charge is included in the bill. Nevertheless, if you feel satisfied, especially in restaurants, you may round up the bill and add a few francs with a maximum of 5–20 francs depending on the kind of establishment, regardless of bill size. If you were not happy with the service, you needn't tip at all. If you just drink a coffee, it is common to round up the bill to the nearest franc, but some people are still quite generous. Keep in mind, tipping is always your personal contribution and never legally requested.
When planning your travel budget, keep in mind that Switzerland is an expensive country with prices comparable to Norway or central London. Apart from soft drinks, electronics and car fuel, many things costs more than in the neighboring countries, particularly groceries, souvenirs, train tickets and accommodation. In fact, many Swiss people living near the borders drive into neighbouring countries to purchase fuel and groceries, as it is usually significantly cheaper; a trend that has only increased in recent times with the Franc soaring in exchange rate compared to the Euro. Though there are no systematic immigration controls thanks to the Schengen agreement, there are random custom checks, even inside the country, since Switzerland is not part of EU Customs Union, so you must clear customs. Therefore make sure you comply with Swiss custom regulations for importing goods!
"Swiss-made": Souvenirs and Luxury Goods
Switzerland is famous for a few key goods: watches, chocolate, cheese, and Swiss Army knives.
- Watches - Switzerland is the watch-making capital of the world, and "Swiss Made" on a watch face has long been a mark of quality. While the French-speaking regions of Switzerland are usually associated with Swiss watchmakers (like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe), some fine watches are made in the Swiss-German-speaking region, such as IWC in Schaffhausen. Every large town will have quite a few horologists and jewellers with a vast selection of fancy watches displayed in their windows, ranging from the fashionable Swatch for CHF60 to the handmade chronometer with the huge price tag. For fun, try to spot the most expensive of these mechanical creations and the ones with the most "bedazzle!!".
- Chocolate - Switzerland may always have a rivalry with Belgium for the world's best chocolate, but there's no doubting that the Swiss variety is amazingly good. Switzerland is also home to the huge Nestlé food company. If you have a fine palate (and a fat wallet) - you can find two of the finest Swiss chocolatiers in Zurich: Teuscher (try the champagne truffles) and Sprüngli. For the rest of us, even the generic grocery store brand chocolates in Switzerland still blow away the Hershey bars found elsewhere. For good value, try the Frey brand chocolates sold at Migros. If you want to try some real good and exclusive Swiss chocolate, go for the Pamaco chocolates, derived from the noble Criollo beans and accomplished through the original, complex process of refinement that requires 72 hours. These are quite expensive though; a bar of 125g (4 oz) costs about CHF8. For Lindt fans, it is possible to get them as cheaply as half the supermarket price by going to the Lindt factory store in Kilchberg (near Zurich). Factory visits are also possible at Frey near Aarau, Läderach in Bilten and Cailler in Broc.
Have you ever wondered why Swiss cheese, known locally as Emmentaler, always has those distinct holes? Bacteria are a key part of the cheesemaking process. They excrete huge amounts of carbon dioxide which forms gas bubbles in the curd, and these bubbles cause the holes.
- Cheese - many regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese speciality. Of these, the most well-known are Gruyère and Emmentaler (what Americans know as "Swiss cheese"). Be sure to sample the wide variety of cheeses sold in markets, and of course try the cheese fondue! Fondue is basically melted cheese and is used as a dip with other food such as bread. The original mixture consists of half Vacherin cheese and half Gruyère but many different combinations have been developed since. If you're hiking, you will often come across farms and village shops selling the local mountain cheese (German: Bergkäse) from the pastures you are walking across. These cheeses are often not sold elsewhere, so don't miss the chance to sample part of Switzerland's culinary heritage.
- Swiss Army knives - Switzerland is the official home of the Swiss Army knife. There are two brands: Victorinox and Wenger, but both brands are now manufactured by Victorinox since the Wenger business went bankrupt and Victorinox purchased it in 2005. Collectors agree Victorinox knives are superior in terms of design, quality, and functionality. The most popular Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ which has 33 functions and currently costs about CHF78. Most tourists will purchase this knife. The "biggest" Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ 1.6795.XAVT- This has 80 functions and is supplied in a case. This knife costs CHF364 and may be a collector's model in years to come. Most shops throughout Switzerland stock Victorinox knives, including some newsagents and they make excellent gifts and souvenirs. Unlike the tourists' knife, the actual "Swiss Army Knife" is not red with a white cross, but gray with a small Swiss flag. The Swiss Army issue knife is also produced by Victorinox. It is distinguished by having the production year engraved on the base of the biggest blade, and no cork-screw because the Swiss soldier must not drink wine on duty. Swiss Army Knives can not be carried on board commercial flights and must be packed in your hold baggage.
Ski and tourist areas will sell many other kinds of touristy items - cowbells, clothing embroidered with white Edelweiss flowers, and Heidi-related stuff. Swiss people love cows in all shapes and sizes, and you can find cow-related goods everywhere, from stuffed toy cows to fake cow-hide jackets. If you have a generous souvenir budget, look for fine traditional handcrafted items such as hand-carved wooden figures in Brienz, and lace and fine linens in St. Gallen. If you have really deep pockets, or just wish you did, be sure to shop on Zurich's famed Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world. If you're looking for hip shops and thrift stores, head for the Niederdorf or the Stauffacher areas of Zurich.